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Beware of UPF's

No, not the UFO’s that the government is finally acknowledging. I believe they are calling them unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP) now. But enough with the acronyms.

Today I wanted to delve into the prevalence of UPFs in our standard American diet (SAD) today. Okay, one more acronym.

That’s right, ultra-processed foods (UPFs) such as frozen meals, boxed meals, takeout, drive through, and diner meals, to name a few. As well as some favorites you pick up at your supermarket every week.


But wait a minute, aren’t most foods processed? We don’t cultivate and pick most of our fruits and vegetables and we don’t grow all of our herbs and spices. We most likely are not milking cows to drink, make cheeses or yogurts. So technically, most of our foods are processed.

Which brings me to the NOVA classification of foods based on the level of processing and why. This was posited by a Brazilian researcher who coined the term “ultra-processed” to denote food that had no nutritional value because of how it was made. It consists of industrial formulations of five ingredients or more, that is designed to be ready to consume, have hyper-palatability, are branded, and marketed aggressively, and have high profitability for the international industrial food processing industry. You can read more about it here.

The NOVA food classification system comprises (4) levels of processing:

Group 1: Unprocessed or minimally processed food
Examples are eggs, edible plant parts, fungi, animal meats, and algae.
Group 2: Processed culinary ingredients
Examples are items used are salt, sugar, molasses, honey, vegetable oils and are used in conjunction with Group 1 food items.
Group 3: Processed foods
Examples are canned or bottled foods, salted or cured meats, and fermented products.
Group 4: Ultra-processed food (and drink) products
Examples are carbonated drinks, candies, ice cream, frozen pizza, sweet or savory packaged snacks, margarines and spreads, “instant” sauces and infant formula.

I don’t know if you remember (or even read) my recent blog on the connection between high insulin levels and incidents of pancreatic cancer. There is a connection between eating highly processed foods and having higher levels of insulin, higher chances of overweight and obesity, and cardiovascular disease. It is called Metabolic Syndrome or as Dr. Mark Hyman, a renowned functional medicine doctor, calls it “diabesity”.

Here are some stats on how often people in the US eat prepared foods:

  • Food and drink services in 2022 - $979 B

  • The age group with the highest annual expenditure on food away from home 45-54 year olds.

  • And the next generation that is not too far behind is the 35-44 year olds.

Most people between the ages of 35-54 years old are busy, with their careers, children, and aging parents. It is easy to understand how tempting it can be to order in, pick up prepackaged food meals for dinner, and the like.

However, this is also the time when the “lifestyle” conditions start to show up. You know, when the doctor tells you your blood sugar or your blood pressure is a little high and recommends you eat well and exercise. There is a correlation between our daily habits and our overall health.

Now, most of us will be thinking “but, Thanksgiving is coming up and I want to indulge in all the yummy dishes and desserts that will be served. I don’t want to deny myself.” And you don’t have to. Please enjoy the cornbread casserole and the pumpkin pie.

Going forward, use the NOVA food classification knowledge to make better choices every day.
1. Make unprocessed or minimally processed foods the base of what you eat regularly.
2. Use your fats, oils, sugars and salt in moderation when preparing food.
3. Limit your use of processed foods.
4. Avoid ultra-processed foods.

Would you like some healthy traditional or plant-based recipes for your Thanksgiving meal? Email me with SUBJECT LINE: TRADITIONAL, PLANT-BASED or BOTH
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