Unpacking UPFs: Your Guide to Blood Pressure Management and Nutritional Clarity – Part 2

Last reviewed:
12 Mar 2024,

Medically reviewed by:

Welcome to Part 2 of our double feature on UPFs. In Part 1, we gave you a breakdown of what they are and the risk they pose to your health. Here, we will address how they can be avoided and even fought against, as well as the strategies you can put in place for a healthier lifestyle. Let’s dig in!

The Power of Addiction and Prevention

An analysis of 281 studies in 36 countries by scientists from the US, Spain and Brazil, published in the BMJ, found that 14% of adults and 12% of children have a food addiction, and the food they are addicted to is ultra-processed. 

The subjects showed signs of intense cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and loss of control over intake. This addictive quality is attributed to the food’s engineered balance of flavours and textures. The way UPFs affect the brain’s reward centres is like substance-use disorders, leading to compulsive consumption and even binge-eating disorders.

Prevention through diet is key in combating health issues related to UPFs. A diet rich in whole foods can significantly reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and other chronic diseases. This preventive approach is not just about cutting out harmful foods but about embracing a healthier lifestyle.

The profound impact of the dietary shift toward UPFs is evident in the rising rates of obesity and related health conditions. So, recognizing UPFs’ addictive nature is crucial for devising effective health policies and individual health strategies.

Reversing the Trend: Lifestyle Strategies

Incorporating healthy diet choices and avoiding UPFs requires a combination of informed shopping, meal planning, and mindful eating. Some practical tips to help move away from UPFs are:

1. Read labels

Look for products with a short list of recognizable ingredients. Avoid items with high levels of sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, as well as artificial additives and preservatives. Understanding ingredient lists can be challenging, and not everyone can easily remember or identify “bad” ingredients. In this context, the use of food-scanning apps can be incredibly helpful. For instance, apps like the NHS Food Scanner, Yuka, and Code Check allow users to quickly scan product labels to get detailed information about the ingredients.

2. Shop at the edges

Fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and dairy are typically located around the store’s edges.

Processed foods are often found in the centre and ends of aisles.

3. Prioritise whole foods

Choose whole, unprocessed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, lean proteins, and legumes for nutritious foods that are free of the excessive processing found in UPFs.

4. Plan meals

Meal planning can help you avoid the temptation of convenience foods. Prepare a weekly menu and make a shopping list to stick to healthier choices.

5. Cook and prep at home

Home-cooked meals give you control over ingredients and cooking methods. Batch cooking and preparing meals in advance can save time and reduce the temptation to opt for UPFs.

6. Explore healthier alternatives

Swap out sugary cereals for porridge topped with fresh fruit and nuts. Make homemade versions of commonly processed foods like pizzas, burgers, or snacks using whole food ingredients.

7. Mind your portion size

Even healthier foods can contribute to weight gain if eaten in excessive amounts. Pay attention to portion sizes and listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues.

8. Make gradual changes

Transitioning to a healthier diet doesn’t have to be abrupt. Start by making small, sustainable changes like snacking with whole food options, such as fruit, plain yoghourt, or nuts.

9. Educate yourself on nutrition

Understanding the basics of nutrition can empower you to make healthier choices. Look for reliable sources of information to learn more about balanced diets.

10. Hydrate your day

Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Limit sugary drinks and opt for water, herbal teas, or freshly squeezed juices.

11. Seek support

Share your health goals with family and friends. They can offer support, accountability, and even join you in making healthier choices.

12. Know your numbers

Regularly monitoring vital health metrics like blood pressure can provide a clear picture of how dietary choices impact your health.

Investing in a reliable blood pressure monitor, such as the Aktiia device, allows you to track the effects of dietary changes on your blood pressure in real-time. This practice can also be a powerful motivator – tangible improvements in your numbers can encourage you to continue making healthy food choices, like avoiding UPFs – it’s what we’ve termed the Aktiia effect.

Keeping track of these numbers not only helps in managing existing conditions but also serves as a preventive measure for potential health issues. It’s also worth incorporating regular blood pressure check-ups into your routine, making it as habitual as meal planning or grocery shopping. This proactive approach can significantly enhance the effectiveness of your dietary changes. A greater level of awareness coupled with proactive blood-pressure monitoring could be pivotal in combating the adverse effects posed by UPFs and helping people make informed decisions about their health.

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Changing Regulatory Landscape Around UPFs

The increasing awareness of the risks associated with UPFs is driving a significant shift in the regulatory landscape. Key among proposed measures is the introduction of addiction warning labels on UPF packaging, like those on cigarettes. These warnings aim to inform consumers about the potential risks of UPFs, such as obesity, heart disease, and hypertension. Alongside this, there is a call for stricter advertising and marketing regulations, particularly targeting the promotion of UPFs to children.

Reformulation mandates for UPFs to reduce harmful ingredients like salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats are also under consideration. This approach has seen success in areas like reduced sugar content in soft drinks. There could also be new taxation strategies on UPFs, similar to sugar taxes. Such measures could not only influence consumer behaviour towards healthier choices but also provide funding for public health initiatives.

Global collaboration and standardisation of regulations are crucial due to the international nature of food production and distribution. This, coupled with public education campaigns, could significantly enhance the effectiveness of these regulatory measures. Plus, there’s growing emphasis on incentivizing the production and sale of healthier food options, making them more accessible and affordable. These evolving regulations, aimed at curbing the impact of UPFs, reflect a broader movement towards creating a healthier food environment and improving public health outcomes.

From Hidden Dangers to Informed Choices

In the murky world of UPFs, knowledge is power: the power to protect our well-being. Understanding how they are engineered and the health risks they pose is crucial. This awareness is the first step in making informed choices about UPFs which have become staples in our diets.

While regulations surrounding them are gradually evolving, by recognizing their addictive nature and potential health risks, individuals have the power to make immediate changes. Technologies like the Aktiia blood pressure system empower people to take control. By providing real-time insights into how dietary choices affect blood pressure, the Aktiia device helps motivate people to make healthier choices that steer clear of UPFs.

Ultimately, “you are what you eat” is a profound truth – our dietary choices shape our health and quality of life. Choosing whole, unprocessed foods over ultra processed ones is not only about our blood pressure but also our overall health. It is about embracing a lifestyle that values nutrition, wellness, and informed choices. With the right knowledge and tools, every individual can transform their health, one meal at a time.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for educational purposes only and not intended as medical advice. If you have any health concerns, please consult with your physician or qualified healthcare provider. Any changes to your diet or lifestyle should be made under medical supervision. The author and publisher are not responsible for any adverse effects resulting from the use or application of the information presented in this article.


It’s like trying to quit smoking: why are 1 in 7 of us addicted to ultra-processed foods? 12 Oct 2023 – https://www.theguardian.com/food-its-like-trying-to-quit-smoking-why-are-1-in-7-of-us-addicted-to-ultra-processed-foods

Social, clinical, and policy implications of ultra-processed food addiction, 14 Nov 2023 – https://www.bmj.com/content-bmj-2023-075354

Medically Reviewed

dr jay shah photo

Renowned cardiologist, physician leader, and angel investor.

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About the Author

Piotr Kudela, aspiring writer and website editor, with keen interest in health technology, backed by strong academic foundation and professional experience in search marketing. In his writings, Piotr combines insights from blood pressure research with his fascination for health wearables, driven by a passion for contributing to scientific progress and improving global health through technology.

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