We all probably know what processed food is, but what about “ultra-processed” food?  Broadly, the term means food produced in factories with typically 5 or more ingredients (usually many more) including additives which would not normally be used in a domestic kitchen.  And, according to recent reports, the UK has the highest percentage of “ultra-processed” foods in our diets in Europe. A worrying 50.7% of our diet is made up of these foods according to The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/feb/02/ultra-processed-products-now-half-of-all-uk-family-food-purchases

(Ultra-processed foods)…. are industrial formulations typically with five or more and usually many ingredients. Such ingredients often include those also used in processed foods, such as sugar, oils, fats, salt, anti-oxidants, stabilisers, and preservatives. Ingredients only found in ultra-processed products include substances not commonly used in culinary preparations, and additives whose purpose is to imitate sensory qualities of group 1 foods or of culinary preparations of these foods, or to disguise undesirable sensory qualities of the final product.

Source: World Nutrition Volume 7, Number 1 – 3, January – March 2016

Pretty frightening stuff and there are also warnings of links to cancer (perhaps unsurprisingly) to add to the obesity and diet-related disease risks that are already well known.  It strikes me that we’ve sleep-walked into some very bad habits. Not good for us, not good for our kids who’ve been brought up thinking of this food as normal.

Ironic too, that as retro is all the rage in fashion, interior design etc. that we should probably thinking “retro” in terms of making much more of our own food as they did back in the day. I’m going to think of it as Do It Yourself for food and it’s what I’ve been trying to do at home and for my business for the last few years.

Here are two examples of where I’ve tried to reduce my use of mass produced food products.

ONE: I’ve just finished a new cheesecake recipe to test for Ruth’s Real Food – a Lemon and Ginger cheesecake. Cheesecake typically has a biscuit crumb base and I wanted mine to be Gingernut biscuits, but when I read the list of ingredients in bought biscuits I decided I would make them myself. And they are very easy, thank you Delia Smith! So I used 6 ingredients making mine (proper butter not margerine!) compared with 15 ingredients in the bought biscuits including salt and palm oil which for me is a no-no.  The results are fabulous and they make my finished cheesecake much tastier and, I think, more special.

My finished granola

TWO: A while back I started making my own breakfast granola so that I knew exactly what was going in it and, more importantly, what wasn’t going in. I opted for Sarah Raven’s recipe in her Good Good Food book as it has 4 wholegrains and uses minimal fat (coconut oil – I’m now a fan) and maple syrup or honey to sweeten. https://www.cooked.com/uk/Sarah-Raven/Bloomsbury-Publishing-Plc/Good-Good-Food/Breakfast/Franks-granola-recipe.

If you want to try it, I would suggest halving the recipe first time round as the volume is a bit overwhelming. Then, you’ll have the confidence to do a bigger batch and to adapt the recipe to suit you.  Once you have the hang of it, it only takes about half an hour to make 2lt in volume, 20 minutes of which you can sit down and enjoy a coffee. That batch can last a long time and it’s better for you and a damned sight cheaper than the posh shop bought ones.  And, once you’ve tried it, you really won’t want to buy the big brand ones.  You can substitute or add other ingredients that you like and it’s a good way of using up half empty packets of seeds and nuts lurking in the cupboard.

And, as well as very tasty food, there are other benefits….the more we make oursleves, the more we control what we eat, the less waste we produce and, typically, we should have also less fat, sugar and salt.  Hopefully, less packaging too.