It is no secret that ultra-processed foods are harmful to health and are associated with being overweight. Among the teenagers in the United States who participated in a recent study by the University of São Paulo (USP), for example, those who consumed the most ultra-processed foods had a 45% increased risk of obesity when compared to those who consumed the least of these products. Even so, these products are present in the diet of Brazilians, often because of their practicality. Rich in sugar, sodium, fat and additives such as preservatives and flavor enhancers, their effects are very harmful to health.
Against these villains of modern world health, experts warn of the need to rescue the so-called real food. That’s why nutritionist Daniela Neri teaches a delicious and healthy pizza and tapioca beiju.
Homemade oatmeal cookies with cocoa nibs can replace stuffed cookies, known to be ultra-processed foods — Photo: Istock Getty Images
Check out the recipes and see a list of food supervillains
+ The more natural the better: ultra-processed foods increase the risk of obesity
+ Cooking, opting for natural foods and moving around reduce risk factors for obesity
Main villains in Brazil
- stuffed cookies
- packet snacks
- Ice cream
- Ready-made cakes and breads
- Milk chocolate
- Flavored gelatin powder
- Industrialized drinks, such as soft drinks and ready-made juices
- ready pizza
- As ready-to-eat and/or frozen processed foods
- Homemade cookies and cookies, such as oatmeal with cocoa nibs;
- Crispy chickpea snacks or vegetable or vegetable chips such as kale chips and assorted potatoes (English, sweet, baroa) or homemade sprinkle cookies and cheese bread;
- Homemade fruit sorbets, such as those made with frozen bananas and either mango or strawberry;
- Homemade cakes and breads, with traditional recipes. Even better if brown or demerara sugar was used instead of white, for example, in the case of cakes, and whole wheat flour replaces white in cakes and breads;
- Chocolate, if it is the type with more than 70% cocoa, is not a villain if consumed in moderate amounts;
- Mix of nuts, chestnuts and dried fruits such as dates, apricots and raisins;
- Homemade fruit jellies or homemade gelatin. You can make homemade gelatin using unflavored gelatin (which has no coloring and flavoring) or agar-agar gum with fruit or fruit juice;
- Homemade juices, natural coconut water, pure water or flavored or flavored water;
- Homemade pizza, as we will teach you below;
- Homemade foods in general: peel more and unpack less.
Responsible for the study by the Center for Epidemiological Research in Nutrition and Health (Nupens), of the USP School of Public Health, with adolescents from the United States, nutritionist Daniela Neri informs that, in Brazil, where the consumption of ultra-processed foods is also gaining ground in the diet of children and adolescents, these products are more consumed in snacks. In the United States, for example, they enter or replace main meals such as breakfast, lunch and dinner. In this way, options to eat with your hand, such as cookies, cakes, breads and ready-made pizzas are among the ultra-processed foods that are most common among young Brazilians.
– This group of food products is formulated based on sugar, fat, salt and many preservatives and additives to give color, aroma and flavor and make them resemble real food. On the label, sugar, for example, can appear with three to four different names, as well as fat. They are very dense products, because of the sugar, fat and salt. The flavor and aroma can change according to the type of product, but, in essence, they all have these characteristics and that is why they promote diseases – warns the nutritionist who specializes in child and adolescent nutrition.
+ Consumption of ultra-processed foods increased in the pandemic
+ Ultra-processed foods make you eat more
But don’t think that the fight against the ultra-processed is lost. Far from it. To begin, the first step is to avoid having these industrialized options at home. They can even be consumed as an exception at parties or outings, but they should not be present in everyday life. In addition, you need to plan to prepare meals at home and bet on fresh foods, such as fruits and vegetables. The nutritionist comments that the real food should always be the first choice. Nothing prevents you from even preparing healthy treats for children’s and teenagers’ snacks, desserts or for those moments on the weekend that ask for a special delicacy.
You can let your imagination run wild and, preferably, involve children and teenagers in the preparation of these delicacies. Next, the nutritionist shares two family recipes that promise to win over the kids.
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Instead of ordering, prepare your pizza, preferably with the support of the kids — Photo: Istock Getty Images
Ingredients for the dough:
- 2 cups of wheat flour
- 1 whole egg
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1/2 cup of milk tea
- 1 tablespoon of dry yeast (10 g)
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
Ingredients for the topping:
- Homemade tomato sauce (which can be made ahead and frozen in the freezer)
- 1 1/2 cups coarsely grated mozzarella (about 150 g)
- 1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes (90 g)
- Basil leaves to taste
- In a heatproof bowl, place the butter and microwave for a few seconds to melt;
- Lightly heat the milk;
- In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar;
- In a smaller bowl, combine the wet ingredients (butter, milk and egg) and stir lightly with a fork;
- Make a well in the center of the flour, add the wet ingredients and mix the dough, initially with a fork, then with your hands. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more wheat flour until it is ready to let go of your fingers;
- Sprinkle the worktop (previously cleaned) with a little flour and transfer the dough to the workbench;
- Hit (that’s right, throw) the dough with a certain force on the bench. Then, stretch the dough and fold it over itself. Repeat the process several times, for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and soft;
- Shape the dough into 2 balls and transfer to the greased bowl. Cover with a cloth and let it rest for about 1 hour, or until it doubles in volume;
- Preheat the oven to 200°C;
- Grease two medium baking sheets with oil. Transfer each ball of dough to a baking sheet and open with your fingertips, being careful not to let holes form;
- Spread the tomato sauce on top of the dough, cover with the mozzarella and distribute the cherry tomatoes;
- Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
For the moment to get even more fun: It’s worth setting up a counter with other topping options (eg: thinly sliced onions, sautéed escarole, sautéed paris mushrooms, half-moon boiled egg, raw ham) and letting the kids create their own pizzas.
Tapioca beiju is a healthy snack option — Photo: Istock Getty Images
- 500 g tapioca dough (ready tapioca gum)
- 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 100 g)
- Preheat the oven to 200°C (medium temperature);
- On a large baking sheet, place portions of a tablespoon each of tapioca dough. Spread the dough with the back of a spoon to form thin and uniform circular kisses of about 3 cm in diameter;
- Place in the oven to bake initially for 5 minutes;
- Pause to sprinkle with cheese: remove the baking sheet from the oven and sprinkle each beijuzinho with grated Parmesan cheese;
- Bake for another 5 minutes, until the dough is firm and the cheese starts to brown;
- Remove from the oven and, with a spatula, transfer to a platter;
- Let the beijus cool before serving – they get crunchier after being cold;
- Serve as a snack or accompaniment to soups or salads.
Tip: Store in an airtight container to keep the beijus crunchy for up to two days.
Daniela Neri is PhD and nutritionist and researcher at the Center for Epidemiological Research in Nutrition and Health (Nupens) of the Faculty of Public Health (FSP) of the University of São Paulo (USP). She specializes in child and adolescent nutrition. The nutritionist studies the consumption of foods, particularly ultra-processed foods, and their effects on the quality of the diet and the health of children and adolescents.