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Ultra Processed Foods List

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For those who are just learning about ultra processed foods (UPFs), it can be difficult to distinguish them from minimally processed products. And to make matters worse, ultra processed foods are typically encased in ‘heavily advertised packages’ that attempt to disarm you with promises of ‘great taste,’ ‘one of your five a day,’ ‘fresh,’ and ‘fortified with added vitamins.’


But behind the healthy disguise lurks a poisonous edible substance that could increase your chances of developing many diseases. In addition to exacerbating inflammation and contributing to the obesity epidemic, UPF consumption has been ‘strongly linked to heart disease’ and ‘some cancers’ (Food For Life).


Henry Dimbleby, the author of Ravenous, outlines studies showing that ‘an incremental 10 per cent increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in a person’s diet is correlated with a 12 per cent increase in cancers, a 21 per cent increase in depressive syndromes and a 12 per cent increase in cardiovascular disease.’


The adverse effects of UPFs do not stop there. In his book Ultra-Processed People, Dr Chris Van Tulleken identifies at least 11 major non-communicable diseases (NCD) related to UPFs. ‘Most studies focus on obesity,’ Tulleken tells us, ‘but there is also evidence that increased UPF intake is strongly associated with an increased risk of:


  • cardiovascular disease (strokes and heart attacks)

  • cancers (all cancers overall, as well as breast cancer specifically)

  • type 2 diabetes

  • high blood pressure

  • fatty liver disease

  • inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease)

  • depression

  • worse blood fat profile

  • frailty (as measured by grip strength)

  • irritable bowel syndrome and dyspepsia (indigestion)

  • dementia’


Ultra processed foods list

As well as listing a range of popular UPFs, I have also outlined the key characteristics that will enable you to differentiate an ultra processed food from one that is minimally processed or has undergone refining.


This is important information when it comes to making healthier food choices. Due to the vast array of UPFs appearing on the shelves each year, it’s impossible to list them all – let alone remember the list when you’re rushing through your weekly shop.


However, the ability to spot simple warning signs – such as containing ingredients that don’t sound like food (when did you last stir some ‘hydrolysed proteins’ into your porridge?) – will enable you to separate the whole grain wheat from the ultra processed chaff.


Ultra processed foods

Instead of compiling an ultra processed foods list, I have recreated a table (from Tim Spector’s Food For Life) that includes examples of foods categorised as ‘whole’, ‘minimally processed’ and ‘processed’. This, I feel, is more instructive as it enables you to scrutinise the spectrum of processing.


Furthermore, for some food forms, it shows how the original natural produce is reformulated into a processed then ultra processed product. Take the first food on the table as an example. We observe how innocent whole peanuts, which are high in protein and essential fats, are corrupted in quality as they get increasingly processed.


At each stage, the whole food loses some of its natural goodness as well as picking up some unhealthy ingredients and chemical additives along the way.


  • Whole peanuts = Peanuts . . . Whole!

  • Peanut butter (Whole Earth) = Roasted Peanuts, ‘Sustainable’ Palm Oil, Sea Salt.

  • Chocolate peanut bars (Tesco home brand) = Roasted Peanuts (38.6%), Isolated Soy Protein, Oligofructose, Glucose Syrup, Vegetable Oils and Fats (Palm, Shea, Sunflower, Rapeseed), Sugar, Chocolate Pieces (4%) (Sugar, Cocoa Mass, Cocoa Butter, Emulsifier (Lecithins (Soy)), Maltodextrin, Peanut Butter (1.9%), Fat-reduced Cocoa Powder, Tapioca Starch, Fructose, Lactose (Milk), Humectant (Glycerol), Emulsifiers (Lecithins (Soy)), Salt, Natural Flavouring (Milk), Stabiliser (Calcium Carbonate).


Ultra processed foods list.

How to identify ultra processed foods

How to identify UPF.

Now that we’ve reviewed the ultra processed foods list, it’s time for a crash course on how to identify UPFs. As I mentioned above, this information can help you identify new UPFs as they enter the food chain.


