Fact: Even if you stick to a healthy, natural diet, chances are you still eat processed foods.
Technically, many of the healthy foods we eat are processed but it's not what you think. For example, if you have a jar full of organic dried beans, or a bag of rice, or organic carrots, you have processed food in your pantry.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are processed, even if you picked them from your farm or garden, blanched them and put them in the freezer. The moment you blanched them, you processed them.
Peanuts-only peanut butter, homemade bread, homemade coconut oil, and organic extra virgin olive oil are all processed, and most people would consider those foods part of a healthy diet.
When we say we shouldn't eat processed foods, what we really mean is ultra-processed foods. There's a difference between the two, and a new study says Nigerians are starting to eat way more ultra-processed than we should, leading to excessive (and often unrealized) sugar consumption.
What are ultra-processed foods?
Ultra-processed foods, according to the study published in the medical journal BMJ Open, are "industrial formulations which, besides salt, sugar, oils and fats, include substances not used in culinary preparations, in particular additives used to imitate sensorial qualities of minimally processed foods and their culinary preparations."
In simple terms this means; I keep whole-grain bread or pita bread (i.e shawarma bread) in my freezer because it rounds out quick, healthy meals in which I also use up a variety of leftovers.
If I made homemade pita bread or whole grain bread, I would make it with processed ingredients like flour, yeast, milk, butter or oil and salt. But I buy the same from the supermarket or stores, and while the brand I buy contains mostly the type of ingredients of a homemade version, it also includes the additive dextrose, a type of sugar, and some other preservatives or additives.
So the bread I buy from the stores is ultra-processed since it contains ingredients I do not have in my kitchen or cannot readily lay my hands on.
Sugar in processed vs. ultra-processed foods
Researchers found that those who eat a diet that's heavy in ultra-processed foods are getting a lot of added preservatives in their diet in addition to an overabundance of sugar. In ultra-processed foods, sugar makes up 21.1 to 90 percent of the calories, on average. In processed foods, sugar makes up only 2.4 percent of the calories, on average. Keep in mind that the latest USDA dietary guidelines say that sugar should make up only 10 percent of your daily calories.
If we ate ultra-processed foods only occasionally, it wouldn't be a big of a problem. However, researchers found that almost 58 percent of the calories we consume are from ultra-processed foods.
If you're eat beef or sausage rolls (e.g Gala), donuts, Coca-cola, biscuits/cookies, sweets/candies, packaged juices (e.g Chivita Juice) or any packaged foods frequently; chances are you're eating too many ultra-processed foods and those foods are adding more sugar to your diet than you would expect.
You don't expect, for instance, that a packaged juice or any Coca-cola drink will contain 2 teaspoons of sugar per serving. Neither would you expect that a snack-pack portion of the applesauce sold in Nigeria to contain 6 teaspoons of sugar when homemade applesauce doesn't need any added sugars to be sweet and delicious.
If you're looking to decrease the sugar in your diet, decreasing the ultra-processed foods you eat, even the ones that you wouldn't normally associate with sugar, can help you achieve your goal.
You should know that there is no such thing as healthy ultra-processed foods, So long as a number of the ingredients and additives are not found in your kitchen or cannot be sourced within your local market or stores.
Don't go buying some products bearing "no sugar or preservatives added" on their label thinking you are eating healthy. Majority of those claims are false or the manufacturers could have added some sweeteners (as in the case of sugar) which are more dangerous than sugar itself.
Eat ultra-processed foods because you want to eat them, but be sure to watch the frequency of your eating and the amount of sugars you consume daily.
A common diet belief, supported now and again by skinny celebrities, is that refraining from calories in the evening is a valid weight loss strategy. So far, this approach has not been supported by any scientific evidence. The recommendation from health professionals is to focus on overall calorie intake and to spread it equally throughout the day.
A new study from Israel may be changing this recommendation. Scientists from the Weizmann Institute have discovered that the timing of nutrient intake may actually have significance! In a groundbreaking study, researchers tracked mitochondria – the energy plants present in most cells. Mitochondria convert nutrients from food into ATP, the fuel our cells run on to perform their various functions.
It turns out that mitochondria behave in a cyclical fashion over the course of the day. They are more efficient in converting food to fuel when the cells are expected to be most active. The study was conducted on mice, which are nocturnal. They were divided into 2 groups that received the same amount of calories to eat. One group ate only at night (when active), and the other throughout the day and night.
The liver lipid levels of the mice eating only when active were 50% lower compared to the mice eating all day long. How does this translate to humans? It’s still a bit early to tell, but if our body works the same, we should be eating when our body is most active.
Some people hardly eat food anymore. They eat ultra-processed food, and it’s making them sick. A study published in the British Medical Journal has outlined the effects of western food consumption habits.
According to the study, “ultra-processed food” is defined as an industrial formulation that includes substances not used in culinary preparations. Specifically, ultra-processed foods use additives to create a sensory similarity to minimally processed foods and their culinary preparations.
From the study, the 24 hour eating habits of over 9000 participants were reviewed. The results were startling.
Ultra-processed foods comprised 58 percent of caloric intake.
Ultra-processed foods contributed 90 percent of the caloric intake from added sugars.
Added sugars accounted for 21 percent of the calories in ultra-processed foods.
The amount of added sugars in ultra-processed foods was 5 times higher than in minimally processed foods.
The study’s conclusion, which is pretty straightforward: If you want to reduce your consumption of added sugars, stop eating ultra-processed foods.
I’ll write more on this topic in my subsequent post.
I will write about how to reduce sugar consumption in subsequent post.