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What are Ultra-Processed Foods?

What are ultra-processed foods? This definition came about in 2009, defining ultra processed foods or UPF as “foods you can’t make in your home kitchen because they require machinery and ingredients you likely don’t have access to”

Ultra-processed foods include:

  • McDonald’s

  • Frozen pizza

  • Ramen

  • Candy and desserts

  • Sugar Sweetened-beverages

  • Alcohol

Ultra-processed foods also include:

  • Some breads

  • Artificial/Plant based meat

  • Artificial/plant based cheese/ dairy products 

  • Lunch meat

  • Protein bars

  • Tube Feeding and Nutrition Shakes 

The downsides to ultra-processed foods are that many of them are high in fat, sugar and salt and low in fiber. There are benefits to ultra-processed foods including taste, price, time and food safety. There are also ultra-processed foods that have nutritional value. There is a level of privilege associated with the ability to avoid ultra-processed foods and choose only whole foods that require preparation. Right now, it is not recommended to just avoid all ultra-processed foods. 

Overall, if you want to and are willing to spend the extra money and time to replace ultra-processed foods in your diet, it won’t hurt. It will definitely take money and time and probably isn’t realistic for most. As dietitians, we want to make sure our recommendations fit into an overall healthy lifestyle. For us, this means we would rather have people do their best to eat more fruits and vegetables, minimize added sugar, salt and fat, and not worry about consuming occasional ultra-processed foods to save them time, money and added stress. 



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