With aisles in the supermarket stocked full of ready-meals and food made to last in your cupboards, it’s no surprise that over 50% of the UK diet is made up of processed food. But not all processed foods are bad for your health.
Processing methods include washing, chopping, smoking, freezing and anything else that affects the flavour, shelf-life or nutritional content of the food. So, whilst processed food has a bad reputation in the media, it doesn’t all have a negative impact on your health. Some food needs to be processed in order to make it safe, such as milk being pasteurised to remove any bacteria. Others can be changed to make them suitable for use, such as seeds being pressed to make oil.
The problem arises when food becomes “ultra-processed”. When ingredients such as salt, sugar and fat are added to change the flavour of certain foods, consumers start to intake more than the recommended daily amounts, and this is where it becomes unhealthy.
You can’t change the amount of extra ingredients added to ultra-processed foods, but you do have control over what you buy. Paying careful attention to the nutritional labels on food packaging can be your saviour, as here in the UK we’re lucky enough to have the colour coding system. Try to avoid anything that has a red label, and veer more towards green and amber wherever possible. You may be surprised to the amount that you’ve been consuming when you take a closer look.
Things such as “healthy” smoothies are packed full of sugars, and often take you way above your recommended daily intake of sugar from one bottle, which of course comes with the extra calories.
If you wanted to know a little more about what all the numbers on your packaging mean, here’s the recommended intake for adults according to the NHS:
High: More than 17.5g of fat per 100g
Low: 3g of fat or less per 100g
High: More than 5g of saturated fat per 100g
Low: 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g
High: More than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
Low: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g
High: More than 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)
Low: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)
When you really get into the swing of checking labels, you will realise that small changes to your shopping lists can make a huge difference. Ready-made pasta sauces for example are full of flavour, which usually means that they’re full of salt and sugar too! You might be better off buying the fresh ingredients yourself and cooking up a quick, fresh sauce from scratch.
So, next time you’re doing the weekly shop, make sure you take a moment to consider what you put into your trolley. Let us know what products surprised you in the comments below!