Ingredients

Report Advocates for Less Processed Ingredients to Reframe Negative Narrative Around UPFs

UK consultancy New Food Innovation has published a new report titled “Trust the Process – Why Less is More in Processed Foods.”

Compiled by food scientist, chef, and author Anthony Warner, the report discusses the differences between highly processed and less processed foods, and how the latter could potentially address some of the negative impacts associated with highly ultra-processed foods (UPFs).

“No one sensible considers all processing of food to be bad”

According to Warner, since food processing is essential to feed people in our industrialised societies, we need to understand and address how processing impacts the healthfulness of foods rather than lumping all processed foods into the ‘all processing is bad’ narrative. 

“Many advocates of the UPF system appear to ignore the highly relevant field of lower processing, because to embrace it would be to accept that processing is a spectrum and some UPFs are better than others,” he says.

chickpea tempeh
© Franklin Farms

Nutrients vs body response

Among this spectrum, scientific evidence shows that ingredients with lower levels of processing could benefit health and sustainability. Regarding health, different processing methods can affect how the body responds to food, even if nutrient composition appears similar, explains Warner.

For example, whole chickpeas and chickpea flour have similar nutritional profiles. Still, due to differences in processing, chickpea flour is more easily digestible and leads to a quicker glucose response in the body. Despite being identical in nutrition composition, they affect the body differently.

In the same way, whole cell flours, intact liposomes (fats), and grain varieties with higher levels of fibre provide healthier outcomes even if used in ultra-processed products. Warner details these examples in the report. 

Transitioning to more plant and less animal protein is crucial for reducing the environmental impact of our food system. However, creating better, sustainable, and nutritious foods that people want to eat requires a complete understanding of what makes food healthier.

Pea Protein
©Hkostrez – stock.adobe.com

A shift in values

Research has shown that keeping plant ingredients in their natural state may have health benefits. Legumes and seeds contain proteins and fibers that are broken down during processing. However, maintaining their structures may allow more protein to reach the colon and provide a diverse food source for the gut microbiome.

“Transitioning to less processed foods may require a shift in the importance placed on certain values”

In the report, Warner highlights that legume protein isolates require significant energy, reducing the environmental benefits of plant-based products. He suggests that companies should find ways to create meat-like structures and flavors without protein isolates to minimise the environmental impact of plant-based products. 

“Transitioning to less processed foods may require a shift in the importance placed on certain values, such as overall protein levels in plant-based foods. However, it may be necessary to consider this change in order to create a better food system that prioritises convenience and taste while also benefiting our health.”

A new study about masculinity and veganism found that using masculine language to describe vegan dishes sparked men's interest in this type of food.
© Jacob Lund – stock.adobe.com

Harnessing food processing for optimal health

The pushback against ultra-processed foods should not be seen as a call to return to a pre-convenience era, but rather as an opportunity to improve the healthfulness and sustainability of foods, says the author.

Existing technologies can produce less processed protein ingredients that offer health benefits and with lower carbon impacts than protein isolates. Among them, the available protein concentrates produced using technologies that require less energy, have a lower carbon impact, and maintain the proton structure.  

Using less processed ingredients can pave the way for a healthier food future, while the widespread adoption of these ingredients may shift the discussion surrounding UPFs.

He states, “No one sensible considers all processing of food to be badIn fact, it can be argued that the development of processes to lengthen the life of foods are amongst the most significant advances in human technology, right up there with agriculture and language. It was processing of food that freed us from the vagaries of the seasons, allowing a modern world where the vast majority of us will never know the brutality of hunger.”

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