BBC's Dr Michael Mosley says cutting out one food can slash risk of heart disease and cancer

Dr. Michael Mosley
Dr. Michael Mosley -Credit:BBC

Dr Michael Mosley has suggested that eliminating one specific food from your diet could significantly reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. On his BBC podcast Just One Thing, the renowned TV doctor explained how this single change could also enhance mental health, help shed a few inches off the waistline, and even save some money.

The discussion centred around the benefits of home cooking and avoiding ultra-processed foods. According to the NHS website, processed food is defined as something which 'has been altered in some way during preparation'.

It further explains: "Ingredients such as salt, sugar and fat are sometimes added to processed foods to make their flavour more appealing and to extend their shelf life, or in some cases to contribute to the food's structure."

Dr Mosley describes cooking from scratch as 'making real food with real ingredients, whether fresh, frozen or dried'. He asserts that home cooking can decrease calorie intake, improve mental health, and benefit your gut microbiome.

When it comes to consumption of ultra-processed foods, the UK is among the worst culprits in Europe. While estimates vary, some suggest that up to two-thirds of the calories consumed by the nation come from ultra-processed foods, reports Gloucestershire Live.

"Despite watching more cooking shows than ever, we eat worse than ever," Dr Mosley said. "Two thirds of our calories from ultra processed food foods typically made in factories with five or more ingredients like sweeteners and emulsifiers that you don't normally use in home cooking."

"They can be a quick and easy option but they are often an unhealthy one. An umbrella review published in the BMJ found a clear link between a diet high in ultra-processed food and 32 harmful health effects, including higher risks of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, poor mental heath and early death."

"But the good news is cooking from scratch more frequently can have a big positive impact particularly on your waistline. A study of more than 11,000 people found that those who ate home-cooked meals more than five times a week were 28 per cent less likely to be overweight than those who cooked from scratch three times a week or less."

"Not only were their meals healthier, but researches say home cooking also improved their eating behaviour. They snacked less, had smaller portions and more shared meal times."

"And getting creative in the kitchen can also boost your mental health. Studies in both healthy volunteers and cancer patients have found learning to cook has a big impact on well-being. This could be because when cooking from scratch, you tend to make healthier food choices. Simply learning a new skill will boost confidence, which elevates self-esteem."

Dr Emily Leeming, a nutrition scientist from King's College London, has voiced her support for the view that ultra-processed foods are engineered to be irresistible due to their high sugar and fat content. She explained: "Ultra-processed foods are made and engineered to taste delicious, and we know that the things that make foods taste good are higher sugars and higher fat. Those aren't bad things in themselves, but they do tend to make us go over our energy needs, and that is a problem."

"Sixty per cent of our diets in the UK come from ultra-processed foods, and that displaces foods that our gut bacteria really enjoy. That is foods that are full of fibre that plant roughage in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes. That then starves our gut bacteria from being able to do all those beneficial things that we know they do for our bodies."

She highlighted the benefits of cooking from scratch, noting that it often leads to increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. This is supported by studies, including one in the US where participants were split into two groups, one eating ultra-processed food and the other consuming whole, homecooked meals for four weeks.

The results showed that the ultra-processed group ingested an extra 500 calories daily and gained an average of 1kg, whereas the whole food group lost the same amount on average. Dr Leeming pointed out that whole foods usually contain less salt, which can lead to lower blood pressure and reduced heart disease risk.

She also shed light on the fact that 70 per cent of the salt we consume is 'invisible', already present in the foods we cook and eat, rather than added from a container.

Her golden advice was to stock your freezer with frozen fruits and vegetables. She explained that in our modern times, food is typically frozen rapidly after harvest, ensuring it keeps a lot of its nutritional value.