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What are processed foods? How can they be replaced?

There are more processed foods in our cupboards and fridges than you might think. Learn how to recognise them and replace them with healthier options.
Ultra-processed foods
What alternatives are there to the myriad of highly-processed foods around?
Rédaction Supersmart.
2022-09-14Comments (0)

What exactly do we mean by ‘processed foods’?

The food we eat is classified into different groups depending on the degree of processing it has undergone.

Unprocessed or minimally-processed foods are raw ingredients and those subjected to basic physical and heat processes which do not fundamentally alter their intrinsic properties (such as mincing or grinding, chopping, roasting and pasteurising). Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, meat and fresh fish, rice, legumes, milk, coffee, butter and natural yogurt all fall into this category.

Processed foods are made from this first group of foods, plus one or several ’household’ cooking ingredients (such as salt, sugar, vinegar or vegetable oil). Preservatives and antioxidants are sometimes added to extend their shelf life. Canned fruits and vegetables, canned tuna, fresh bread, cheese and smoked fish all come under this classification.

It is, however, the ultra-processed foods (UPF) that you need to be wary of. These typically contain industrial ingredients not found in your local grocery store (glucose-fructose syrup, hydrogenated oil, modified starch …) as well as ‘cosmetic’ additives (food colourings, flavourings, flavour-enhancers …) which enhance the food’s taste and appearance at low cost (1-3).

Often high in fat, sugar and/or salt, they’re usually produced using harmful manufacturing processes (extrusion, high-temperature heating, cracking…) which change the physico-chemical properties of the ingredients and lead to the formation of neoformed compounds (4-5). Regular consumption is indeed associated with the development of a number of metabolic disorders (6). Examples of such products include:

What simple substitutions can you make for processed (and ultra-processed) foods?

Opt for raw foods

The best way of getting rid of ultra-processed products from your diet is to swap them for raw ones. Not only are they higher in fibre, vitamins, and minerals, they are neither artificially sweet nor salty.

For example, you could swap your favourites teatime cookies for some hazelnuts and a banana (or a handful of unsweetened organic raisins). If you prefer something savoury, a hard-boiled egg or some vegetable sticks dipped in a lemony fromage blanc would be perfect. To start the day on the right foot, choose porridge oats instead of the usual sugary cornflakes (7).

When it comes to meat and fish, replace smoked, salted or fried products with their fresh equivalents: salmon fillet instead of smoked salmon, a chicken breast instead of cooked chicken slices, frozen wild squid rather than battered, fried calamari (8)…

Take advantage of pre-cut and frozen fruits and vegetables

The reason we’re so drawn to processed foods is that they are undeniably convenient. If you’re too busy to cook every day, there are ways of shaving valuable minutes off the time spent ‘slaving over a hot stove’.

Do you often buy grated carrots from the deli? Some supermarkets have a fresh, prepared section where you’ll find pre-cut vegetables. Then all you have to do is dress them yourself (with a home-made vinaigrette, naturally). Bagged salad leaves and crudites are another way of making your life easier.

While canned fruits or vegetables are time-saving (and can be perfectly acceptable), their salt or sugar content does affect the food’s nutritional profile (9). Less processed, natural frozen products thus deserve a place in your freezer: red berries, mixed vegetables, spinach, peas and soup vegetable mixes, take your pick! And salt-free canned foods (chickpeas, tomatoes, kidney beans ...) are also starting to appear on supermarket shelves.

Home cooking

Got a sudden craving for a savoury quiche or blueberry muffin? Preparing your meals from scratch is the only way to guarantee their composition and method of production (10). That way, it’s easy to limit their salt, sugar and fat content.

But for that to work, you have to eschew the albeit-tempting shortcuts offered by the supermarkets: by using ready-to-roll shortcut pastry for Sunday’s apple tart, or mayonnaise in a tube for your lunchtime sandwich, you’re dipping your toes into the processed pool.

Processed food: it’s all about balance!

While it’s difficult to avoid all processed products (and some are perfectly acceptable nutrition-wise), it’s important to remember that the key to good health lies in a varied, balanced diet.

in a well-composed meal, vitamins and minerals, found mainly in raw foods, should be centre-stage (11). To boost your intake, you could also take a multivitamin supplement (such as Daily 3, which offers 42 carefully-selected ingredients, including 12 vitamins and 8 minerals).

With their high content of fast-acting sugars, processed products affect blood sugar levels, sudden fluctuations being associated with weight gain (12). By supporting glucose metabolism and weight control, banaba extract constitutes an excellent food-balancing aid (the supplement Glucofit benefits from a formulation with 18% corosolic acid, the main active principle in banaba, for optimal efficacy) (13).

Carriers of saturated fatty acids (even trans fatty acids), ultra-processed foods also adversely affect the lipid profile (14). Alongside extra-virgin rapeseed, nut and olive oils, ingredients such as black garlic (which features in Organic ABG10+, an organic black garlic supplement standardised to 0.1% S-allyl-cysteine, the highest percentage on the market) can provide valuable support, by helping to maintain good cardiovascular health and normal cholesterol levels (15-16).

For excess fat, it’s also worth considering coleus (present in the powerful synergistic formulation Advanced Fat Burner, along with green coffee and garcinia), a little-known plant from the Lamiaceae family, which supports weight loss by stimulating lipolysis (17).

For restoring a good inner balance more generally, there are supplements which combine several antioxidant nutrients, such as tulsi and turmeric (both of which feature in InflaRelief Formula, which combines no less than 12 natural substances with rebalancing properties) (18-19).

