Food for Thought

by Destinee Cushnie-Mason

Welcome to “Food for Thought,” a blog series designed to be exactly that! By delving into the intricate connection between gut health and mental well-being, this blog aims to stimulate your mind and your tastebuds and provoke thoughtful reflection on how nutrition influences mood. We aspire to equip you with valuable insights into taking charge of your gut health and empower you with practical dietary adjustments that can profoundly impact your mental wellness. Follow along weekly and savour the exploration!

5. Ultra-Processed Foods: What Are They and Should I Be Eating Them?

You may have heard the term ultra-processed food (UPF) being used a lot in the media recently. This category of food has attracted a lot of attention due to their potential harm to health. This week will be a whistlestop tour into what UPF is and whether or not we should be eating it.

The definition of UPF still isn’t crystal clear – but it includes foods with lots of additives, sugar and fat, low fibre content, and it’s often wrapped in plastic. In the UK, the majority of food we eat can now be considered UPF. This wasn’t always the case, but the convenience and low price of UPF have caused a shift towards ready meals, pre-packaged snacks and sweetened fizzy drinks; so home cooking and the consumption of whole foods is decreasing.

Recent research has linked high UPF consumption with a range of conditions including obesity, heart problems, diabetes, and mental illness. Some studies suggest that some of these effects are due to damage to the gut microbiome. So, if possible, reducing the amount of UPF we eat is a sensible move.


Yes, in an ideal world, we’d all be cooking all our perfectly balanced meals from scratch from the best ingredients. But this isn’t realistic for most of us. In fact, those struggling with mental illnesses may rely on ready meals, especially during hard times when finding the motivation and energy to prepare a meal is just too much. And as a future nutritionist, I dislike the concept of demonising foods. It is the responsibility of the food industry to ensure that their products are sufficiently nutritious. So, I will not be telling you what not to eat… Instead, here are some ideas to ensure that you can live your best life at your capacity:

Tips and swaps:

  • When you feel able, try to prepare meals incorporating what we’ve previously discussed.
  • Make life easier for yourself – there’s nothing wrong with using tinned beans, tinned tomatoes or pre-chopped or frozen vegetables!
  • If you don’t feel able to cook, how about engage with the Hammersley Homes Volunteer services to help you? Or perhaps attend a community meal and meet new people at the same time.
  • Ready meal night? Choose one with a shorter list of ingredients and more veggies and pulses. Or eat it with a small side salad.
  • Snack-time! Have some gut-friendly alternatives readily accessible to you for when those cravings hit. Fancy a snickers – try some dark chocolate, peanuts and dates. Nuts, dried fruit and whole-grain crackers are great cupboard fillers. Having fresh fruits on hand is a good option instead of sweets – berries are an amazing brain food!
  • If you love a fizzy drink, try sparkling water with some lemon or lime juice (fresh or bottled) for a refreshing alternative.
  • Focus on addition, not subtraction. Instead of worrying about what to avoid, shift your attention to how you can incorporate some of the tips we’ve previously learned and gradually increase the amount of foods you eat in their natural or minimally processed form.
  • Aim for better, not perfect. Small steps are still steps! It’s their direction that matters.

Its important to remember that no one food will heal the gut, nor will it cause harm. It’s the accumulation of lots of very small improvements over time that have the biggest impact on our mental and physical health. It’s not easy to change the way you eat, start with some small additions to your diet and celebrate every achievement!

Do you have any questions about this topic? Ask down below and I’ll get back to you!

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