Throughout the programme, you’ll notice we talk about ultra-processed foods and our suggestions for how to reduce your intake. However, it’s important to be clear about what we mean by this term and the specific foods that we recommend you limit, as some processed foods can be part of a healthy diet.
The way that foods are processed or produced is important. Sometimes, processing can benefit the food by extending its shelf life, or improving the nutritional content.
Researchers have come up with the following four categories for foods:
- Group 1: Unprocessed / minimally processed foods
This includes frozen or dried foods. For example, basic whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, eggs, meat, grains, and milk.
- Group 2: Processed culinary ingredients
These are foods that add flavour, like olive oil, salt, and pepper, and dried herbs. This category includes refined sugars like honey and white sugar.
- Group 3: Processed foods
These foods consist of two to four ingredients and are usually made by combining Group 1 and 2 foods. For example, tinned fish, plain yoghurt, ham/bacon, and sourdough (fermented) bread.
- Group 4: Ultra-processed foods
These are industrial formulations of five or more ingredients, such as sweet / savoury packaged snacks (ice cream, crisps, biscuits), ready-meals, cooking sauces, and fizzy drinks.
When we recommend that you reduce your intake of processed foods, we’re mainly referring to the ultra-processed foods in Group 4.
We’re encouraging you to make changes to your diet so that the foods you eat are primarily Group 1 (basic whole foods) that are prepared with some Group 2 ingredients, for cooking and adding flavour.
The one exception to this is that we recommend you prepare your meals without the addition of sugar, even though refined sugars are included in Group 2.
Some Group 3 processed foods can be part of a healthy diet, like tinned fish or yoghurt. You’ll need to check packages and read ingredient lists to make sure there’s no added sugar in the processed foods you’re choosing. This is because many foods that we wouldn’t usually think of as sweet – such as bread, cereals, cooking sauces, and dressings – now have added sugar.
The problem is that we eat these foods and become used to this level of sweetness in our diet. A major component of our programme is to help you reset your tolerance for sweetness.