Unless we’re picking fruit straight off the tree, or milking our own cows, most of the foods we eat are technically ‘processed’. But basic preparation and preservation techniques like cooking, drying, canning or freezing don’t automatically turn wholesome foods into junk.
But a 2019 University of Auckland study classified 69% of packaged food sold in New Zealand supermarkets as ‘ultra-processed’ and unhealthy. We’re making it easier to identify and reduce your consumption of these ultra-processed foods, that increase our risk of obesity, heart disease and cancers. We hope this short blog will help you check in with your mind and gut before tossing that fluorescent sports drink or sugary, salty snack into your trolley.
Looking for easier ways to unprocess your day? Try these five super simple strategies to get you started.
1. Fill up on good stuff
Rather than thinking about what you could be missing out on when you unprocess your day, think about filling your plate and your stomach with these whole and minimally processed foods: Fruit and veges: Fresh is great, but canned and frozen can be good value too. Aim to make some of these organic.
Beans and legumes: Dried, canned or sprouted chickpeas, beans, lentils mung beans… filling, nutritious, full of fibre and kinder to your wallet than many animal proteins.
Wholegrains (and pseudograins): Think brown rice, quinoa and oats – or experiment with buckwheat, millet, and wild rice.
Eggs: Preferably eat your eggs boiled or poached, rather than fried.
Nuts and seeds: Go for raw or recently roasted. Unsalted is best.
2. Cut these five to stay alive
High fructose corn syrup: This cheap sweetener is high in fructose, forcing the liver to make an enzyme to convert that fructose into usable glucose. These substantial amounts of fructose may be converted into fat, causing a fatty liver and weight gain. We’re lucky HFCS sweetener is not widely used here, but you’ll often find it in imported packaged foods. Another reason to buy New Zealand made.
Processed meats: High in sodium, saturated fat and preserved with sodium nitrite, eating these is associated with higher incidence of heart disease, diabetes mellitus, and many cancers of the digestive tract. To reduce the risks, ditch the (hot) dogs.
Artificially sweetened sodas: These sweeteners trigger insulin, which tells your body to store fat, even though it contains no calories. Diet soda is even associated with a greater risk of metabolic syndrome than sugary fizz.
White sugar: Most of us need to cut back on the ‘white stuff’. And there’s simply a lot of it hidden in ultra-processed foods, including savoury ones.
Charred meats: While the meat you buy may be minimally processed, it creates some nasty chemical by-products when barbecued or fried at high heat. That smoky flavour may be delicious, but it’s caused by fat dripping onto hot coals and forming polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which have been linked to increased risk of certain cancer.
3. Cook. Eat. Repeat.
Cooking at home from scratch is a great way to reduce the amount of ultra-processed food you and your family eat. Restaurant and fast food meals tend to contain more fat, salt and sugar than you’d use at home, or are focused on achieving a certain flavour, look appetising or preserve shelf life, rather than meeting your nutritional needs.
4. Go round the outside
If you want to cut back on processed foods at the supermarket, try to get most of your groceries from the outside edges, rather than venturing down the aisles. This is where supermarkets stock the fresh fruit and veges, seafood, and milk products. If you can think about filling your cart in the produce department first, you’re off to a great start.
5. Rethink snacking
The snack aisle is the ultimate ultra-processed zone in the supermarket. Try ditching ultra-processed snacks and nibbling on nuts, organic fruit, vege sticks and homemade hummus (it’s so easy to make) or plain rice cakes with nut butter. If you often pair salty snacks with sugary drinks, try fizzing your own water and adding a slice or squeeze of fruit instead.
Once you’re comfortable with putting the five strategies above into practice as part of a healthier lifestyle, you might like to take another step forward, by keeping an eye for the second part in this blog series.