Why is ultra-processed food not recommended?
The effect of food on our health is measured by its nutrients and ingredients, but also by how it is prepared, how it is processed and how it is consumed. In recent years, studies have shown that there is a connection between the degree of food processing and its effect on our health.
Ultra-processed food undergoes complex industrial processing and has additives that increase consumption by the way they look, robust flavors, packaging and marketing. These types of food should be consumed less because they cause obesity and related diseases, as well as different kinds of cancer.
What are the different types of processed foods?
There are 4 groups of processed foods:
Group 1: Unprocessed or minimally processed food: raw or natural food or food prepared with minimal processing like chopping, freezing or grinding.
Group 2: Basic food ingredients / processed for culinary purposes: sugar, oil, salt.
Group 3: Processed food: food from groups 1 and 2; cooked, baked, spiced, ready to eat food
Group 4: Ultra-processed food. The foods, or more correctly products of this group, do not contain any real foods (from group 1), they contain ingredients of food, food additives that create industrial color, texture and sophisticated flavors that affect consumption habits and sense of natural fullness. In addition, these products are ready-to-eat, anywhere and anytime.
Why is it recommended to prepare food at home with the family?
When preparing and cooking food at home we control the amounts of salt, sugar and fat, the size of the serving and the ingredients. The home cooking is a family experience, which strengthens family ties and encourages eating together at the table. Diet has a social dimension that affects our health; for example, children who eat home foods consume more fruit and vegetables and develop a better sense of belonging.
How can we find the time to cook?
Indeed, this dietary guidance is aimed at buying fresh food and cooking at home. Buying, preparing and cleaning takes time. Not only that, but this guidance advises eating while concentrating - not 'while' working, studying, watching displays, etc. How can we find the time? After making a decision and getting used to it, it's amazing to find that cooking at home doesn't necessarily take a lot of time. For example, cooking home-made pasta sauce will take just 5 minutes more than preparing pasta and sauce according to the cooking instructions of a pre-prepared product. The latter is often high in fat, sugar and salt.
It is important to relate to food preparation not as a chore but as a source of pleasure and positive experience. Such thinking will make the preparation occasion quality time and it will be easy to achieve the goals of the recommendations for healthy food consumption. This is an opportunity to share experiences with the family. Your children and partners can definitely prepare the ingredients: wash, cut, soak, set the table and clean. Working together is easy and fast and of course –pleasurable and enjoyable.
How do we avoid the temptation of consuming foods that are not part of a healthy diet?
We need to create an environment that allows us to make healthy choices. How? You follow the principle: what you see – you eat. We can designate the fridge, cupboard, countertop, table so that the good foods are within sight – vegetables, fruit, water. We can hide the temptations away. This way we can avoid subconsciously eating foods that are not recommended, because they're no longer on the countertop, they're not in our line of sight.
What can we do as parents or teachers to help children choose healthy? Remember that what happens at home is the parents' responsibility and therefore they need to increase their involvement in the kinds of food that gets home and they need to reinforce healthy eating principles. You can set rules for what food comes into the home, and be a little more flexible when outdoors. As parents, we need to be involved, to empower children in new choices and to explain to them over and over again the importance of getting used to healthy food.
In addition, our children are exposed to intensive marketing campaigns of industrial foods, in open and covert advertising. Children's awareness is not yet fully developed and therefore they have difficulty distinguishing the two, and the impact of advertising is huge. Therefore, teachers and parents should raise awareness for eating healthy foods and even discuss the interests of advertisers in order to develop healthy critical thinking.
Why are sweeteners and sugar substitutes not recommended?
While different sugar substitutes may have less calories than sugar, they may also impair the body's nutritional balance and response to sweet flavors. Sweetened foods/beverages, even if they do not contain sugar or calories, make your palate used to the sweet flavor and make it a common practice. Sugar substitutes in beverages and other products often contain other supplements; they are included in the ultra-processed food group whose consumption should be reduced.
How will we know how to choose the right food at the supermarket?
Choose fresh and healthy: most foodstuffs in your cart should meet dietary guidelines, such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products with no additives.
As an interim stage, and only if there's no other choice, opt for the "least harmful" processed food in the category. Read, compare and choose healthy: In the list of ingredients, you can see that whole foods (such as vegetables, legumes, grains) are hardly present in their natural state but rather as extracts, powders and so on. The list of ingredients is listed in descending order so that it is easy to know what the food is mainly made of (the first ingredients in the list makes up the bulk of the product). It is best to avoid high levels of sodium, saturated fat and/or sugar.
Leading change in schools and preschools
EfshariBari has a number of programs for a healthy change in schools and preschools operating in collaboration with the Ministry of Education:
The "Cooking EfshariBari Initiative" to implement the guidelines of the Mediterranean diet
Health-Promoting School Program for Grades 1-12 (Hebrew)
Health-Promoting School Program (Hebrew)
Health-Promoting Preschool Program (Hebrew)