We all think we know what a processed food is – a packet of crisps, candy or cake – but did you know that some everyday products in supermarkets are also classed as ultra-processed? With the abundance of misleading labels and marketing claims, it can be difficult to spot products that contain far more additives and artificial ingredients than we think. In this article, we are going to look at 3 foods that are often unsuspectedly composed of almost entirely industrial components. So let’s get started.

How do you describe a processed food?

Processed foods have been modified to make them more appealing, to keep them on the shelves longer and to improve their taste. While some of these changes are relatively benign, others may affect the nutritional content of the food. For example, many processed foods are stripped of fiber or have their healthy fats replaced with unhealthy trans fats.

Likewise, additives such as preservatives, flavor enhancers, and colorings are often added to processed foods to make them more appealing and palatable. These additives may contain ingredients such as emulsifiers (E300), artificial colors (E104), thickeners (xanthan gum) and monosodium glutamate (MSG) which may not be healthy, but certainly provide to an industrialized food product a much longer shelf life than its unprocessed counterpart.

Additionally, many processes used to produce processed foods can also degrade their nutritional value and even introduce potentially harmful toxins into the final product. For example, high-heat treatments have been shown to reduce the vitamin content of certain foods or create compounds known to increase the risk of cancer in humans.

Processed Foods: What You Or Probably Don’t Know!

Although many people think that fruits, nuts, and whole grains are healthy and considered “good” foods, they can also be ultra-processed to the point where additional ingredients have been added.

For example, fruit juices are often treated with sugar and other additives to make them sweeter; peanut butter may contain oil, sugar, salt or other preservatives; and whole-grain breads may contain additives like high-fructose corn syrup.

These ingredients can contribute to an unhealthy diet if consumed in excess, as they increase the levels of salt, sugar and fat in a person’s diet. Additionally, ultra-processed foods are often lacking in the essential vitamins and minerals found in unprocessed foods. Although some of these foods may provide certain nutritional benefits, consuming them in large amounts can lead to health problems such as obesity or diabetes.

But you don’t realize that these 3 foods can also be ultra-processed foods.

So-called “light”, “healthy” or “slimming” foods:

When buying health or slimming products, consumers should be on their guard. Many products labeled “light” or “enriched” are actually marketing ploys and do not necessarily provide nutritional value. For example, many breakfast cereals or granola bars marketed as “healthy” may contain high levels of sugar and artificial preservatives. Even if the packaging says the product is low in fat, it may have been treated with trans fats or other unhealthy oils to extend its shelf life.

Also, many “light” products are often just regular products with fewer calories or fat than their original counterparts; however, their taste can be compromised in the process. It is important that consumers read labels carefully when purchasing foods labeled as “light”, “healthy” or “slim”. If a product has a long list of ingredients they can’t pronounce and/or added sugar/sodium is among the first ingredients, it may not be the most nutritious option.

Pancakes made from cereals, puffed rice or soy:

These types of patties that we find on the shelves of a grocery store or supermarket can all be categorized as processed foods. While these products may seem harmless and sometimes even carry a “healthy” label, they most likely contain hidden additives like texturizers and flavor enhancers that make them more palatable, but far less nutritious than their unprocessed counterparts.

According to a study published in 2020 on the Journal of Nutrition, many vegetarians and vegans consume excessively these types of products because they think they are healthy based on their nutri-score. Hence the importance of specifying that the nutri-score does not take into account the degree of processing of the product. There is unfortunately not a reliable way to determine whether a product is actually healthy or not.

Foods labeled “ORGANIC”:

Organic foods are often associated with products that are environmentally friendly and healthier than their non-organic counterparts, but this is not always the case. While organic production means that some chemicals, such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, have not been used in the farming process, some organic foods may still contain endocrine disruptors due to soil contamination. Endocrine disruptors are compounds that can alter the normal functioning of hormones in the body and can come from sources such as air pollution or runoff from fields used for conventional agriculture.

Organic fruits and vegetables remain a better alternative, as they at least guarantee that no synthetic chemicals were used in their production. However, it is important to recognize that many organic processed foods, such as bean- or hummus-based crisps or cereal-based cookies, may still contain added sugars and unhealthy fats and should be eaten sparingly.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.