Help your kids steer clear of ultra-processed foods

Walking down the street, on our commute to work, watching TV, scrolling through our social media feeds—everywhere we look, there are powerful cues cleverly tempting us to reach for prepared ultra-processed foods. Children are particularly vulnerable.

(NC) Walking down the street, on our commute to work, watching TV, scrolling through our social media feeds—everywhere we look, there are powerful cues cleverly tempting us to reach for prepared ultra-processed foods. Children are particularly vulnerable.

Most foods are processed in some way. However, some foods have very little processing such as fresh, dry or frozen vegetables and fruit, nuts, meat, fish, eggs and milk. As foods become ultra-processed they lose most of their health benefits. In order to enhance taste, unhealthy amounts of saturated fat, sugar, and/or salt are usually added to ultra-processed foods. Out with the good and in with the bad.

Ultra-processed foods are heavily marketed to children and youth using techniques like animation and high-profile athletes. Consider that children spend eight hours a day in front of a variety of screens, and over 90 per cent of ads online and on TV are for unhealthy foods like cake, cookies, ice cream, cereal and restaurants and sugary drinks.

The impact on our health, particularly the health of children, is serious. With the proliferation of ultra-processed foods, children who eat an unhealthy diet enter adulthood prone to develop chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers. Experts predict that today’s children may be the first generation to have poorer health and shorter lifespans than their parents.

“Ultra-processed foods might be convenient and fast,” says Dr. Jean-Claude Moubarac, an assistant professor of nutrition in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Montreal. “But they are not healthy, and we are paying heavily for it.”

Canadians’ consumption of ultra-processed foods has increased substantially over the years and now accounts for half of our calories, according to research by Moubarac. In fact, children between the ages of nine and 13 get close to 60 per cent of their calories from ultra-processed foods, the most of any age group.

Staying away from ultra-processed foods is an important to step in the fight against chronic diseases. Tools like the new Canada’s Food Guide provide direction around healthy eating, and clearly warn us to limit consumption of processed foods.

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