Ultra processed foods explained

This week the news has been full of reports that ultra processed foods (UPF) increase the risk of cancer. But what does that really mean?

Hundreds of articles get published relating to food and health, foods that increase the risk of cancer and foods that prevent or reduce the risk of cancer. You’ll find the same if you Google weight loss, diabetes, allergies, healthy skin etc.; a bad diet is a bad diet and affects multiple aspects of your health.

In isolation each article can leave you with more questions than answers. Read a whole bunch and then dig deeper into the research behind the news headlines and you’ll find repeated themes, put those themes together and you’ll find the real headline:

‘EAT WHOLE FOODS, as CLOSE to THEIR NATURAL STATE as POSSIBLE’ 

Being healthy is not simply a case of avoiding foods that are high in salt, sugar, fat and oils, additional risks are caused by the use of chemicals and multi stage processing. Ultra processed foods are made from ingredients and using methods that you wouldn’t typically find in a home kitchen or restaurants that cook real food (rather than prepared, packaged foods).

UPFs is a double whammy. The higher the amount of ultra processed foods you eat the lower the amount of healthy whole foods you eat that can help prevent disease and cancers.

With the emergance of the global industrial food system in the 80s. Wealthy countries without strong food heritage, USA, Canada, UK, and Australia became dominated by packaged, ready-to-consume products. Many other countries are now suffering the same fate, replacing traditional home cooked freshly prepared dishes based on minimally processed foods with low quality, unhealthy packaged foods. Rates of obesity, cancers and diabetes have correspondingly risen as rapidly.

Ultra processed food are highly convenient (ready-to-eat), highly palatible, highly profitable, due to low cost ingredients, and therefore of great importance to the food industry. They are big business, with aggressive marketing to both children and adults.  Often branded products owned by large corporations. It is estimated that 50% of all calories consumed in the UK and 60% in the USA from now from ultra processed foods. Next time you shop look how much whole foods you have versus pre-prepared packed foods.

The recently published findings of a 7 year study conducted by the French researchers was based on the NOVA classification system. The NOVA systems uses four definitions to define food processing groups:

  1. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods:
    • whole natural foods of minimally processed foods only altered by processes such as removal of inedible or unwanted parts, drying, crushing, grinding, fractioning, filtering, roasting, boiling, pasteurisation, refrigeration, freezing, placing in containers, vacuum packaging, or non- alcoholic fermentation. None of these processes adds substances such as salt, sugar, oils or fats to the original food.
    • plants (veg, grains, seeds, fruits, leaves, stems, roots) or of animals (muscle, offal, eggs, milk), and also fungi, algae and water
  2. Processed culinary ingredients
    • these are substances obtained directly from group 1 foods or from nature by processes such as pressing, refining, grinding, milling, and spray drying
    • examples are salt, cane sugar, honey, butter, oils crushed from olives or seeds, lard,
    • products used in home and restaurant kitchens to prepare, season and cook group 1 foods e.g. hand-made dishes, soups and broths, breads, preserves, salads, drinks and desserts.
  3. Processed foods
    • increase the durability of group 1 foods, or to modify or enhance their sensory qualities
    • canned or bottled vegetables, fruits and legumes; salted or sugared nuts and seeds; salted, cured, or smoked meats; canned fish; fruits in syrup; cheeses and unpackaged freshly made breads
  4. Ultra-processed food and drink products
    • look out for long lists of ingredients 5+ especially where the list starts to look like a chemistry lesson
    • ingredients you don’t recognise as food, things you would not cook with at home, e.g. maltodextrin, soy protein, palm oil, high fructose corn syrup…
    • sugars, oils, fats, salt, anti-oxidants, stabilisers, and preservatives
    • whole foods from Group 1 are minimal or absent
    • several industrial processes with no domestic equivalents are used in the manufacture of ultra-processed products, such as extrusion and moulding, and pre-processing for frying
    • examples of typical ultra-processed products are: fizzy drinks; sweet or savoury packaged snacks; ice-cream, chocolate, confectionary; mass-produced packaged breads and buns; margarines and spreads; biscuits, pastries, cakes, and cake mixes; breakfast ‘cereals’, ‘cereal’ and ‘energy’ bars; ‘energy’ drinks; milk drinks, ‘fruit’ yoghurts and ‘fruit’ drinks; cocoa drinks; meat and chicken extracts and ‘instant’ sauces; infant formulas, follow-on milks, other baby products; ‘health’ and ‘slimming’ products such as powdered or ‘fortified’ meal and dish substitutes; and many ready to heat products including pre-prepared pies and pasta and pizza dishes; poultry and fish ‘nuggets’ and ‘sticks’, sausages, burgers, hot dogs, and other reconstituted meat products, and powdered and packaged ‘instant’ soups, noodles and desserts…And remember your dogs and cats – canned and dry pet foods

