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Ultra-processed foods are a major fare in the American diet

Posted:  Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Americans are eating too much ultra-processed food finds study

Ultra-processed foods constitute a major component of the American diet! Unhealthy eating is not a novel phenomenon in most of the developed countries. Now a new study finds that ultra-processed foods make up over half of all calories consumed in the American diet and contribute to almost 90% of energy intake from added sugars.

Ultra-processed foods contain a combination of several ingredients, including salt, sugar, oils and fats, flavourings, emulsifiers, and additives. Mass produced soft drinks; sweet or savoury packaged snacks; confectionery and desserts; packaged baked goods; chicken/fish nuggets and other reconstituted meat products; and instant noodles and soups are some examples of ultra-processed foods.

The study, published online in the journal BMJ Open, looked at how ultra-processed foods contributed to the consumption of added sugars in the American diet. The researchers used dietary data of more than 9000 people from the 2009-10 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for the study. The study also investigated the percentage of people who consumed more than 10% of their total energy intake (the recommended upper limit) from added sugars.

The study found that when ultra-processed food intake was high, the percentage of people exceeding the recommended upper limit of 10% of energy from added sugars grew, soaring to more than 80% among those who ate the most ultra-processed foods. Americans whose ultra-processed food intake was within the lowest 20% had an average daily added sugar intake below the maximum recommended limit.

The study also found a strong linear association between the dietary content of ultra-processed foods and the overall dietary intake of added sugars. Added sugars contributed to 1 in every 5 calories in the average ultra-processed food product. This far exceeded the combined calorie content of added sugars in processed foods and in unprocessed or minimally processed foods and processed culinary ingredients.

These findings are worrisome, since excess added sugar intake has been implicated in weight gain, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and tooth decay. The researchers suggest cutting down the consumption of ultra-processed foods to curtail excess added sugar intake.

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