Our highly processed “Western” diet has also been associated with increased rates of autoimmune diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, lupus, celiac disease, and more.
Let’s face it: As our consumption of ultra-processed food increases, the quality of our health declines.
People who eat more fruit and vegetables and less highly processed foods and animal products live longer and healthier lives. That’s a fact.
So, what is a “highly-processed” or “ultra-processed" food?
This latest study defines ultra-processed food as “food and drink products ready to eat, drink, or heat and made predominantly or entirely from processed items extracted or refined from whole foods or synthesized in a laboratory.”
Here are just a few examples of ultra-processed foods and ingredients:
- Anything with artifical sweeteners (commonly found in diet sodas, snack bars, sugar-free items, and yogurts)
- Protein isolates, such as soy protein isolate, whey protein isolate, or milk protein isolate (commonly found in protein bars and powders)
- Commercial sports drinks
- Potato chips (a potato is a whole food, a potato chip is not - this also goes for sweet potato chips, lentil chips, veggie chips, etc.)
- Many frozen meals (check ingredients)
- Anything with artificial food colorings (e.g. FD&C Blue No. 1)
- Anything with white flour, including "refined flour" or "enriched white flour" (commonly found in bread, crackers, pretzels, cookies, cakes, and pastries)
- Gluten-free pretzels, crackers, bread, cookies, cakes, etc.
- Anything with high fructose corn syrup (automatically means synthesized in a laboratory)
This list could go on and on, but I hope you get the idea.
Ultra-processed food is not the same thing as processed food. For example, store-bought all-natural almond butter and hummus are examples of "processed" foods but they are simply pureed versions of whole foods that could be replicated at home.
Here are a few additional tips for avoiding ultra-processed foods (taken from Michael Pollan's Food Rules: An Eater's Manual):
- Don't eat anything with ingredients that you can't pronounce
- Avoid food products that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry (e.g. carrageenan, xanthan gum, polysorbate 80)
- Don't eat food that won't eventually rot (honey is an exception to this rule)
- Never get your fuel from the same place your car does
- Avoid drive-throughs (It's not food if it arrived through the window of your car)