Here's Why You Should Avoid Ultra-Processed Foods

We're here to clear up which foods we should eat more of, and which ones we should leave on the shelf.

A recent study found that Canadians get almost 50 per cent of our daily calories from ultra-processed foods. The more ultra-processed foods we eat, the higher our chances of developing heart disease. Andrea Donsky is clearing up which foods we should eat more of, and which ones we should leave on the shelf.

There are 3 broad categories when it comes to food: 

  • “Unprocessed” or “whole foods” 
  •  “Minimally processed foods”
  • And “ultra-processed” foods

The first two categories are important for our health and longevity, but avoiding the latter is generally a good call.

What are ultra-processed foods, and why are they bad for us?

Ultra-processed foods are processed to the point where most experts question whether or not the finished product is actually considered to be a “food.” They contain what are known as the “Scary Seven” ingredients. For example, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats, MSG, food colouring, artificial flavours and sweeteners, and preservatives are all components of ultra-processed foods. These unhealthy additives are used to extend the shelf life of the products, enhance their flavour and make them more appealing to the eye. 

The biggest issue with ultra-processed foods is they contain very little or no nutrition — so they’re not doing anything for your bodies because they’re empty calories. They’re high in sugar, high in calories, low in protein and fiber, and have unhealthy fats like canola oil and other seed oils. From a health standpoint, they mess with our blood sugar levels and promote inflammation in our body. All good reasons to avoid them whenever possible.

It’s not about avoiding everything that comes in a box or package.

You can still be healthy without eating exclusively fresh fruit and veggies (though those are a very important part of diet too). Understanding food labels when it comes to processed foods empowers us to make healthier choices. Processing refers to any method that’s used to turn a whole food into a food product. For example, freezing, smoking, and/or fermenting ingredients are all considered to be forms of processing. So it’s not about avoiding all processed foods, just the ultra-processed ones.

If you’re looking for convenience, variety and taste, you can look for minimally processed foods. These are products that use real food and don’t have any unnecessary additives. Examples of these include: 

  • Canned beans
  • Salted nuts and seeds
  • Canned fish
  • Mayonnaise, ketchup
  • Granola bars
  • Frozen foods

There are many brands to choose from at the grocery store, just be sure to read the ingredients.

What are whole foods?

Healthy lifestyle concept, clean food good health dietary in heart dish with sporty gym aerobic body exercise workout training class equipment, weight scale and sports shoes in fitness center

“Whole foods” is definitely a nutritional buzz word, but what does it mean? The definition isn’t complicated: whole foods are unprocessed and haven’t been changed from their original state. Whole foods generally refer to one ingredient, and you can use them to make food from scratch. The goal would be to eat as much as possible from this category. Some examples of whole foods are:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Rice/whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Eggs, Meat, fish
  • Spices and herbs
  • Coffee and tea
  • Plain yogurt/glass of no sugar added milk
  • Avocados and olives

You may be wondering if oils are whole foods, since avocados and olives are on the list. Oils aren’t whole foods because they undergo a process to extract the oil. The key is to look for minimally processed oils like cold-pressed olive, coconut oil and Malaysian palm fruit oil, as the processing is less harsh. Additionally, no harsh chemicals are used to remove the oils, so they’re much healthier for us.

We hope this helped you understand which foods are most conducive to a healthy lifestyle, and that you’re more aware of the nutritional benefit of certain foods. To learn more, please visit