Here are some easy alternatives to highly-processed food

Possible association between some foods and cancer identified in recent study

With a recent study suggesting the rising consumption of highly processed foods “may drive an increasing burden of cancer in the next decades”, the good news is that there are many alternatives to ready meals and fizzy drinks.

The possible association between these foods and cancer was identified in a study published by the BMJ this week. It examined the medical history of more than 100,000 people and was carried out by researchers based in France and Brazil.

Here are just some of the alternatives to ultra-processed foods

Porridge oats are cheaper, healthier, perfect for cold mornings. Soaking the oats in water or milk overnight reduces the cooking time. Add nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, dried fruit, a drizzle of maple syrup and a sprinkling of cinnamon.

For an alternative and cheaper pasta sauce fry a chopped onion gently in olive oil until it has softened. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes and a splash of vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.


Salad dressings
Make your own vinaigrette without the emulsifiers and other assorted gloop. Crush a garlic clove with some salt. Add a teaspoon of mustard to form a paste. Stir in olive oil and add cider vinegar to taste. Put the mix in a clean jam jar and top up with oil and vinegar to your tastes. Shake the jar each time to mix the oil and vinegar before using on salad.

Breadmakers have come on a lot since they popped out a slightly sad leaden loaf after hours of noisy churning. Add flour, yeast, salt and water switch on and the machine kneads and bakes your loaf. Cheaper still mix up a large batch of brown bread mix - wholegrain flour, bran and white flour. Store in a Tupperware container and when you want to bake tip the right amount into a bowl, add buttermilk (or yoghurt and milk) and a teaspoon of bread soda. Pop in a loaf tin and you've got homemade soda bread.

That handy bag of pre-grated cheese? There's potato starch in there to stop the cheese shreds clumping together. Buy a cheese grater, mind your fingers and grate your cheese from a block of good Irish farmhouse cheese.

Make them yourself. You can control how much sugar you add, use fruit as a sweetener and you'll only add one kind of sugar as opposed to several ingredients ending in "ose" ... dextrose, sucrose, fructose etc.

Ready meals
Avoid them by doubling or trebling the quantity when you have the time to cook and freezing portions in batches. Alternatively, Dr Marian O'Reilly, Safefood's chief specialist in nutrition, advises adding vegetables (fresh or frozen) into a ready meal to make it healthier and help it go further.

Read: Almost half of food in Irish shopping baskets is ultra-processed

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary

Catherine Cleary, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a founder of Pocket Forests