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More than half of the standard American diet consists of 'ultra-processed' foods


Processed foods

(NaturalNews) Although more and more people are jumping on board the natural foods bandwagon, the bulk of the American diet still consists of ultra-processed foods. That is at least according to the insights of a recent study published in the online journal BMJ Open, which found that ultra-processed foods account for more than half of all calories consumed in the U.S. diet, and contribute almost 90 percent to Americans' added sugar intake.

The definition of what qualifies as a processed food varies. Some would consider almost all food to be processed to some extent, since people rarely consume food straight from the earth without first washing, cutting, cooking and seasoning it in some way; others reserve the term processed for food items that contain industrially produced ingredients.

Contrary to "regular" processed food, "ultra-processed" food is food that, according to the researchers of the recent study, contains "several ingredients which, besides salt, sugar, oils and fats, include food substances not used in culinary preparations, in particular, flavours, colours, 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."

Ultra-processed foods are particularly troubling. They are loaded with added sugar, trans fats and sodium, which contribute to a slew of health problems including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and even certain types of cancer.

Not all calories are created equal

Nutritionists have long recognized that the rise of obesity, and the health problems attached thereto, is associated with increased calorie consumption. But not all calories are created equal. Most of these calories come from foods loaded with added sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, like soft drinks and children's snacks.

The study collected data from 9,317 people who participated in the 2009–2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The survey asked participants what they had eaten in the last 24 hours. Those who had consumed the most processed food, which included soft drinks, salty snacks, cakes, pizza and frozen meals, also consumed the highest amount of added sugar found in those foods.

The researchers discovered that ultra-processed food makes up nearly 60 percent of the total calories consumed, and almost 90 percent of the average sources of added sugar. On average, ultra-processed food had eight times more sugar than "normal" processed foods, like bread and canned goods. In addition, ultra-processed food had five times more sugar than unprocessed food or barely processed food including meat, fruit, vegetables, grains and milk.

The study attempted to explain why efforts to help people reduce total calorie intake with diet or low calorie substitutes tend to fail. "They are still unhealthy because they don't provide the nutrients of real foods," explained lead author of the study, Carlos Augusto Monteiro, a professor at the Department of Nutrition, School of Public Health at the University of Sao Paulo (USP). Other studies have found that sugar substitutes can promote weight gain by making people crave more sweets.

Less ultra processed food equals less sugar intake

The results of the study weren't all gloomy, however. The survey found that approximately 7.5 percent of participants who consumed the lowest amount of ultra-processed food met the federal dietary recommendation that less than 10 percent of daily calories should come from added sugars. In other words, if people consume less processed food, then they are less likely to exceed their daily sugar limit.

Monteiro concluded that reducing ultra-processed food consumption would be an effective strategy to reducing total daily sugar intake. This would require a shift in public policy. Changes to existing fiscal policies and marketing tactics would be needed to help make ultra-processed food seem less appealing.

Monteiro added that dietary guidelines need to be reviewed and "incorporate clear messages to avoid the replacement of real food ... by ultra-processed food and drink products."

Sources include:

EurekAlert.org

BMJOpen.BMJ.com

CBSNews.com

Science.NaturalNews.com

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