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Let’s Talk Processed Foods!


A loaf of Bread

There is a growing body of evidence to show that diets reliant on ultra-processed foods are detrimental to our overall health and wellbeing, and this is a concern that absolutely should be considered in a diet. However, it’s important not to fall into the trap of branding all processed foods bad, useless or inherently unhealthy, and unfortunately this is something I am coming across more and more.


Food processing exists for a reason, often to improve the safety, digestibility or nutritional quality of the foods we eat. Processed foods are often more accessible and cost-effective to the population and can ensure people can have access to nutrients that, if deficient, may negatively impact their health or development.


Here are a few examples of processed foods that can be included in a well-rounded diet and can actually enhance health.


Pasteurised milk: Pasteurisation reduces the risk of contamination, making our milk drinkable with a much lower risk of disease and infection. Milk provides a host of nutrients including: Protein, Carbohydrates, Fat, Calcium,B12, vitamin D, magnesium and potassium. The inclusion of milk in a diet has long been proven to support bone health and Development and provide a plethora of nutrients to support overall health.


Milk alternatives: These, by their very nature, are processed and allow for vegan, vegetarian, and lactose intolerant people to use milk type products. These are often fortified with vitamins and minerals that can be difficult to come by for vegan and vegetarian populations, such as B12 or vitamin D, helping to reduce the risk of deficiency.


Fortified breakfast cereals: Fortified cereals are typically quite cost-effective and easily accessible. They can contain a wide variety of added vitamins and minerals, which means if that’s the only thing your kids eat, for example, they are still getting a wide variety of nutrition (this goes for adults too, if you enjoy your cheerios😉). There is also the option to go an extra step, as they frequently come in wholegrain and multigrain varieties which retains a lot of fibre, also ensuring that even if it’s the only thing you have access to, you also get some fibre in throughout the day.


Bread: Bread, particularly whole grain varieties, can provide protein, complex carbohydrates and fibre with a wide range of B vitamins and minerals like Calcium and Iron.


Coffee: If you enjoy coffee, the health benefits cannot be overstated, these little beans are full of fibre, antioxidants, and polyphenols contributing to overall health, better cognitive function and reducing the risk of neurodegenerative disease, diabetes and certain cancers.


These are just a few examples of processed foods that can contribute to a healthy diet. It’s important to bear in mind that ultra-processed foods such as pizzas or ice cream etc should certainly not make up the foundation of what we eat, but can also have a place if you enjoy them. They still provide nutrients in the form of carbohydrate protein and fat, though being mindful of portion size and frequency, as well as considering your overall health and activity level is a sensible approach as they are less nutritious, with a high calorie burden.


Aiming to add minimally processed or unprocessed foods wherever possible in your diet is a great way of contributing to your overall health, but it’s equally important to acknowledge the benefits of including some processed foods in there as well!




References:


Lane MM, Gamage E, Du S, Ashtree DN, McGuinness AJ, Gauci S, Baker P, Lawrence M, Rebholz CM, Srour B, Touvier M, Jacka FN, O'Neil A, Segasby T, Marx W. Ultra-processed food exposure and adverse health outcomes: umbrella review of epidemiological meta-analyses. BMJ. 2024 Feb 28;384:e077310. doi: 10.1136/bmj-2023-077310. PMID: 38418082; PMCID: PMC10899807.


Lucey JA. Raw Milk Consumption: Risks and Benefits. Nutr Today. 2015 Jul;50(4):189-193. doi: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000108. Epub 2015 Jun 27. PMID: 27340300; PMCID: PMC4890836.


Powers HJ, Stephens M, Russell J, Hill MH. Fortified breakfast cereal consumed daily for 12 wk leads to a significant improvement in micronutrient intake and micronutrient status in adolescent girls: a randomised controlled trial. Nutr J. 2016 Jul 14;15(1):69. doi: 10.1186/s12937-016-0185-6. PMID: 27418034; PMCID: PMC4944308.


Aghalari Z, Dahms HU, Sillanpää M. Evaluation of nutrients in bread: a systematic review. J Health Popul Nutr. 2022 Nov 14;41(1):50. doi: 10.1186/s41043-022-00329-3. PMID: 36376938; PMCID: PMC9664613.


Barrea L, Pugliese G, Frias-Toral E, El Ghoch M, Castellucci B, Chapela SP, Carignano MLA, Laudisio D, Savastano S, Colao A, Muscogiuri G. Coffee consumption, health benefits and side effects: a narrative review and update for dietitians and nutritionists. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2023;63(9):1238-1261. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2021.1963207. Epub 2021 Aug 28. PMID: 34455881.

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