Modern-day living and ultra-processed foods mean we’re running on empty

“You are what you eat” is a phrase that we’ve all heard but I’ll recommend an extension and add “You are what you absorb”.

With that in mind, have you considered what benefit ‘5 a day’ genuinely has for you and why ultra-processed foods are really not good for us? 

Modern-day living and ultra-processed foods mean we’re running on empty

For the last few decades, the decisions around what we eat has become heavily influenced by the marketing of food companies that put profit before health. 


On average, only 8% of household expenditure goes on food – compare to the late 1950s when around 35% of disposable income was dedicated to the food we consumed. With the current cost of living crisis in the UK, there’s a very real risk that this will only decrease further and have an even stronger impact on whether we choose the cheap convenience of ultra-processed foods or nutrient-dense whole foods. 


Food is more than just fuel – it is information and tools

Our bodies do a brilliant job of keeping us alive in the most difficult of circumstances but they need tools to make it happen. If the body isn’t provided with the nutrition it needs, processes in the body can slow or stop completely. Cue feeling unwell, tired, sluggish, getting headaches, bloating, and receiving a diagnosis. 


In this state, you’re surviving. You’re not functioning optimally and life is far from where you deserve it to be. When food is the instruction manual for the body our choices have a very real impact on our day-to-day living – let alone our long-term health. 


Ultra-processed foods – ready meals, biscuits, cereals, ‘fruit’ yoghurts, energy bars, mass-produced bread – are not real foods (yes, even supermarket bread is garbage).

They have been created in a factory and have taken the natural ingredients far from their original state, reducing the nutritional value along the way. With half of the UK’s food shop consisting of ultra-processed foods, it’s no surprise that as a nation, our health is suffering. 


Our bodies constantly create new tissues, skin, muscles, bone and cells – including our brain cells. To create them, the body relies on what we eat. If you eat a diet full of ultra-processed food, this is what your body will use as raw materials to regenerate new cells. Think about that for a moment – do you want to be made up of high-fat, inflammatory processed and fast food or nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich vegetables and lean protein? 


When you eat real food, you send the right information to your body and give it the tools it needs to operate. That simple choice between ultra-processed and whole foods can change everything. 

As one of my clients recently said: “I like who I am when I eat well. I only just realised I was surviving because now I am living”. 


It’s the difference between coping and feeling fantastic. We deserve to feed ourselves well, as a form of self-care. 


The gut is the root system of the body

One of the most crucial systems of the body that helps get the nutrients (aka tools) from food to the various organs in our body, is the digestive system – the gut! The digestive system is responsible for breaking down and absorbing our food. If the body is unable to break down nutrients and pull them into the bloodstream, the body can’t receive the information it needs. You may be eating well but the impact on your overall health is restricted. 


Our modern, high-stressed world is driving a rise in poorly functioning digestive systems and having a knock-on effect on how we absorb nutrients. 


We’re constantly rushing through the day, eating on the go and grabbing the most convenient food we can get our hands on. When we do eat, we barely chew it and swallow food fast in a stressful ‘fight and flight’ state.


For adequate digestion and absorption, we need to be in the relaxed ‘rest and digest’ mode so the body can prioritise digestion. In times of stress, our bodies are focused on escaping danger – as we would have been doing in hunter-gatherer times. There’s no time to stop for a gourmet meal while you’re running from a saber-toothed tiger. So the stomach acid and enzymes needed to break down and absorb food aren’t fully present when the body is under stress. 


When the digestive system is functioning well and nutrients are being absorbed, we benefit from having strong immunity, a good mood, balanced energy and blood sugar levels, and we find it easier to manage our weight. 


To close the gap from where we are now to where we should be, we need to relearn how to eat. We need to prioritise eating nature. 


Whole foods – fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes – are packed with nutrients that the body recognises and needs. They contain fibre that feeds our gut bacteria and keeps us feeling fuller for longer – a piece of the puzzle we’re really missing with most of the UK getting less than 17g (when the daily recommendation is 30g). 


Plus they’re loaded with powerful antioxidants like polyphenols which are created by the plants to protect them from harm. We can consume plants and take on their protective nutrients for our own benefit. 


Foods like tomatoes, apples, onions, and grapefruit as natural antihistamines; berries, cherries and pomegranates for a healthy heart, green tea and cacao for a mood boost and broccoli, cabbage, kale and spinach to show your liver some love. 


Did you know that the different colours in fruits and vegetables represent different vitamins, minerals and antioxidants? That’s why we recommend you ‘eat the rainbow’ so you can benefit from all the different nutrients available.

The more we can eat a rainbow of whole foods, and not a sea of beige processed foods, the more we can give our bodies what they need to thrive. 


So next time you reach for food, think about the tools it will provide for your body – or lack of!

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