You’ve probably heard that fresh foods are better for your health than processed foods. But did you know ultra-processed foods are even worse – and on average make up 58% of calories consumed in the United States?
“When you eat a lot of ultra-processed foods, you run the risk of not getting enough vitamins and minerals,” said Kelsey Shackelford, MBA, RDN, LD, associate director of Morrison’s at Archbold. “You might be eating too many foods that are low in fiber and higher in saturated or trans fats, which ultimately could lead to higher cholesterol or triglyceride levels.”
Processed vs. Ultra-Processed
Food is considered unprocessed when it’s in its most natural state. Take, for example, a Georgia peach. Fresh off the tree, it’s unprocessed. When frozen in slices with no added sugar, it’s considered minimally processed. Canned peach slices in syrup would be considered processed food. And a frozen peach cobbler or peach ice cream would be considered ultra-processed.
“It’s great to have things that are minimally processed, like frozen vegetables, because they are healthy, easy to cook and affordable,” Shackelford said. “Look out for added sugars and salt. Always check the nutrition label.”
Research has shown that people who eat more ultra-processed foods consume more calories, have a higher risk of heart disease and are more likely to experience symptoms of depression. But cutting back can make a big difference.
“If my patients are eating these foods daily, I suggest cutting back to three times a week and continuing to decrease the frequency,” Shackelford said. “It’s okay to sometimes satisfy your cravings so you don’t binge on unhealthy foods.”
Healthy Swaps for Ultra-Processed Foods
- Instead of salt → try garlic, cayenne pepper or herbs
- Instead of white bread → try whole-grain bread
- Instead of sugary cereals → try oatmeal with fruit
- Instead of mayonnaise → try mashed avocado or plain yogurt
- Instead of potato chips → try air-popped popcorn
- Instead of soda → try sparkling water flavored with fruit or cucumbers
Get more tips for healthy eating at archbold.org/live-better.