October 14 (News) – People in the United States have consumed more and more highly processed foods over the past 20 years, displacing more nutritious options for better nutrition, according to a study published Thursday by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
This increase in the consumption of industrially produced foods, which are mainly made from food-derived substances such as fats, starches, added sugars and hydrogenated fats, is taking place in almost all population groups.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, which on Wednesday issued voluntary guidelines for food manufacturers and restaurants to reduce salt consumption in order to reduce sodium intake in the US, packaged, processed and restaurant foods make up about 70% of all sodium consumption in the United States States from land by 12%.
“The overall makeup of the average US diet has shifted toward a more processed diet,” study co-author Filippa Juul said in a press release.
“This is worrying because consuming more highly processed foods is linked to poor nutritional quality and a higher risk of several chronic diseases,” said Juul, assistant professor and postdoctoral fellow at NYU School of Public Health in New York City.
Ultra-processed foods are manufactured, ready-to-eat, or heated products that contain additives and are largely whole-food free, according to Harvard University.
These foods, including frozen meals and soft drinks, may also contain additives like artificial colors and flavors or preservatives, say the school’s researchers.
According to the American Heart Association, high consumption of these products has been linked to an increased risk of obesity and heart disease.
Despite the health risks, previous studies suggest that these foods constitute up to half the average diet in the United States in adults and even more in children and adolescents.
For this study, Juul and her colleagues analyzed nutritional data from nearly 41,000 adults who participated in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2001 to 2018, an ongoing health assessment.
Study participants were asked what they had eaten in the past 24 hours, and the researchers sorted the reported foods into four categories.
This included minimally processed foods or whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, grains, meat, and dairy products, as well as processed culinary ingredients such as olive oil, butter, sugar, and salt.
The other categories were processed foods like cheese, canned fish and canned beans, and highly processed foods like frozen pizza, soda, fast food, candy, salty snacks, canned soup, and most breakfast cereals.
The researchers then calculated the percentage of calories consumed by each food group.
The consumption of highly processed foods increased from 54% in 2001-2002 to 57% of the calories consumed in 2017-18, the data showed.
The consumption of ready-to-eat or hot meals such as frozen foods increased the most, while the consumption of some sugary foods and beverages decreased.
Conversely, whole foods consumption decreased from 33% of calories to 27% over the same period, mainly due to people consuming less meat and dairy products.
The data showed that people from almost all demographics, regardless of income, increased their consumption of highly processed foods, with the exception of Hispanic adults, who ate significantly less compared to non-Hispanic white and black adults.
Adults aged 60 and over saw the largest increases in their consumption of highly processed foods.
“In the current industrial food environment, most of the foods marketed to us are actually industrial formulations that are far from whole foods,” said Juul.