Example ingredients lists of ultra processed foods (note even foods you might think are healthy and marketed as healthy can also be ultra processed):

  1. Pringles originalDehydrated Potatoes, Vegetable Oils (Sunflower, Corn), Rice Flour, Wheat Starch, Corn Flour, Emulsifier (E471), Maltodextrin, Salt, Yeast Extract, Yeast Powder, Colour (Annatto)
  2. Tesco Healthy Living 5 Apple & Strawberry Cereal Bars – Rice And Whole Wheat Flakes (29%), Fibre (Polydextrose), Oat Flakes, Yogurt Flavoured Drizzle (8%), Crispy Cereals, Stabiliser (Sorbitol), Apple And Strawberry Fruit Pieces (5%), Glucose Syrup, Sunflower Oil, Strawberry Freeze dried pieces (1%), Flavouring, Emulsifier (SoyaLecithins), Antioxidant (Tocopherol-Rich Extract), Rice And Whole Wheat Flakes contains: Rice, Wholewheat, Sugar, Wheat Gluten, WheatFlour, Dried Skimmed Milk, Barley Malt Extract, Salt, Wheatgerm, Yogurt Flavoured Drizzle contains: Sugar, Palm Kernel Oil, Yogurt Powder (Milk), Milk Sugar, Emulsifier (Soya Lecithins), Crispy Cereals contains: Wheat Flour, Rice Flour, Dextrose, Sugar, Salt, Apple And Strawberry Fruit Pieces contains: Apple, Dextrose, Humectant (Glycerol), Concentrated Strawberry Juice, Maize Starch, Elderberry Juice Extract, Acidity Regulator (Malic Acid), Flavouring, Preservative (Sulphur Dioxide), Glucose Syrup contains: Glucose Syrup, Stabiliser (Sorbitol)
  3. Muller corner red cherry – Yogurt (Milk), Cherries (11%), Water, Sugar, Stabilisers: Pectins, Guar Gum, Flavourings, Acidity Regulator: Citric Acid
  4. Tesco white medium bread – Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Water, Yeast, Salt, Rapeseed Oil, Spirit Vinegar, Emulsifiers (Mono- and Di-Acetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Mono- and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids, Sodium Stearoyl-2-Lactylate, Mono- and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids), Soya Flour, Preservative (Calcium Propionate), Palm Oil, Flour Treatment Agent (Ascorbic Acid)
  5. Pot noodle – Noodles: Noodles (57%) [Wheat Flour, Palm Fat, Salt, Firming Agents (Potassium Carbonate, Sodium Carbonate)], Sauce and Vegetables: Water, Maltodextrin, Vegetables (3.6%) [Carrots, Peas (1%), Onion Powder], Wheat Flour, Sugar, Glucose Syrup, Curry Powder, Acidity Regulator (Sodium Diacetate), Palm Fat, Flavour Enhancer (Monosodium Glutamate), Salt, Yeast Extract, Potassium Chloride, Garlic, CheesePowder, Flavourings, Colour (Curcumin), Sachet: Mango Chutney Sauce (1.3%) [Mango Puree (88%) (Mango, Sugar, Salt, Acid (Acetic Acid), Spices] Water, Spirit Vinegar, Modified Corn Starch, Chilli Powder]
  6. Dairylea cheese spreadSkimmed Milk (Water, Skimmed Milk Powder), Cheese, Skimmed Milk Powder, Milk Fat, Stabilisers (Citric Acid, Sodium Carbonate), Inulin, Whey Powder (from Milk), Calcium Phosphate
  7. Heinz weighwatchers chicken hotpot – Water, Fried Potatoes (23% contain Potatoes, Sunflower Oil, Dextrose), Cooked Chicken (16%, Chicken Breast, Water, Salt, Stabilisers – Di-Tri- and Polyphosphates), Mushrooms, Carrots, Peas, Skimmed Milk Powder, Onions, Modified Maize Starch, Whipping Cream (1%, contains Milk), Flavourings (Flavouring, Salt, Maltodextrin, Chicken Fat, Chicken, Celery, Celeriac), Chicken Stock (Chicken, Water, Salt, Maltodextrin, Chicken Fat, Yeast Extract), Onion Powder, Parsley, Salt, Mustard Powder, Sage, Thyme
  8. Quorn meat free mince Mycoprotein™ (93%), Rehydrated Free Range Egg White, Natural Caramelised Sugar, Firming Agents: Calcium Chloride, Calcium Acetate, Gluten Free Barley Malt Extract
  9. Cadbury creme eggSugar, Milk, Glucose Syrup, Cocoa Butter, Invert Sugar Syrup, Dried Whey (from Milk), Cocoa Mass, Vegetable Fats (Palm, Shea), Emulsifier (E442), Dried Egg White, Flavourings, Colour (Paprika Extract), Milk Chocolate: Milk Solids 14% minimum, Contains Vegetable Fats in addition to Cocoa Butter

