5 Foods You Can Eat which are Not UPFs

UPFs have become a way of life in modern times, but are not good for health. Here are 5 foods you can eat which are not UPFs.

5 Desi Foods You Can Eat which are Not UPFs -F

"What we eat matters in so many ways."

Modern dietary habits have contributed to the increased consumption of ultra-processed foods (UPFs), linked to various health issues.

UPFs are often laden with additives, preservatives and artificial ingredients detrimental to long-term health and well-being.

A 2022 study in the European Journal of Public Health found that higher intake of UPFs was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease.

According to the NOVA classification system, common UPFs include reconstituted meats, salty and sugary snacks, frozen meals, biscuits, ice cream, fizzy drinks and chocolate.

However, other UPFs, such as almond milk, baked beans, canned soup and sliced bread, may surprise you.

Anisa Khan, a mother of two from London, states:

“What we eat matters in many ways for our bodies and souls. I have realised this the older I’ve gotten and the more I’ve researched.

“It’s meant I’m more and more focused on reducing the amount of refined sugar and processed food my family and I eat.

“I do not want my boys to have health issues later because I gave them this rubbish, fake food.”

Overall, research indicates that in the Desi context, people from Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan backgrounds may be especially vulnerable to the effects of UPFs due to their unique cardiovascular disease risk profiles.

Within South Asia and the diaspora, there are worries about the health impact of UPFs. For example, in India, there is concern that UPFs are fuelling a diabetes surge.

In 2023, research showed that India had at least 101 million people with diabetes, with another 136 million estimated to be living with pre-diabetes.

To promote healthier eating, it’s essential to focus on foods that are not ultra-processed.

Here are five South Asian foods that are nutritious, delicious and free from the negative impacts of UPFs.


The History of DaalLentils, or daal or dahl, are a staple in traditional South Asian diets. Some popular dishes include daal tadka and daal makhani.

Being minimally processed and versatile, lentils make an excellent addition to a healthy diet.

Daals are rich in plant-based protein, fibre, iron and folate.

Eating lentils has numerous health benefits. The high protein content is important for muscle repair and growth.

In turn, the rich fibre content of lentils aids in digestion and helps prevent constipation.

Moreover, lentils are low in fat and high in potassium and magnesium, helping regulate blood pressure and support heart health.

There is a rich assortment of lentils to consume, such as maash (split urid), masoor (red lentils), chana (gram split), moong (yellow split gram), and lobya (kidney beans).

The variety of daal available and the delicious dishes that can be made, make lentils a great alternative to UPFs.

Whole Grains

5 Desi Foods You Can Eat which are Not UPFs - wholegrains brown riceWhole grains, such as whole wheat and brown rice, are great alternatives to UPFs.

They are minimally processed and retain their bran, germ and endosperm, making them more nutritious than refined grains.

Due to the presence of bran, brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice, but the cooking time is worth it. Brown rice is much more nutritious.

Eating 50 grams a day can significantly reduce the chances of getting Type 2 diabetes.

Wholemeal chapati flour, or atta, can be used to make roti and baked goods as an alternative to plain flour.

Wholemeal chapati flour is a rich source of nutrition, providing 15g of protein and 90g of carbohydrates in one cup.

Overall, whole grains are fibre-rich, supporting digestive health and helping a person maintain a healthy weight.

They also provide essential nutrients such as B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and selenium.

Regular consumption of whole grains is associated with a lower risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.


5 Pantry Essentials Indian Food Lovers Need - chickpeasLegumes like chickpeas and kidney beans are minimally processed and packed with protein, fibre, vitamins, and minerals.

They are also a great source of plant-based protein and dietary fibre, supporting good muscle health and digestion.

Legumes like chickpeas are rich in essential nutrients like folate, iron and magnesium, and help stabilise blood sugar levels.

Moreover, legumes have been linked to various other health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels.

