Consumer Reports: What is ultra-processed food and why is it bad?

File photo
File photo

Think about how often you change your eating habits. Plenty of people jump on the bandwagon when they hear about different food fads in an effort to lose weight or eat healthier. But the nutrition team at Consumer Reports suggests ditching the hype once and for all -- and has some good advice to help us make better choices at mealtime.

What does ultra-processed mean?

Let’s start with peanuts straight from the shell; they’re pretty good for you. They have protein, healthy fat, and fiber. And if you turn them into fresh peanut butter, they’re still pretty good for you.

But when you head down the peanut butter aisle in the grocery store, be on the lookout for hydrogenated oils and added sugars. In peanut-flavored protein bars, peanuts may be little more than flavoring.

How about chicken? With chicken parts, what you see is typically what you get. But with chicken sausage, you’re heading into the processed zone. Nuggets, which are often breaded, battered, and fried, are -- you guessed it -- ultra-processed.

A lot of ultra-processed foods are high in saturated fat, added sugar, sodium, and refined starches. They can also have added flavors, preservatives, and stabilizers.

Nutrition experts at Consumer Reports say that research even suggests that the mashup of ingredients in ultra-processed foods may cause disruption in the hormones that control hunger, encouraging overeating. Just one more reason to stick to fruit, vegetables, and other whole foods you typically find if you shop the perimeter of a supermarket!

So keep it closer to “whole” to make it more wholesome.