UPFs: The REAL Benefits of Cooking From Scratch

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This year we looked at some of the easiest foods you can make from scratch in our Simple Swaps series. Today, I want to look at WHY would we cook from scratch in a world where we can get whatever we desire delivered to our door. The simple answer is UPFs: the real benefits of cooking from scratch…

A photo of Store bought bread beside a photo of homemade rolls

I love food.

I adore cooking food, eating food, giving food, the smell of food.

Not coincidentally, I have also been overweight for most of my adult life.

I’ve been on almost every diet going at some point too. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to balance my love of food and my need to lose weight.

Good Homecooked Food is the Answer..?

I learned to cook from scratch about 15 years and I’ve been mainly cooking that way since. However, I still succumbed to the snacks, the sweets, the breakfasts and the extras. I would forgo store-bought chicken nuggets (because they’re bad for me), only to follow the meal with desserts and sweets (which of course, are just as bad for me!)

I’m not just trying to say that sweets and snacks are the problem.

UPFs: A New Category of Food

A real change has happened in the last few years. As I’ve delved more into homesteading and the principle of becoming a producer and not just a consumer, I’ve learnt a number of things.

  • Ingredients tend to be more versatile than products – think mince, not burgers
  • Homemade is usually more filling than pre-prepared
  • I like knowing what’s in my food, so I make more of it myself
  • Most of my family’s health problems (skin, weight, brain fog, lower immunity) come from eating UPFs

What is a UPF anyway?

UPF stands for Ultra Processed Food, and has really come to the forefront in food and nutritional studies in the last decade.

I first came across the name when someone recommended the book ‘Ultra processed people’ by Chris van Tulleken.

An Ultra Processed Food is a food-like substance that is usually wrapped in plastic, and contains 1 or more (usually many) ingredients that you wouldn’t find in a domestic kitchen.

He describes in basic terms, 3 categories of food using the NOVA(1) classifications; Unprocessed or whole, processed, and ultra processed.

  • Whole food would be an apple that you picked off a tree and ate. Nothing added, not cooking, just as is
  • Processed is what humans have done since we existed; cooking, grinding, fermenting, mixing, chopping, smoking, freezing, canning, pickling – most food we eat needs some processing for us to consume it.
  • Ultra processed is the dismantling of food into synthetic components (Potato flakes not potato, gums and emulsifiers instead of butter) and putting it back together with additives, preservatives, sugars, acids and colourings to make it look and taste like food again.

The purpose of Ultra Processed food is not to nourish the body.

It’s to make the food at the cheapest possible cost with the highest palatable taste, to be eaten quickly and we buy it again.

And UPFs Work!!

I’ve been a victim of it all my life.

The example the author gives is giving Coco-pops to his children. The recommended serving size is 30g.

That’s two tablespoons.

Do you know one person ALIVE who eats two tablespoons of Coco-pops?

They are designed to be quickly consumed, over consumed and therefore quickly bought again!!

A photo of a box of UPF Coco-Pops

And don’t get me started on using a monkey on the box to advertise it SPECIFICALLY to kids..

I’ve bought Fruit Gums, and biscuits, and burgers, and cottage pies and pasta sauces. I’ve bought for convenience, and I’ve bought just because I wanted it. And I’ve eaten it, enjoyed it, and wanted more!

That is exactly what they are designed to do.

These foods interfere with the body’s signals that you are full. They are designed to be eaten quickly before you get the signal from your brain that that’s enough. That way you eat much more than you intended to. And the companies make more money.

So Why are UPFs so Bad For Us?

UPFs are everywhere.

We can cut out what we think is junk food, chocolate, crisps, snacks etc and we all know that would be good for our health.

But what about yoghurt? Or wholemeal bread? Or diet soda? Muesli? Nut bars? Whey protein? Or tinned soup?

We all think of these things as being healthy for us, but they contain so many ingredients that have been shown to cause harm to our digestive system(2), our gut microbiome. (Another area I’ve become very interested in, of late)

This is one of the reasons I started making all of our own bread products this year. Once I realised what we call bread, is actually an ultra processed food, I knew I had to act.

I got really good at reading labels.

I make yoghurt and all you need is milk and cultures.

Now take a look at the ingredients list on Activia Peach and Strawberry probiotic low fat Yoghurt Cups

The ingredient list of UPF Activia Yoghurts

Now I understand some fruit to taste, but Modified food starch? Milk protein concentrate? Why?

Because whenever you see low fat, (which is NOT good for your body,)they have taken out the substance that makes it feel nice in your mouth, so they have to add something in to make it taste and feel like yoghurt.

See how we’ve been conned???

We think we are eating some milk, some fruit and whatever cultures make it thicker. We’re not.

The BIGGEST lie and the BEST reason

Take a look at the store bought lasagne next time you are tempted to pick it up.

Take a browse through the more than 50 ingredients on the list, and tell me you couldn’t make it better…

If ever there was a reason to learn how to cook from scratch, it’s now.

We are in a cost of living crisis in the UK right now, and I know it’s hard to think of this if you’ve never done it before. But we have all the knowledge in the world at our fingertips.

YouTube can show us how to learn any skill we might want to learn.

A woman kneading bread dough on a wooden board

The REAL benefits of cooking from scratch..

The one thing we all need to do is eat. And someone has to make those meals. Whether we buy them, order a takeaway or cook them ourselves from scratch, SOMEONE has made them.

How about we take back control of that food and prevent an even bigger crisis. A health crisis of epic proportions. Mental health, physical health, our children’s health, can all be changed by us making different decisions.

There was a time when the majority of families ate together every day. It was a social event. A time to connect and to be together. Estimates say that in 2021, less than 28% of families in the UK share a meal together in the evening, with less than 12% sharing breakfast together…

It shows in our society…

Lets make the lasagne. Let’s learn to bake cookies. Or get the kids to help make burgers.

Is there one thing that you eat regularly that you can make and freeze for those busy weeknights?

Or get together and make pizzas instead of ordering them?

We might not be able to avoid some things, but we can read labels and make better choices.

Choose the chocolate with less ingredients. Pick the best sausages and eat them less.

Make the yoghurt and the bread instead of buying the fake stuff.

Believe me, you’ll notice a difference.. we did.

Other Posts you may enjoy

Healthy Lamb Kebab AKA Fakeaway

Easy Pizza Dough Recipe

Simple Pasta Sauce

Further reading:

  1. http://archive.wphna.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/WN-2016-7-1-3-28-38-Monteiro-Cannon-Levy-et-al-NOVA.pdf
  2. Martínez Leo EE, Segura Campos MR. Effect of ultra-processed diet on gut microbiota and thus its role in neurodegenerative diseases. Nutrition. 2020 Mar;71:110609. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2019.110609. Epub 2019 Oct 11. PMID: 31837645.

2 thoughts on “UPFs: The REAL Benefits of Cooking From Scratch”

  1. This is exactly why I started cooking from scratch! It is much more cost-effective than buying the healthy stuff at the store!


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