In 2020, research found that eating hummus was also linked to reduced appetite and decreased snacking later in the day.

Adding lentils to meals to boost iron intake could be especially helpful for vegans and vegetarians, who may be more susceptible to iron deficiency.

There is a rich variety of flavoursome dishes made from chickpeas and kidney beans that are easy to incorporate into one’s diet.

Including legumes in your diet can enhance nutritional intake and provide a variety of health benefits without the drawbacks of ultra-processed foods.


Plain and natural yoghurt, also known as dahi, is a tasty alternative to UPFs. It should be noted that sweetened yoghurts do belong to the category of UPFs.

Made by fermenting milk with beneficial bacteria, plain and natural yoghurt is minimally processed and offers numerous health benefits.

For example, yoghurt is a great probiotic as it contains live cultures that promote a healthy gut, aiding digestion and boosting the immune system.

Furthermore, yoghurt contains calcium and vitamin D which are vital for bone health. It is also important for muscle maintenance, due to the protein it holds.

Yoghurt is a great alternative snack to UPFs like chocolate and sugary snacks.

Indeed, it will help control cravings and keep you fuller for much longer.

There are numerous ways to incorporate yoghurt into diets such as raita, which is a lovely cooling side dish made with yoghurt, cucumber and spices.

There is also lassi, a refreshing yoghurt-based drink that can be sweet or savoury.

Fresh Vegetables

Fresh vegetables are a cornerstone of traditional South Asian diets and are a delicious alternative to UPFs.

Vegetables like spinach, aubergine, okra and cauliflower are commonly used in Desi dishes. These vegetables offer a wealth of nutrients without the pitfalls of ultra-processing.

Indeed, as Michelin star chef Atul Kochhar told the Telegraph India:

“They add not only flavour and texture but also essential nutrients that contribute to overall health.”

Fresh vegetables are rich in vitamins A, C and K, as well as minerals like potassium and magnesium. In addition to being a great source of fibre, it supports digestion.

Moreover, many vegetables contain antioxidants that protect cells from damage and reduce inflammation.

Vegetables like cauliflower, spinach, curry leaves, cabbage, aubergine and bell peppers are excellent for maintaining good blood glucose levels.

A rich array of vegetable-based dishes ensures you won’t get bored and can still enjoy flavour-packed meals and snacks.

Some dishes you might like to try include palak paneer, baingan bharta, saag and aloo gobi, to name just a few.

Shifting Away from UPFs

5 Foods You Can Eat which are Not UPFsThe importance of what people eat cannot be underestimated nor forgotten in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

A key way of supporting and protecting one’s long-term health is through what a person consumes.

Indeed, as NHS doctor Dr Rupy Aujla stated on an episode of Gregg Wallace’s podcast A Piece of Cake:

“Food is is one of the most powerful medical tools that we have at preventing a plethora of different conditions.”

He then asserted: “A number of different conditions have their roots in poor nutrition, and in some cases, it is the management pathway that can lead to resolution of problems as well.

“Not all the time, and mostly it’s in the preventative manner. But food has a really, really important role.”

Dr Aujla started The Doctor’s Kitchen as a way of teaching people how they can cook their way to health and to showcase the medicinal effects of eating and living well.

Traditional South Asian diets can be highly beneficial, due to the lack of UPFs and the fact ingredients are high in fibre and essential nutrients.

Thus, incorporating these five minimally processed foods into your diet can greatly enhance your nutritional intake and help you avoid the pitfalls of ultra-processed foods.

The rich culinary heritage of South Asia offers a treasure trove of healthy eating options and recipes to explore.

By embracing these foods, you not only nourish your body and reduce the risk of health concerns but also stay connected to traditional dietary practices.

Somia is our content editor and writer who has a focus on lifestyle and social stigmas. She enjoys exploring controversial topics. Her motto is: "It's better to regret what you have done than what you haven't."

Images courtesy of Pixabay.

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