Due to the high trend imposed by marketing and advertising, the sale of ultra-processed foods has increased in recent years compared to other foods. The basic structure of the population’s diet has been changed, showing that ultra-processed products are essential. However, this is not real, since the contribution of nutrients from these foods is very poor, which is commonly known as empty calories, since these products provide us with energy, without including any other nutrient from which we can benefit.
The reference to ultra-processed products corresponds to formulations or preparations that are made at the level of the food industry in which, based on substances that are derived or extracted from other foods, they confer properties to the final or finished product. Additives are incorporated that provide specific flavor or texture to try to imitate foods, but with a significant nutritional imbalance since they exceed the recommended levels of free sugars, total fat, saturated fat or sodium.
What are ultra-processed foods
We can categorize as ultra-processed foods: soft drinks, sweet or salty snacks, cookies, cakes and desserts, sauces and dressings, cold cuts, etc. In addition, it is important to bear in mind that not only the ingredients are considered, since the way of preparing them greatly influences the caloric and nutritional intake, among these unhealthy cooking techniques we can find: frying, refining, protein hydrolysis, hydrogenation, extrusion of flours and cereals.
The biggest problem generated by ultra-processed foods is the association of these with the increase in body weight. According to data from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), almost 60%, some 360 million people in the region live with overweight, and this is because ultra-processed products are designed and manufactured to promote high consumption.
These products have organoleptic characteristics (those that can be perceived by the senses) that stimulate our palate and therefore our appetite in a very intense way. For example, sugar and monosodium glutamate stimulate the digestive system by sending signals to our brain to feel dissatisfied and thus causing the desire to continue consuming, thus creating a continuous cycle making it very complex to stop and without considering that these products are not giving us an adequate nutritional intake.
The higher the consumption of ultra-processed products, the lower the consumption of foods with more nutritional characteristics. Thus, quality is lost in our daily diet, since we are exchanging a complete supply of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals for a supply of empty calories where we are only going to feel full for a while causing cardiovascular problems, overweight and obesity, even some types of Cancer.
The greater the amount of processing these products have, the nutritional profile is much lower, causing less satiety and a greater glycemic response (greater increase in blood sugar). Ultra-processed products have more sodium, saturated and trans fats, and higher energy density, all of which can negatively affect our long-term health.
How to avoid consuming them:
- Base our diet on fresh and natural products.
- Apply healthy cooking techniques.
- Learn to read labels and identify the most and least healthy ingredients.
- Plan menus weekly, to avoid gaps in feeding times that make us buy ultra-processed products.
- Create a shopping list with natural products and use spices to enhance the flavor of food.
- Learn to eat again, know how to choose food at all times, even during festivities, activities or outings to eat out. Include the consumption of vegetables, fruits, fiber and water daily.
Ultra-processed products facilitate the day-to-day with options that satisfy our immediate needs and at relatively low prices, but at the same time, they add to the detriment of our state of health and the appearance of diseases that are preventable through proper nutrition.