There have been three recent surveys into the impact of what are termed “ultra-processed foods” on human health.
I must admit that until quite recently I had not come across this term, having tended to mentally divide foods into two simple groups – “processed” and “not processed”.
“Ultra-processed foods”, it transpires, are foods which have incorporated multiple additives, in the form of preservatives, sweeteners, colourants and processing aids, but which contain little or no whole food. They will also have been manipulated through industrial processes such as extrusion, moulding, re-shaping, hydrogenation or hydrolysis.
Examples of “ultra-processed foods” include burgers, cereal bars, breakfast cereals, commercial ice cream, chicken nuggets, soft fizzy drinks, biscuits, chocolate and confectionary.
Many of us would probably say instinctively that too much of these foodstuffs is probably bad for us, but these three new studies have attempted to shed more light on the health impacts of eating these products over a period of time.
The first study, published by the US Institute of Health concluded that ultra-processed foods encouraged people to overeat, and thus to gain weight. The report suggested there may be various reasons for this – for example, these food products are “convenient” in that they require minimal preparation, they are often energy dense but lack in nutrients and fibre, and also eating such foods displaces healthier options from our diet. Weight gain, as we know, can lead to various health problems including obesity, fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The two more recent studies, by the Univerite Sorbonne in Paris and Spain’s Navarro University, both suggest that ultra-processed foods have an adverse impact on our health and may also lead to early death.
None of these three studies have shown a clear causal link between eating ultra-processed food and poor health and early death, but they do all point in the same direction.
Food manufacturers, the creators of these ultra-processed foods, do not have our health interests at heart. They are motivated above all else by profit. Hence the use of sugar, salt and other cheap, unhealthy bulking agents in so many of their products to lower production costs whilst simultaneously improving the taste and disguising the ingredients.
If you really don’t have the time or energy to cook from scratch every day, I would say that the basic rule of thumb when buying from the supermarket or store should be that if the food product in your hand has a long list of ingredients and you don’t know what some of them are, put it back on the shelf.
This is not, strictly speaking, a consommé, more of a semi-translucent soup. You will need a fine muslin cloth to strain the pea and rocket stock in order to get the soup’s semi-translucency.
If you don’t have one to hand, simply miss out that step and enjoy this soup for its wonderful combination of clean, bright and harmonious summer flavours. All we need now, here in the UK, is for the weather to change and remind us what summer is!
pea and rocket consommé with asparagus
75 g fresh peas
75 g rocket leaves
5 g fresh mint leaves
1.2 litres vegetable stock, at room temperature
½ tsp sea salt
12 asparagus spears
1. Break the asparagus spears individually by bending each stalk until it snaps. Steam the asparagus heads for 2 minutes, then remove from the pan and plunge into a bowl of ice cold water to arrest the cooking process.
2. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Add the peas. Boil for 2 minutes then add the mint and rocket leaves and stir. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, drain and plunge the peas, mint and rocket into a separate bowl of ice cold water. Once they are cold, strain the peas, rocket and mint again.
3. Place the stock and sea salt, together with the strained peas, rocket and mint into a blender. Process until fully combined and smooth. Pour the mixture through a muslin cloth over a sieve into a large jug or bowl. Leave it to drip through. This will take some time. Don’t be tempted to squeeze or you will make the consommé cloudy.
4. Have four soup bowls ready. Place three asparagus spears at the bottom of each bowl. If you prefer your consommé cold, simply pour gently over the asparagus spears in each bowl. Otherwise, pour the consommé into a pan and heat gently until close to a simmer. Remove from the heat and carefully pour over the asparagus spears.