Ultra-Processed Foods Are Ruining America’s Health

We all know that a soft drink or fast food burger are not the best of choices for people wanting to lose weight, or just eat healthfully. Many people don’t know what percentage of our collective caloric intake comes from these ultra-processed foods, and what is the price we pay in terms of lost nutrition opportunities.

A study recently published in Population Health Metrics, investigated the relationship between the caloric content of ultra-processed foods in the US diet and their content of critical nutrients. The consumption information of close to 10,000 people was reviewed and analyzed. The foods consumed were divided into 4 categories:

  1. unprocessed or minimally processed foods – i.e. produce, grains, pulses, eggs, meat, fish, milk.

  2. processed culinary ingredients – i.e. salt, vinegar, oils, fats, sugar, and other cooking basics

  3. processed foods – i.e. canned fish, pickles, jams, cold cuts.

  4. ultra-processed foods – i.e. soft drinks, sweet or savory packaged snacks, packaged desserts, mass-produced packaged breads and buns, chicken nuggets, instant noodles and soups.Fooducate

The results were quite saddening. Over half (57%) of America’s calories come from ultra-processed foods. the silver lining – 30% of the calories are from unprocessed or minimally processed foods.

The more processed a food, the poorer it was in terms of nutrients to encourage, including fiber, iron, potassium, magnesium and other essential nutrients. On the other hand, added sugars and saturated fats were extremely high in the ultra-processed category.

What can be done? As individuals, we should all strive to reduce our intake of these ultra-processed foods. In addition, food manufacturers and fast food corporations could have a substantial stake in improving population health if they would reduce the saturated fats, sugars, and sodium content in their offerings.

KISS Fact: Make sure you know what processed foods are.  Sometimes you can be tricked by labeling.  One easy way to know is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store.  Still be careful because I noticed lately that the food markets are starting to add in separate racks with processed food intermixed with the good stuff. It’s all marketing and these companies are just trying to get your money.  Hope this helps!


Source: Steele et al – The share of ultra-processed foods and the overall nutritional quality of diets in the US: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study – Population Health Metrics, Jan 2017


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