The everyday foods that you’d never guess are packed with ultra processed ingredients


Fifty percent or more. That’s how much of our daily calorie intake in the UK now typically comes from ultra-processed foods (UPFs).

UPFs are those foods that have been heavily processed during their production. They normally contain five or more ingredients and are prepared with food additives to change their taste, texture and color or to extend their shelf life.

Not only does the average adult in the UK get 56.8 per cent of their calories from UPFs, according to an article published in 2022 in the BMJ, the situation is worse in young people: around 64 per cent of the calories children consume at lunch , comes through UPFs.

So how concerned should we be about this? Over the past three days, the Mail has published Dr. Chris van Tulleken, Ultra-Processed People, published in series highlighting how widespread – and how harmful – UPFs can be.

The growing number of UPFs in our diet has been linked to the obesity crisis. It is also thought to play a role in our risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease – and even developing certain cancers.

UPFs are those foods that have been heavily processed during their production. They normally contain five or more ingredients and are prepared with food additives to change their taste, texture and color or to extend their shelf life

UPFs are those foods that have been heavily processed during their production. They normally contain five or more ingredients and are prepared with food additives to change their taste, texture and color or to extend their shelf life

Researchers at Imperial College London recently published the results of a groundbreaking study that looked at the diets of 200,000 middle-aged people in the UK, and found that higher consumption of UPFs was linked to a greater risk of developing cancer, particularly ovarian cancer. – and brain cancer. cancers.

Dr. Kiara Chang, a research fellow at Imperial who was involved in the study, told Good Health that the level of UPFs in the average British diet is “exceptionally high and concerning.”

“Our bodies may not respond to these ultra-processed ingredients and additives the same way they do to fresh, minimally processed foods,” she said.

Part of the problem is that these foods are so ubiquitous that they could creep into our diet without us realizing it; even some seemingly healthy foods are technically UPFs.

So do you know how many UPFs you’re eating — and how easy it is to avoid them? Good Health asked Priya Tew, a dietician and nutrition consultant from Southampton, to identify common ultra-processed foods from each meal – and suggest healthier, less processed alternatives.

Breakfast

UPF: flavored cereals; Muesli bars; mass-produced sliced ??bread; flavored yoghurts; fruit juices; bacon; sausages.

NOT UPF: Weetabix; dad; shredded wheat; plain yogurt.

Expert view: If cereals are your go-to breakfast, choose one with less than five ingredients and one that doesn’t have sugar in the top two ingredients, says Priya Tew.

Industrial breads made only from wheat flour, water, salt and yeast are processed, while those with an ingredient list that also contain emulsifiers or dyes are ultra-processed

Industrial breads made only from wheat flour, water, salt and yeast are processed, while those with an ingredient list that also contain emulsifiers or dyes are ultra-processed

Industrial breads made only from wheat flour, water, salt and yeast are processed, while those with an ingredient list that also contain emulsifiers or dyes are ultra-processed

“Some breakfast cereals, including cornflakes, are minimally processed, but if the manufacturer starts adding flavors and colors and lots of sugar, they become UPFs.”

High-fiber cereals with no added sugar are a good option, says Priya Tew, as is porridge.

“But ready-made porridge pots, including those with a flavor, such as apple and cinnamon, are UPFs.”

Yogurt with fruit or granola is often considered healthy, but while plain yogurt is minimally processed, it becomes ultra-processed when sweeteners, preservatives, stabilizers or colorings are added.

Granola bars with nuts, seeds, oats, and dried fruit can also be UPFs. Always read the label. In general, says Priya Tew, if a product contains at least one item that is never or rarely used in your kitchen, it’s ultra-processed.

What about toast? Industrial breads made only from wheat flour, water, salt and yeast are processed, while those with a list of ingredients that also contain emulsifiers or colorings are ultra-processed.

The good news is that the full English breakfast can be a healthier option if you choose what goes into it carefully.

“Poached eggs, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms are not processed,” says Priya Tew. Baked beans are processed but not ultra-processed — and you can buy low-salt and low-sugar versions. Have a slice of bacon or a sausage or a slice of black pudding, but not all three, as they all contain high levels of additives and salt and count as UPFs.”

Keywords to look out for are fructose, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, modified oils, and protein sources

Keywords to look out for are fructose, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, modified oils, and protein sources

Keywords to look out for are fructose, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, modified oils, and protein sources

Popular granola bars are UPFs and should be eaten in moderation. “It’s a matter of pick your battles,” says Priya Tew. “Don’t take one every day, only if you’re really in a hurry.”

Keywords to look out for are fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, modified oils and protein sources such as gluten, casein and whey protein, emulsifiers, thickeners and anti-foaming agents, bulking, carbonation, foaming, gelation and glaze agents.

