Processed food

A trolley full of unhealthy food.

Last week I came across this (rather long) article in the Guardian about processed food. Much of it is about the things we know or are now learning about the western diet. The food that is most accessible contains hidden sugars and processed carbohydrates and make us want more of it. Ultimately that food contributes to making us fat.

The author of this article highlights how they got fat eating ultra processed foods and found these were almost compulsive. I am not one for sweet things, but give me a packet of crisps or some cheese biscuits and I’ll crave and want to eat more. Our food is labelled by a traffic light system, red is bad, green good. Foods with low fat and sugar are deemed good. But often those foods have had chemicals added to them to make them ‘healthy’. They have been processed.

The Brazilian way

In 2014 the Brazilian government took a different approach to other countries. They had noticed that more of their young people were getting fatter (Obesity rose from 7.5% to 17.5% in 10 years). These young people were moving away from home cooked from scratch food towards more processed foods. So, the Brazilian government advised their population to avoid food that was ultra processed.

The biggest departure in the Brazilian guidelines was to treat food processing as the single most important issue in public health. This new set of rules framed unhealthy food less in terms of the nutrients it contains (fats, carbohydrates etc) and more by the degree to which it is processed (preserved, emulsified, sweetened etc). No government diet guidelines had ever categorised foods this way before. One of the first rules in the Brazilian guidelines was to “avoid consumption of ultra-processed products”. They condemned at a stroke not just fast foods or sugary snacks, but also many foods which have been reformulated to seem health-giving, from “lite” margarines to vitamin-fortified breakfast cereals.

Bee Wilson, Guardian

This policy has been followed up by research in both Brazil and France that points towards processed food being responsible for many of our modern diseases. Such as type 2 diabetes, this is despite people eating less sugar.

A classification system called the Nova has been developed to rate how processed foods are.

  • Unprocessed or minimally processed foods
  • Processed culinary ingredients
  • Processed foods
  • Ultra-processed food and drink products

Resources from the article

This article provides an excellent starting point to exploring more about the food so readily available to us. And to help navigate a healthier route. one of the great resources linked to the Guardian article is a website called Open Food Facts. It is run by volunteers, mostly French and is a growing resource of the contents of the food we eat. To use it, you input your country at the top left hand side and then can browse foods you might plan to eat. You can search by name or barcode. If you can’t find a food, you can become part of the team adding in the nutritional data.

There are many links to other research within the article. A veritable rabbit hole of investigation still awaits me.

3 thoughts on “Processed food”

  1. So glad you have put this out there – And WOW about the Brazilian government. I like labels with as much info as possible on food products – we rarely eat processed but I really ‘do not’ think most people know how damaging these packaged products can be…

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