Pro­cess­ing our food CHOICES

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Food - Joyce Fe­gan

AL­MOST half of all food bought by fam­i­lies in Ire­land is now “ul­tra-pro­cessed”. A to­tal of 45.9% of Ir­ish fam­i­lies’ di­ets are made up of such foods: Sug­ary ce­re­als, in­dus­tri­ally made breads, ready meals, and re­con­sti­tuted meats. The study con­tain­ing these find­ings has just been pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Pub­lic

Health Nu­tri­tion, which sur­veyed 19 Eu­ro­pean coun­tries.

Di­eti­cians and can­cer re­searchers here are not all that alarmed by the re­search for sev­eral rea­sons, in­clud­ing ter­mi­nol­ogy, so­cioe­co­nomic con­di­tions, and life­style fac­tors.

“We are us­ing very broad terms and then putting all breads, for ex­am­ple, into it. Flour comes from a grain that has un­der­gone a process. So we need to be care­ful what it is we are ac­tu­ally talk­ing about,” Sarah Keogh, di­eti­cian and founder of Eat Well, tells Feel­good. “You could have a pro­cessed ce­real that has vi­ta­mins added and for a low-in­come fam­ily this is a very im­por­tant prod­uct.”

Peo­ple’s so­cial and eco­nomic sit­u­a­tions play a ma­jor role in their food choices, she says, there­fore, we can­not af­ford to “con­demn” pro­cessed foods. “Fresh food is great if you’re mid­dle class and have lots of time, but some­times ready meals are the only op­tion for peo­ple. We are hav­ing very mid­dle-class con­ver­sa­tions about nu­tri­tion, talk­ing about blue­ber­ries and av­o­ca­dos when there are peo­ple liv­ing in hor­rific so­cial sit­u­a­tions.

“We need to re­ally un­der­stand what is go­ing on in peo­ple’s lives be­fore we con­demn ul­tra-pro­cessed foods.”

On a daily ba­sis, of peo­ple aged be­tween 18 and 64, 78% con­sume white bread, 66% eat cheese, 65% con­sume syrups or pre­serves, 62% eat bis­cuits, 61% con­sume ready-to-eat break­fast ce­re­als, and 47% eat meat prod­ucts or some form of pro­cessed meats. This is ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Adult Nu­tri­tion Sur­vey car­ried out by the Ir­ish Uni­ver­si­ties Nu­tri­tion Al­liance.

Keogh points out that sev­eral “easy-toeat” or pro­cessed foods con­tain macro and mi­cronu­tri­ents that peo­ple should bear in mind while shop­ping. “Peo­ple of­ten look at what is easy to eat. A yo­gurt is easy to eat and it con­tains io­dine, cal­cium, B12, and pro­tein. If it is a plain yo­ghurt then any sug­ars are nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring.

“The con­sump­tion of whole­grain breads, when eaten in rea­son­able amounts, have been linked to a lit­tle less breast can­cer and a lit­tle less heart disease. Cheese has also un­der­gone a process but it con­tains cal­cium, B vi­ta­mins, and pro­tein.”

The di­eti­cian also points out that “ul­tra­pro­cessed foods” alone might not be the prob­lem. “Is it the ul­tra-pro­cessed foods that are the prob­lem or is it that you’re not eat­ing fruit and veg­eta­bles and whole­foods that are pro­tec­tive?”

In terms of pro­tec­tion against ill­ness, an­other re­cently pub­lished study found that ul­tra-pro­cessed foods could be linked with an in­creased risk of can­cer.

The study, pub­lished in the British Med­i­cal

Jour­nal, found that a 10% in­crease in ul­tra-pro­cessed food in­take was as­so­ci­ated with a 12% in­creased risk of over­all can­cer.

Dr Robert O’Con­nor, head of re­search at the Ir­ish Can­cer So­ci­ety, says we need to in­ter­pret the study cau­tiously. “We have to be cau­tious in in­ter­pret­ing this kind of as­so­ci­a­tion study and it doesn’t mean that we should com­pletely avoid all ul­tra-pro­cessed foods to re­duce our risk of can­cer,” he tells Feel­good.

“This pa­per clearly in­di­cated that other life­style fac­tors were very im­por­tant in un­der­stand­ing the find­ings. For ex­am­ple, the data clearly shows that those with higher lev­els of pro­cessed food in­take were also more likely to be smok­ers and ex­er­cise less, two life­style fac­tors which we know in­crease the risks of sev­eral com­mon can­cers.”

Over­all, Ir­ish peo­ple are mind­ful of their health and the role that nu­tri­tion plays in it. In the afore­men­tioned Na­tional Adult Nu­tri­tion Sur­vey, taste (41%) fol­lowed by health and nu­tri­tion (36%) were con­sid­ered the most im­por­tant mo­tives by the ma­jor­ity (77%) of adults liv­ing in Ire­land.

With the ad­vent of tech­nol­ogy, we are ac­cess­ing in­for­ma­tion on food and recipes from more and more places and ma­jor na­tional in­flu­encers come from dif­fer­ent sources. These in­clude food jour­nal­ist Suzanne Camp­bell, blog­ger and so­cial me­dia in­flu­encer Roz Pur­cell, and founders of the Bal­ly­maloe Cook­ery School Da­rina Allen and Rory O’Con­nell.

How­ever, taste and nu­tri­tion aside, ac­cord­ing to Au­gust 2017 re­search from Kan­tar World Panel, 38% of us say price is the “most im­por­tant” fac­tor when buying groceries, with 72% “shop­ping around” to make sure we get the best of­fers.

Pic­ture: iStock

TROL­LEY CHECK: A study has found a link be­tween an in­crease in ul­tra-pro­cessed food in­take and the risk of de­vel­op­ing can­cer.

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