processed foods

60 per cent of our energy intake from foods come from ultra-processed foods and 90 per cent of our intake of added sugars come from these foods.

That is the finding from a study carried out by researchers from Tufts University, Boston and the University of São Paulo, Brazil.

So what counts as ultra-processed foods? These include soft drinks, packaged snacks, ready to heat dinners, instant noodles, soups, reconstituted meat products, desserts and confectionary.

The researchers reviewed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2009–2010. 9,317 participants from the USA aged 1 year or over were selected.

The results showed that ultra-processed foods made up 57.9% of energy intake and made up 89.7% of the energy intake from added sugars.

There was a clear association between the amount of ultra-processed foods consumed and the intake of added sugars. The more ultra-processed foods eaten, the more added sugars taken in.

Among people that had the highest intakes of ultra-processed food, 82 per cent were taking in more than the recommended limit of 10 per cent energy from added sugars. This compares with those that had the lowest intake of ultra-processed food. A much smaller 26 per cent of these people were exceeding the recommended added sugars limit.

In interpreting the results, the researchers suggest that because most of our daily calories come from these ultra-processed foods, decreasing consumption of these foods would be an effective way to decrease daily calorie intake.

For people with diabetes or prediabetes that are overweight, focusing on reducing consumption of ultra-processed foods is likely to help with weight management. Look to increase consumption of fresh foods from plant sources and fresh cuts of meat and fish where possible instead of packaged meats.

The study is published in the BMJ Open journal.