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This week experts warned the over-consumption of ultra-processed food could raise the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
But it’s not just crisps and chocolate bars we need to be concerned about.
Many foods we would perceive as ‘healthy’ are also technically ultra-processed.
Ultra-processed food usually contains ingredients you would not find in your kitchen cupboard. You may not recognise the names of the colourings, sweeteners and preservatives.
Here, MailOnline reveals some of the healthier foods you may not have realised are actually ultra-processed.
It’s not just crisps and chocolate bars we need to be concerned about. Many foods we would perceive as ‘healthy’ are also technically ultra-processed including soup and margarine
Cold meats such as ham and salami may seem like easy ways of adding protein to your sandwich, but many packs sold in supermarkets are full of chemicals.
Although some hams are only preserved with salt such as Parma ham, many ultra-processed meats like wafer thin ham, contain stabilisers.
These are used to enhance or help maintain their texture, structure and make it more appetising.
These texture enhancers can be recognised on the ingredients list as Potassium Triphosphate, Pentasodium Triphosphate and Tetrapotassium Diphosphate.
Research also shows that reconstructed meat such as ham and sausages have links to bowel cancer and heart disease, the NHS says.
For decades people have made the ‘healthy’ swap from butter to margarine in hopes of cutting down on fat.
But this spread often has food additives such as emulsifiers, which help glue the ingredients together.
The chemicals lecithin, mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids can be found on the ingredients list for Stork margarine and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.
Found in many foods from ice cream to mayonnaise, emulsifiers have been found to impact the human gut.
One study published in the journal Microbiome volume in 2021, tested how 20 emulsifiers affected an artificial model of the human gut microbiome.
It found that many altered the microbiome in a way that could increase inflammation.
Cans of soup
Although a soup made at home would not be classed as ultra-processed, soup sold in cans do have ingredients that are often unfamiliar.
For example, a tin of Heinz cream of tomato soup contains ‘acidity regulator – citric acid’.
This acidity regulator is added to the soup to control the taste, as well as the PH level to stop the growth of bacteria.
The Heinz Cream of Chicken Soup also contains stabilisers to keep the ingredients blended together.
They may be sold as a healthy snack, but these oat and muesli bars are often packed with artificial sweeteners and chemicals.
Although made with 60 per cent oats, Nature Valley Crunchy Oats bars do contain the emulsifier lecithins.
Go Ahead Fruit Crispy Slices are only 54 calories and made with dried fruit, but they also contain bulking agents, acidity regulators, gelling agents and firming agents.
Eating nuts, oats or homemade granola bars is one way of avoiding these chemicals and sweeteners.
Nutritionists split food into three groups based on the amount of processing they have gone through. Minimally processed foods, like apples, are usually exactly how they appear in nature. Processed foods, like apple sauce, have gone through at least one level of processing that has changed their original form. In contrast, ultra-processed foods like apple jelly babies, have gone through multiple levels of processing and are usually full of extra fats, colours and preservatives
Drank by gym-goers to build muscle, these shakes are often flavoured with sweeteners.
For Goodness Shakes Protein Chocolate Flavour, sold at Tesco, contains no added sugar and it is fat free, but it does contain the sweetener sucralose and several stabilisers.
Huel Ready To Drink Vanilla, sold at several UK supermarkets including Tesco and Sainsbury’s also contains sucralose.
This means the protein shakes are both ultra-processed.
Although adding sucralose to food does not make it healthy it does help people to cut down sugar consumption, reducing risk of tooth decay, the NHS says.
Vegan meat alternatives
Chicken breasts and fish fillets are single ingredient foods and are not ultra-processed.
But vegan food recreated to look and taste like meat, has added flavourings to make them palatable and chemicals to make them look appealing.
For example, Quorn Peppered Steak contains the preservative and sweetener dextrose and firming agents calcium chloride and calcium acetate.
Birds Eye Meat Free Burgers also contain the stabiliser methylcellulose.