A newly-reported on study says that more than 50% of American’s calories come from ultra-processed foods, which collectively contain more than 90% of the excess sugar calories in a typical American’s diet. The fortunate exceptions to the rule – people who don’t consume such high volumes of ultra-processed foods or huge excesses of sugar – include vegetarians and vegans. Also consistently outside the crowd of consumers of especially unhealthy foods are those who, like me, have medical conditions (mine is Chronic Kidney Disease) that require close monitoring of what and how much is eaten. By the nature of this kind of diet, ultra- and even highly-processed foods are pretty much off the (dinner) table.
Ultra-processed foods contain high volumes of such things as salt, sugar, oils and fats, plus an assortment of flavorings, emulsifiers and other additives designed to mimic real foods, the researchers quoted by HealthDay said.
Ultra-processed foods include foods include sodas, sweet or savory packaged snacks, candy and desserts, packaged baked goods, instant noodles and soups, and reconstituted meat products, such as chicken and fish nuggets.
By comparison, “processed” foods, which also contain added salt, sugar and other substances including preservatives, use those added ingredients in far smaller quantities than ultra-processed foods serve up.
Excess sugar in the diet boosts your risk for weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay, said lead researcher Euridice Martinez Steele, from the department of nutrition in the School of Public Health at Brazil’s University of Sao Paulo.
Too much sodium (salt) also increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attacks and other negative medical conditions.
“Decreasing the consumption of ultra-processed foods may be an effective way of reducing the excessive added sugar [and sodium] intake in the U.S.,” Steele says.
She notes that people should avoid processed products that require little or no preparation – things such as packaged soups, instant noodles, prepared frozen dishes and sandwiches, cold cuts and sausages, ready-to-eat sauces and cake mixes.
She’s a strong advocate of drinking water, pasteurized fresh milk and freshly squeezed fruit juices, and, avoiding soft drinks, sweetened milk drinks and reconstituted, flavored fruit juices.
The report was published online March 9 in the journal BMJ Open.
The researchers reviewed information from more than 9,000 people. They all took part in the 2009-10 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Study volunteers provided information about their diets.
The researchers found that added sugars make up more than one in five calories in the average ultra-processed food product. That’s as much as eight times higher than the calories from added sugars found in other foods, Steele said.
The recommended upper limit of calories from sugar is 10 percent of daily calories, the researchers noted. In people who ate the most ultra-processed food, more than 80 percent exceeded the upper limit of sugar.
Only people who ate the least ultra-processed foods had below the recommended levels of sugar, the researchers said.
“What many consumers do not realize is that added sugars come in many forms in many highly processed foods that include desserts and sweets, but that also include foods like sausages, cereal bars, ketchup, French fries, salad dressings and frozen pizzas,” said Samantha Heller. She’s a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center in New York City.
This survey highlights the extraordinary amount of ultra-processed foods in the American diet, and the over-the-top amounts of sugar and salt and fat found in these foods, she said.
One serving of a frozen French bread pizza contains 830 milligrams of salt, four different kinds of added sugars, trans fats and 21 grams of total fat, Heller pointed out.
“Another, more nefarious and insidious problem lurks in these foods as well,” she said. “Ultra-processed foods are chemically designed by the food companies to induce cravings for those foods, and sugar, fat and sodium are a big part of those formulas.”
The only way to break the chemical food cravings, and slash the intake of chemicals, calories, added sugars, fat and sodium, is to make more food at home from scratch, Heller said.