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Confused about processed vs. ultra-processed foods? We can help.

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Confused about processed vs. ultra-processed foods? We can help.

Food backgrounds: top view of a rustic wooden table filled with different types of food. The composition includes raw beef steak, raw salmon fillet, fruits, vegetables, cheese, bread, eggs, legumes, olive oil and nuts.Do you know the difference between process and unprocessed foods? How about processed and ultra-processed? With all of these labels flying around, it’s certainly easy to lose track and feel frustrated – especially if you’re trying to figure out what’s safe to eat when you’re living with diabetes. Thankfully, the American Heart Association (AHA) recently published a helpful article explaining the different types of processed and ultra-processed foods to be on the lookout for and why they can be damaging to our health.  

According to the article, a food is “processed” when the original nature of the agricultural product has been changed. This includes foods that are heated up, frozen, diced, or peeled. For example, peeled baby carrots are technically a processed food, but they’re still healthy. 

According to the AHA, the types of foods that we really should be concerned about are ultra-processed foods. These are pre-packaged foods that have been altered to the point that they take no time to prepare – like rice and pasta dishes that you simply have to place in the microwave. These foods are cheap, convenient and often tasty, but they may have lots of refined carbohydrates, saturated fats and salt. The basic problem with ultra-processed foods is that some of them haven’t been designed with your health in mind. Instead, taste, cost and shelf-life have been prioritized – meaning that a number of nutrients have been stripped out and replaced with ingredients that are safe, but for which the long-term effects are unknown.  

So, what does this mean for your next grocery trip? The AHA recommends shopping around the perimeter” or edges of the grocery store (where you can find fresh fruits and vegetables, proteins and dairy). Try to avoid the middle aisles, as they tend to be where the ultra-processed foods are located.  

Want more advice for identifying what foods are best for you? Head over to the AHA blog for more!