Breaking news: Americans eat like shit.
But it's hard not to. Even when we think we're making healthy choices—buying packaged foods that say "lean!" and "fat-free!" and "zero calories!"—we're probably not. More often than not, that stuff is crazily processed.
These foods include cereal, soda, frozen pizzas, and mac and cheese (yes, even if it uses turmeric instead of yellow 5!). You know, the usual suspects.
Researchers at Tufts University and the University of Sao Paulo studied the eating habits of over 9,000 Americans, asking them to recall every item they’d eaten over a 24-hour period. On average, they consumed about 2,070 calories per day. Of those calories, 28 percent came from unprocessed foods like vegetables, milk, and fish, and 10 percent came from regular processed foods like cheese or cured meat (aka antipasto!)
That means a whopping 58 percent came from ultra-processed foods.
The difference between lightly processed and ultra-processed? Think of true whole-grain bread: it's a processed food because its ingredients have been through many processes from milling to baking. But then there's fake bread, like Wonder Bread, which is ultra-processed because it contains additives meant to "imitate the sensorial qualities" of lightly processed food.
The biggest danger of ultra-processed foods is the amount of added sugars. Overall, ultra-processed foods contribute 90 percent of the added sugars Americans consume each day.
The CDC recommends that Americans consume no more than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugar, but with the ubiquity of processed foods in our markets, it's easy to exceed that limit—and 71% of American adults do.
So, what can we do? Last year, the FDA proposed an add-on to nutrition labels showing the percent daily value of added sugar in each serving. No, this wouldn't stop Americans from buying ultra-processed products altogether, but it would show them how serious this issue really is.