References

  1. Elizabeth L, Machado P, Zinöcker M, Baker P, Lawrence M. Ultra-Processed Foods and Health Outcomes: A Narrative Review. 2020 Jun 30;12(7):1955. doi: 10.3390/nu12071955. PMID: 32630022; PMCID: PMC7399967.
  2. Banerjee A, Mukherjee S, Maji BK. Worldwide flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate combined with high lipid diet provokes metabolic alterations and systemic anomalies: An overview. Toxicol Rep. 2021 Apr 29;8:938-961. doi: 10.1016/j.toxrep.2021.04.009. PMID: 34026558; PMCID: PMC8120859.
  3. Merinas-Amo R, Martínez-Jurado M, Jurado-Güeto S, Alonso-Moraga Á, Merinas-Amo T. Biological Effects of Food Coloring in In Vivo and In Vitro Model Systems. Foods. 2019 May 24;8(5):176. doi: 10.3390/foods8050176. PMID: 31137639; PMCID: PMC6560448.
  4. Iwasaki M, Tsugane S. Dietary heterocyclic aromatic amine intake and cancer risk: epidemiological evidence from Japanese studies. Genes Environ. 2021 Jul 27;43(1):33. doi: 10.1186/s41021-021-00202-5. PMID: 34315542; PMCID: PMC8314635.
  5. Meyers AM, Mourra D, Beeler JA. High fructose corn syrup induces metabolic dysregulation and altered dopamine signaling in the absence of obesity. PLoS One. 2017 Dec 29;12(12):e0190206. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0190206. PMID: 29287121; PMCID: PMC5747444.
  6. Costa de Miranda R, Rauber F, Levy RB. Impact of ultra-processed food consumption on metabolic health. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2021 Feb 1;32(1):24-37. doi: 10.1097/MOL.0000000000000728. PMID: 33315618.
  7. Geliebter A, Grillot CL, Aviram-Friedman R, Haq S, Yahav E, Hashim SA. Effects of oatmeal and corn flakes cereal breakfasts on satiety, gastric emptying, glucose, and appetite-related hormones. Ann Nutr Metab. 2015;66(2-3):93-103. doi: 10.1159/000365933. Epub 2015 Jan 23. PMID: 25612907.
  8. Iko Afé OH, Kpoclou YE, Douny C, Anihouvi VB, Igout A, Mahillon J, Hounhouigan DJ, Scippo ML. Chemical hazards in smoked meat and fish. Food Sci Nutr. 2021 Oct 18;9(12):6903-6922. doi: 10.1002/fsn3.2633. PMID: 34925818; PMCID: PMC8645718.
  9. Aasheim ET, Sharp SJ, Appleby PN, Shipley MJ, Lentjes MA, Khaw KT, Brunner E, Key TJ, Wareham NJ. Tinned fruit consumption and mortality in three prospective cohorts. PLoS One. 2015 Feb 25;10(2):e0117796. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0117796. PMID: 25714554; PMCID: PMC4340615.
  10. Mills S, Brown H, Wrieden W, White M, Adams J. Frequency of eating home cooked meals and potential benefits for diet and health: cross-sectional analysis of a population-based cohort study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017 Aug 17;14(1):109. doi: 10.1186/s12966-017-0567-y. PMID: 28818089; PMCID: PMC5561571.
  11. Falcão RCTMA, Lyra CO, Morais CMM, Pinheiro LGB, Pedrosa LFC, Lima SCVC, Sena-Evangelista KCM. Processed and ultra-processed foods are associated with high prevalence of inadequate selenium intake and low prevalence of vitamin B1 and zinc inadequacy in adolescents from public schools in an urban area of northeastern Brazil. PLoS One. 2019 Dec 4;14(12):e0224984. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0224984. PMID: 31800573; PMCID: PMC6892533.
  12. Brand JC, Nicholson PL, Thorburn AW, Truswell AS. Food processing and the glycemic index. Am J Clin Nutr. 1985 Dec;42(6):1192-6. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/42.6.1192. PMID: 4072954.
  13. Stohs SJ, Miller H, Kaats GR. A review of the efficacy and safety of banaba (Lagerstroemia speciosa L.) and corosolic acid. Phytother Res. 2012 Mar;26(3):317-24. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3664. Epub 2011 Nov 17. PMID: 22095937.
  14. Kummerow FA. The negative effects of hydrogenated trans fats and what to do about them. 2009 Aug;205(2):458-65. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2009.03.009. Epub 2009 Mar 19. PMID: 19345947.
  15. Ahmed T, Wang CK. Black Garlic and Its Bioactive Compounds on Human Health Diseases: A Review. 2021 Aug 19;26(16):5028. doi: 10.3390/molecules26165028. PMID: 34443625; PMCID: PMC8401630.
  16. Ha AW, Ying T, Kim WK. The effects of black garlic (Allium satvium) extracts on lipid metabolism in rats fed a high fat diet. Nutr Res Pract. 2015 Feb;9(1):30-6. doi: 10.4162/nrp.2015.9.1.30. Epub 2015 Jan 28. PMID: 25671065; PMCID: PMC4317477.
  17. Loftus HL, Astell KJ, Mathai ML, Su XQ. Coleus forskohlii Extract Supplementation in Conjunction with a Hypocaloric Diet Reduces the Risk Factors of Metabolic Syndrome in Overweight and Obese Subjects: A Randomized Controlled Trial. 2015 Nov 17;7(11):9508-22. doi: 10.3390/nu7115483. PMID: 26593941; PMCID: PMC4663611.
  18. Cohen MM. Tulsi - Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. J Ayurveda Integr Med. 2014 Oct-Dec;5(4):251-9. doi: 10.4103/0975-9476.146554. PMID: 25624701; PMCID: PMC4296439.
  19. Hewlings SJ, Kalman DS. Curcumin: A Review of Its Effects on Human Health. 2017 Oct 22;6(10):92. doi: 10.3390/foods6100092. PMID: 29065496; PMCID: PMC5664031.
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