What are ultra-processed foods, and are they harmful?

People often resort to ultra-processed foods when they’re in a rush.

But turning away from fresh foods for the convenience of a fast meal can take a toll on our health.

“Eating ultra-processed foods with added salt and sugar is causing inflammation inside our bodies,” explained Beth Czerwony, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic. “We know inflammation is directly correlated with developing obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.”

Czerwony said ultra-processed foods include things like chicken nuggets, hot dogs, frozen meals, potato chips and soft drinks.

They are foods that not only tend to have a lot of added sugar, salt and fat -- but also many other ingredients from preservatives to food dyes.

Czerwony said it’s best to read your food labels and avoid ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and sulfites.

To phase out ultra-processed foods from your diet, Czerwony recommends eating more whole foods or minimally processed foods, like frozen or canned vegetables.

You can also make your own version of your go-to comfort foods at home.

“You can make your own chicken nuggets with fresh chicken from the store. By adding the ingredients you want, you’ll know exactly what’s in the breading,” Czerwony said. “You can do the same with baked goods as well. You can reduce the amount of added sugar and salts and avoid ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup. You’re able to make an overall healthier version of your favorite foods.”

Czerwony adds it’s crucial to find a balance and not take an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to your diet.

Working toward small changes can have a big impact on your health.