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Opt for Whole Foods: Cook Regularly to Steer Clear of Ultra-Processed Options

As someone recovering from food addiction, Elia grappled for years with controlling her consumption of ultra-processed fried foods laden with refined sugar and flour.

Her struggle reflects a broader trend: Canadians derive nearly half of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods, as per a 2017 study by the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada.

Elia now advocates for a shift towards consuming whole, fresh foods rather than factory-made, ultra-processed options.

“We’re witnessing our Western diet spreading globally, accompanied by a surge in chronic illnesses,” notes Elia, who also serves as board chair and director of patient advocacy and education at Obesity Matters, a non-profit organization.

Experts assert that ultra-processed foods not only compromise physical health but also correlate with heightened negative mental health outcomes, including depression and anxiety.

But what exactly constitutes “ultra-processed” foods? Hamed Vatankhah, a food engineer and CEO of Scipertech in Montreal, explains that while food processing has been part of human history since the transition from hunting and gathering, ultra-processed foods undergo extensive modification from their natural state.

Jean-Claude Moubarac, an associate professor at the University of Montreal, elaborates that these foods are essentially formulations of industrial substances and additives meticulously chosen to enhance palatability. Such foods are typically high in sugar, salt, and fat, alongside various colors and flavors.

Examples of ultra-processed foods, categorized under the Nova system, include most fast foods, flavored chips, carbonated drinks, and certain breakfast cereals and yogurt brands.

Elia acknowledges the allure of ultra-processed foods, likening it to the pull of addiction. Yet, she emphasizes the importance of recognizing the detrimental impact they can have on mental and physical health.

While ultra-processed foods may contain added nutrients, experts caution that these are often artificially included post-processing, rather than occurring naturally.

Research demonstrates a clear correlation between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and health issues like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Additionally, there’s an association with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Though avoiding ultra-processed foods entirely may be challenging, experts recommend prioritizing home cooking with fresh ingredients whenever possible. Moubarac advises crafting meals that integrate meats, vegetables, grains, and legumes, steering clear of heavily processed options.

Ultimately, Elia urges consumers to weigh the benefits of whole, fresh foods against the allure of ultra-processed options, mindful of the pervasive influence of the food industry’s profit-driven strategies.

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