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How to reduce your Ultra Processed Food intake

Posted on: 27 January 2023

Did you know that more than half of the calories the average person in the UK eats come from ultra-processed foods (UPF)? 

Emerging research has linked these foods to early death and poor health. To support families with eating healthy foods, The GP Care Group’s Child Healthy Weight Team is sharing the under-reported trouble of consuming Ultra Processed Food, and how tips on what foods to avoid, how to check ingredients and reducing your fizzy drink intake.

What are Ultra-Processed Foods?

Most of the food that we eat has been processed in some ways. However, when we talk about Ultra Processed Food (UPF) we are referring to food that has undergone an “extensive” amount of processing. The final product contains little if any whole food, and many ingredients that wouldn’t be found in a typical household kitchen. Most fizzy drinks, packaged snacks, breakfast cereals, ready-to-eat meals etc. would fall into that category.

Why is it a problem?

Research has shown an association between UPF consumption and poor health outcomes, including obesity, type-2 diabetes, independent of the foods nutritional content. This means that the impact of UPF on health is not just related to the amount of salt, fat, and sugar, which are often high.

What should we do? 

When possible, we should try to limit how much UPF we eat. This can be challenging because UPF are everywhere.  They are convenient, tasty, and can be cheaper than their healthier alternatives. But we have come up with 3 top tips to help you reduce your UPF consumption while being cost savvy. 

Tip 1: Leave the commercial baby food.

An overwhelming amount of ready-to-eat baby products are now available to parents and carers, those include jars, pouches, juices, mini packaged snacks, and nibbles. Most of these commercial baby foods are being sold for babies from 4 months despite the recommendation that babies should NOT have any solids before the age of 6 months. Those foods are often ultra-processed and are not needed. Babies should start their food journey with minimally processed family food. They are also very expensive, the cost of carrots in a small pouch of puree carrot would work out at about £20/kg! For information about starting solids please visit: NHS Start4Life and First Steps Nutrition.

Tip 2: Check the ingredient list!

UPF usually contains ingredients that you wouldn’t add when making food at home, some of which you might not even recognise the names of. Below are some of our favourite minimally processed foods for eating healthily on a budget. : 

  • Canned products in water like chickpeas, lentils, beans, sweetcorn, tuna, tomatoes etc.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables.
  • Oat, rice, pasta, and other unprocessed cereals.
  • Eggs and unflavoured dairy products (or dairy alternative) like cheese, milk, and yogurt.

By checking labels, you will be able to differentiate UPF (e.g cornflakes cereals) from minimally processed (e.g., plain oatmeal) products. 

Tip 3: Drop the fizzy drinks! 

Fizzy and sugar sweetened drinks are ultra-processed and they are also often high in sugars which can negatively affect our health, including our teeth! By drinking one less fizzy drink each day, we can save over £400 a year! Need some motivation? Check the Fizz Free February campaign and join others to kick the fizz this February!