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Ultra-Processed Foods….A Caloric Nightmare in America

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ProcessedFoodsWe all know what processed foods are…foods that go through a manufacturing process and have additives typically combined with the foods….but what is meant by “Ultra-processed foods”? Of real interest is the definition rendered in a study recently published in the British Medical Journal in which the researchers define them as “industrial formulations which, besides salt, sugar, oils and fats, include substances not used in food (culinary) preparations.”  Wow…they’re not even calling them foods but “industrial formulations”!  How many of our mothers called out in the evening, “Honey, come in for industrial formulations!”  It might be comedic if it weren’t so disturbing!  Substances included in these ultra-processed foods include flavorings, colorings, sweeteners and other additives that improve sensorial qualities….like emulsifiers to make something feel smoother in your mouth or processed sugar to make it sweeter than is natural.

In this study, the researchers used data collected on eating habits from around the country and from every stratum of the socioeconomic ladder and every race.  The purpose was an effort to unearth what exactly is being consumed by Americans as rates of cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and obesity are at unprecedented levels and the link between food consumption and these disorders is now unquestionable. General categories of these Ultra-processed foods include reconstituted meat products (think bologna, pepperoni, hotdogs), packaged baked goods, packaged snacks including chips and crackers and the like, instant noodles as well as confectionary items and desserts.  What became ultimately disturbing in the findings was one very important conclusion from the data:  58% of American calorie intake is directly attributed to the intake of these “industrial formulations” we’re calling Ultra-processed foods.  Due to the very high content of sugar in these “foods”…they account for nearly all of the additional sugar calories from added sugars we consume!  The researchers, being austere, educated and a bit uptight in their presentation can’t express what they would like to….therefore, I’ll undertake to do it for them:  WOW!  When our country has states with greater than 35% obesity and other states with burgeoning diabetes rates greater than 10% of the people…we have a major issue.  Alarmingly, such ultra-processed foods are a major contributing factor to the problem.

In our society today, it can be difficult to take or make the time to prepare our own foods and meals from raw ingredients….but this is exactly what is needed to turn the tide we are witnessing.  Further, in these types of foods, the additives often require a chem-major from a university to pronounce them.  As one very lauded nutritionist says, “If your grandma never heard of it and you can’t pronounce it and it’s in the food…don’t eat it”!   These two simple but often difficult steps will take you light years ahead toward regaining or improving your health. When it comes to the foods we feed ourselves and our families…the KISS method has never been more true!


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