More than 60 percent of calories comes from processed foods
Processed foods—which tend to have more sugar, fat and salt than other foods—make up more than 60 percent of the calories in foods purchased in U.S. grocery stores, according to a study at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
The researchers asked 157,142 households to use barcode scanners to record all foods and beverages they purchased from grocery stores for at least one year between the years 2000 and 2012. Households participated in the study for an average of four years and collectively purchased 1.2 million items. The research team then linked each item to its nutrition information, product description and ingredient list, allowing them to rank each product’s degree of food processing.
The study showed that the proportion of calories in highly processed food and beverage purchases by U.S. households remained relativerly stable from 2000 to 2012–from between 61 and 62.5 percent. The researchers did, however, see a significant increase in the proportion of calories purchased in ready-to-heat foods. Altogether, more than 80 percent of calories were purchased in ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat form in 2012. These meals tend to be higher in fat, sugar and salt than food purchases that required preparation.
The team said it will continue to track grocery store purchases to see how nutrition habits change over time and how race and economic background affect food purchases.