Ultra-Processed Food Facts - What Are Ultra-Processed Foods?

Ultra-Processed Food Facts – What Are Ultra-Processed Foods?

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Recently, there’s been considerable buzz about ultra-processed foods and their potential impact on our health and dietary choices. At Reluctant Low-Carb Life, we champion the cause of eating fresh, minimally processed foods.

In our view, ultra-processed foods can contain ingredients you wouldn’t typically find in your kitchen or those with a list of unrecognizable components on the label. Essentially, these foods are concocted in a lab rather than grown in a garden or raised on a farm.

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Ultra-Processed Food Facts: A Deep Dive Into Health Impacts And Lifestyle Choices

In the modern age, convenience often reigns supreme. With busy lives and the world at our fingertips, it’s easy to reach for foods that promise quick, hassle-free satisfaction. However, the cost of this convenience might be far greater than we think, especially regarding our health.

This post aims to shed light on the ubiquitous phenomenon of ultra-processed foods, what they are, how they might be affecting our health, and what we can do about it primarily through the lens of the “Reluctant Low-Carb Life” philosophy, which prioritizes freshness, fitness, and fullness as pillars of a healthier lifestyle.

What Are Processed And Ultra-Processed Foods?

In straightforward terms, Ultra-processed food has many ingredients that can not be found in your kitchen. It is food that is made or created in a laboratory setting.

Here is some information about Ultra-processed or unprocessed foods:

Unprocessed Or Minimally Processed Foods

These are whole foods where the nutrients remain intact. Examples include apples, raw chicken, and raw, unsalted nuts. These foods undergo minimal changes like drying, roasting, or freezing to make them edible and safe for consumption.

Processed Foods

Processed foods have additional substances like salt, sugar, or oil. Canned vegetables and freshly made bread are examples. Typically, they contain two or three ingredients and are altered but not to an extent that makes them harmful in moderation.

Ultra-Processed Foods

Here, the narrative changes significantly. These foods contain added sugars, salt, fats, artificial colors, and preservatives. Examples include frozen meals, soft drinks, and fast foods. They are engineered for long shelf life and palatability, but at what cost?

The NOVA System And The Rise Of Ultra-Processed Foods

One of the main ways that Ultra-processed foods have been classified today is through Brazil’s NOVA system. In today’s world, where fast food and ready-to-eat meals are increasingly becoming the norm, we must be aware of what we put into our bodies.

One framework that helps us understand the landscape of processed foods is the NOVA system, developed by Carlos Monteiro, a professor of Nutrition and Public Health at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. His research led to a comprehensive food classification system highlighting ultra-processed foods (UPFs) and their impact on public health. Let’s delve into the NOVA system and the characteristics of UPFs.

Origins Of The NOVA System

Carlos Monteiro noticed a concerning trend: Despite a decrease in sugar purchases, Brazil was experiencing rising rates of type 2 diabetes and obesity. Determined to understand the reason, he and his team began investigating changes in the Brazilian diet since the 1980s.

Even though people bought less sugar and dietary fats, consumption surged due to industrial food products packed with these ingredients.

The critical factor was the level of processing these foods had undergone. As a result, Monteiro created the NOVA system, categorizing foods based on their degree of processing:

Categories Under The NOVA System

The NOVA system lists the foods in four primary categories as follows:

Unprocessed Or Minimally Processed Foods:

This includes natural food items like fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meat.

Processed Culinary Ingredients:

These components, like fats and aromatic herbs, are intended to extend shelf life and are generally used in cooking.

Processed Foods:

Items like bread and jams that are made by combining groups 1 and 2 and have relatively few ingredients fall under this category.

Ultra-Processed Foods:

These foods contain numerous ingredients, including additives that enhance taste, processed raw materials like hydrogenated fats, and substances rarely used in home cooking, such as soy protein.

Characteristics Of Ultra-Processed Foods (UPFs)

The Ultra-processed foods do not end there; there are many characteristics of ultra-processed foods as listed below:

Nutritional Profile

Ultra-processed foods often have a less favorable nutritional composition than minimally processed foods. They are typically high in sodium, sugar, fats, and saturated fatty acids.

Their high caloric content and poor nutritional value are a recipe for various health issues, including obesity and heart disease.

Market Dominance

UPFs have a strong market presence due to their affordability, long shelf life, and aggressive marketing strategies. They are often ready-to-eat, providing convenience that other food categories can’t match, thereby winning market share.

Behavioral Impact

Monteiro’s studies have observed that these foods encourage people to “replace regular, freshly prepared meals and dishes with snacks anytime, anywhere.”

The public most likely to consume these foods are people with busy lifestyles who spend considerable time watching the television. Interestingly, higher educational levels have been linked to less consumption of UPFs.

Understanding the NOVA system is crucial as ultra-processed foods dominate our diets. With their high-calorie count and poor nutrient profile, these foods are a time bomb for public health.

Awareness of these factors can help us make better dietary choices, steering us back towards unprocessed or minimally processed foods that benefit our health.

While the convenience of UPFs is tempting, it’s vital to consider their long-term impact on our well-being. As we continue to learn more about the damaging effects of ultra-processed foods, it becomes clear that we need to return to basics: natural, minimally processed foods that nourish our bodies rather than deplete them.

