Ultra-Processed Foods Dominate U.S. Diets

According to new research out of the University of Sao Paulo and Tufts University, Americans are getting 50% of their calories from “ultra-processed foods.”

“Processed” is not that bad, “ultra-processed” is a problem

With a few exceptions, most of us know what we should and shouldn’t be eating. It’s not rocket science, but owing to laziness, cravings and other factors we eat poorly anyways. In order for food not to be “processed,” you must essentially go out to your garden and yank it from the ground and eat it as is. Frozen vegetables are processed, even that “healthy” whole wheat bread full of other good stuff like nuts and seeds is technically “processed.”

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That is hardly what these researchers are speaking about, rather the group is talking about “ultra-processed” and they define those foods as:

Formulations of several ingredients which, besides salt, sugar, oils, and fats, include food substances not used in culinary preparations, in particular, flavors, colors, sweeteners, emulsifiers and other additives used to imitate sensorial qualities of unprocessed or minimally processed foods and their culinary preparations or to disguise undesirable qualities of the final product.

Too much sugar

Frozen meals, soft drinks, breakfast cereals all get this distinction along with thousands of other products found in a good-size supermarket. The researchers found 9,000 volunteers from across the United States in order to study their eating habits. The researchers found that “ultra-processed” foods accounted for a staggering 57.9% of the calorie intake of those participating which given its size was nationally representative.

Vegetables, eggs, milk, meat accounted for 29.6% of calorie intake. These items are largely considered minimally processed or unprocessed.

Cheeses, canned and preserved foods are processed foods but certainly don’t qualify as “ultra-processed” and they made up 9.4% of the diets studied. The remaining 2.9% was made up by culinary ingredients used in food preparation and included: salt, vinegar, sugar and cooking oils.

What was truly frightening in this study was the prevalence of sugar in ultra-processed foods. These foods accounted for 90% of the sugar intake for the 9,000 people involved in the study nationwide. What’s even more frightening is the fact that this is added sugar or sugar that isn’t naturally found in food. While the dietary guidelines of the federal government suggest that no more than 10% of your caloric intake should come from added sugars, the average participant in the study took in 2069.5 calories per day with 292.2 calories coming from added sugars. This amounts to around 14%, well over the U.S. dietary guidelines

“The risk of exceeding the recommended upper limit of 10 percent energy from added sugars was far higher when ultra-processed food consumption was high,” the researchers wrote in their findings.The study found that people were getting far to much sugar while failing to properly get the nutrients they need. These sugar-filled foods were replacing “more nutrient-dense foods” at an alarming rate while leaving consumers “simultaneously overfed and undernourished.”

No matter your personal feelings on former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large-sized sodas, Mr. Bloomberg was well aware of the dangers these drinks pose. If you’re thirsty drink water. Admittedly, I need to heed this advice considerably more often and I did just open my first beer of the day rather than pouring myself a glass of water. That said, it is my birthday and I find I don’t cook particularly well when I’m completely sober.