According to Dr Tim Spector, ‘The simplest way of classifying UPFs is that they are made up of complex mixtures of chemicals and food extracts,’ (Food For Life – p. 34). What you’ll notice is that these synthetic ingredients do not resemble the whole foods from which they were originally extracted.


Another way to spot an ultra processed food is by reading the ingredients list (see example of chocolate peanut bars above). Flip over the packet and you’ll find names of ingredients that are difficult to pronounce, don’t sound like food (because they’re not), and that wouldn’t be used in home cooking. This last point, Chris van Tulleken tells us, is one of the most effective ways to spot ultra processed food from just plain old processed.


For example, when you last baked a chocolate cake did you include ‘potassium sorbate’, ‘acidity regulator’, ‘emulsifiers’, ‘calcium carbonate’, ‘preservatives’ and ‘chemical flavourings’? Unlikely – unless you happen to work in an industrial food processing factory.

Yet these ingredients are routinely included in mass-produced cakes and ‘sweetmeats.’


But it’s not just confectionaries that are subjected to ultra processing. Many meats, meat alternatives (for vegetarians and vegans), ‘healthy’ snacks, breakfast cereals, and drinks also qualify as ultra processed food. Here are a few examples of some of the more popular foods among these categories.


Popular ultra processed foods ingredients lists

Popular ultra processed foods ingredients list.
Processed meat (Wikinger hot dog)

40% poultry mechanically separated meat (turkey, chicken), 33% meat (pork, beef), water, poultry fat with skin (turkey, chicken), iodized salt (salt, potassium iodate), soya protein, spices, spice extracts (contains celery), sugar, stabilisers (E451, E450, E331iii), milk protein, antioxidant (E300), preservative (E250), beechwood smoke.


Vegan meat (Beyond Sausage – Plant-Bases Sausage)

Water, Pea Protein (16%), Cocoa Butter, Rapeseed Oil, Flavouring, Rice Protein, Inulin, Stabilisers (Methylcellulose, Calcium Chloride, Konjac Gum, Xanthan Gum), Yeast Extract, Potato Starch, Coconut Oil, Vinegar, Spices and Herbs, Fruit and Vegetable Concentrates (Beetroot, Carrot, Pomegranate), Apple Extract, Psyllium Fibre, Smoke Flavouring, Onion Powder, Potassium Salt, Salt, Gelling Agent (Sodium Alginate)


Healthy snack (Snack a Jacks)

Wholegrain Rice (34%), Maize (with germ removed), Sugar, Caramel Flavour [Flavourings, Colour (Sulphite Ammonia Caramel)], Salt, Sunflower Oil, Emulsifier (Soya Lecithin), Colour (Annatto Norbixin)


Breakfast cereal = (Kellogg’s Variety (aimed at children))

Cereals (Rice, Maize), Cereal Flours (Rice, WheatOat, Maize), Sugar, Glucose Syrup, Fat Reduced Cocoa Powder, Barley Malt Extract, Salt, Chicory Root Fibre, Cocoa Powder, Cocoa Mass, Calcium Carbonate, Caramelised Sugar, Flavourings, Niacin, Iron, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin, Thiamin, Folic Acid, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Colour (Annatto Norbixin), Cinnamon.


Energy drink (Monster Energy)

Carbonated Water, Fruit Juices from Concentrate (15%) (White Grape, Mango, Guava, Apple, Pineapple, Passion Fruit, Apricot, Peach, Orange, Lemon), Sucrose, Glucose Syrup, Acid (Citric Acid), Taurine (0.4%), Acidity Regulators (Potassium Citrates, Sodium Citrates), Flavourings, Maltodextrin, Preservatives (Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate), Caffeine (0.03%), Vitamins (B3, B6, B2, B12), Stabilisers (Xanthan Gum, Sodium Alginate), Sweetener (Sucralose), L-Carnitine L-Tartrate (0.004%), Sodium Chloride, Inositol (0.002%), Colour (Carotenes), Vegetable Oils (Coconut, Rapeseed), Modified Starch


More ultra processed foods examples

One leading nutritional scientist described ultra processed foods as ‘formulations of mostly cheap industrial sources of dietary energy and nutrients, plus additives, using a series of processes and containing minimal whole food,’ (Ultra-Processed People).


