(HealthNewsDigest.com) – After World War II, when many women had joined the work force, there occurred an evolution in American food choices with a stunning rise in new food products. Women were no longer content to spend the day cooking from scratch and were happy to embrace cake mixes, ready-to-eat cereal, and frozen dinners. The freedom to not cook meant the freedom to work or have more leisure time.
This was the beginning of the processed food movement. It was no longer necessary for a woman to cook. While wealthy women were always freed from the kitchen, in today’s world everyone can avoid the chore by selecting food at the supermarket that requires little more than opening a package and heating it in the microwave. In many cases, meals themselves have become obsolete in favor of an endless day of snacks.
The fat in a food may be replaced by expeller pressed nonGMO sunflower oil but the amount of fat in the chips or snack bar has not been reduced. Sugar is dropped from the ingredient list, replaced by raw sugar, brown rice syrup, or organic cane sugar. One website suggested that coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses and agave nectar are less bad sugars. Though they may contain tiny traces of some minerals or antioxidants, all are still sugar with the same calorie count as regular white sugar. For those avoiding high fructose corn syrup, they might be surprised to learn both coconut sugar and agave nectar are rich in fructose.
You are thinking I want my food to be natural, have fewer additives, and less ingredients. That may be true, but our buying habits say otherwise. When food manufacturers attempt to give the consumer what they want, they are still producing an overly processed food. Front of packaging claims like zero artificial colors, flavors and preservatives or no saturated or trans-fat or nonGMO ingredients often gives food a health halo that masks its processing. We have become the ultra-processed generation.
This assumption was proven by a recent study conducted between American and Australian researchers and published in the journal Nutrients. After looking at and evaluating over 230,150 packaged foods and beverages, the researchers found that almost two-thirds of the calories in foods purchases in the US came from ultra-processed foods the majority of which exceeded the recommended limits for saturated fat, sugar and sodium. Generally, food products in the US have higher sodium levels than similar food sold in other countries.
Excess salt intake is associated with a high risk of heart disease. In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set voluntary targets for the food industry to reduce the level of sodium in processed foods. Over 75% of our sodium intake comes from processed and restaurant food. Even small decreases in the amount of sodium found in processed food could have a substantial impact on the heath of the US population. Despite this, Congress has temporarily blocked the FDA from implementing the voluntary targets for sodium reduction, citing that the implementation would cost the industry around $16 billion over 10 years.
To say that the US food supply is highly processed won’t come as a shock to anyone. But, before changes to the food supply can be made it is important to properly assess it. The study in Nutrients provided an excellent body of evidence. Food and beverages constantly evolve and close to 20% of all new foods introduced disappear within a year. This level of turnover allows for formulation changes that reduce fat, sugar and sodium. The study showed that eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, seafood and seafood products were the least processed categories of foods and could be considered the healthiest. All other categories fell much lower on the “healthy” scale.
There have been some changes in foods in a positive direction. US foods have less saturated fat and trans fat has been removed from almost all foods. These changes came gradually but they did happen. With the US obesity levels and the growing rates of chronic disease, if food manufacturers could be influenced to improve the healthy profile of even a small number of foods commonly eaten it could have a profound public health effect on the population.
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books.
Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:
Diabetes Counter – the most up-to-date information on managing diabetes
Calorie Counter – a weight loss guide that won’t let you down
Protein Counter – put the latest protein recommendations to work for you
Healthy Wholefoods Counter – planet-friendly eating made easy
Complete Food Counter – food counts and nutrition information at your fingertips
Fat and Cholesterol Counter – newest approach to heart-healthy eating
Available in print from Gallery Books:
Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.
For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: www.TheNutritionExperts.com