The type of milk you have with your cereal, or in tea or coffee, also makes a difference to the amount of UPFs you consume.

“Dairy milk is pasteurized, but nothing is added,” says Priya Tew. “But some oat milks and other plant-based milks are considered UPFs, so it’s better to use them in moderation, or stick to dairy, which is minimally processed.”

Fruit juice drinks often have minimal amounts of fruit juice and sugar at the top of the ingredient list, along with coloring and flavoring agents.

Lunch

UPF: Store sandwiches; ; ready-made sushi; salads.

NOT UPF: Baked potato with beans; homemade salads with vinaigrette.

Expert view: Millions of people enjoy store-bought sandwiches every day, and while many contain whole, fresh ingredients, most contain additives to improve flavor and extend shelf life, much like UPFs.

Pret a Manger’s chicken salad sandwich, for example, contains tasty malted whole-wheat bread, chicken breast, and baby red leaf lettuce — as well as salt, emulsifiers, ascorbic acid, and sugar.

An egg sandwich can have 32 ingredients (egg is number 22), according to Henry Dimbleby’s book Ravenous.

With store-bought salads, such as Caesar salad,

With store-bought salads, such as Caesar salad,

With store-bought salads, such as Caesar salad, “cooked chicken and dressings contain a lot of sugar, additives, and flavorings to make the food tasty and keep it fresher for longer.”

‘You make the perfect sandwich yourself with fresh ingredients,’ says Priya Tew.

Avoid mayonnaise and ultra-processed sauces and instead opt for condiments like mustard or pesto that are less processed.

The type of bread you use also makes a big difference.

“Mass-produced, packaged white (even whole wheat) bread with a long shelf life is cheaper, but it is highly processed and very low in fiber,” says Priya Tew.

‘Choose fresh baker’s bread or bread with seeds or oats.’

Meanwhile, with store-bought salads, such as Caesar salad, “cooked chicken and dressings contain a lot of sugar, additives, and flavorings to make the food palatable and keep it fresh longer,” says Priya Tew.

Instead, make a homemade salad with different vegetables to get a variety of nutrients and a simple vinaigrette dressing.

Fresh sushi contains rice, vinegar, fish and dried seaweed, but prepackaged sushi may contain fructose and corn syrup, plus acidity regulators and salt.

A baked potato topped with beans is a good lunch option.

Evening meal

UPF: ready-to-eat burgers; Chicken nuggets; Fish sticks; frozen fries; curry made with store-bought curry paste; instant soups.

NOT UPF: homemade casserole; spaghetti bolognaise prepared with fresh or canned ingredients.

Expert view: Popular brands of ready-to-use pasta sauce are quick and convenient, but check the label for ingredients you don’t recognize. Emulsifiers and preservatives can turn your homemade dish into a UPF.

“For a nutritious homemade tomato sauce, fry a chopped onion in a little oil and add a can of tomatoes and tomato paste with herbs and garlic to taste,” says Priya Tew.

Plain white pasta is processed (although not UPF) so fine to have – but watch out for flavored pasta with different fillings or labeled as ‘ready to cook’.

Popular brands of ready-to-use pasta sauce are quick and convenient, but check the label for ingredients you don't recognize. Emulsifiers and preservatives can turn your homemade dish into a UPF

Popular brands of ready-to-use pasta sauce are quick and convenient, but check the label for ingredients you don't recognize. Emulsifiers and preservatives can turn your homemade dish into a UPF

Popular brands of ready-to-use pasta sauce are quick and convenient, but check the label for ingredients you don’t recognize. Emulsifiers and preservatives can turn your homemade dish into a UPF

“There are many alternative, healthier-looking pastas, including some made from lentil flour,” says Priya Tew. “But check the label to make sure they don’t contain unrecognizable chemicals that make them a UPF.”

If you’re making a stew from scratch, avoid heavy use of stock cubes or gravy granules that often contain high levels of salt and chemical flavor enhancers that can turn your healthy homemade dish into a UPF.

If you need a drink with dinner, fermented alcoholic beverages such as beer, cider or wine can be consumed in moderation. These are processed but do not count as UPFs, says Priya Tew.

“Gin and tonic, whiskey and rum are ultra-processed because they contain additives as part of the manufacturing process,” she adds. Organic alternatives are generally less processed, although this is not a rule. Even pumpkin, with organic fruit juice, can still be a UPF.

Ready meals and instant soups are generally UPFs; and vegan or vegetarian versions may contain more salt, sugar, and additives than meat versions.

‘Don’t think that the vegetarian label automatically makes a ready meal healthier,’ says Priya Tew. “Look at the labels and follow the traffic light system to avoid foods that are red in salt, sugar, and fat.”