Years of research have linked a diet high in ultra-processed foods to a higher risk of obesity, cancer, heart disease, and other diseases. Recently, it has become clear that these foods also have a negative impact on mental health.
Learning to identify ultra-processed foods (UPFs) is the first step to making your diet healthier. “Most of them are unhealthy, and the more you eat them, the higher your risk of various diseases,” said Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
Scientists often refer to food processing using a four-step system called the Nova scale. Group 1 consists of unprocessed and minimally processed foods such as vegetables, legumes, poultry, milk, wheat and corn flour. Group 2 includes processed food ingredients such as vegetable oils, butter, sugar and iodized salt. Group 3 are processed foods that are industrially produced but made from recognizable ingredients such as canned vegetables, dried or smoked meats and fish, and traditionally made cheeses. Group 4 is ultra-processed foods. This is a food formula made using industrial processes and ingredients not found in home kitchens.
Think you know which foods are ultra-processed and which aren’t? Take our quiz to find out.