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NEW STUDY released on the risks of Ultra-Processed-Foods

Did you see the recent news reports about a new study on Ultra-Processed-Foods (UPF’s) and their effect on disease risk?

It can certainly feel overwhelming to constantly see reporting on what we 'should' or 'should not' be eating in regards to our health, and often times this information may appear conflicting, leaving the reader confused, frustrated, and none the wiser on how to make healthy food choices. The world of nutrition science can seem overwhelming and conflicting so I am here to help demystify the findings.

Here is a brief roundup of the findings from this new study by Imperial College's School of Public Health, published in The Lancet medical journal:

  • The amount of UPF’s eaten were found to have a proportionate effect on risk of developing and dying from all cancers, particularly ovarian, breast, and brain cancers

  • UPF's exceed 50% of daily food intake in the UK & US

  • Global cancer cases are projected to increase from 19.3 to 28.4 million by 2040

  • At least 50% of cancer cases are potentially preventable

  • An unhealthy diet is a risk factor for cancer development and other diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes (T2D), and all-cause mortality

  • This study used data spanning a 10 year follow up period on 197,426 middle aged brits

What is a processed food?

Essentially anything that has been processed beyond the food’s natural form, for example apple juice is a processed version of an apple because it has been through a juice extraction machine. Is this a bad thing? Well, it depends on the food and the processing measures. The apple has been stripped of a vital component – Fibre. Without the fibre the juice is rapidly absorbed into the blood stream and can cause steep blood sugar spikes and crashes, so not advisable for those with blood sugar instability. It will however still contain lots of other beneficial nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, and water so it’s not all bad. However, in a contrasting example, many vegetables benefit from being cooked (processed) which causes some nutrients to become more bioavailable, such as the phytonutrient and antioxidant Lycopene, found in tomatoes.

Now to take it up a notch to the foods that I would actually label as processed. Sugar, vegetable oils, butter, home-made breads and cheeses, processed meats Again, not all bad but worth considering a moderate intake rather than high intake. These foods can form a small part of the diet with no problems seen, with the exception of processed meats which should be avoided entirely due to their group 1 carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effect.

So what are ultra processed foods (UPF’s) then? These are foods which are very processed, meaning lots of methods to change it away from its original form. Including industrially processed breads & baked goods, pre-packaged snacks such as crisps, biscuits, and some yoghurts and desserts, many ready meals, packaged breakfast cereals, reconstituted meat products, and soft/fizzy drinks. I find it shocking and unsurprising at the same time that these UPF’s make up 50% of the British diet and it is these foods that this study looks into and the associated health risks.

How are UPF’s processed?

They may be mechanically and chemically altered during the cooking process, especially when cooked at very high temperatures, nutrient stripped, fibre stripped, additives added such as artificial sweeteners or sugar, or emulsifiers to glue it all together, artificial colourants, and may include contaminants from the food packaging. There’s mixed evidence on some of these additives’ effects on health but as a general rule, if you can’t pronounce the ingredient or if your grandmother wouldn’t know what it was, then try to leave it out of your diet as much as possible.

To round up

As with anything, moderation is key but be mindful and make a decision on what moderation looks like for you. If you are finding that you drink 6 cans of soft drinks per day, try decreasing this by a can each week or replacing it with an unprocessed or minimally processed alternative such as a can of fizzy water with a DASH of fruit juice added for flavour. You might find that this hits the same spot, but without all the added ‘otherness’.

Try to make the bulk of your diet (3 main meals) full of unprocessed or minimally processed, unpackaged whole foods – fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, beans and pulses, lean meat or fish, herbs and spices….. you get the picture. As for the processed foods, why not start by aiming for just 1-2 processed items per day and reducing it from there (or start from wherever you’re at). Decide in advance what and how much you will eat of these foods and try to stick to a plan. E.g. 1 pack of crisps per day plus 1 can of fizzy pop as a starting goal.

For more support with behaviour change, meal planning, and coaching, book in a free 15 minute call with me to find out how I can help you.

Click HERE to read the study in full.


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