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In cascina

The ultra-processed foods seen by Nonno Carlo

Between studies and reality: conversations on the farm

“High noon,” says Grandpa Carlo, who arrived in Cascina after having been to the supermarket. It's July, it's almost midday now and the heat is intense, even if dampened by the breeze that moves the now ripe corn.

One euro and eight cents, guess what! - He asks.

And all this too, it will be a kilo of stuff - He presses - This three-ninety!

He shows us the products that have tempted him, both for his appetite and for their incredible convenience. The first, a tray with two ready-made turkey cutlets. The second, a cardboard package with about thirty pre-fried chicken nuggets. Total cost, €4.98. Too good to be true. Yet the groceries are there, sizzling in the pan in a few minutes, even spreading a nice scent.

Let's go together and read the labels and ingredients. First of all, those fragrant turkey breast cutlets are 80% made from cereals, oils, sugar, thickeners, starches.

“Ol tachì - the turkey - they haven't even seen it from afar”, says Grandpa Carlo, a little incredulous.

Let's look at the breaded chicken nuggets: here it's better. 50% chicken, 50% other various ingredients. However we read “mechanically separated meat”: what does it mean? Mechanically separated meat or mechanically recovered meat is that meat puree obtained by removing meat residues from bones or poultry carcasses using physical means, which then leads to the loss or modification of the fibrous structure of the muscle.

In the United States, health-conscious consumers call this compound "pink slime". This pink slime is washed several times with a special liquid containing ammonia which makes it completely tasteless. The taste is improved by the addition of artificial, artificial, but delicious flavors.

“And I bought them so as not to eat red meat” - Protests Grandpa Carlo, who is on a bit of a diet this week. They told him, drink less milk, avoid red meat, bread and salami are poison for you, cheeses, for goodness sake very few! A visit to the dietitian and they overturned eighty years of eating habits. No boiled meats, no cured meats, no minced meat, Swiss, meatballs, avoid mature cheeses. So, why not try some turkey and chicken, since they're also really cheap at the supermarket?

And so Grandpa fell from the frying pan into the fire, the fire of ultra-processed foods (UPF) and ultra-damaging to your health.

But what are these ultra-processed foods then?

This category includes all those foods created through formulations of ingredients that are created through a series of truly complex industrial processes. Technologically advanced equipment is often required to produce them.

“Normal” ingredients such as meat, cereals, vegetables are fractionated into substances such as sugars, starches, oils and proteins, which are then often further hydrolysed and hydrogenated. Cosmetic additives such as colorants, emulsifiers, bulking agents, thickeners, flavor enhancers and sweeteners are often added.

The goal of such modifications is to increase shelf life, reduce production costs, and create convenient and palatable or hyper-palatable food products.

The scent of these fried foods is making us salivate, but the hunger goes away immediately when we discover the statistics regarding the damage of ultra-processed foods.

The study is called " Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis ", edited by Irja Minde Isaksen and Simon Nitter Dankel and evaluates the impact on the risk of cancer in general and/or one or more of the following tumors: chronic lymphocytic leukemia of the colorectal, breast, prostate, pancreas and central nervous system.

Available evidence shows a significant and consistent association between UPF intake and the risk of cancers, including colorectal, breast and pancreatic cancer.

Unfortunately, these ultra-processed, high-impact foods are tasty and cheap; they take us by the throat and not only Grandpa Carlo is the victim of this trap! We think above all of children and their still developing eating habits. Do we want to make them accustomed to a world of tasty artificial flavors that are ultra harmful to their health?

W the peasant diet!

We still have time to return to ancient foods, to real ingredients, to sobriety. To the peasant diet that Grandfather Carlo followed all his life: lots of cooked seasonal vegetables (soup was never missing!), pasta, polenta, broths, bread, seasonal fruit, red meat once a week, local chicken only every much.

When you buy basic ingredients, preferably from trusted companies, farmers, breeders, direct growers, you know what you are eating. We give value to our health, respecting the value of the products we buy: our health is worth more than €1.08 of cutlets, a kilo of quality chicken is worth more than a special promotion of €1.99/kg.

5 rules to respect our health and the environment:

  • select genuine products by choosing short supply chains and more sustainable meat;
  • give the right value to the products;
  • cook at home starting from simple and traditional ingredients;
  • vary diet depending on seasonality;
  • avoid waste and eat zero impact meat.

We still have time to teach our children to prefer wholesome foods!