Are we slowly eating ourselves to death? Heart and Stroke Canada says Canadians get about half their calories form ultra-processed foods and now a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that could shorten your life.  The study found a 10 per cent increase in consumption of ultra-processed foods leads to a 14 per cent increase of all cause mortality. 

Ultra-processed foods tend to be packed with additives, salt, sugar, oils, fats, dyes and flavours. They include carbonated and fruit flavoured drinks, ice cream, margarine and spreads, cookies, pastries, cakes, pre-made pies, pasta and pizza dishes, chicken nuggets, burgers and hot dogs.

Nutritionist Alyssa Bauman says you need to look very closely at the labels. What might appear to be healthy may have little to no nutritional value at all.

She went on a shopping trip with CTV News to demonstrate her point. The first item we grabbed was called Real Fruit but the ingredients revealed a different story. The first ingredient listed was corn syrup, followed by corn sugar, fruit purees, modified coconut oil, flavours and other additives.

“100 per cent ultra-processed,” said Bauman, “Sounds great, right? But you’re really not getting the nutrients from those as whole foods.”

Grocery stores are packed with ultra-processed foods. Bauman says to exercise caution and moderation.

But not all processed food is bad.  Anytime food is altered and packaged it would be considered processed, but a can of cashews we pulled off the shelf would not be considered ultra-processed.    

“Very healthy,” she said.

There were only three ingredients listed, cashews, canola oil and sea salt. Other canned goods like fish and beans are also processed and not unhealthy, you just have to look to see what’s been altered and added.

“You just have to be your own investigator and really research what you’re eating,” Bauman added.

Even in the healthy yogurt section, you still need to read the labels. Two Greek-style yogurts by the same manufacturer were not the same at all – one was blueberry and the other was plain. The blueberry one had three times the amount of sugar.

Heart and Stroke says don’t be fooled by marketing. Ultra-processed foods are often marketed as healthy, natural and organic. The words might describe the original ingredients but don’t show how it was made. Remember, an organic cookie is still an ultra-processed food.

Bauman recommends you buy whole foods and do your own light processing at home.