What are ultra-processed foods?

A product that contains more than 5 different ingredients and among them sugars or refined vegetable oils is an ultra-processed product.

Did you know that a low fat yogurt fruit flavored or Cereal bars (the ones you snack on thinking they’re healthy) Are these ultra-processed foods that should not be abused? We talked about it with Carlos Ríos, author of the book “Eat real food” (Editorial Paidós) and creator of the Realfooding movement, a way of life whose objective is to sensitize the population to the the damage that ultra-processed foods have on our health and the importance of eating natural and good quality food.

Characteristics of an ultra-processed food

Carlos Ríos, dietitian nutritionist, assures that to identify it you have to look at the label:

Ultra-processed foods contain more 5 different ingredients and among them are sugars, refined flours, refined vegetable oils, additives or salt, It is an ultra-processed product.

Why ultra-processed foods are bad for your health

Its use has been shown to continue favors the development of cardiovascular diseases or cancers.

Human beings are not adapted, neither biologically nor genetically, to this relatively new type of food in our diet, says the creator of Realfooding.

This causes imbalances at the organic level: it increases blood sugar, increases blood pressure due to excess salt… All of this, of course, is a time bomb that promotes hypertension or type 2 diabetes.

In addition, these types of products promote obesity. because they are very high in calories and have an appetizing flavor, which drives you to eat more. And obesity is a risk factor for all kinds of diseases.

On the other hand, ultra-processed foods are very low in healthy nutrients. such as fiber, vitamins, antioxidants or protein. That’s why they have a double negative impact: they give you unhealthy ingredients and they give you hardly any beneficial ones.

Ultra-processed foods you wouldn’t imagine are

There are products which, at first glance, we have the intuition that they are industrial and that they carry a lot of fats and sugars, so it is clear that they should not be abused.

But there are others where it’s not so clear. Bear in mind that, as Ríos assures us, “are designed to suit the manufacturer and may contain claims (“high in fiber! low in fat!”) which can lead to deception”:

  • Yogurts 0% fat with fruit flavor. We all know that some chocolate creams are high in calories and should not be consumed daily, but such yogurt is confusing. And it is that, although they contain less fat, they contribute a quantity of sugar which make it an unhealthy ultra-processed.
  • Low calorie cereal bars. In fact, the reason they are low in calories is that they are a very small serving. But surely, as Ríos assures us, “you end up eating two or three of them because they have a very addictive flavor”.
  • Breakfast cereals. If you look at the label, most contain sugar, fat and salt to enhance their flavor. Keep in mind that cereal, without more, is very tasteless. For this reason, special care must be taken to cereals we give to children for breakfastsince most contain more than 30% sugar (30 g of sugar per 100 g of food).
  • Wrapped salads… with toast and industrial sauces. As much as the product has green shoots, the bread is made with refined flour and the sauce with refined oils, salt, sugar…
  • Pre-cooked meals that imitate homemade meals. For example, tomato fried with refined oils (sunflower, soya or palm) instead of virgin olive oil; or creams or soups containing starches and refined oils.
  • 100% natural fruit juices. A juice will never give you all the nutrients of the fruit, especially the fibre, which is why it will not satisfy you in the same way. What it gives you is a lot more fructose (the sugar found in fruit): to craft a small brick, you may need three pieces of fruit. In short: you consume a excess sugar. The same goes for fruit in syrup, quince or candied fruit.

children eat a lot of ultra-processed products

Carlos Ríos insists on this idea that in reality, This is a wake-up call for parents.

“Many people think that their child is already eating well because they eat vegetables, legumes, fruit or fish throughout the day; but if there is an ultra-processed product like industrial pastries with breakfast lunch or snack, Nearly 100 grams of added sugars are added to the daily menu. And that, day after day, promotes childhood obesity.

not all packaging is bad

There are processed products that can perfectly be included in a healthy diet. These are the “transformed goods” and you will distinguish them because:

They carry from 1 to 5 ingredients, among which there are no significant amounts (less than or equal to 5-10% of the total) added sugar, refined flour or vegetable oil.

Examples of Healthy Processed Foods

  • Yoghurts, kefir… Plain and without sugar1
  • The dehydrated fruit. The water has simply been removed, which is why it is healthy, although you don’t have to eat a lot of it because it concentrates a lot of sugar.
  • Frozen vegetables.
  • gazpacho or salmorejo packaged and made with olive oil.
  • Vegetable broths, creams and purees which contain only natural ingredients and virgin olive oil.
  • The “real” wholemeal bread, made with wholemeal flour and sourdough.
  • 75% chocolate of cocoa.
  • natural crushed tomato with less than 5 g of sugar per 100 g of food.
  • You keep it naturally or in virgin olive oil.

The three rules of Realfooding

  1. Base your diet on natural or minimally processed foods. Of course, 50% of these foods must be plant-based. The rest can be fish, meat, eggs…
  2. completed your diet with good processed foods.
  3. avoid the ultra-processed

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