Six things you want to know about ultra-processed foods and what you can do about them



Around the world, there is a growing trend to eat ultra-processed foods (UPF). And we eat a lot of it as snacks.

The problem? It’s bad for the waistline, and even worse for our health. Here are five things you may not have known about UPF:

  • UPF refers to the types of foods that are industrial food formulations and typically contain five or more ingredients. Ingredients often include additives designed to mimic the sensory qualities of unprocessed or minimally processed foods, or to mask unwanted sensory qualities. nutrients, or have been slightly processed, for example by drying, freezing, pasteurizing, roasting or removing inedible parts
  • The main purpose of ultra-processing is to create products that are ready to eat, drink or reheat, so that it can replace both processed and minimally processed foods that are naturally read to consume, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, milk or water.
  • UPFs are generally very appetizing, in attractive packaging, and are often also marketed aggressively to children and adolescents.
  • They’re also generally energy dense (meaning they contain a lot of kilojoules per gram) and high in sugar, sodium (salt), or fat. However, some can also include added micronutrients, to make it healthier. You can probably imagine hundreds of examples now: soft drinks and “energy” drinks, crisps, chocolate bars, “energy” bars, breakfast cereals, Viennese … the list goes on. So what’s the deal with these foods? Although we should be able to enjoy all foods without any guilt, we should also be aware that it can compromise our health.
  • UPF can increase your risk of unwanted weight gain. Since these foods are super appetizing and generally low in fiber (fiber helps us feel fuller for longer), it’s easy to overeat these foods. As mentioned earlier, these foods are usually also high in energy (kilojoules), which means that we can more easily exceed the amount our bodies need to function normally, resulting in the storage of energy in the form of fat. In South Africa, about 7 in 10 women and 3 in 10 men are overweight or obese. And children are also affected: 13% of children under five and a hundred, with 14.2% of children aged 6-14 are overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese puts you at a higher risk of developing noncommunicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. Diabetes is currently the number one killer of women in South Africa. So reducing our risk (and that of our children!) Of becoming overweight or obese by reducing UPF is a good idea.
  • Finally, UPFs also tend to replace more nutritious foods in our diet. This is also of great concern, as it can lead to what is called “hidden hunger”, when you have not consumed enough nutritious food and have micronutrient deficiencies. More than a quarter of children in South Africa are stunted (small for their age) due to chronic malnutrition. These kids might not always look emaciated, as they might be able to eat a lot of starchy and ultra-processed foods and drinks. But without the necessary micronutrients, they are not able to develop properly, both cognitively and physically. But even we as adults can suffer from hidden hunger if we do not eat a diverse diet rich in the necessary micronutrients, which can lead to poor immunity, lowering our risk of fighting off infections.

An easy solution? Well, when it comes to nutrition, weight and health, there are never really “quick” or “easy” solutions.

A healthy diet is a diet that is constantly diversified into a variety of mostly whole or minimally processed foods such as whole grains and starchy vegetables (such as potatoes and butternut), protein (such as meat lean, eggs or vegetable proteins like beans and lentils), nuts, dairy products and, of course, vegetables and fruits.

So, in keeping with this year’s National Nutrition Week theme “Eat more veggies and fruit every day,” swapping out ultra-processed snacks for you and your kids for more micronutrient-rich veggies and fruits is a big deal. good start.

It can help you and your children reach the goal of eating three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit per day.

Here are some suitable lunchbox options to try:

  • Carrot sticks with hummus or cottage cheese dip
  • Small tomatoes and cucumber slices on rice cakes
  • Orange segments
  • 1 cup of raisins
  • 30g of dried fruits such as raisins, or 2 dried dates. Add a few unsalted nuts.
  • 2 small plums
  • Unsweetened yogurt with cut fruits and seeds
  • Mixture of frozen banana and cocoa powder for a chocolate “belle-crème”
  • Fruit smoothies made with 1 cup of chopped or frozen fruit and ½ cup of milk and ice
  • Sliced ​​fruit on whole wheat toast (bananas and strawberries work well)
  • Any fruit to take out, such as apples, pears, bananas, peaches, and naartjies

More tips on how to include vegetables and fruits every day, portion sizes for adults and children, and how to eat more vegetables and fruit on a budget.

* Information from National Nutrition Week 2020 and 2021 concept papers has been used in this article.

*Liezel Engelbrecht is a dietitian and spokesperson for ADSA


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