The process be­hind pro­cessed foods

The Times-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE -

what makes a food “pro­cessed”? Learn why these foods are con­sid­ered un­healthy for you.

Q:

I know that pro­cessed foods aren’t good for me and should be avoided, but I still have some ques­tions. Could you please ex­plain why they are un­healthy and pro­vide some spe­cific ex­am­ples of such foods?

A:

Any food, when it’s changed from its orig­i­nal form, can be con­sid­ered to be pro­cessed. That in­cludes chopped spinach in the frozen food aisle, yo­gurt in the dairy case or whole-grain bread from your lo­cal bak­ery. To set apart the highly ma­nip­u­lated, salty, fatty and sug­ary foods we’ve grown to love and crave, they’ve been given a cat­e­gory of their own: “ul­tra-pro­cessed” foods. These in­clude the fla­vored puffs and chips in the snack aisle, lun­cheon meats, man­u­fac­tured ice cream prod­ucts, pro­cessed cheeses, boxed bak­ing mixes, many prepack­aged frozen en­trees, the ma­jor­ity of fast food menus, candy, so­das and other sug­ary drinks, in­stant noo­dles, en­ergy drinks and even so­called en­ergy bars, to name just a few.

Ul­tra-pro­cessed foods have gone through mul­ti­ple steps, such as milling, grind­ing, de­hy­drat­ing, frying, rolling, re­hy­drat­ing and ex­trud­ing. They also in­clude a wide range of ad­di­tives, which are used to ar­rive at a prod­uct that is markedly dif­fer­ent from the orig­i­nal forms of its in­gre­di­ents. Added salt, fats and sug­ars amp up fla­vor. Dyes are used to achieve a spe­cific look. In­gre­di­ent lists of­ten end with tongue twisters of chem­i­cals used to cre­ate a spe­cific tex­ture or mouth­feel, and to pre­vent spoilage. Food in­dus­try whistle­blow­ers have long claimed that many ul­tra­pro­cessed foods are care­fully for­mu­lated to spark crav­ings, en­cour­age overeat­ing and cre­ate brand loy­alty.

When eaten in mod­er­a­tion as an oc­ca­sional treat — heavy em­pha­sis on “mod­er­a­tion” and “oc­ca­sional” — these types of foods can be fine. It’s when they be­come di­etary sta­ples that prob­lems arise.

Our bod­ies are com­plex. It takes a wide range of fresh foods to de­liver the vi­ta­mins, min­er­als and other nu­tri­ents needed for op­ti­mal health. But ul­tra-pro­cessed foods are of­ten low in fiber and nu­tri­ents. Many lean so hard on added salt to punch up fla­vor that a sin­gle serv­ing puts a se­ri­ous dent in your daily sodium bud­get. The empty calo­ries of ul­tra-pro­cessed foods de­liver un­health­ful amounts of fat, salt and sugar, and they re­place the health­ful whole foods that truly feed the body. We now know that eat­ing a diet high in these types of foods is linked to a range of ill­nesses, in­clud­ing in­creased risk of Type 2 di­a­betes, heart dis­ease, stroke, obe­sity, de­pres­sion, di­ges­tive is­sues, can­cer and early death.

We ad­vise our pa­tients to aim for a diet that’s 80% good, 20% cheat. Fo­cus on health­ful eat­ing, but al­low your­self the naughty de­tour.

ASK THE DOC­TORS ap­pears ev­ery Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day. It is writ­ten by Eve Glazier, M.D., and El­iz­a­beth Ko, M.D. Send ques­tions to ask­the­do­c­tors@med­net.ucla. edu, or write: Ask the Doc­tors, c/o Me­dia Re­la­tions, UCLA Health, 924 West­wood Blvd., Suite 350, Los Angeles, CA, 90095.

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