Lifestyle Medicine: Ultra Processed Foods

By April D. Beresford, FNP-C, DipACLM

Last month we reviewed FIBER, and why it is a vital ingredient in protecting our health. As noted, fiber is best found in unprocessed plant foods. So what is considered to be a processed food and what are ultra-processed foods (UPFs)? Ultra processed food examples include modified things like pizza, potato chips, corn chips, soft drinks, manufactured breakfast cereals, reconstituted meat products (such as hot dogs, pepperoni, sausage, kielbasa, chicken nuggets, lunchmeat), pastries, microwave lunches/dinners, coffee creamer, macaroni and cheese, crackers, candy and cakes. Food processing involves transforming raw ingredients into an unnatural state. This often means desirable nutrients are removed or destroyed in the process, and very often there are unhealthy ingredients being added in to promote flavor, texture, and shelf life.

Minimally ProcessedProcessedUltra-Processed
AppleApple SauceApple Pie
PotatoBaked PotatoFrench Fries
Brown RiceRice NoodlePuffed Rice (Cereal)
CornCanned CornCorn Chips

UPFs are foods made through industrial methods and techniques, and often includes artificial flavors and colors and preservatives, in addition to added salt, fat and sugar. These are foods often marketed as convivence foods with minimal preparation needed, and also can be found at some restaurants and fast food businesses. Research has found that UPFs currently make up over 50% of calories consumed by most Americans, and UPFs can easily cause things like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, mental decline and obesity. Reducing the volume and frequency of processed and ultra-processed foods we eat, and replacing them with whole plant foods, can lead to a longer and healthier future.

Recipe Suggestion



  • 3 cups unsweetened plant milk
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • ½ cup cashews (may substitute for other nuts)
  • 4 teaspoons maple syrup
  • Optional for added fiber, minerals and protein: 1 to 2 teaspoons of chia seeds and/ground flax seeds


  1. In a medium sized bowl, combine plant milk, oats and cinnamon.
  2. Stir well and cover. Leave in refrigerator overnight.
  3. In the morning, mix in the blueberries, nuts and maple syrup.