Health Advice



Nutrition News: Labels for Processed Foods

Charlyn Fargo on

Ultra-processed foods seem to be the new thing to avoid, but in reality, the label may not correctly classify some foods.

This system of categorizing food as unprocessed, processed culinary ingredients, processed foods and ultra-processed foods came from a group of Brazilian researchers. They designed a system to categorize foods according to the degree of processing they undergo.

The problem is, processing seems to be a bad thing, right? Not really. Even oil, butter, vinegar, sugar and salt have to be processed, so they're labeled "processed culinary ingredients." Those categorized as processed foods include cheese, fresh breads, canned or frozen vegetables and fruits, canned fish, smoked or cured meats, bacon, salted nuts, beer and wine. Many would argue that some of those foods (especially beer, wine, bread and cheese) aren't really all that bad. Many times, processing is used mainly for preservation.

Then we have the ultra-processed category. This group includes soft drinks, packaged snacks, frozen or packaged foods, and even plant-based meat, dairy and protein powders. (Yep, almond milk and Impossible burgers fall into this category).

The researchers found that a group of 20 adults consumed more calories from a diet high in ultra-processed foods versus unprocessed foods when allowed to eat as much as they wanted. (My personal thought is that 20 adults are hardly enough to call it a study.)

It's thought that somehow ultra-processed foods don't fit into "clean" eating, but in reality, it may be a flawed perception -- and one that isn't practical. There are many days I can't make every meal from scratch, and rely on processed foods, such as cereal for breakfast, instant brown rice with a stir-fry or frozen roasted vegetables as a side dish. A scoop of protein powder added to a smoothie can be healthy for an older adult needing to increase their protein.


The bottom line is we need a better system to classify food rather than how processed it is -- or isn't. It's the nutritional value of a food -- and how it's included in a meal pattern -- that matters.

Q and A

Q: Can more sleep help you lose weight?

A: Researchers looked at people who slept fewer than 6 1/2 hours per night and found when they slept an hour longer, they consumed 270 fewer calories per day. That's the equivalent of 9 pounds per year. Not getting enough sleep increases levels of ghrelin, a hormone that regulates hunger. If you're prone to waking up in the middle of the night and raiding the refrigerator, make sure you keep healthy snacks on hand.


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