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The Ultra-Processed Diet

Did you know that an ultra-processed diet may cause you to eat an additional 500 calories per day and lead to weight gain?

According to a study conducted in Cell Metabolism, when comparing a diet primarily made of ultra processed foods (UPFs) to unprocessed foods, it is clear that UPFs are highly palatable and cause us to eat more and, therefore, gain weight.

Why are Ultra Processed Foods (UPFs) a concern?

Unfortunately, close to 60% of calories consumed by Americans are comprised of UPFs. Research has linked UPFs to weight gain, increase risk of cancer, metabolic issues, gut health issues, cardiovascular health and more.


UPFs are defined as industrial formulations of food substances such as hydrolyzed protein, modified starches, and hydrogenated or interesterified oils, and additives whose purpose is to imitate sensorial qualities of unprocessed and their culinary preparations or to disguise undesirable qualities of the final product, such as colorants, flavorings, nonsugar sweeteners, emulsifiers, humectants, sequestrants, and firming, bulking, de-foaming, anticaking, and glazing agents.


Sounds like an exhausting definition, right?! It is and when eaten in abundance will leave you feeling physically exhausted too.

What are common examples of UPFs?

Common UPFs you would find in the grocery store or eating out would include:

·       Pizza (think Pizza Hut or Dominos)

·       Processed Meats (think hot dogs)

·       Potato Chips (think Doritos)

·       Soft Drinks (think juice, Coke, Sprite)

·       Cakes, Cookies, Sweet Breads (think Little Debbie snacks)

·       Sweetened Cereals (think Lucky Charms)

These are all foods that have added substances like fat, sugar, salt, preservatives and additives. A few specific ingredients to look out for and limit as you navigate the grocery store:

·       High Fructose Corn Syrup or Corn Syrup

·       Hydrogenated and Refined Oils

·       Food Dyes

·       Artificial Flavors

·       Thickeners and Emulsifiers

·       Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

·       Sulfites

·       Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)

Do I have to avoid ALL processed food?

The short answer is no. According to the NOVA classification, there are 4 categories of processed foods:

1.      Whole/Minimally Processed

2.      Processed Culinary Foods

3.      Processed Foods

4.     Ultra Processed Foods.


The first 3 categories are not of concern and can actually make eating healthy more sustainable. A few of my favorite processed foods I keep stocked:

·       Hummus

·       Yogurt

·       Bone Broth

·       Nut Butter

·       Canned Beans

·       Canned Salmon

"The evidence is clear that ultra-processed foods are not designed to optimize your health. As with most things in life, follow the 80/20 rule and focus mostly on whole/minimally processed foods while still occasionally enjoying modern conveniences."

Bottom Line

If you are looking to better manage your weight, reduce your risk of chronic disease and maximize your health span, being conscious of the quality of foods you consume is an important piece to the puzzle. Although not all processed foods are detrimental to our health, given the current research, it is best to reduce UPFs.


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