I frequently have patients, friends, and family asking about what they should be eating. I am still on my journey of learning and feel there is so much information, that at tomes can feel overwhelming. I hope the notes below will help simplify and provide a useful framework.
Increasingly scientists, nutritionists and some Doctors are realising the damage that eating processed foods is doing to our bodies. A 2023 study published in one of the Lancet Journals (1) showed a clear link between increased consumption of processed foods and increased risk of overall cancer-related mortality, especially ovarian and breast. This information is shocking, but also confusing, because recognising processed foods and trying to avoid them can be both difficult, expensive and time consuming.
Processed food refers to any food item that has undergone significant modifications from its original form through various industrial processes. These modifications often involve the addition of artificial ingredients, such as preservatives, flavourings, and colourants, as well as the use of refined grains, added sugars, and unhealthy fats. Processed foods are typically packaged and convenient for consumption but are generally considered less nutritious than whole, unprocessed foods.
To avoid processed foods, you can follow these tips:
2. Read ingredient labels: If you don’t know what the ingredient is, or if it is not something you would have in your pantry then there is a high chance it is processed. Avoid products with a long list of unfamiliar or artificial ingredients.
3. Cook your meals from scratch: If time allows, preparing your own meals allows you to have control over the ingredients and cooking methods. Focus on using whole ingredients and experiment with new and different fruits, vegetables, herbs.
4. Limit consumption of packaged snacks and convenience foods: Snack foods like chips, cookies, and sugary drinks are often highly processed. Instead, choose snack options like fresh fruits, nuts, seeds, or home made snacks made from whole ingredients.
5. Be mindful of food labels: Be cautious of marketing claims like "low-fat," "sugar-free," or "diet," as these products may still contain unhealthy additives or high levels of other ingredients.
6. Shop at farmers' markets or local produce stores: These venues often offer fresh, locally grown produce and fewer processed food options compared to larger supermarkets.
7. Plan your meals and snacks: By planning your meals in advance, you can ensure that you have the necessary ingredients on hand and reduce the temptation to opt for processed convenience foods when you are short on time.
8. Remember, it's not necessary to completely eliminate all processed foods from your diet, as some minimally processed foods can still be a part of a balanced diet. The key is to prioritize whole, nutrient-dense foods as the foundation of your diet and to make conscious choices when it comes to processed options.
(1) Ultra-processed food consumption, cancer risk and cancermortality: a large-scale prospective analysis within the UK Biobank. E clinicalmedicine part of the Lancet discovery science Kiara Chang Marc J. Gunter, FernandaRauber, Renata B. Levy, Inge Huybrechts, Nathalie Kliemann, et al.