When you’re making food choices it’s important to think about your future self and aging and not just your current health. Eating what’s convenient won’t always be the right choice – unless you’ve made the right foods convenient and easy to eat. Luckily there are several easy ways to make healthy foods a convenient option, and I’m going to share these with you.
Why are ultra-processed foods so bad for you?
Ultra-processed foods are hiding in plain sight. It’s not just turkey twizzlers and drive-through fast food we should be avoiding. It’s easy to assume the ready meal we’ve picked up is good for us because it contains vegetables and ‘sounds’ like it’s healthy.
But did you know most ready meals contain long lists of ultra-processed foods? Many of the ingredients will have started out as naturally occurring but will have been subjected to advanced chemical processes. Even something as unassuming as natural flavourings, which sound like a great alternative to artificial ones, are often anything but.
Always read the label; if you can’t recognise an ingredient or couldn’t reproduce it in your kitchen, these are two key signs it should be avoided! Ultra-processed foods are altered foods that tend to contain excessive amounts of salt, sugar, fat, and additives. They contain very little in the way of nutrients, are calorie dense, designed to make you keep eating them, and are linked to negative health outcomes including cognitive decline and dementia.
One recent study found “those who ate the most ultra-processed food were 24% more likely to experience serious heart and circulatory events including heart attacks, strokes and angina. Each 10% rise in daily intake of ultra-processed food was linked with a 6% increase in heart disease risk”.
How can you reduce how much ultra-processed food you eat?
Prioritizing unprocessed or minimally processed food will help you reduce how much ultra-processed food you eat. These are my tips based on what I do:
- Plan your meals in advance
- Use home delivery options to avoid the temptations of impulse buying in supermarkets
- Cook from scratch whenever possible
- Keep unprocessed staples in the freezer like fruit, vegetables, fresh herbs, fish, meat and wholewheat or sourdough bread
- Keep staples in your cupboards like grains, pulses, tinned beans and tomatoes, oils, and herbs and spices
- Batch cook and freeze meals to create your own ‘ready meals’
- Batch cook and freeze or refrigerate extra portions of sauces to create your own handy alternatives
Add into your diet as much of these foods as you can:
- fruit and vegetables, both fresh and frozen
- dried fruits, nuts, and seeds with no added sugar, salt, or oil
- pulses and legumes like chickpeas and lentils
- wholegrain starchy carbohydrates like oats and wholewheat bread and pasta
- fresh meat, poultry, fish, and eggs
- plain or natural yogurt with no added sugar, flavourings, or other additives
- spices and herbs
For example, for breakfast you could have porridge with fruit and nuts, plain yogurt with fruit and seeds, or a high protein smoothie instead of sugary, low-fibre, ultra-processed breakfast cereals.
It also helps to:
- Take a packed lunch to school or work
- Check food labels for high levels of saturated fats, sodium, sugar, as well as ingredients you wouldn’t find in a home kitchen
- Snack on whole foods rather than pre-packaged snacks
- Reduce your fast food consumption
Ditch processed tomato sauce for my Fearless in the Kitchen no-cook, quick and delicious alternative
400g tin chopped tomatoes
4 tablespoons tomato paste
150g sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon chilli powder (optional)
1 tablespoon water
1. Put all the ingredients except the water into a food processor and whizz to a chunky paste
2. Add the water and mix in
Your sauce will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for 10 days and there are loads of things you can do with it. Why not add a tin of cannellini beans, use in a soup, or cook it with meatballs?
A Fearless in the Kitchen online class will help get you started on the path to reducing ultra-processed foods in your diet. You’ll also find more recipes for quick and easy, healthy and nutritious food on our Instagram and Facebook pages. Why not check them out?