The alarming results of a recent study reported that the American diet is primarily composed of processed food where most of the calories came from.
A group of researchers from the University of Sao Paolo in Brazil led by Dr. Carlos Augusto Monteiro found out that most of the American’s daily calorie intakes are derived from “ultra-processed foods”. The study used the data collected from 9,317 people interviewed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for their ongoing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2009 and 2010. The volunteers were asked about the food they had eaten the previous day in which they reported more than 280,000 different kinds of food. This study was published in the British Medical Journal on March 9.
Results showed that the participants consumed an average of 2,070 calories per day in which 28 percent of those are from unprocessed or minimally processed food. Sugars and oils contribute around 3.1 percent while 10 percent of their daily calorie intake is from processed foods such as cheese, canned vegetables, and meat. Only less than 1 percent of their calories are taken from fresh vegetables. On the other hand, the calories due to ultra-processed foods are greater than all the other categories combined which comprise approximately 3 in every 5 calories consumed.
Furthermore, the volunteers were divided into five equal-sized groups based on their ultra-processed food consumption. The researchers discovered that people who consume mostly ultra-processed foods got 19.5% of their total calories from added sugars which is way beyond the 10 percent added sugar limit. On the other hand, people who eat less of these foods accounted only for 7.5 percent of total calories from added sugar which meets the federal dietary recommendations.
According to the researchers, eating diet or low calorie alternatives in replacement of the same processed foods is not effective in cutting the calorie intake of individuals.
“They are still unhealthy because they don’t provide the nutrients of real foods,” said Monteiro.
The term “ultra-processed food” pertains to food items like instant noodles, chicken and fish nuggets, packaged sweets and baked goods, candies, and salty snacks. These foods are often loaded with plenty of preservatives to last for long periods of time. Furthermore, they also contain high amounts of salt, sugar, fat, artificial sweeteners and flavoring, additives, and emulsifiers.
The researchers also reported that ultra-processed foods contain 21.1 percent of added sugar as compared to only 2.4 percent in processed foods. The combination of whole foods and processed foods are found to contain only 3.7 percent of calories.
“Our study suggests that in the USA, limiting the consumption of ultra- processed foods may be a highly effective way to decrease added sugars. A reduction in ultra-processed foods should also increase the intake of more healthful, minimally processed foods such as milk, fruits and nuts, and freshly prepared dishes based on whole grains and vegetables, which would produce additional health benefits beyond the reduction in added sugar.”