What are ultra-processed foods and why you should avoid them

The current affairs program Panorama is examining the potential links between ultra-processed foods and the rise in chronic disease. In tonight’s (June 5) documentary, there is an investigation into these convenience foods and how they can affect our health.

The description of the BBC show reads: ‘The UK is grappling with an epidemic of chronic disease, with diabetes rates at record highs and cancers in young people on the rise. Now, there is mounting evidence to suggest this could be linked to the food we eat.

“Ultra-processed convenience foods contain chemicals that UK regulators deem safe, but Panorama is investigating emerging scientific evidence of a link between some of these chemicals and cancer, diabetes and stroke.”

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What are ultra-processed foods?

Foods are divided into four categories: unprocessed or minimally processed; processed ingredients (such as sugar) that are generally not eaten on their own; processed foods; and ultra-processed foods.

Ultra-processed foods typically have five or more ingredients. They consist primarily of substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, added sugars, and hydrogenated fats, and tend to include many additives and ingredients not typically used in home cooking, such as preservatives, emulsifiers, sweeteners, artificial colors, and artificial flavors. Such foods usually have a long shelf life but are fatty, sugary, salty, low in fiber, and have little or no nutritional value.

Examples of these foods are crisps, chips, cookies, cakes, pies, cereals, candy bars, instant soups, ice cream, ham, sausages, commercially produced breads, sodas, fruit yoghurts, and some alcoholic beverages including whisky, gin and rum.

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