You have probably heard it said, “just one donut won’t kill me” or “everything in moderation.” However, this lie has just been exposed by researchers who found that a 10% increase of ultra-processed foods in the diet can increase the risk of death by 14%.
In a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, 445,551 French adults age 45 or older were followed for 7 years. Of these people, those that had a 10% increase in consumption of ultra-processed food showed an overall “higher mortality risk.”
Classifying ultra-processed foods
Although most of us know if what we are eating is bad for us, there is a standard laid out by the NOVA food classification system that helps us better understand what ultra-processed really means. NOVA is a public-health tool that puts food in categories according to the extent of processing, as opposed to nutrients. This system has also been utilized by the Pan American Health Organization and the United Nations in research.
According to NOVA, ultra-processed foods are, “industrial formulations typically with five or more (and usually many) ingredients,” including sugar, fats, oils, anti-oxidants, stabilizers, and preservatives. These junk ingredients are found in most convenience store fare designated as “ready to eat, to drink or to heat, liable to replace both unprocessed or minimally processed foods.”
NOVA gives examples of these “grab and go” foods such as soda, ice cream, chocolate, candy, and mass-produced bread, pastries, cakes, donuts and pre-prepared meals like pasta, pizza, sausages, burgers, hot dogs and packaged instant soup or noodles etc.
While most of us know these pseudo-foods are not good for us, we might still enjoy a taste from time to time. After this study, however, it is clear that even a taste could increase our risk of early death from any cause. Keep this in mind when selecting your snacks.
Healthier snack options
Traveling, or working on the road can make it hard to stay healthy and make us more susceptible to the sneaky marketing tactics that draw us to the donuts, chips, soda and other easy to find snacks. If you find yourself at a convenience store and the donuts are calling you, here are some better options to consider.
Pistachios – Considered one of the healthiest tree nuts, pistachios are loaded with fiber, potassium and other healthy nutrients. In fact, just one serving of pistachios has as much fiber as two plums. Recent research shows that eating a small number of pistachios per day may lower cholesterol and risk of heart disease.
Mozzarella string cheese – A mozzarella cheese string is a great compliment to pistachios and provides 7-9 grams of protein, some calcium and vitamin A.
Beef, turkey or salmon jerky – While it certainly costs more than a donut, jerky is a far better choice than the donut and soda. One ounce of beef or turkey jerky provides 13 grams of protein. Just don’t overdo it as most jerky is pretty high in sodium.
Banana – If you have a sweet tooth and find it hard to resist the cakes, soda, and pastries at the convenience stores, opt for a banana instead. Bananas are high in potassium and electrolytes that can help balance blood pressure.
Fig bar – For those watching their sugar, fig bars are still a stretch but definitely a better option than a candy bar or pastry. Figs are rich in fiber as well as vitamins A, B1, B2, manganese and potassium, magnesium, copper, iron, and phosphorus.
Hard boiled egg – When it comes to a healthy snack, you really can’t beat the nutritional powerhouse of an egg. You can find hard-boiled eggs in the refrigerator section of most convenience stores now. Eggs are high in protein and will keep you feeling full.
Apple – It’s nice to see more and more convenience stores offering apples as a snack option. Apples are a high fiber, slightly sweet snack that offers numerous health benefits.
The best option
Of course, the best option is to prepare ahead of time for being on the road. Load your lunchbox with nutritious treats, and you won’t feel the same temptation to grab something from the convenience store each time you stop.