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What is processed food?

Processed foods are simply foods that have been altered in any way during preparation. Processing methods include washing, chopping, pickling, smoking, heat treatments such as pasteurising, fermentation, freezing, packaging and the addition of ingredients, which may change the characteristics of the flavour, shelf-life and even nutritional content of food.

Are processed foods bad?


While processed foods often have a bad press, many of the processes have been used for centuries. Processing food is natural for preservation and taste; however, it is ultra-processing that you should avoid buying and eating.


What is ultra processed food?


Ultra-processed food is characterised as ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat products manufactured mostly from multiple ingredients usually combined with additives, or ‘industrial formulations’, and any foods that we are already advised to cut down on such as confectionery, fried snacks, processed meats, cakes and biscuits. 

Why are ultra processed foods bad?


Ultra-processed foods are linked with obesity as they are high in fat, sugar and salt, and often low in fibre, as the foods are broken down during the processing phase.

Processed Meats

  • Processed meat is meat that has been preserved by curing, salting, smoking, drying or canning.

  • However, meat that has been frozen or undergone mechanical processing like cutting and slicing is still considered unprocessed.

  • Processed meat is linked with chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and many forms of cancer – processed meats contain carcinogenic (cancer causing) chemicals that keep them fresh and prevent bacteria growing.

Processed Carbohydrates

  • Processed, or refined and simple, carbs have been stripped of nearly all of their fibre, vitamins and minerals.

  • They are digested quickly, and thus lead to spikes in blood sugar levels.

  • Sources of refined carbs include: pastries, sodas, snacks, pasta, sweets, and breakfast cereals.

Good carbs include

  • Unrefined whole grains – whole wheat or multigrain bread, brown rice, barley, quinoa, bran cereal, oatmeal

  • Non-starchy vegetables – spinach, green beans, Brussels sprouts, celery, tomatoes

  • Legumes – kidney beans, baked beans, peas, lentils

  • Nuts – peanuts, cashews, walnuts

  • Fruit – apples, berries, citrus fruit (lemons, oranges etc.), bananas, pears

Processed Sugars

  • Processed sugar is often found in processed carbs and it is sugar that’s been refined to isolate the sugar, in the forms of glucose, fructose and high-fructose corn syrup. Unlike natural sugars found in fruits and dairy products, processed sugars are broken down and absorbed more easily by the body, causing blood sugar levels to rise. Also, because refined sugars are digested quickly, you don’t feel full after you’ve finished eating, regardless of how many calories you consume, whereas the fibre in fruit slows down your metabolism, as fruit in the gut expands to make you feel full.

  • Examples of processed sugars are foods such as breakfast cereals! Soft drinks, sweets, cakes, fruit juice and ready-made meals.

Steps to take to reduce your processed sugar intake

  • Eat whole fruits rather than drinking fruit juice

  • Switch from regular breakfast cereals to a higher fibre cereal such as All-Bran, or switch completely to natural yoghurt and fruit

  • Drink more water, rather than soft drinks, sports and energy drinks

  • Aim for foods with natural sugar content, such as fruit (fructose), and dairy products (lactose), as opposed to refined sugars found in sweets and milk chocolate

What your shopping list should consist of


  • Protein: low fat milk, eggs, tinned tuna or sardines, lean beef, chicken or soya mine, chicken portions or breasts, dry beans, soya beans, lentils and chickpeas

  • Carbs: oats (steel cut or rolled), brown rice, wholemeal bread, seeded bread, seasonal fruit, bananas, lemons, tinned and fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, cabbage, butternut, spinach

  • Fats: light mayonnaise, olive oil, canola oil, almonds, peanut butter

  • Other: herbs and spices, salt and pepper, tea and coffee

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