As our lives have become busier and more hectic, we’ve become increasingly reliant on ultra processed foods for ourselves and our children. Unfortunately, the convenience of these foods comes at a significant cost to our family’s health.
Processing food is often a way to extend a food’s storage capacity or improve its flavor or texture. Sometimes these processes improve nutrients and sometimes they cause certain nutrients to decrease. That doesn’t mean you should only eat raw, fresh foods all the time– it’s simply something to be aware of and encourage a wide range of whole foods. When we refer to “bad” processed food, we are referring to ultra processed food.
Ultra processed foods can be high in refined sugar, refined salt, and unhealthy fats such as seed oils. They often contain artificial colors, fake flavors, additives, and preservatives that can have negative effects on our health. Here are six reasons to ditch store-bought and ultra processed foods and serve your kids real, nutrient-dense snacks and meals at home.
6 Reasons to Ditch Ultra Processed Food from Kids’ Diets
1. Increased Risk of Obesity
One of the most significant dangers of ultra processed foods is their contribution to the obesity epidemic. Some studies suggest that eating a high amount of ultra processed foods can increase our risk of a shorter lifespan. Ultra processed foods are often high in “low nutrient” calories, refined sugars and grains, seed oils, and artificial ingredients, which can lead to weight gain over time.
Studies show that people who consume more ultra processed foods have a higher risk of obesity and related health problems. One way that ultra processed foods can lead to this issue is the presence of “natural” flavors. These fake flavors trick our taste buds into eating more, which causes us to ignore our natural satiety cues. This cycle can lead to harmful weight gain in our kids.
Tip: Encourage your kids to eat more WHOLE foods by stocking the fridge with fruits and vegetables rather than bringing ultra processed snack foods into the house.
2. Higher Risk of Heart Disease
Ultra processed foods are associated with an increased risk of heart disease. These products are often high in ingredients like refined carbohydrates, sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats, which can lead to inflammation. Some sources suggest that the presence of seed oils in ultra processed food also contributes to this phenomenon because our body typically stores the fat found in seed oils rather than turning it into fuel. Over time, this fat storage can lead to inflammation and chronic illnesses.
Tip: Encourage your kids to eat healthier fats like avocados, coconuts, grass-fed butter, raw macadamia nuts, olives, and even dark chocolate. Read labels to avoid seed oils and trans fats found in even “healthier” ultra processed food items.
3. Increased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Studies link a diet high in ultra processed foods to an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. These foods are often high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, which can lead to insulin resistance and, eventually, diabetes.
Tip: Read ingredient labels and buy plain versions of things like yogurt and milk. Swap heavily processed sugar for less refined sugars like coconut sugar, molasses, raw honey, and maple syrup as natural sweeteners and in baking. Eliminate sugary drinks, and use pieces of fruit or citrus to flavor water.
4. Reduced Nutrient Intake
When we eat ultra processed foods, we lose an opportunity to nourish our bodies with the nutrients that come from real, whole foods because these products are full of “empty calories” that leave us hungry and without nutrients. When we rely on ultra processed foods as a major source of our nutrition, we simply don’t get the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to function properly.
Tip: Encourage your kids to eat a variety of whole foods to ensure they are getting all the nutrients their bodies need. Educate your kids about all the nutrients that are in natural foods. Talk to them about the “powers” that they can get from eating real foods, like running faster, growing taller, and thinking smarter. One helpful resource that you can use to teach your kids about the benefits of eating real foods is our first book, My SuperHero Foods. You can purchase a copy on our website.
5. Increased Cancer Risk
Many of the additives and preservatives that are commonly used in ultra processed foods have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. For example, studies have linked ultra processed meats to an increased risk of colon cancer. Artificial colors used in so many foods marketed to our children have been linked to an increased risk of many cancers.
Tip: Limit your child’s intake of ultra processed meats and serve clean protein instead. While clean protein can come from animals, there are many plant-based options—like beans, lentils, and chickpeas—that are full of nutrients as well. Choose organic and non-GMO options when possible to reduce exposure to potentially harmful chemicals that are commonly found in our food.
6. Negative Impact on Mental Health
Lastly, eating a diet high in ultra processed foods has been linked to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Additionally, consuming too much sugar can lead to energy crashes and mood swings. The best thing to do for your kids in the morning is to serve them a nutrient-dense balanced breakfast. This stabilizes their mood, allows them to concentrate better, and improves their overall well-being.
Tip: Teach your kids about healthy fats, clean protein, and nourishing carbs. Make mealtime a fun activity by asking them to identify the sources of nutrients on their plate.
Ultra processed foods can be a convenient option but they often come with significant health risks. The bottom line is that ultra processed foods are devastating to our kids’ health, yet statistics show that ultra processed foods make up 67% of their daily calories. We need to do better.
Encourage your kids to eat more whole foods and limit their intake of ultra processed foods to reduce their risk of health issues like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and more. We can help. Starting with just one meal a day is a great way to make a small yet extremely meaningful change to your kids’ diets.If you’re not sure where to start with buying real food options for your kids, visit our website to find a list of our approved products. This list contains our recommendations for everything from grass-fed butter to whole milk yogurt.