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What Are Ultra-Processed Foods and Why Should Seniors Avoid Them?

elderly woman eating from a bowl

While they may be more convenient, eating a lot of processed foods will have an impact on your physical health.

This is especially a risk for elderly folks who may be less able to prepare fresh food, but are also even more vulnerable to the repercussions of poor nutrition.

As a society, there is an ever-increasing demand for being able to eat on the go. This does not change when we grow older. Standing to cook and prepare a meal grows to be quite straining on our bodies and instead we turn to something easier.

Creating a plate of pasta from scratch takes a lot longer than just grabbing a can of noodles in sauce from the pantry and warming it. But by doing this, there are essential nutrients that are missing from our diet. 

We often don’t really think about what we are eating, just that we are eating something.

Foods that are designed to be eaten quickly or on the go lead to us overeating and not watching what it is that we are taking into our bodies.

Ultra-processed foods, which include soft drinks, chips, candy, hot dogs, and much more, are made by changing the ingredients in the product multiple times and pushing them through some type of process to create it.

pile of potato chips

Many of us have seen TV shows that tour the factories where these products are manufactured, revealing the process of creating them. Molds, milling, extrusions, extractors, mechanical separators — all of these are processes that are used when making ultra-processed foods. Essentially, this process can remove the nutrients that we need in order to make them more “on-the-go” friendly.

The more ultra-processed foods that we eat, the bigger chance there is of increasing body weight. Looking further into this shows that fast food, or ultra-processed foods, are more harm than good.

However, not all processed foods are bad for you. Items that are made with oil or salt are considered processed foods and many of them are considered quite healthy. Tofu, canned tuna, cheese, or even simple breads — these are all items that have some type of product, oil, salt, sugar, or enzyme added to them. But they are still essentially the same product they were before the processing.

As a general rule of thumb, if it sounds like a chemical has been added or you are not sure what it an ingredient is, then it could be an ultra-processed food.

Next time you are looking in the grocery aisle for something, look at the ingredients. Does it include an artificial flavor or colour? Then it would be considered an ultra-processed food. Try going to the perimeter of the grocery store. This is generally where the fresh items are kept. Meat, produce, the bakery — focus on these items to ensure that you are getting the nutrients that you need for a healthy lifestyle.