Susie Burrell

‘your food, your body, your life’

Processed vs. ultra-processed foods. What you need to know.

This is a sponsored post, brought to you by Mayver’s.

Chances are you are aware that ‘processed foods’ are less than ideal nutritionally and it is a pretty standard recommendation to seek out fresh, natural unprocessed foods wherever possible. In saying that, it is also important to know that there is a big difference between ‘processed’ and ‘ultra-processed foods’ especially when it comes to our health and wellbeing.

A processed food includes any food that has been altered, even slightly from its natural form. Tinned fish is processed, as are frozen vegetables and even milk which requires processing to make it safe for human consumption. Ultra-processed foods on the other hand are formulated foods that contain 5 or more ingredients, and are often versions of a food that are significantly different to the original food. Cheezels for example, are very, very different to cheese, as French fries are significantly different to a potato. Here food manufacturers add extra flavours, sugars, fats and often chemicals to create an entirely new food, foods which are rarely healthy. And specifically it is a high intake ultra-processed food that is associated with weight gain and lifestyle diseases including Type 2 diabetes, not all processed foods.

A quick trip down any supermarket aisle will reveal a wide range of both processed and ultra-processed foods. As a general rule of thumb, much of the food you will find in the snack food aisle including biscuits, bars, chips, crackers, chocolates, lollies and desserts sit in the ‘ultra-processed’ category. A quick scan of the ingredient list of any packaged foods will quickly tell you everything you need to know about the amount of processing. If you spy many ingredients along with lot of numbers, colours and or flavours, chances are you have an ultra-processed food. On the other hand, if you can only see a handful of ingredients, all of which are whole foods, your food is likely minimally processed or prepared not dissimilar to the way you would prepare any food or meals at home and as such still offer plenty nutritionally. Or even more simply, if the food looks nothing like the food is it said to contain, for example, if a banana flavoured biscuit does not look anything like a banana, it is an ultra-processed form of banana.

Take Mayver’s Peanut Butters for example – the ingredient list will show little other than the nuts or seeds it contains. Here the nuts have been minimally processed to create a spread whilst retaining all the nutrients and now offering them in a more bioavailable form. In this instance, the 100% nut spread is actually more nutritious than the raw nuts used to make it. This is similar to the way in which processing actually enhances the nutrient quality of frozen veges compared to fresh. As they are snap frozen at time of harvest, frozen veges generally contain higher amounts of nutrients than fresh vege that have not been stored correctly.

There is no doubt that ultra-processed foods that have infiltrated our food supply are not good for us, and the less of them we include in our diets the better. In the case of processed foods though, minimally processed foods, including frozen vegetables, nut spreads, plain yoghurt, Extra Virgin Olive Oil and tinned fish are all nutrient rich foods you can add into your diet without cause for concern.