Parting thoughts;

  • the diet of an ethical omnivore focuses of whole foods, veg, fruit, pulses etc and adding naturally raised meat fish and dairy (non intensive farming)
  • cook and prepare dishes using as many whole ingredients as you can e.g. make pasta sauce from fresh tomatoes rather than a jar of sauce.
  • remember you don’t have to be perfect, every little change you make counts
  • apply common sense, if it doesn’t resemble a natural food product, is heavily marketed and has a long ingredients list put it back
  • recognise UPF as a treat rather than part of your main diet
  • don’t get down, this doesn’t mean you have to give us tasty foods, it means you have to adjust to enjoy ‘proper’ tasty food 🙂
  • don’t be fooled into eating ultra processed foods as part of your staple diet, this includes meat replacement products marketed to vegetarians and vegans.
  • getting your calories from ultra processed foods which is bad for your health means it is instead of eating whole foods that have a positive effect on your health it is a double whammy.

The ethical omnivore.

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Valentines day – have some heart

Mr Ethivore and I are having pan fried organic beef heart for our Valentines dinner.

Sadly people don’t general eat heart anymore. It was my Dad that put me introduced me to it. We buy organic beef heart, liver and kidneys to make our dogs food (yes they are ethical omnivores too). Dad spotted it defrosting and said ‘I haven’t had beef heart for years, it is delicious but I can’t buy it anymore’. With that we fried some up and have never looked back. Being an ethical omnivore is about eating and enjoying all cuts of meat, sometimes referred to as the ‘forgotten cuts’. Heart used to be a treat, the meat is very lean and packed full of flavour. Think fillet steak crossed with liver.

When we think about trying to be ethical in our choices and moving to organic, grass fed meat we think about the cost. The secret to getting it right it to think creatively, heart is cheap, really cheap. We buy organic, slow grown long horn beef heart for £4KG, we trim the fat, valves and arteries off for the dogs and we eat the meat.

Anyone that is squeamish about eating cuts like heart, think about it think way, it is a muscle, it is exactly the same as eating a steak, just cheaper and in a lot of cases better. It we eat meat we should make use of the whole animal, we have become accustomed to standard cuts, but that is all it is, what we have become used to. Eating only steaks, chicken breast, fillet of fish etc. is unsustainable and not really where the flavour and goodness is.

You might find beef heart in your butcher, otherwise try online, there are a lot of traditional butchers and farm shops that sell it. All meat freezes well so buying a box of meat directly rather than from the supermarket is always a better option. As with all meat aim to buy the best version you can find, buy direct, grass fe or organic ideally.

It might look odd when you unwrap it, but get a sharp knife out and you’ll soon turn it into something that resembles a meat product you recognise:

  • wash the heart, pat dry,
  • trim off everything other than the lean meat, fat, valves, arteries etc,
  • cut that into large chunks to fit into the pan, sprinkle with salt, pepper and seasoning to taste,
  • heat a pan, ideally a skillet with butter or oil,
  • when nice and hot, add the meat and cook for 4-6 mins each side without disturbing. You are aiming to cook it medium-rare, but you can go rare if you wish. Because it isn’t fatty it doesn’t like being over done, it get too livery and tough.
  • remove from the heat then rest for 10-15 mins.
  • leave it in the pan and lightly cover it with foil.
  • then thinly slice and serve as you would steak, sauces, mushrooms and onions, salad, fries.
  • it is also great the next day thinly sliced with horseradish and salad in sandwiches.
  • or go wild, slice really finely, make mini yorkies, gravy, horseradish cream and serve as canapés, oh fancy!

