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:
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)…
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.
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.
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).
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