A whopping 60 percent of the calories in the typical American diet — and 90 percent of the added sugar — comes from “ultra-processed” foods, such as frozen pizza, canned soups, and cookies, according to a study published Wednesday evening in BMJ Open.
Why it matters:
As consumption of ultra-processed foods has increased, so has the prevalence of conditions like obesity and diabetes.”Of course, this does not prove that ‘A’ is causing ‘B’,” said researcher Carlos A. Monteiro, a nutrition professor at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil. “But excessive content of free sugars in ultra-processed foods is a good candidate to explain why ‘A’ could cause ‘B’.”
You’ll want to know:
For the study, researchers defined “ultra-processed” foods as those several steps beyond their original form. In other words, they’re not counting cheese. They’re looking at foods that contain artificial colors or flavors, sweeteners, emulsifiers, and other additives (which they say help “disguise undesirable qualities” in the final product). To come up with their numbers, they looked at the diets of 9,000 Americans who took part in a national nutrition survey in 2009-2010.
But keep in mind:
Just because a food is highly processed and sugary doesn’t necessarily mean it’s lacking in nutritional value, said Connie Weaver, a professor of nutrition science at Purdue University who wasn’t involved in the study.
“You can’t just rule out processed food, because you’ll end up malnourished,” she said. “Given what Americans eat now, they are getting a lot of nutrients from processed food.” She added that people need to learn about their own particular nutritional deficiencies and plan their meals accordingly.