Alternatively you can marinade the heart overnight before cooking for example in balsamic vinegar, there are lots of recipes on line. I wouldn’t recommend stewing it, there are lots of cuts that are better suited to slow cooking or stewing. If anyone does try other methods that work well I’d love to hear about them.

Lots of love and heart,

The ethical omnivores, including the dogs!

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Ramen – Japan we salute you

Warning Ramen is addictive! Fortunately it is easy to make and healthy.

The majority of the recipes I post are veg dishes. We all know how to cook with meat and fish but most people don’t know how to cook without them. The idea is easy dishes to make, that serve as a good way to cut down on meat intake, to try dishes without feeling any compromise of flavour or texture. Ramen is perfect for this 🙂 Ramen has a deep rooted history in Japanese cuisine, with each region having it’s own take on the dish. The beauty of it is, start the basic broth, then add whatever you want. You can make this veg version or add meat or fish if you want, there are no set rules.

Basic ingredients list, serves 2:

  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil (or alternative)
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 3 teaspoons ginger, grated
  • 4 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mirin or rice wine vinegar
  • 1 litre vegetable stock (I use Marigold vegan Swiss boullion)
  • 100g fresh shiitake mushrooms (I use dried mushrooms, soaked to rehydrate)
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 100g green veg finely chopped (baby spinach, swiss chard, kale, sprouting broccoli etc)
  • 100g packs dried ramen noodles (rice or soba noodles)
  • Handful chopped spring green onions (optional)
  • 1 large carrot, finely sliced with potato peeler, then chopped.

Method, approx 15 mins to make:

  1. Heat the sesame oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger and onion and cook for a couple minutes until soft and fragrant. Stir in the soy sauce and mirin and cook for another minute. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the mushrooms and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the eggs and cook for 8 minutes for a soft yolk. Remove eggs from the pot and place in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. After a few minutes, peel the shells off carefully and slice the eggs in half, lengthwise. Set aside.
  4. In another pot heat a splash of apple juice or water, add the green veg, cover and cook for several minutes, until just wilted. Remove from the heat.
  5. Add ramen noodles to stock mixture and cook 2-3 minutes or according to package instructions.
  6. Divide the soup into 2 large bowls.
  7. Decorate the top with egg, veg, carrots and green onions, don’t stir the fun is picking it as you eat, serve and enjoy.

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Fairtrade – it says it all

Image result for fairtrade logo 2018

Fairtrade originated from the need to protect farmers and workers in developing countries. Today the Fairtrade label represents a global movement that guarantees better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability and fair terms of trade.

Conventional trade traditionally takes advantage of the poorest and weakest producers that have the least bargaining power. Coffee and chocolate are amongst the commodities which are particularly prone to appalling working conditions and price fixing by the major corporate buyers.

Fairtrade represents more than just money and ultimately it means a better product reaches you. Their policies include:

  • Price – farmers are paid a reasonable price, never below the market value.
  • Investment premium – paid on top of the Fairtrade minimum price that farmers and workers invest in social, environmental and economic developmental projects to improve their businesses and their communities. They decide democratically by committee how to invest the premium
  • Environment – farmers have to meet environmental standards, to protect natural environments.
  • Sustainability – promoting the use of sustainable and organic farming techniques.
  • GM ban – forbid the use of GM seeds and planting stock.
  • The small producer – with around 70% of coffee producers being small scale they face particular disadvantages in the market place. Fairtrade favours and support these producers.
  • Child labour – prohibits child labour (under 15 yrs old).
  • Discrimination – Fairtrade follows the Universal Declaration of Human rights.
  • Occupational health and safety for workers – the developing world has acutely inadequate. standards for health and safety. Fairtrade sets minimum standards.

If you want to learn more check out their website, specifically the farmers and workers section: https://www.fairtrade.org.uk/Farmers-and-Workers

Note, where you see a list of positives promoted by an organisation, realise that it is a mirror image of what goes on in the other side of the industry. See https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/bittersweet-toil-how-2-day-10760532

So when you next shop for bananas, tropical fruits, coffee, tea, dried fruit and nuts, rice or sugar look out for the Fairtrade logo.

