Processed versus Ultra-Processed Foods

Processed foods have been under scrutiny for years, linking the ready-to-eat foods with higher rates of cancer and higher mortality rates. And if that wasn’t enough to make you think twice about that vending machine honey bun, a new study from the National Institutes of Health found that people on an ultra-processed diet eat more calories and gain more weight than when they ate the same amount of minimally-processed food. Which begs the question: what’s the difference between processed and ultra-processed foods?

Everything we eat can be classified into four categories:

  1. Unprocessed food: edible plants or animals that have not been treated with additives, injected with salt, or rubbed with oil.
  2. Processed culinary ingredients: these are ingredients like sugar, salt, herbs and oils, which can be added to unprocessed foods for flavor variety.
  3. Processed food: these are filled with sugar, salt, and other preservatives to increase shelf life. Most breads, canned fruits, cheese, and pickles are considered processed.
  4. Ultra-processed food: are processed foods with additives like artifical flavors, food, coloring, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives and more. Things like packaged baked goods, fizzy drinks, dehydrated soups, ice cream, and many others are in the ultra-processed category.

Processed and ultra-processed foods are popular because they are cheap and easy to grab-and-go. And while completely cutting out all processed food is ideal, you have to be realistic about where you are on your health and wellness journey. Simply cutting back on the ultra-processed foods would make a great first step towards maintaining a healthy weight and reducing your risk of diseases and cancer.

If you’d like to speak with one of our nutritionists contact Baton Rouge General’s Health & Wellness Center at (225) 819-1175.

June 5, 2019