More than half of the calories in the typical American diet come from uhealthy ultra-processed foods.
In a new study reported in BMJ Open, researchers from Brazil evaluated the diets of more than 9000 children and adults and found that nearly 60 percent of our daily calories come from ultra-processed foods and they make up 90 percent of the added sugar in the diet.
You may have heard a new nutrition term, “ultra-processed food,” which is being used by nutrition pros to help individuals identify the foods that they’re eating that provide the least nutrition benefits for the calories. In other words, these foods are calorie-rich and nutrition poor or “junk food”. They’re loaded with additives, preservatives, flavorings, sweeteners, sodium and much more. They are essential junk foods are essentially designed to be craveable—not healthy.
Ultra-processed foods include soda, salty chips, packaged baked goods, chicken or fish nuggets, instant noodles and breakfast cereals. They are not processed foods like canned or frozen produce; canned meats or whole grains or peanut butter. They are also not culinary ingredients like table sugar, salt and flour.
The researchers found that ultra-processed foods contained five times the amount of added sugars compared to less processed foods. What’s more, individuals who ate and drank the most ultra-processed foods had about 19.5 percent of calories from added sugars compared to 7.5 percent of calories form added sugars among those who had the least amount of ultra-processed options in their diet. The recommended intake for added sugars is no more than 10 percent of total calories. The authors conclude that diet recommendations that emphasize limiting ultra-processed foods (as they do in Brazil) could be one of the best ways to improve the U.S. diet.
Almost 90 percent of the sugar intake (89.7%) came from the ultra-processed foods. Here are the ultra-processed foods and the percent of calories of all added sugars.
- 17.1% Soft Drinks
- 13.9% Fruit Drinks
- 11.2% Cakes, Cookies, Pies
- 7.6% Breads
- 7.3% Desserts
- 7.1% Sweet Snacks
- 6.4% Breakfast Cereals
- 5.9% Ice Cream and Ice Pops
- 4.6% Milk Based Drinks
Brazil’s Dietary Guidelines: Four of 10 Focus on Processed Foods
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, below are Brazil’s Dietary Guidelines that were published in 2014. Four of the 10 main guidelines focus on reducing processed and ultra-processed foods. The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans don’t go far enough to help us choose more minimally processed foods in lieu of ultra-processed chocies.
- Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet.
Natural or minimally processed foods, in great variety, and mainly of plant origin, are the basis for diets that are nutritionally balanced, delicious, culturally appropriate, and supportive of socially and environmentally sustainable food systems. Variety means foods of all types – cereals, legumes, roots, tubers, vegetables, fruits, nuts, milk, eggs, meat – and diversity within each type – such as beans and lentils, rice and corn, potato and cassava, tomatoes and squash, orange and banana, chicken and fish.
- Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking natural or minimally processed foods and to create culinary preparations
As long as they are used in moderation in dishes and meals based on natural or minimally processed foods, oils, fats, salt, and sugar contribute to diverse and delicious diets without making them nutritionally unbalanced.
- Limit consumption of processed foods.
The ingredients and methods used in the manufacture of processed foods – such as vegetables in brine, fruits in syrup, cheeses and breads – unfavorably alter the nutritional composition of the foods from which they are derived. In small amounts, processed foods can be used as ingredients in dishes and meals based on natural or minimally processed foods.
- Avoid consumption of ultra-processed foods.
Because of their ingredients, ultra-processed foods such as salty fatty packaged snacks, soft drinks, sweetened breakfast cereals, and instant noodles, are nutritionally unbalanced. As a result of their formulation and presentation, they tend to be consumed in excess, and displace natural or minimally processed foods. Their means of production, distribution, marketing, and consumption damage culture, social life, and the environment.
- Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company
Make your daily meals at regular times. Avoid snacking between meals. Eat slowly and enjoy what you are eating, without engaging in another activity. Eat in clean, comfortable and quiet places, where there is no pressure to consume unlimited amounts of food. Whenever possible, eat in company, with family, friends, or colleagues: this increases the enjoyment of food and encourages eating regularly, attentively, and in appropriate environments. Share household activities that precede or succeed the consumption of meals.
- Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods.
Shop in supermarkets and municipal and farmers markets, or buy directly from producers or other places, that sell varieties of natural or minimally processed foods. Prefer vegetables and fruits that are locally grown in season. Whenever possible, buy organic and agro-ecological based foods, preferably directly from the producers.
- Develop, exercise and share cooking skills.
If you have cooking skills, develop them and share them, especially with boys and girls. If you do not have these skills – men as well as women – acquire them. Learn from and talk with people who know how to cook. Ask family, friends, and colleagues for recipes, read books, check the internet, and eventually take courses. Start cooking!
- Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life.
Plan the food shopping, organise your domestic stores, and decide on meals in advance. Share with family members the responsibility for all activities related to meals. Make the preparation and eating of meals privileged times of conviviality and pleasure. Assess how you live so as to give proper time for food and eating
- Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals.
Eat in places that serve fresh meals at good prices. Self-service restaurants and canteens that serve food buffet-style charged by weight are good choices. Avoid fast food chains.
- Be wary of food advertising and marketing.
The purpose of advertising is to increase product sales, and not to inform or educate people. Be critical and teach children to be critical of all forms of food advertising and marketing.