Final thoughts –  The need for the Fairtrade movement highlights everything that is wrong with corporate power and greed in the food industry. The plight of the farmers in developing countries in the starkest realisation of this, but the same principles apply globally. Being an Ethical omnivore is about supporting good farming practices and real farmers. Without them we won’t have ongoing access to quality, sustainable products. It might cost a bit more but the value is far greater.

Fairtrade banana with my porridge this morning 🙂


Non Fairtrade – Nemon Siluo, nine years old, works on farmland clearing vegetation (Image: Adam Gerrard/Sunday Mirror)

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10 bean and lentil chilli

Super easy, healthy and delicious. I love a bowl of spicy, rich, smokey chilli, it is high on my list of comfort foods. Mexican dishes are very well suited to reduced or zero meat dinners. Chilli was my first attempt at cutting down our meat intake. I started by adding extra kidney beans, chickpeas and veg to make the beef mince go further. I soon realised that I didn’t need the meat for the taste or the texture. Fast forward through my experiments, I now make a knock out chilli using a ten bean mix and lentils. It is full of fibre and nutrients and very low in fat.

As I have mentioned before I am a ‘throw it all in’ cook. I love lots of flavour but not too much work! Hopefully I can translate this into a recipe that works for you.

Any beans will work. I use dried beans but cans will work too. I use a 10 bean mix from Waitrose (£1.19 – 500g). I make a big batch and freeze extra portions. The quantities would make around 8-10 portions.

  • 500g dried mixed beans, soak in cold water over night. Rinse well.
  • Cover in fresh water and bring to the boil for 10 mins, simmer for approx a further 1.5 hrs. The instructions state 45 mins but I prefer the beans to be soft so cook as long as you wish.
  • Once cooked, drain the cooking water.
  • Separately cook 250g of lentils. Green, red or 50/50. Follow instructions on the packet. Drain cooking water.
  • Add cooked beans and lentils to a large pan. Add enough water to cover 1/2 of the mix. (about 1 pint).
  • Add the following:
    • two teaspoons of stock powder (I use Marigold vegan Swiss bouillon).
    • one teaspoon of cocoa powder (trust me).
    • one teaspoon of ground cumin powder.
    • half teaspoon of hot chilli powder or 2 whole red chilli roughly chopped (add chilli to taste, more or less depending on the heat). I make it quite mild so it suits everyone, then we add chopped jalapeño peppers to taste when serving.
    • one teaspoon of chipotle pepper powder (chipotle is smoked jalapeño pepper, you can buy whole or in a mix).
    • two teaspoons of smoked paprika powder.
    • Large pinch of dark muscovado sugar (sugar is also to taste and can be left out. I use it to equal the acidity in the tomatoes.
    • 3-4 large fresh tomatoes chopped or a can of chopped tomatoes.
    • 1/2 litre of tomato passata. You can add more tomato rather than water if you prefer it tomatoey.
    • All of the spices are to taste, so let it cook down, then taste it and add more if you need to. Remember you can add but you can’t take away.
  • In a separate pan brown 1-2 finely chopped medium onions. Use apple juice instead of oil for healthy option.
  • Add 4 crushed and chopped garlic cloves, fry for further 30 secs.
  • Add garlic and onion to the chill, stir well. The mixture should be wet but not swimming.
  • Cover, bring to the boil, then reduce to a low simmer for around 1hr. You can cook for less but I like to leave it, the longer the better as all the flavour mature. Check consistency, if too thick add more water, if too runny simmer with the lid off to reduce the liquid.

It is a long cooking time, but very little actual prep time. Hence I make a big batch and freeze it.

The beauty of the dish is that it isn’t an exact science, start with the receipt above but chuck things in and experiment, sweet potato, peppers, mushroom, courgette etc. I serve with brown rice, chopped jalapeño peppers, diced fresh avocado and cashew cream (in place of sour cream) see https://wp.me/p7RDjy-8Y. It is also good on a jacket potato, taco or wrap for lunch.

This recipe is for a non-meat version. If you do want to add meat I would opt for a high quality diced beef, brown it off, add to chilli and slow cook it until tender.

If you aren’t used to eating a lot of fibre and have a fear of beans, read the post below. Beans only cause gas and bloating if they are not prepared correctly or/and if you are not used to eating them. Introduce them gradually and you’ll still be able bend forward.

Beans beans good for your heart…

Enjoy 🙂

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