scorecardBread, butter, milk-based health drinks, cooking oils classified as ultra-processed food, ICMR advises restriction
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Bread, butter, milk-based health drinks, cooking oils classified as ultra-processed food, ICMR advises restriction

Bread, butter, milk-based health drinks, cooking oils classified as ultra-processed food, ICMR advises restriction
LifeScience3 min read
Opening your social media has become an unintentional gamble in recent times. You either stumble upon an adorable video of someone’s pet, or get blasted with the most diabolical political opinion you’ve ever had the misfortune of witnessing.

However, such apps have also fuelled a sort of food revolution among the masses recently, with more and more people looking out for healthier food alternatives to supplement their main meals and guilty snacking habits. While this is undoubtedly a great step considering how much of our health hinges on our food intake, one question has been increasingly puzzling everyone out of their minds: what exactly is healthy anymore?

To get to the bottom of the matter, we looked at the latest Indian dietary guidelines released by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and our findings left the office erupting in groans. According to the medical board, some examples of ultra-processed food include commercially produced bread, breakfast cereals and even other staples such as refined flour and butter.

What counts as "ultra-processed"?


Before you throw your snack out the window, let’s understand what “ultra-processed” means. Considering that we don't live in a utopia where we can just head out and bite the stalks off a wheat plant for sustenance, most of the food we consume has to undergo some processing to make them suitable for consumption.

Thus, grains are grinded into flour, fruits may have to be refrigerated and milk pasteurised — all forms of processing that make these healthy food items ready to eat. However, in the pursuit to improve taste, appearance or shelf-life, many companies subject their food products to extensive industrial processing by integrating a concerning amounts of additives such as preservatives, sweeteners, colourings, flavourings, emulsifiers, and other substances that would not typically find in an everyday kitchen. These are massive no-nos, as far as the ICMR is concerned.

Heart attack, stroke, obesity


These ultra-processed foods (UPFs) also tend to be excessively high in fats and unusually low in fibres and essential nutrients. Studies have shown that a diet that is rich in such items can lead to obesity, hasten ageing, and are associated with a higher risk of heart attack, strokes, diabetes and poorer overall health.

Perhaps the worst problem with them is that such foods are typically very cheap and easily accessible, leading them to be a popular choice for the masses. Further, enriching UPFs with nutrients still does nothing to make them wholesome or healthy.

The ICMR advises against overconsumption of “level C” foods, which means that these edibles are high in sugars and salts and/or have been subjected to extensive techniques that break down nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fibre in them. Such processes include over-refining of flours, juicing of fruits, subjecting the food items to high temperatures and pressures, and canning and preservation.

List of foods classified as ultra-processed


According to the ICMR, Group C food items include commercially produced bread, breakfast cereals, cakes, chips, biscuits, fries, jams, sauces, mayonnaise, commercially produced ice cream, protein packs powders, peanut butter, soy chunks, tofu, frozen foods with additives, commercially produced cheese, butter, paneer with additives, meats, plant-based meats, refined flours of cereals, millets and legumes, energy drinks, health drinks added to milk, beverages and fruit juices.

The group also includes many culinary ingredients such as cooking oils, refined sugars, salt and spices, since cosmetic food additives such as artificial colours and emulsifiers are often used in their processing.

As social media drives a growing interest in healthier eating habits, it becomes crucial for consumers to discern and avoid these heavily processed items, favouring more natural and minimally processed alternatives to promote better overall health. However, moderation is perhaps the word of the year, and it would do well to learn about the stuff that goes inside our bodies, rather than live in fear of them.

The full ICMR report can be accessed here.

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