Of course, any food defined as ‘formulations of mostly cheap industrial sources of dietary energy’ ought to be avoided. However, though undeniably dismal, such a definition doesn’t help us detect an ultra processed product.


Tulleken, who we met above, provides us with a verbiage-free description to work off. Ultra processed foods ‘can be boiled down to this: if it’s wrapped in plastic and has at least one ingredient that you wouldn’t usually find in a standard home kitchen, it’s UPF.’


This description is encapsulated in Tulleken’s expose of Wall’s sausage.


Examples of processed meat

On the white label on the plastic packaging of Wall’s sausages, the ingredients list reads pork, rusk (wheat), vegetable protein (soya), potato starch, dextrose, flavourings, stabilisers (diphosphates), spices, herbs, years extract, onion powder, herb extract (sage), preservative (sodium metabisulphite), antioxidants (ascorbic acid, alpha-tocopherol), casing (beef collagen).


Of the 15 ingredients that comprise Wall’s sausages, you’re likely to find around three in the standard kitchen. When you spot an ingredients list like this, you know you’re in the presence of an ultra processed food.


List of processed meats to avoid

In the main, most people couldn’t tell the difference between a non-processed and processed meat product. The classifications can be confusing and there is considerable overlap concerning the exact criteria of processing.


For example, does cured meat qualify as processed or ultra processed? After all, some quality cured meat has only been caked in salt and buried in an air-tight vat for a few months. Or must meat contain chemical preservatives to be branded UPF?


According to the World Health Organisation, ‘Processed meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation.’


Processed or ultra-processed, that is the question

The WHO’s description of processed meat is helpful. However, as we’ve seen, processed food is not nearly as detrimental to your health as those that are ultra processed. As Dimbleby said in the introduction, even small increases in dietary UPF correlate with significant increases in disease risk.


Thus, avoiding the latter can help to reduce our total UPF consumption. Hence the need for clearer classifications.


To be on the safe side, Dr Michael Gregor recommends that we drop meat from our diet completely. In his book How Not To Die, Gregor cites hundreds of studies showing strong links between meat consumption and many different types of disease. But for those who aren’t yet prepared to take the step to a plant-based diet, here is a list of processed meats to avoid:


  • Hot dogs

  • Bacon

  • Sausages

  • Ham

  • Jerky

  • Pastrami

  • Salami

  • Bologna

  • Corned beef

  • Lunch meat

  • Breakfast sandwich meat

  • Pepperoni


Giving up ultra processed food

If I’ve done my job properly, you should be able to sniff out an ultra processed food from ten paces away. The counterfeit ingredients of UPF discussed above can enable you to distinguish them from minimally processed and processed products.


Equipped with this information can help you make healthier food choices. However, even the best information doesn’t guarantee that you’ll stop eating ultra processed food. As Tulleken reminds us, UPF is engineered to be addictive. Hence the reason why once you pop, you can’t stop!


To improve your prospects of purging UPF from your diet, Tulleken poses a controversial and counterintuitive technique. He suggests that for a whole week we live off UPFs. ‘Eat as much ultra process food as you like.’ Do a Morgan Spurlock and eat UPF for breakfast (Cheerios), lunch (TRIBE Protein Flapjacks), and dinner (Morrisons Meat Feast Pasta Melt – which contains a mouthwatering 50 ingredients!). Don't forget to swill it all down with a cool glass of teeth-melting Coca Cola.


Though the method might sound nuts, the theory is reasonably robust. By overdosing on UPF, you’ll quickly become sick of it. And if you happen to have a high threshold for ‘formulations of mostly cheap industrial sources of dietary energy,’ the physical and mental sluggishness that is symptomatic of a UPF diet may do the trick.



 

About Adam Priest –

A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and fitness coach. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam at info@hungry4fitness.co.uk.

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