What counts as ultra-processed, anyway?

Plus: Recipes to set yourself up for success.

Friday. For all you burrito-lovers out there, we have news. Chipotle and fitness app Strava are partnering up (READ MORE). Strava added new walking and running segments to its app, all of which end at Chipotle locations. Steps and guac—what more could you ask for to start the year on the right foot? Speaking of starting the year on the right foot, what should you look out for when food shopping so that you can make the best choices and avoid processed foods? Let’s dive in.


Say No To Ultra-Processed Foods 

Hungry The Good Place GIF by Global TV

Yesterday, we talked about how time-restricted eating could effectively maintain a healthy weight (READ MORE). However, there is more to weight loss and weight gain than simply how much you eat and when you eat. Food quality is also a big part of the equation. 

For most people, improving your eating habits this year doesn't have to involve meticulous calorie counting or time-restricted eating. A simpler yet effective alternative is to focus on the level of processing your food undergoes before it reaches your dinner table. The more your diet is made up of unprocessed foods, the better. 

That said, the challenge many people face is unknowingly consuming ultra-processed foods disguised as healthy options. These include protein bars, low-fat yogurts, and breakfast cereals, which might seem healthy but are often not.

Ultra-processed foods are more than just a combination of ingredients; they're specifically designed to hit a "bliss point," making them irresistible and easy to overconsume (READ MORE). This leads to a higher intake of calories and contributes to various diet-related health issues like obesity, hypertension, metabolic disease, and diabetes. 

So, how can you reduce your intake of ultra-processed foods? The first step is to become a label reader. When shopping, check for certain red flags that indicate a product is ultra-processed. These can include a long list of ingredients, many of which are chemicals or preservatives, thickeners, stabilizers, or emulsifiers like soy lecithin or xanthan gum. Added sugars and sweeteners, particularly those ending in '-ose' or artificial ones like aspartame or sucralose, are also signs of ultra-processing.

You should also be wary of health claims on packages, as these can often be misleading. Products marketed as nutritious could be loaded with additives and sweeteners. For example, many fruit-flavored yogurts contain not just fruit but additional sweeteners and artificial flavors. The healthier alternative would be to buy plain yogurt and add fruit and honey to it at home. 

Another helpful strategy is to shop primarily around the perimeter of grocery stores, where fresh, whole foods are typically stocked. Exports point out that most fresh foods are beneficial for your health. You can’t really go wrong with meat, fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds. 

All that said, avoiding all processed foods probably isn’t realistic for most families. With that in mind, opt for single servings instead of family-sized packages to prevent overeating when buying processed foods. 

The key takeaway? Remember, food processing is a spectrum. On one end, you have minimally processed foods from plants or animals with minimal alterations, like whole grains, vegetables, eggs, milk, and meat. Then, there are processed culinary ingredients used in cooking, such as butter, sugar, spices, salt, and olive oil. Processed foods include items like canned vegetables, bacon, cheeses, smoked fish, canned tuna, and freshly made bread. Most of these items are things you could make in your kitchen and typically contain just two or three ingredients. They are still ‘processed,” but they aren’t necessarily the foods you should avoid. 

It’s the ultra-processed junk you want to stay away from. The goal isn't to eliminate all processed foods but to make informed choices about the type and extent of processing involved. Doing so can significantly improve your diet's quality, benefiting your overall health without the stress of counting every calorie or carb.

Tonic Shots

1. A Latte That Combats Inflammation!

This turmeric latte is warm, delicious, and packed with health benefits.

2. The Perfect Lunch Option To Have On Deck!

Make enough of this tangy chicken salad for the week, and you have the perfect, high-protein lunch option to enjoy when you need it.

3. The Best Butter Lettuce Salad

Salads don’t have to be boring. This is one of our favorites. Enjoy!

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