The American diet with its emphasis on highly processed foods is linked to chronic diseases. It's also not healthy when you look at the microbiome (community of microbes living in your body). With all the health research out there showing health benefits of real whole foods (especially fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, legumes), then the finding that highly processed foods dominate U.S. food purchases are just plain sad. But I'm not surprised. From Science Daily:
A nation-wide analysis of U.S. grocery purchases reveals that highly processed foods make up more than 60 percent of the calories in food we buy, and these items tend to have more fat, sugar and salt than less-processed foods.
From 2000 to 2012, the researchers asked 157,142 households to use UPC barcode scanners to record all foods and beverages they purchased from grocery stores for at least 1 year. Although items without barcodes were not included, Poti points out that packaged produce such bagged lettuce or pints of berries can be scanned. Households participated in the study for an average of four years and collectively purchased 1.2 million items. The research team then linked each item to its nutrition information, product description and ingredient list, allowing them to rank each product's degree of food processing.
The researchers classified products as highly processed if they contained multi-ingredient, industrially formulated mixtures. They labeled foods such as soda, cookies, chips, white bread, candy and prepared meals as highly processed foods and categorized fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs, dried beans and fresh meat as unprocessed or minimally processed. The investigators also examined convenience, distinguishing between foods that are ready to eat, ready to heat or require cooking and/or preparation. Candy and chips are examples of ready-to-eat foods, and frozen meals are a ready-to-heat food.
"Overall, we found that not only are highly processed foods a dominant, stable part of U.S. purchasing patterns, but also that the highly-processed foods that households are purchasing are higher in fat, sugar, and salt, on average, compared to the less-processed foods that they buy," said Poti, who will present these findings at the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) Annual Meeting during Experimental Biology 2015."
The analysis revealed that from 2000 to 2012, the proportion of calories in highly processed food and beverage purchases by U.S. households remained stable at 61.0 to 62.5 percent. The researchers noted a significant increase in the proportion of calories purchased in ready-to-heat foods, which reached 15.2 percent in 2012. More than 80 percent of calories were purchased in ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat form in 2012, and these tended to be higher in fat, sugar and salt than food purchases that required preparation.