How Processed Foods are Invading Our Diets

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By F&W Editors Posted March 10, 2016

A new study shows that processed foods comprise more than half of Americans' overall caloric intake. 

Increasingly, Americans are paying attention to where the food they eat comes from—and how much of it they're eating. Even so, according to Gizmodo, there's a new survey showing that Americans are still getting an overwhelming amount of their caloric intake from processed foods. 

According to the study, conducted by BMJ, processed foods make up nearly 58 percent of the total calories consumed in the United States. Gizmodo quotes the study as defining processed foods as those that "include substances not used in culinary preparations, in particular additives used to imitate sensorial qualities of minimally processed foods and their culinary preparations." 

Researchers have already discovered that processed foods tend to be addictive: One study from 2015 posited that "highly processed foods may be intentionally manufactured to be particularly rewarding through the addition of fat and refined carbohydrates, like white flour and sugar." This jibes with the BMJ study, which shows that sugar and oil factored in highly among the calories that Americans are eating in processed foods.  

It's not exactly breaking news that eating a boatload of sugar is not ideal for your health. But at this point, processed foods are so omnipresent in the American diet—and in our eating habits—that they can be seemingly hard to avoid. 

According to food journalist and bestselling author Michael Pollan, however, eating unprocessed foods doesn't have to be rocket science.

"The idea that cooking with good ingredients is so expensive… yeah, if you’re insisting on organic and local and farmer’s market produce, sure. But the step from processed food to real food is the key step. And that doesn’t involve great expense. In fact, it’s very economical," he told Food & Wine in a recent interview about his new Netflix series, Cooked. In many ways it just means cooking your own food as opposed to buying pre-packaged foods, he says. 

"But the issue is the time," Pollan concedes. "We’re all very busy. I think the challenge is to find ways to cook that are practical. A mid-week meal doesn’t have to be fancy and it doesn’t have to take more than a half hour. There are so many great recipes that you can put on the table in less time than it takes to order in." 

Looking for healthy cooking inspiration? Check out some healthy, fast weeknight dinners here

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