Ultra-processed foods and how to avoid them

Ingredient Spotlight 1 February 2019

We often think of fatty and sugary food as most dangerous for our health, but what if the food industry and ultra-processed foods were in fact the ones to blame? An increasing number of studies suggest that these ultra-processed foods could be, at least in part, the reason behind many diseases of modern society such as diabetes or obesity.

Food group classification

The ‘NOVA’ classification, mostly used in South America, doesn’t take into account the nutritional value of foods, but rather the degree of processing.

First group : Raw or unprocessed foods

  • Fruits and vegetables, grains, algae
  • Meat, fish, eggs, milk
  • Water

In general, these foods do not contain any additives.

Second group : Culinary ingredients

  • Vegetable oils, flour, salt, sugar, vinegar

These are all substances obtained through the physical and chemical processing of foods found in group one – for example through pressing, refining, milling, crushing and drying. These foods can also contain some additives to help them retain their original properties.

Third group : Processed foods

  • Bread, cheese, non-alcoholic fermentations, alcoholic beverages (beer, cider and wine).

These foods are a mix of those found in group two and can also contain additives.

Fourth group : Ultra-processed foods

Foods included here are those obtained through an industrial or manufacturing process usually using a combination of five or more ingredients such as sugar, salt, oil and other fats, antioxidants, stabilisersand preservatives.

These ultra-processed foods also contain many substances very rarely found in traditional cuisine such as casein, lactose, whey, gluten, hydrogenated fats, hydrolysed proteins, maltodextrin, inverted sugar and a large number of additives aimed almost entirely at ‘tricking’ the body. These include for example food colouring, artificial flavouring, flavour enhancers, thickeners, bulking agents, anti-caking agents, emulsifiers, etc.

The main aim is to create products that are “ready for use” as an easy replacement for fresh homemade meals using unprocessed foods.

A few common characteristics of ultra-processed foods:

  • Flavours/tastes that stimulate appetite and make us want to eat more than we need.
  • Colourful, eye-catching packaging, often containing freebies or games
  • Health claims
  • High economic profitability
  • Global brands

What are the consequences on our health?

These foods all end up ‘tricking’ not only our sense of taste and smell, but also our brain and metabolism.

Their taste and flavours are carefully calculated so that they become addictive, making us consume a lot more than we need.

Our body is also unable to recognise or use the majority of these processed molecules. It considers them to be potential toxins and will try to ‘neutralise’ them by trapping them in fat or increasing water retention.

According to Dr Monteiro, these processed foods have serious consequences on our health with regards to obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and lipid profile (cholesterol levels, triglyceride molecules).

How to avoid ultra-processed foods

In his book – “Je ne mange pas de produits industriels” (I don’t eat industrial foods) – Stéfane Guilbaud lists five pieces of advice to help reduce our intake of processed foods:

  • Always opt for raw, or unprocessed foods: In particular, try to avoid powdered spices, processed meat, hidden veg in pasta or savoury pancakes.
  • Avoid foods with tempting, and often self-proclaimed claims.
  • Avoid any foods that you might often see on TV ads: Ham and cured meats, biscuits and cheese claiming to be ‘authentically’ produced are in fact very often industrially produced – very few artisans can afford to advertise on TV!
  • Avoid any foods that your grandma would be unable to identify: homemade products only contain foods that are recognised and understood – flour, sugar, butter, vegetables, salt…
  • Avoid big superstores: Opt instead for farmers’ markets or local organic food stores.

Helping our body with a detox!

We’ve all often tempted by the ready-made meals and addictive creations of the food industry and have also often fallen victim to these.. but there’s no need to worry, our bodies are very good at recovery and elimination so it’s never too late!

All you need to do is help stimulate the body’s emunctories with regular treatments using fennel, black radish, broccoli and taurine (all found in Digestion Detox) and of course, avoid all types of toxins!


  • Dr Anthony Fardet « Mangeons vrai »
  • Classification internationale NOVA. 2010 Carlos Monteiro, professeur de nutrition et de santé publique à l’université de Sao Paulo (Brésil)
  • Stéfane Guilbaud “Je ne mange pas de produits industriels”, Ed. Eyrolles, 2015