At Chuckling Goat we’re all about adding foods to your diet to boost diversity for a super healthy microbiome. But, if we were going to recommend cutting down on a particular food group it would be ultra-processed foods (UPFs).
Ultra-processed foods are often high in calories, sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, and are typically low in essential nutrients like fibre, vitamins, and minerals. 1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5986467/ They have a negative effect on the gut microbiome and can contribute to a range of health issues including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. 2https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32792031/
Let’s look at the statistics…
- On average, 50% of a typical UK shopping basket is made up of ultra-processed foods as well as two-thirds of children’s diets! 3https://www.soilassociation.org/media/21669/ultra-processed-foods_soil-association-report.pdf
- Recent research found that UPFs increase energy intake and cause weight gain. 4https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31105044/
- One study showed that diets rich in UPFs were associated with a 79% increased risk for obesity. 5https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8532572/
Which foods are ultra-processed?
According the to NOVA scale, there are four categories for classifying foods according to how much processing they have undergone. 6https://regulatory.mxns.com/en/ultra-processed-foods-nova-classification
1 = Unprocessed or minimally processed – these tend to be whole foods closer to their natural state (fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, meat, lentils, rice, nuts and seeds, milk and yoghurt, herbs and spices).
2 = Processed culinary ingredients (flour, sugar, butter, pasta, mustard, soy sauce, olive oil).
3 = Processed foods – often made using ingredients from groups 1 and 2, they’re processed to some extent but still include some whole foods (bread, jam, canned vegetables, cured meats).
4 = Ultra-processed foods – tend to be made using refined ingredients and additives such as emulsifiers and modified starch (sweets, fast food, fizzy drinks, hot dogs, sugary cereals, pastries, margarine).
Food manufacturing processes have become much more complex over the last few decades, moving beyond simply freezing, fermenting, or pasteurising. Now they involve complex, multi-stage processes, often requiring the help of scientists and sophisticated machinery. 7https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8532572/
Manufacturers are very ‘clever’ – in order to maximise sales they work out how to make packaged foods as tasty as possible and with a long shelf-life. 8https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8398521/ A lot of time is spent creating the ‘bliss point’ – the precise combination of sugar, salt, and fat in a food product that creates the greatest amount of pleasure or “bliss” for the consumer. 9https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6550161/
UPFs also tend to be very easy to eat – they come in handy packs, tubes, and pots and they don’t require much chewing, hence you can eat a whole pack of biscuits or bag of crisps in no time at all!
How do UPFs affect your health?
UPFs are high in sugar, bad fats, salt, calories, and often contain food additives. These cause inflammation, an increase in blood glucose and insulin resistance, high waist circumference, raised blood pressure, and unhealthy cholesterol levels, all of which can lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
How do UPFs damage the gut?
- Ultra-processed foods lack fibre and plant nutrients that are crucial for the growth of beneficial bacteria. Therefore UPFs reduce diversity as well as the abundance of beneficial gut bacteria.
- They often contain additives such as preservatives and emulsifiers which have been shown to upset the balance of the gut ecosystem. 10https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6835893/
- A diet high in UPFs can lead to an increase in harmful bacteria.
- UPFs can damage the delicate lining of the gut, allowing unwanted substances into the bloodstream, leading to inflammation.
Tips for reducing UPFs
- Try to steer clear of packaged foods that have more than 5 ingredients.
- Plan your meals and snacks – you’ll be less likely to reach for convenience foods when you’re hungry.
- Where you can, cook from scratch – see our range of easy recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, and snacks.
- When buying food, think, if you can’t make the recipe in your own kitchen (ie some of the ingredients have been created in a laboratory) then give them a miss!
It’s not about avoiding these foods at all costs, just minimising them, making better choices, and opting for homemade versions where possible. For ideas on healthy snack swaps, read this article.
Questions? Feel free to contact us on live chat (weekdays from 8am to 8pm) to speak to one of our nutritional therapists.