What are Processed and Ultra-Processed Foods?

In response to today’s fast paced lifestyle, convenience foods have become a common choice for many individuals. Convenience foods come in the form of fast food to frozen meals. Such convenience foods and beverages are commonly considered processed. 


Though microwavable dinners and frozen pizzas are processed food items, surprisingly bagged spinach and roasted nuts are processed foods as well. According to Registered Dietitian Taylor Wolfram, processed foods are foods that are “cooked, canned, frozen, packaged, or changed in nutritional composition with fortifying, preserving or preparing in different ways. Any time we cook, bake or prepare food, we’re processing food” (2019). 

Processed foods can be categorized as: minimally-, moderately-, heavily-, or ultra-processed. Chopped apples, roasted nuts, frozen fruit and vegetables, and canned tuna are considered minimally-processed foods. Examples of moderately-processed foods like pasta sauce, yogurt, and cake mixes. Heavily-processed foods include ready-to-eat foods such as crackers, granola, and deli meat. Other heavily processed food are pre-made items like frozen pizza and microwavable meals. (Wolfram, 2019). 

These heavily processed food items are similar to ultra-processed foods as they both include various additives and modifications. In regards to ultra-processed foods, these foods are mostly or entirely made from substances derived from food and additives. As mentioned by Registered Dietitian Cara Rosenbloom, ultra-processed foods and beverages include pre-made meals as well as potato chips, chicken nuggets, hotdogs, candy, and soft drinks. 


Ultra-processed foods are almost always low in nutritional value and high in calories. They have little nutritional value in that they contain poor quality fats like saturated and trans fats as well as added sugars and salt. Additionally, these foods are low in vitamins and minerals and little fiber content (Rico-Campà, et al., 2019). 

Studies have shown that due to the poor nutritional value of ultra-processed foods, they can have a harmful impact on an individual’s health such as increasing a person’s risk for cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, and hypertension (Rico-Campà, et al., 2019). Furthermore, studies have found that eating a high consumption of ultra-processed foods daily can increase the risk of mortality. Checkout https://www.hlcmuncie.com/nutrition-eating-habits-blogs/2019/6/5/ultra-processed-foods-linked-to-higher-mortality to learn more about how ultra-processed foods are linked to early mortality. 

Given the health risk of eating ultra-processed foods it is important to choose unprocessed or minimally processed foods more often as they offer more nutritional value. Some minimally processed foods that offer good nutrition include orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D or prewashed spinach for convenience (Wolfram, 2019). 


It is recommended that processed foods and beverages be included in the diet only in moderation. It is also important to check the food labels as such foods, as they tend to be high in added sugars and sodium. 

Overall, the key is to stick to foods that are unprocessed or minimally processed due to necessary preparations like bagging, chopping, cooking, etc. when possible. These foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, nuts, whole grains, and legumes. 


Rico-Campà, A., Martínez-González, M. A., Alvarez-Alvarez, I., Mendonça, R. D., Fuente-Arrillaga, C. D., Gómez-Donoso, C., & Bes-Rastrollo, M. (2019). Association between consumption of ultra-processed foods and all cause mortality: SUN prospective cohort study. BMJ, 365(L1949), 1-11. doi:10.1136/bmj.l1949 

Rosenbloom, C. (n.d.). What is ultra-processed food? Retrieved June 28, 2019, from https://www.heartandstroke.ca/articles/what-is-ultra-processed-food 

Wolfram, T. (2019, February 11). Processed Foods: What’s OK and What to Avoid. Retrieved June 28, 2019, from https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/processed-foods-whats-ok-and-what-to-avoid

Eating Habits and Weight Loss

Research has found that reducing your eating speed may be an effective strategy for preventing obesity and lowering associated health risks.  Several eating habits were identified that were associated with improved health outcomes, specifically with obesity and waist circumference.  Individuals who were slow eaters tended to be healthier and have a healthier lifestyle.  Additionally, normal eaters were 29% less likely to be obese and slow eaters were 42% less likely to be obese when compared to fast eaters.  Researchers have found that slow eaters tend to eat less calories per meal, feel full more quickly, and spend more time enjoying their food, therefore are satisfied with less.

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Several various eating habits were strongly associated with lower obesity: slower eating speed, cutting out after dinner snacks, and not eating within 2 hours of bedtime.  Adopting these three eating habits may help lower obesity and weight (BMI), and lead to a smaller waist circumference.  Not eating dinner 2 hours before bedtime was associated with a 10% reduced risk of obesity, while not snacking after dinner decreased the risk of obesity by 15%.  Another potential effective intervention for eating slower and reducing obesity is mindful eating.  Mindful eating develops your awareness of eating habits and allows you to pause between triggers and actions.  Additionally, this practice can also be used to help reduce emotional or stress eating.

