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Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

I’m in good shape right now. So how concerned should I really be about processed foods?

By Vaseline May30,2024

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are making waves these days. From pizza and chips to protein-based snacks, they’re blamed for a whole host of health problems, including damaging our gut microbiota and increasing the risk of depression – not to mention they’re high in calories and easy to eat. are consumed a lot. But there’s a little more to it than those 15-second TikToks on the subject suggest.

Let’s start by understanding what UPFs are. The term comes from the Nova classification system, which groups foods according to their level of processing. Not all experts are fans of the Nova system. One study by a team of research professors in Brazil concluded that there is no “direct or absolute correlation” between the number of processes a food has undergone and its healthiness.

Nutrition researcher Alan Flanagan agrees that Nova has its limits; it is difficult to distinguish the impact of processing from other established nutritional risks, such as high sugar and calorie content, or a lack of fiber and vitamins. “Overall, the body of evidence suggests that the UPF category is merely a proxy for evidence we already have about nutritional and disease risks,” he says.

An unintended consequence of fear mongering, he suggests, is that people on tight budgets may be led to avoid certain products that might actually benefit them. He gives the example of margarines with added plant stanols, which are considered UPFs but can still help lower blood cholesterol levels.

This is not to say that UPFs are harmless – just that they are not all created equal. In a report published last year, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition pointed out that factors such as energy intake, body mass index and socio-economic status may not be adequately taken into account in research. If you can’t afford to avoid UPFs, there may be other reasons for your poor health.

As for those who think they’re doing pretty well? According to Dr. Flanagan, there’s little reason to fixate on UPFs: no specific food in itself is harmful.

He recommends eating a nutritious diet that you enjoy, without chastising yourself here and there for the odd, less nutritious option. ‘The boring advice of following a balanced diet remains valid: assess the healthfulness of a particular food all of its nutritional value.’ It may not play well on TikTok, but it’s true nonetheless.

Portrait photo of Kate Neudecker

Kate is a fitness writer for Men’s Health Britain where she regularly contributes workouts, training tips and nutrition guides. She has a postgraduate diploma in sports performance nutrition and before joining Men’s Health she was a nutritionist, fitness writer and personal trainer with over 5,000 hours of coaching in the gym. Kate has a keen interest in volunteering for animal shelters and when she’s not lifting weights in her garden, you can find her with her rescue dog.

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