24-Hour Crisis Hotline: (877)SAFEGBC or (877)723-3422 Mental Health & Substance Abuse Issues

6502 Nursery Drive, Suite 100
Victoria, TX 77904
(361)575-0611
(800)421-8825
Fax: (361)578-5500

Nutrition
Resources
Basic InformationLatest News
Getting Your Protein From Plants a Recipe for LongevityUpping Fruit, Veggies, Grain Intake Can Cut Your Diabetes Risk by 25%Healthier School Meal Programs Helped Poorer Kids Beat Obesity: StudyExcess Sugar Is No Sweet Deal for Your HeartAHA News: A Healthier Frozen Treat for Hot Summer DaysIntestinal Illness Spurs Recall of Bagged Salads Sold at Walmart, AldiHealthier Meals Could Mean Fewer Strokes, Heart AttacksWhat Difference Do Calorie Counts on Menus Make?Female Athletes Shortchange Themselves on NutritionMilk Chocolate, Dairy and Fatty Foods Tied to Acne in AdultsLatest in Cancer Prevention: Move More, Ditch Beer and BaconFor Tasty Tomatoes, Either the Fridge or the Counter Is OK: StudyAHA News: Calorie Data on Menus Could Generate Significant Health, Economic BenefitsHealth Warning Labels Could Cut Soda SalesWhere Are Kids Getting the Most 'Empty Calories'?AHA News: A Nutritious Side Dish to Grill This Memorial DayAHA News: Cooking More at Home? Diverse Food Cultures Can Expand Heart-Healthy MenuEven One High-Fat Meal May Dull Your MindToo Many Sugary Sodas Might Harm Your KidneysCan Fruits, Tea Help Fend Off Alzheimer's Disease?More Evidence Sugary Drinks Harm Women's HeartsIn COVID Crisis, Nearly Half of People in Some U.S. States Are Going HungryNavigating the Grocery Store SafelyOn Some Farms, Washing Machines Give Leafy Greens a Spin -- But Is That Safe?Coffee May Do a Heart Good, as Long as It's FilteredPotato & Sausages, Cold Cuts a Bad Combo for Your BrainTips for Safe Grocery ShoppingWhich Foods Might Reduce Your Odds for Dementia?High-Fiber Diets May Lower Odds for Breast CancerMission Possible: Tips for Safe Grocery Shopping During the PandemicDon't Worry About U.S. Food Supply, FDA SaysAHA News: Is This Nature's Healthier Meat Replacement?AHA News: If You Think Before You Snack, It's Not So BadCooking Up a Storm During Coronavirus Crisis? Store Leftovers SafelyU.S. Kids, Teens Eating Better But Nutrition Gaps PersistTurning to Tofu Might Help the Heart: StudyEating Fish in Moderation During Pregnancy Benefits Fetus: StudyDon't Abandon Healthy Eating During Coronavirus PandemicFor Heart Health, Not All Plant-Based Diets Are Equal: StudyTrying the Keto Diet? Watch Out for the 'Keto Flu'How to Understand New Food LabelsWill a Jolt of Java Get Your Creative Juices Flowing?Post-Game Snacks May Undo Calorie-Burning Benefit of Kids' SportsOlive Oil Could Help Lower Your Heart Disease RiskMore Evidence That Ditching Red Meat Is Good for Your HeartUnscrambling the Egg Data: One a Day Looks OKAHA News: How Millennials' Notions on Food Are Changing the Entire SystemWant Your Kids to Eat Veggies? Both Parents Must Set ExampleBig Breakfast May Be the Most Slimming Meal of the DaySugary Sodas Wreak Havoc With Cholesterol Levels, Harming the Heart
Questions and AnswersLinks
Related Topics

Wellness and Personal Development

AHA News: Processed vs. Ultra-Processed Food, and Why It Matters to Your Health


HealthDay News
Updated: Jan 29th 2020

new article illustration

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 29, 2020 (American Heart Association News) -- The difference between "processed" and "ultra-processed" foods might sound like an issue best left to linguists or hungry English teachers. But for the sake of your health, it's worth understanding.

That's because some of those foods are just fine – and some can harm you.

What is the difference? Definitions vary, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture says anything that changes the fundamental nature of an agricultural product – heating, freezing, dicing, juicing – is a processed food.

Which means some can be quite good for you.

"Those little baby carrots that you get in a supermarket – that's a processed food," said Penny Kris-Etherton, registered dietitian and distinguished professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University's Department of Nutritional Sciences. So are frozen vegetables, or even broccoli that's been cut into florets.

Ultra-processed food takes things further. Nutritionists started using the term about 10 years ago, and again, definitions vary. A common diet classification system called NOVA sums it up as "snacks, drinks, ready meals and many other products created mostly or entirely from substances extracted from foods or derived from food constituents with little if any intact food."

Examples would include chips, soft drinks and sweetened breakfast cereals. "Things that are packaged and pretty much ready to eat with little work at all," Kris-Etherton said. "Things like rice dishes, pasta dishes – all you have to do is add water and put them in the microwave."

Ultra-processed foods, also called highly processed foods, can be cheap, convenient and tasty. But they usually have lots of refined carbohydrates, saturated fats and salt – not to mention industrial additives.

They also tend to pack a lot of calories into each bite. That means you're likely to eat a lot before you feel full, said Kris-Etherton, chair of the American Heart Association's Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health.

A growing pile of research suggests ultra-processed foods – which make up half the diet of U.S. adults, according to recent research – might cause serious health problems. A small 2019 study found people given ultra-processed food ate more and gained more weight than people on a diet of minimally processed food. Other studies have linked ultra-processed foods with obesity, high blood pressure, cancer and death from all causes.

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston, said the basic problem with ultra-processed foods is they have not been designed with health in mind. Manufacturers prefer to make taste, cost, safety, shelf life and mouthfeel the priority.

When such factors are the goal, thousands of trace nutrients get stripped out, he said. Additives such as emulsifiers and stabilizers are tossed in. Those industrial ingredients are considered safe, but their long-term effects are not known.

Heavy processing also strips out fiber, altering how the body digests food and affecting friendly gut bacteria, he said.

Mozaffarian stopped short of equating "ultra-processed" with "bad."

"In the modern world, we're going to need processed foods, and even ultra-processed foods, that are healthy," he said. But he wants manufacturers to rethink their goals even as researchers try to pinpoint how such foods affect people.

"From a scientific perspective, we don't have all the shades of gray understood, but we certainly know enough to start making healthier processed foods now."

Meanwhile, how should a careful eater face an ultra-processed world? "What a lot of dietitians will say is, 'Shop the perimeter of a supermarket,'" Kris-Etherton said. "That means stay away from the aisles that do have a lot of the processed food, especially ultra-processed foods."

But you can find healthy choices throughout the store, she said. When choosing packaged bread, which is considered ultra-processed, skip white bread in favor of something with lots of whole grains. And if you're making a sandwich, choose a lean protein source, a nut butter or an avocado. "What it boils down to is, don't eat it with lunch meats like bologna that are high in salt and unhealthy fats, and Cheez Whiz."

Kris-Etherton acknowledged that for most people, "it's really hard not to have any processed foods, let alone any ultra-processed foods, in your diet. But you can still make wise food choices by being aware and reading the nutrition information on the package label."

Mozaffarian said good nutrition is more than just counting calories. Food affects our genes, modifies metabolism, alters brain responses and more. "And those things together, in a really amazingly powerful way," influence how much we eat, how much we weigh and our overall health, he said.

"Humans are not buckets, where we have a hole in the top and a hole in the bottom, and we pour calories in and calories come out. We're complex organisms."