A recent study published in the BMJ found that the average American gets more than half of their calories from notoriously unhealthy foods known as ultra-processed foods. The findings may finally explain the obesity and diabetes ‘epidemic’ plaguing the U.S.
Researchers based their study on the data provided by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The research team analyzed eating patterns and calorie intake of 9,317 Americans involved in the survey between 2009 and 2010.
Study authors explained that ‘ultra-processed’ foods are foods in which manufacturers pour added sugar, extra salt, unhealthy fats, oils and food additives that otherwise would not be added in home cooked meals.
The additives include preservers, sweeteners, emulsifiers and other chemicals that artificially enhance the food’s natural taste, color, and texture. The most popular ultra-processed foods are prepackaged sweets, packaged snacks, instant meals, frozen meals, backed foods, cured meat, sugary drinks, and foods with an exaggeratedly long shelf life.
Researchers caution that the added sugar in these foods can lead to severe health problems including type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer and obesity. Moreover, high-sugar content in prepackaged and fast-food items is often associated with a low nutritional value. This explains why the Western world has an overfed population which is equally malnourished.
According to the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, added-sugar should be responsible for just 10 percent of daily calorie intake. Fortunately, due to a FDA’s recent decision manufacturers must display on the labels the sugar content in calories per serving.
The latest study revealed that ultra-processed foods are behind 57.9 percent of the total daily calorie intake of an average American. Plus, the study also found that nearly 90 percent of the energy intake is generated by added sugars.
Study authors also reported that the amount of added sugar in ultra-processed foods is eight times higher than in unprocessed foods and five times higher than in processed foods such as home cooked dishes.
According to the research, 1 in 5 calories Americans currently consume originates from ultra processed foods. Twenty percent of the study participants that reported being heavy consumers of ultra processed foods had 80 percent of energy coming from added sugars.
Researchers concluded that staying away from ultra-processed foods could be the best solution to reduce added sugars from Americans’ diets. But in order to achieve this goal, health agencies should issue more clear guidelines. Study authors noted that the 10 percent figure is rather vague for most Americans.
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