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A nutritionist who cut down on ultra-processed foods shares his dinners before making the change, and what he eats now

Kim Schewitz   

A nutritionist who cut down on ultra-processed foods shares his dinners before making the change, and what he eats now
  • Ultra-processed foods have been linked to a range of health problems.
  • Nutritionist Rob Hobson eats as few UPFs as possible by cooking from scratch.

The evidence that ultra-processed foods are bad for us is growing.

Research has linked a diet high in UPFs to a range of health problems, from cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer to overeating and obesity. That's why over the past year, nutritionist Rob Hobson has removed UPFs from his diet as much as possible.

Hobson sees UPFs as foods that contain five or more ingredients, typically things that you wouldn't find in a domestic kitchen. They usually have a long shelf life, come in highly marketed packaging, and are made to be ultra-palatable, Hobson told Business Insider.

After reading a book on UPFs, he realized how much of what we eat is considered highly processed, from obvious items like potato chips, to more surprising and nutrient-dense foods such as store-bought wholewheat bread.

Now, Hobson focuses on eating whole foods and cooking from scratch when he can. However, he stressed that it would be impossible and unnecessary to cut out UPFs entirely.

"It's just about cutting down rather than getting too paranoid and trying to cut everything out," he said. "You can only do what you can do."

Hobson shared what he used to eat for dinner before he made the change to his diet and what he eats now.

Store-bought pasta sauces and marinades can be processed

For dinner, Hobson would often make a one-pot dish such as pasta, curry, or stew. He'd typically use a premade sauce or marinade from the store, which are usually ultra-processed.

If he was making spaghetti Bolognese, for example, he'd use a premade tomato pasta sauce, which might contain additives, or he might buy chicken that comes in an ultra-processed sauce or marinade.

Now, he's gotten into the habit of making sauces and seasonings from scratch. And it doesn't have to take long, he said.

He can whip up a cajun spice seasoning to coat his chicken within seconds by mixing ground cumin, coriander, and paprika together. Or make a tomato sauce using canned tomatoes, which are processed rather than ultra-processed. He makes a big batch and puts some in the freezer, he said.

Quick meals and batch-cooking can make eating fewer UPFs easier

Hobson is a huge fan of batch cooking because it saves him time and prevents him from ordering takeout when he's hungry. He will often defrost a dish he's made in bulk and have it for dinner.

Part of the appeal of UPFs is that they are convenient, Hobson said. So "it's really nice when I know that I've got stuff in the freezer and that I don't have to worry about cooking," he said.

But for times when this isn't possible, he leans on quick meals such as egg-fried rice with vegetables. To make it, he adds some microwave rice to a pan and cracks two eggs. Once the eggs have set, he mixes them into the rice and adds soy sauce and either some frozen peas, frozen sweet corn, or spinach, depending on what he has at home. "It is super, super quick, and super nutritious," he said.

"So just finding little ways to make food that doesn't take too much time, but then doesn't mean that you are relying on a UPF," he said.

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