The Real Problem with Processed Foods in America

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The Real Problem with Processed Foods in AmericaRecently, an announcement from the American Society for Nutrition (ASN), a respected authority on nutrition policy, noted that processed foods are an important part of the U.S. food supply because they are widely available and meet current nutritional guidelines. This statement was recently published in the prestigious American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

According to Dr. Connie Weaver, the principal author, these foods can have a positive impact on health, but when consumed “inappropriately or at inordinately high proportions of a total diet, [they] are deleterious to health.”

Did I just read this correctly?

Only after I read this report did I realize that there is an established direct link between some of the authors of this report and the food processing industry in the U.S.

OKthat explains it.

According to an article summarizing the study and its findings, the authors of this report believe a new “processed-food” classification system emphasizing nutrition is needed, but that the degree of processing is irrelevant. “Some sort of nutrient-density [classification] makes more sense than trying to categorize by the extent of processing,” adds Weaver.

What these experts are suggesting is that foods can be categorized and included in the same groups, meaning such foods as bagged vegetables, cooked chicken, and cookies could be grouped together based upon some criteria other than the degree of processing. Huh?

Obesity Society public affairs committee chair Dr. Adam Tsai, from the University of Colorado, suggested that the degree of processing in foods does matter. The contention here is that people may want to select foods that are made with less sugar or are less processed because of health concerns.

If you consider the fact that processed foods account for more than 50% of the average daily caloric intake of American consumers, and that they also contribute to more than 75% of our daily consumption of sugarhe has a point.

A study conducted from 2003 to 2006 and based on the results of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicated that 57% of the processed foods consumed in the U.S. were more than minimally processed—in other words, these were foods that could have been highly processed (ready-to-eat and prepared foods); 29% of the processed foods were consumed in restaurants. Meanwhile, only 14% of the processed foods were considered to be minimally processed (e.g., bagged fruits, vegetables, nuts).

According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans position statement, the intake of processed foods accounted for 55% of the daily requirement for fiber, 64% for iron, and 48% for calcium. However, processed foods also accounted for almost 60% of the daily calories, 52% of the saturated fat, 75% of added sugar, and 57% of added sodium.

This is the basis for the health crisis gripping the U.S. today—the over-reliance on processed foods.

As Dr. Weaver contends, “Don’t equate processed food with junk food, pay attention to nutrient density, and look for processed foods that start with whole foodsa fruit, a vegetable, or milk[that] are likely to have quite a few nutrients vs [those that] start with sugar and maybe add some fat.”

The problem really is not that people are reluctant to select minimally processed foods like bagged vegetables, fruit, or drink boxes filled with milk. The issue is also not the failure to read labels.

The problem is the overconsumption of processed foods.

This statement from the American Society for Nutrition is not going to be very helpful to people—only to the food processing industry.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Busko, M., “Processed Food Is Vital in US Diet, Nutrition Society States,” Medscape web site, August 5, 2014;
Weaver, C., et al., “Processed foods: contributions to nutrition,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition June 2014; 99(6): 1525–1542.