Posted on Sep 11, 2019, 11 a.m.
It’s probably safe to say that most Americans struggle to maintain a healthy weight, and finding one absolute cause for the increasing rates of obesity is difficult. It’s most likely a combination of several factors such as not having the time to get in enough exercise and having an affinity for fast food.
Northwestern University has identified another factor in a recent study and suggests that in 2018 the vast majority of packaged foods in America were dominated by ultra processed and unhealthy choices. Americans are being bombarded with food products that are high in calories, salt, sugar, and saturated fats. Analysis of 230,156 packaged food and beverage products which included salad dressings, snacks, bread, sugary drinks, and sweets among others showed that 71% were classified as being ultra processed, and 86% of the packaged foods sold by the top 25 manufacturers were found to be ultra processed.
Ultra processed foods and beverages are typically created in laboratories and derived from modified starch and hydrogenated fats, these were defined in this study as being foods that “are industrial formulations made entirely or mostly from substances extracted from foods (oils, fats, sugar, starch and proteins).”
“To say that our food supply is highly processed won’t shock anyone, but it’s important that we hold food and beverage manufacturers accountable by continually documenting how they’re doing in terms of providing healthy foods for consumers,” comments lead author Abigail Baldridge in a release. “And the verdict is they can and should be doing a whole lot better.”
Bread and bakery products appeared to be one of the unhealthiest products as it was the only category studied ranking high in all 4 nutrient categories: calories, total sugars, sodium, and saturated fats. American packaged foods are similar to overall health qualities to other countries but American goods were found to be significantly more processed and contain higher levels of sodium and sugar on average: American bread products for example contained 12% more sodium than bread from the UK.
This study was conducted to highlight nutritional quality of food being sold to the American public by manufacturers and to provide some accurate information on American packaged food stuffs. The team asserts that there isn’t enough information readily available on what is inside the food Americans are consuming. They believe making the food supply healthier is important and the first step is properly assessing it to make sure the information is available for all.
“Food and beverage products continuously evolve, and reports like these highlight opportunities to make critical changes within specific manufacturers or product categories to reduce saturated fat, salt and sugars,” Baldridge comments.
“We need to better capture real-time information of our constantly changing food supply if we’re going to track and improve its healthfulness,” says study co-author Dr. Mark Huffman.
As published in the journal Nutrients the team is confident their findings are an accurate representation of the American packaged food market as a whole as the data represented over 80% of all such products sold in American during the past 3 years. It was noted that the industry changes with about 20% of the packaged goods being sold in American being replaced or modified every year.
“The US packaged food and beverage supply is large, heterogeneous, highly processed, and generally unhealthy. The wide variability in healthfulness and level of processing demonstrates that opportunities exist, through reformulation or replacement, for large-scale improvements to the healthfulness of the US packaged food and beverage supply.” the team notes.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.