Healthful Food: Why Ultra-Processed Food is Not It

A Series on Healthful Food

I referred to this idea of doing a series on healthful food choices, first in More Than Just Food. I know that I have been mulling over this for a long time.

So here we go.

Not Healthful Food

I remember the days when I was working so much and when I was stressed out.

Healthful eating was the last thing on my mind. I basically put the most convenient foods (aka ultra-processed food) in my mouth and into my body.

As a result, I ran into health issues, including chronic ones.

Ultra-processed Foods

If there is one category of food I think everyone must restrict at all costs, it is ultra-processed foods.

It is the most toxic category of foods and the more of these foods we invite into our bodies, the more misery and sickness will reside in our bodies.

What is Ultra-Processed Food?

So, what is ultra-processed food? It is the category of food that includes ‘soft drinks, sweet or savory packaged snacks, reconstituted meat products and pre-prepared frozen dishes’.

These ‘formulations are made mostly or entirely from substances derived from foods and additives, with little if any intact food’. It contains little or no natural foods, which are edible parts of plants or of animals and ‘fungi, algae and water, after separation from nature’ .

Imagine that.

Components of Ultra-Processed Food

So, if ultra-processed foods contain little or no natural foods, then what on earth do they contain? While these foods contain sugars, oils, fats or salt, ‘they also include other sources of energy and nutrients not normally used in culinary preparations’. ‘Some of these are directly extracted from foods, such as casein, lactose, whey and gluten’ .

Many others are derived from further processing food groups. Like when oil is hydrogenated or protein is hydrolyzed. Other examples of these products include soya protein isolate, maltodextrin and high-fructose corn syrup.

While additives are used in many less processed foods, the additives found only in ultra-processed foods are those designed ‘to imitate or enhance the sensory qualities of foods or to disguise unpalatable aspects of the final product‘. These additives ‘include dyes and other colors, color stabilizers; flavors, flavor enhancers, non-sugar sweeteners; and processing aids’; ibid.

Let that sink in.

Cooking at Home vs.the Diet of Ultra-Processed Foods

If you have ever cooked at home, you know that each of your ingredients is unique and flavorful in its own way and the final dish is really a culmination of all these delicious ingredients.

However, ultra-processed foods usually contain ingredients that we would not use, when cooking at home. In addition, the method of making a dish is what takes it from processed to ultra-processed. An example is ‘(b)read made from wheat flour, water, salt and yeast.., but add emulsifiers or colorings’,

A diet high in ultra-processed foods leads to weight gain. In addition, ‘researchers have reported associations between processed foods and health outcomes, such as an increased risk of developing obesity, cancer, autoimmune conditions, and even death’.

Yet, it makes for ‘57.9% of energy intake in the United States’.

A Quick Way to Recognize These Foods

So, how do we recognize ultra-processed foods once we decide to cut these foods out of our diets? The BBC article referred to earlier, provides some really useful guidelines that laypeople like us can understand and remember easily.

The signs and indications of these foods are summarized as follows

  1. A long list of ingredients, especially if it includes things only used in factory-made food.
  2. Unrecognizable ingredients being used as additives.
  3. High fat, sugar and salt content in the food.
  4. ‘Fresh food’ with a long shelf life indicating the presence of preservatives, including sodium benzoate, nitrate and sulphite, BHA and BHT on the labels.
  5. Aggressive marketing and branding.


Ultra-processed food is food that is a thousand times worse than rich, decadent homemade foods, in my opinion. It can literally sicken and kill us over a short period of time.

Which is why it is so worth reading food packaging, researching ingredients in our food, buying food wisely and preparing our own foods at home.

For healthier living and longer lives.

pink orange blue and green candies
Sugary, artificially-colored, ultra-processed sweets
Photo by Ester Sánchez Alfaro on

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