The Alarming Statistics Of Ultra-Processed Foods

According to a study published in The BMJ Medical Journal, almost 58% of calories in the average American diet come from ultra-processed foods. Even more startling, these foods contribute to nearly 90% of energy obtained from added sugars.

The Health Impact Of Ultra-Processed Foods

Even though most of us know we eat more ultra-processed foods than fresh foods, studies have shown us the long-term effects.

Recent Studies

A study published in Cell Metabolism aimed to compare the effects of an ultra-processed diet with an unprocessed one. This clinical study had limitations like a small sample size (20 participants) and the lack of a broader demographic.

However, it revealed that participants consumed 500 more calories daily on an ultra-processed diet, gaining an average of two pounds in 14 days. This suggests that ultra-processed foods could be contributing to the obesity epidemic.

Satiety Factor

One key takeaway from the study is that ultra-processed foods appear less satisfying, leading to overeating. This lack of satiety can be a gateway to numerous health issues, including obesity and related comorbidities.

When we talk about satiety here, we mean that after you eat Ultra-processed foods, you may find that you need to eat again in a few hours or are hungry again.

While the Cell Metabolism study has provided some critical insights, it’s essential to acknowledge its limitations. The sample size was small, and the setting might have influenced eating behaviors. However, despite these limitations, the evidence against ultra-processed foods is growing stronger.

The Reluctant Low-Carb Life Philosophy

Even with the limitations of current studies, there is an undeniable trend suggesting that ultra-processed foods contribute to poor health outcomes.

This emerging body of evidence adds weight to the “Reluctant Low-Carb Life” philosophy that prioritizes freshness, fitness, and fullness as essentials for a balanced life.

Fresh Vegetables
Fresh Vegetables


At the heart of our philosophy is the belief that fresh, minimally processed foods are integral to a healthy life. Not only are these foods rich in essential nutrients, but they also make you feel fuller for longer, thus reducing the likelihood of overeating.

Nordic Walking In The Mountain
Nordic Walking In The Mountain


The second pillar is fitness. Exercise, in any form, plays a vital role in maintaining health. It’s not just about weight loss or muscle gain; it’s about holistic well-being.

Unprocessed Or Minimally Processed Foods
Unprocessed Or Minimally Processed Foods


The last pillar is fullness or satiety. Foods that offer a feeling of fullness can contribute significantly to a balanced diet, reducing the need for snacking and potentially helping with weight management.

While we wait for more conclusive research, limiting ultra-processed foods in our diets seems prudent. By focusing on fresh foods, incorporating fitness into our routines, and seeking satisfying meals, we can take significant steps towards better health.


Please note that I am neither a doctor nor a healthcare expert. My insights are based on personal observations and a commitment to a lifestyle prioritizing fresh foods and fitness. I have witnessed the impact of processed and ultra-processed foods on my well-being, and I invite you to join me in making healthier choices.

While my focus is on consuming fresh foods that promote a feeling of fullness and incorporating regular physical activity into daily life, consulting with healthcare professionals for personalized medical advice is essential.

Reluctant Low Carb Life explores all aspects of keto and low-carb lifestyle, fitness, health, wellness, and aging gracefully. At the Reluctant Low Carb Life, we strive to give honest and accurate information to people trying to live the low-carb and keto lifestyle while improving their fitness and health.

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NOVA’s Ultra Processed Food System – 4 Categories Explored

To address these concerns, the UN has endorsed the NOVA classification system, a tool designed to categorize foods based on their level of processing. NOVA provides a framework with four primary categories to distinguish between minimally processed and ultra-processed foods. Please continue reading to deepen your understanding of the NOVA system and its role in combating unhealthy eating habits.

You can read more about NOVA’s Ultra Processed Food System – 4 Categories Explored by clicking here.

How Bad For You Are Ultra Processed Foods?

Ultra Processed Foods or UPF are foods significantly altered from their natural state, often loaded with excessive salt, sugar, fats, and various industrial-grade chemical additives. Research consistently points to the negative health implications of a diet heavy in such foods. Read on as we explore what ultra-processed food is not suitable for you.

You can read more about How Bad For You Are Ultra Processed Foods? by clicking here.

The Hidden Sweet Danger: Ultra-Processed Foods And Sugars

The ultra-processed food products often promise convenience and taste but come at a high cost to health, particularly in sugar content. What’s startling is that ultra-processed foods comprised 57.9% of the energy intake in a typical diet and contributed 89.7% of the energy intake from added sugars. The problem is not only how much sugar these foods contain but also that many consumers don’t realize they’re consuming so much sugar already added to their foods.

You can read more about The Hidden Sweet Danger: Ultra-Processed Foods And Sugars by clicking here.


Ultra-processed foods and added sugars in the US diet: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study

Cell Metabolism – Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain:An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake.

Anita Hummel
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Reluctant Low Carb Life explores the keto and low carb lifestyles, fitness, health, wellness, and aging gracefully. We give you honest advice, accurate information, and real stories about what it means to change your life.

email: info@reluctantlowcarblife.com

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