While these findings come from an observational study, they provide promising results on the importance of healthy eating habits.  Adopting the eating habits of eating slower, not eating dinner 2 hours before bedtime, and not snacking after dinner may help improve health outcomes and decrease obesity.  These findings were particularly significant for those with Type 2 Diabetes.  The Healthy Lifestyle Center can help by providing nutrition consultations specific to your health goals that help provide education on health eating habits.  Further, we can provide behavior change techniques to help you adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors and habits.

By Matt Lewandowski


Sources:  Hurst, Y. & Fukuoka, H. (2018).  Effects of changes in eating speed on obesity in patients with diabetes:  A secondary analysis of longitudinal health check-up date. BMJ Open, 8(1), e019589.; Eating more slowly can help weight loss. Nicky BroydMedscape ,Feb. 14, 2018. Photo by i yunmai on Unsplash

Ultra-Processed Foods Linked to Higher Mortality

Researchers have recently found that an increased proportion of ultra-processed foods in your diet is associated with a higher risk of mortality, or early death.  Ultra-processed foods refer to the mass-produced, read-to-eat foods that tend to have harmful food additives and contaminants.  These types of food include packaged snacks, sugary drinks, breads, candies, ready-made meals, and processed meats.  One of the issues with consuming ultra-processed foods is that they tend to have a high caloric content with little nutritional value.  These foods are often referred to as “empty calories” as they offer no nutritional value but are included in our overall caloric intake.

Examples of several common ultra-processed foods

Examples of several common ultra-processed foods

This recent finding outlines the relationship between ultra-processed foods and mortality.  Ultra-processed foods were observed to be linked to an increased risk for chronic diseases such as high cholesterol, obesity, hypertension, and cancer.  Additionally, they have been found to be associated with a higher BMI and lower physical activity.  Ultra-processed foods are typically low in fiber and high in carbohydrates, saturated fats, and salt.  Researchers believe that it is the presence of additives, high salt, high sugar, and low fiber that may be contributing to the increased risk of disease and early death.  In fact, they found that for every 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods, there was a 14% increased risk of all-cause death.  The Healthy Lifestyle Center can assist by providing specific consultations related to nutrition and ultra-processed foods.  Additionally, we can assist with making healthy diet choices and adhering to eating a well-balanced diet for improved health outcomes.

By Matt Lewandowski


Sources:  Consuming Ultraprocessed Foods Tied to Higher Mortality.  Veronica Hackethal, MD – Medscape– February, 11, 2019.; Schnabel, L., Kesse-Guyet, E., Alles, B., et al. (2019).  Association between ultraprocessed food consumption and risk of mortality among middle-aged adults in France.  JAMA Internal Medicine.

The Most Important Meal of the Day? Maybe Not

It has long been believed that breakfast serves as the most important meal of the day.  However, new research looking at the association between breakfast and cardiovascular disease may provide insight on the actual importance. A recent study looked at the association between eating breakfast and the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality. They found that most individuals eat breakfast every day, with only a small percentage of individuals who never eat breakfast. 

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An important finding from their research is that individuals who did not eat breakfast differed in substantial ways from those who ate breakfast every day. In other words, we cannot conclude that the health differences observed were due to not eating breakfast. While the researchers adjusted for the various lifestyle factors, their adjustment for income may not have been sufficient. Income can be a significant predictor for the abilityto eat breakfast every day.

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On average, 6 out of 1000 individuals who ate breakfast every daydied from cardiovascular events. On the other hand, 7 out of 1000 individuals who neverate breakfast died from cardiovascular events. While this may indicate a difference, 4 out of 1000 who either sometimesor rarelyate breakfast died from cardiovascular events. Given that there does not appear to be a dose-response relationship, or linear pattern, to the data we cannot conclude an effect from breakfast.

Overall, these results do not allow us to infer causality from eating or not eating breakfast. Additionally, we cannot conclude that not eating breakfast is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. While our mothers may have preached to us our whole lives that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, the data does not provide us with significant results to support this claim. The Healthy Lifestyle Center can help provide healthy lifestyle consultations specific to nutrition, exercise, and health literacy. We can help provide support for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease through nutrition and physical activity interventions.

By Matt Lewandowski

Sources: How Important is Breakfast, Really? F. Perry Wilson, MD, MSCE – Medscape– April 24, 2019.; Rong, S., Snetselaar, L.G., Xu, G., et al. (2019).  Association of skipping breakfast with cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.  Journal of American College of Cardiology, 73, 2025-2032. Photo by Rachel Park on Unsplash