Plant based diets are increasingly becoming the new trend in nutrition these days. Plant based diets are also currently thought of as being environmentally friendly with increased attention paid to animal welfare, lower levels of greenhouse gases, land degradation and less water use that are also thought as having a myriad of health benefits. However, some foods are what many people call “junk” foods or ultra—processed foods and not considered “products of nature”.
“All foods according to some standards or sold in supermarkets would be classified as “processed.” The USDA defines a processed food as one that has undergone any changes to its natural state, e.g. cutting or washing. The NOVA classification assigns a group to food products based on how much processing they have been through: Group 1 – Unprocessed or minimally processed foods Group 2 – Processed culinary ingredients Group 3 – Processed foods Group 4 might include ultra-processed foods.” The Institute of Food Technologists includes additional processing terms like storing, filtering, fermenting, extracting, concentrating, microwaving, and packaging.”
“Ultra- processed foods,” contain minimal whole foods, are high in calories, added sugar, salt and fats. They offer little nutritional value” and have been processed with a list of additives that are difficult to pronounce and would not be recognized as food by our ancestors. The NOVA classification often used to determine the extent of industrial processes as mentioned above may include the following:
- Commercially produced breads, pastries, cakes, and cookies
- Carbonated beverages
- Sugar-sweetened beverages
- Pre-packaged snacks
- Flavored dairy drinks
- Breakfast cereals
- Energy bars
- Instant soups , noodles, and desserts
- Convenience foods
A study in 2019 followed 105,159 adults for 5 years. They reported that even a 10% increase in the consumption of ultra–processed foods was associated with a negative health outcome like higher risks of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. (Associations do not reflect causes). The associations found showed that some vegans and vegetarians often have lower levels of iron, vitamin B 12, calcium, vitamin D and omega-3 fats.
Plant-based diets still may have a health advantage. This can occur if the diet in question also provides the needed nutrients for nutritional health such as adequate fruits and vegetables, non- starchy vegetables, eggs, plant protein, seafood and whole grains (fiber) on a regular basis. However, on the other hand, the bottom line is that a bag of potato chips although plant based, provides few nutrients and should be limited on a healthier plant based diet.
- Be sure to read nutrition labels to become aware of the calories, added sugars, salt saturated fats, trans fats and other essential nutrients in one serving.
- Monitor fiber and carbohydrate portions. Be sure to check the fiber content of many cereal products.
- Focus on proteins, meat substitutions -peas, beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, and seafood.
- If possible, anyone beginning a new eating pattern should consult a dietitian or physician with nutrition knowledge.
- Limit your intake of processed foods in general, especially ultra-processed.
As Michael Pollan says in his book, In Defense of Food. “Because most of what we’re consuming today is not food, and how we’re consuming it…in the car, in front of the TV — is not really eating. Instead of food, we’re consuming “edible foodlike substances” – no longer the products of nature but of food science.”
Source: Medical News Today.