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Ultra-processed food: how to change everything to eat well?


Lhe industrial biscuits, nuggets, breakfast cereals for children, so many processed foods that take pride of place in many kitchens. Over the years, eating habits have changed and food has become more complex. Numerous studies confirm the harmful impact of ultra-processed foods. A Spanish study had also calculated that each additional portion of ultra-processed food in the diet was associated with an 18% increase in the risk of early mortality. Hence the importance of “eating well”.

Anthony Fardet, researcher in the Human Nutrition Unit of Inrae, the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, is at the origin of the popularization of the concept of ultra-transformed food in France. He thought about the best way to rethink our diet and participated in the development of an application called Siga. The essential ? Return to a more “global” vision of food. The author of Why complicate everything? Eating well is so simple (ed. Thierry Souccar) gives the keys to reconnecting to food without thinking only about nutrients.

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Point : Why avoid ultra-processed foods?

Anthony Fardet: Contrary to food reductionism, we must take a step back and return to a holistic approach. The reductionist vision considers that food is only an accumulation of nutrients without taking into account the quality of the links between these nutrients within a matrix. On the contrary, it is important to reconnect with the food taken in its complexity and to understand that the health potential of a food corresponds first of all to the quality of its matrix, because it is this which regulates the metabolic effects of nutrients, and therefore improve health in the longer term.

These ultra-processed foods arrived after the war with the rise of the industrialization of food, the splitting of foods into their elementary bricks and the rise of large-scale distribution and the price war. These products should not necessarily be completely banned from our diet, but they should represent exceptions and not exceed one or two ultra-processed foods per day, as a precaution. Today, the health risks are well known: obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancers, metabolic syndrome, etc. Beyond the adverse health effects, the food systems that underpin the production of these foods are not sustainable over the long term, both in terms of animal welfare and that of the planet.

How to eat better?

Contrary to what one might think, it is not complicated. We have thus developed the holistic rule of the 3Vs: True, Vegetal and Varied. “True” for less processed food (good matrix quality), “Plant-based” to consume less animal products but of better quality and “Varied” for more dietary diversity. And these new habits are not more costly for the consumer. According to a recent study in hypermarkets, a durable 3V-type basket is even 5% cheaper than a classic shopping cart rich in animal and ultra-processed products. If, in addition, we can promote organic, local and/or seasonal, it is even better for the levels of certain micronutrients and the environment.

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Concretely, what do I put on my plate?

We don’t necessarily pay attention to it, but supermarkets are full of “well” processed foods to include in our meals. Think frozen vegetable products, wholemeal pasta, plain yogurts, canned legumes, etc. There are also quality preserves, jams too. In short, there are plenty of non-ultraprocessed options! It is also possible to equip the Siga application. With an index – ranging from 1 to 7 – it is therefore possible to identify the extent to which a food is processed. It is a very good indicator of the overall quality of food by integrating a maximum of scientific criteria.

To pick up some ideas, eat real by Pamela Ebner published by Thierry Souccar, January 2022.