Americans eat more processed foods than ever before, and they affect our health.
Researchers at the NYU School of Global Public Health analyzed dietary data from more than 40,000 adults who participated in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Health and Nutrition Examination SurveyTrust Source from 2001 to 2018.
Researchers have reported that by the end of the study, ultra-food consumption increased from 53 percent of total calories initially (2001-02) to 57 percent at the end (2017-18).
Here are some key research findings:
Consumption increases significantly with ready-to-eat or hot-fried foods (e.g., frozen dinners).
- Procurement of sugary foods and beverages is prohibited.
- Spanish participants ate more ultra processed foods and more complete foods compared to white and non-Spanish Spanish participants.
- College graduates also ate very little processed food.
Older adults (60 years and older) had observed a dramatic increase in their intake of ultra-processed foods, but had started the study as a group eating a small amount of processed foods.
Consumption of whole foods, such as milk, meat, fruits, and vegetables, was lower in groups.
The authors of the study also noted that this data was collected in pre-epidemic periods, and that the COVID-19 epidemic may have led to an increase in unhealthy and solid food intake.
“Unfortunately, we know that the consumption of ultra-based foods is increasing,” said Signe Svanfeldt, who holds a master’s degree in science and nutrition, and is head of nutrition at Lifesum and Gympass’s health advisor.
“Ultra-based foods are usually rich in saturated fats, sodium, and sugar, which are all things we should aim to eat at low cost to maintain a healthy diet and reduce the risk of various diseases,” Svanfeldt told Healthline.
Add these foods and they are usually low in nutrients and dietary fiber.
Ultra foods as described in the study include:
- frozen pizza
- fast food
- salty snacks
- canned soup
- a lot of breakfast cereal
Previous findings by researchers at the NYU School of Global Public Health report that high consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with obesity and heart disease.
There is also growing evidence that these foods are linked to chronic diseases.
This trend has led researchers to recommend policies to reduce ultra-food consumption, such as:
- revised dietary guidelines
- food sales restrictions
- package label changes
- tax on soda and other processed foods
The study authors also support programs and policies to increase access to, accessibility, and access to whole foods, especially for disadvantaged people.
Svanfeldt reminds us that not all prepared foods are unhealthy.
“Frozen and canned foods can be excellent sources of nutrients, such as frozen vegetables or canned beans or dill. Just make sure you look at the details of healthy eating, ”he said.
Svanfeldt shared the following tips for reducing Ultra processed foods in our diet:
Cook your food from scratch (e.g., lightly cook the bed instead of choosing canned or fast food options).
Food preparation, especially if you do not have time to cook fresh food every day.
Read nutritional labels and choose low-fat foods, sodium, and added sugar.
- Choose foods that are high in fiber.
- Choose water as a beverage before sodas.
Buy basic foods and nutritious ingredients at home, such as oats, quinoa, barley, whole grain pasta, brown rice, nuts and seeds, beans and dill, and crushed tomatoes.
Fill the fridge with rich nutritious vegetables and fiber, such as spinach, broccoli, green peas, and edamame.
Eating properly when the budget is tight
If all of this talk about healthy eating starts to sound too expensive, don’t worry.
There are many ways you can eat a few processed foods while sticking to your budget.
Here are some tips for Svanfeldt’s budget for whole foods:
Choose seasonal vegetables and fruits. They tend to have lower prices.
Try frozen vegetables and fruits. They are as nutritious as new ones, and are usually cheaper.
Buy vegetables that can be stored for a long time (to avoid unnecessary waste) and can be used for many things. These include kale, cabbage, carrots and other root vegetables.
- Cook large batches, then store them in the refrigerator or freezer for later meals.
- Buy large food packages. They are usually cheaper for each price.
- Avoid going to the store on an empty stomach.
Plan what you will cook for the week. Make a list of what you need to list, and then stick to that list.
Avoid temptation in the store.
Keep the rest. No matter how small they may be, they can be used for something.