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Healthy Diet: Ultra-processed foods consumption increased over last 2 decades ─Study

Ultra-Processed Foods

*Experts express worry about how this trend will impact consumers’ long-term health

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

Researchers from New York University, in the United States (US), in a fresh study explored trends in consumers’ eating habits over the last 20 years.

ConsumerConnect reports ultra-processed foods have been described as “food and drink products that have undergone specified types of food processing, usually by transnational and other very large ‘Big food’ corporations.”

According to Harvard report also, ultra-processed foods are made mostly from substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, added sugars, and hydrogenated fats.

They may also contain additives such as artificial colours and flavours or stabilizers.

It was gathered the researchers’ study findings indicated that consumption of ultra-processed foods has increased significantly, especially in the US.

In view of the health risks associated with this kind of diet, the research team worries about how this will affect consumers’ wellness in the future.

Researcher Filippa Juul said: “The overall composition of the average U.S. diet has shifted towards a more processed diet.

“This is concerning, as eating more ultra-processed foods is associated with poor diet quality and higher risk of several chronic diseases.

“The high and increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods in the 21st century may be a key driver of the obesity epidemic.”

In regard to trends in eating habits for the study, the researchers analysed data from nearly 41,000 people enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2001 through 2018.

According to the experts, the participants reported on all of the foods they consumed in a 24-hour period, and the researchers broke down their diets into four food groups, based on the level of processing.

The researchers further learned that the percentage of calories that came from ultra-processed foods reached nearly 60 percent in the final year of the study, compared to 53.5 percent in the first year of the study.

Additionally, calories related to whole foods, like fruits and vegetables, dropped from nearly 33 percent at the beginning of the study to under 28 percent by the end of the study.

Juul further stated: “In the current industrial food environment, most of the foods that are marketed to us are in fact industrial formulations that are far removed from whole foods.

“Nevertheless, nutritional science tends to focus on the nutrient content of foods and has historically ignored the health implications of industrial food processing.”

In terms of demographics, the researchers also found that college graduates and Hispanic adults ate the most whole foods.

Comparatively, older adults went from eating the most whole foods and least amount of processed foods to having the biggest increase of any age group in ultra-processed food consumption in the final year of the study.

On the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

The study findings as well noted that there has been a significant increase in ultra-processed food consumption since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2019.

Ultimately, these eating habits are a cause for concern because they may increase the risk for long-term health concerns.

“In the early days of the pandemic, people changed their purchasing behaviors to shop less frequently, and sales of ultra-processed foods such as boxed macaroni and cheese, canned soups, and snack foods increased substantially.

“People may have also eaten more packaged ‘comfort foods’ as a way of coping with the uncertainty of the pandemic.

“We look forward to examining dietary changes during this period as data become available,” Juul stated.

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