Despite the wave of crushed avocado and rainbow salads filling up your Instagram feed, it turns out Brits are the least likely among Europeans to fill up on fresh foods.
A new study by the University of Sao Paolo examined 19 different European countries and found that 50.7% of the UK population’s shopping trolleys are in fact filled up with ultra processed foods.
The next highest after the UK was Germany whose diets were made up of 46.2% ultra processed foods, but the lowest of the countries surveyed was Portugal who eat only 10.2% ultra processed foods.
Examples of ultra processed foods are items like packaged crisps, instant noodles and packets of cakes and biscuits, as opposed to ordinarily processed foods like cheese or cured meats.
Moreover, with research showing that the synthetic chemicals used in food packaging could be harmful to health over the long term, if you’re eating these, you’re pretty much delivering your wellbeing a health-risk double whammy.
But we get it; they’re hard to avoid. Especially with US research showing that processed foods can cause addictive eating behaviour. Ie. There’s a reason why one you pop, you can’t stop.
So what’s being done about it? Well, Weight Watchers has just revealed plans to remove all artificial ingredients from their foods by 2020. And we’re sure they’ll be the first of many.
Until then, though, the best game plan is, not necessarily to give up processed foods completely – everyone needs a cheat day, right? – but to be aware of labels and make your choices a little healthier by avoiding the below red flag ingredients as much as you can.
PROCESSED FOODS: THE INGREDIENTS TO AVOID
1. PALM OIL
This one is hard to avoid. Why? Because it’s cheap and therefore one of the most common oils to sneak its way into processed foods.
It’s high in saturated fat (the bad kind), though, which, according to research from the University of Montreal not only disrupts metabolism and can lead to obesity, but creates inflammation in the part of the brain that controls your mood and the feeling of reward.
Which means? Say hello to feelings of depression and anxiety, and even compulsive behaviours such as addictive eating habits.
2. ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
A 2017 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows that not only are artificial sweeteners associated with long-term weight gain, they are also linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Research also shows that aspartame, the sweetener used in most diet products, actually blocks the gut enzyme that prevents obesity, diabetes and metabolic issues, and actually increases appetite. Diet Coke break? No thanks.
3. MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)
Although there’s been some debate over this takeaway ingredient – said to be the fifth basic taste ‘savouriness’, along with sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness – research published in ‘The Journal of Head and Face Pain’ has found that it can lead to headaches, especially for those who are prone to migraines.
4. HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup)
HFCS shows up a lot in processed foods. American researchers found that too much of this sweet sugary ingredient can lead to excess weight gain because it boosts fat-storing hormones in the body. Enter an increased risk of high cholesterol and diabetes.
Keep an eye out for terms like “corn sweetener”, “corn syrup”, or “corn syrup solids”.
5. ARTIFICIAL COLOURS
Not only has artificial food colouring been linked to some types of cancer, American researchers found that certain colours, particularly the caramel colour present in many soft drinks, can pose a cancer risk.
The caramel colour is made up of 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), which is a possible human carcinogen.
Look out for E numbers in ingredients lists of processed foods to swerve this one.
Nitrites, such as sodium nitrite, are used to preserve certain foods, but research shows that there is a possibility that they could react with amino acids and lead to the formation of nitrosamines – chemical compounds that are carcinogenic, i.e. can cause cancer.
Nitrites are mostly used to preserve meat so the fresher the pick, the less likely you are to encounter these, so if you can try to buy local meat or shop at the butchers over buying pre-packaged meat regularly.
7. BHT (Butylhydroxytoluene)
BHT is an antioxidant added to processed foods, mostly breakfast cereals, to preserve them by preventing their fat content from turning rancid.
But a 2017 study carried out by researchers at Cedar-Sinai Medical Centre in the US shows that it may actually lead to weight gain. How?
It interferes with the signals sent between your digestive system and brain that tell you when you’re full and should stop eating. Leading to? You guessed it. Weight gain.
Want help avoiding processed foods? Read about how to quit sugar and avoid hunger pangs with this nutritionist advice.