Study Reveals How Much Processed Food We Really Buy

Study Reveals How Much Processed Food We Really Buy
Food and Diet

There is no doubt that as a nation we have embraced processed foods, with the junk food stockpiling in nearly every grocery store and restaurant. In fact, a new report reveals that a whopping 60% of the food we purchase comes in the form of processed junk. But thankfully the last few years don’t help make up the stats.

The study took place between 2000 and 2012, where researchers asked 157,142 households to use barcode scanners to record every food item purchased for at least a year. According to the multi-year analysis of U.S. grocery store purchases, “highly processed” foods were found to make up 60% of the calories in the foods purchased. What’s more, and not surprisingly, these foods are often loaded with sugar, salt, and harmful fats.

For the study, “highly processed” foods were defined as those containing multi-ingredient, industrially prepared mixtures, such as:

  • Soda
  • Cookies
  • Chips
  • White bread
  • Candy
  • And prepared meals.

Foods such as fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs, dried beans, and fresh meat were considered “unprocessed” or minimally processed.

Jennifer M. Poti, Ph.D., research assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and leader of the research team conducting this study said:

“Overall, we found that not only are highly processed foods a dominant, stable part of U.S. purchasing patterns, but also that the highly-processed foods that households are purchasing are higher in fat, sugar, and salt, on average, compared to the less-processed foods that they buy. The unshifting dominance of ultra-processed and ready-to-eat foods as major calorie contributors to U.S. diet and their poor nutrient profile support the need to incentivize food manufacturers to improve the nutritional quality of their products.”

There is a multi-faceted issue as to why processed foods have dominated the food market. First, they are cheap – not inexpensive, but cheap. These foods are made up of low quality ingredients that often come from highly subsidized GMO crops in the US, such as corn. What’s more, they are able to be so cheap due to a long-lasting shelf life, which is the result of numerous preservative-like ingredients that are less than healthful.

On top of this, economists are putting the heat on big-box superstores like Walmart, which provides foods for the masses at ridiculously low prices. This obviously enables more people to purchase more processed food.

Further, processed foods have been shown to be highly addictive in multiple studies. One study has found what many studies have already concluded – that the junk food plaguing grocery store shelves alters certain parts of your brain responsible for levels of hunger, thirst, and the body’s natural rhythms and cycles. In other words, processed foods and junk foods are addictive.

Finally, processed foods are almost always stripped of important vitamins, minerals, and fiber during processing. Specifically, the lack of fiber leads to an increased consumption of the food since fiber slows down digestion and helps you feel fuller longer. But highly processed foods are lacking in fiber, which leads to quick digestion and the inability to feel full when you actually are full.

Thankfully, the study shows data as far back as 2012. It isn’t too long ago, but let’s face it – the health movement is having more of an impact with each passing year. We even just reported on how fast food chains like McDonald’s are losing money, and kids are consuming less fast food than before.

While we’ve mistakenly embraced processed foods to a fault, we can certain turn things around. We are turning things around.

“The more often you eat whole or minimally processed foods, the faster you’ll lose your taste for highly processed foods. After a while, you won’t even want to eat them.”