Ultra-processed Food Rant
A study of European diets in 2018 found that the average British diet contained more ultra-processed food than any other, accounting for over 50% of consumed calories.
At the other end of the scale, only 10% of Portugal’s and 14% of Italy’s diet come from ultra-processed food, with a mean for all 19 countries of about 24%. Britain has a problem. It is probably linked to living in an affluent country, where you can get what you want when you want, as well as our cultural attitude towards food, and its place often as a necessity rather than a shared family experience.
Ultra-processed foods are defined as ” formulations mostly of cheap industrial sources of dietary energy and nutrients plus additives, using a series of processes (hence ‘ultra-processed’)”11 They are energy-dense, high in unhealthy fats, refined, sugars and salt, and poor sources of protein, dietary fibre and micronutrients. Their formulation, presentation and marketing often promote overconsumption. In addition to other well-known British delicacies such as ham egg and chips, fish chips and curry sauce, chicken nuggets and chips, spaghetti hoops on toast, pasta with ketchup and cheese, it’s possible to go almost fibre-free 7 days a week. In fact it makes you wonder how some of us survive.
Eating lots of ultra-processed food is linked to coronary heart disease, obesity, hypertension and increased cancer risk. The reasons for this are likely a combination of
- the more processed food you eat, the more likely you are to consume food additives at more than safe levels – which perhaps then interfering with glucose management or the microbiota.
- These foods contain salt sugar fat in superhuman quantities, which makes them craveable so you eat more of them. If you are mostly consuming these, then you miss out on fruit and vegetables, which contain vital nutrients and that all important fibre for your gut microbes.
- Alterations to the food by processing mean that they can’t be utilised by the body in the correct way – perhaps not allowing nutrients to be absorbed, or because toxic end products are generated by their metabolism.
The best advice is that the nearer you are to the actual source of your food, the better – ideally it needs to look like a vegetable, fruit or meat and be home- processed. Also, look at the ingredients list before you buy; if it is very long there will be a reason for that, and if a food contains substances you wouldn’t use at home, avoid.
Remember it’s not just about digestive issues; a healthy gut can improve just about every aspect of your being from your mental health to your skin. Finding our page, that’s a good start and we can set you in the right direction.