Biggest chunk of calories comes from processed foods, study finds

Highly processed foods, such as prepared meals, white bread, cookies, chips, soda and candy, account for more than 60 percent of the calories in products Americans routinely buy in grocery stores, according to a new study.

This study found that many Americans have strongly held opinions and beliefs about processed foods. Some consider processed foods to be tasty, convenient, and affordable choices, while others contend that the combination of sugar, fat, sodium (salt), and flavoring in these foods promotes overeating and contributes to obesity.

Not only are highly processed foods a stable part of U.S. purchasing patterns, but the highly processed foods households are buying are higher in fat, sugar, and sodium on average than the less-processed foods (e.g., fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits, fresh meat, milk, eggs, and dried beans) they buy.

The biggest contributors to unhealthy diets and chronic disease are added sugars, excessive fat, and sodium. Too much sugar and fat may result in weight gain, increased cholesterol levels, and aggravation of other health issues. Excess sodium can lead to fluid retention and high blood pressure, putting extra stress on the circulatory system and increasing the risk for heart disease, heart or kidney failure, stroke, and other health problems.

Add a little spice to your life!

Eating less sodium, sugar, and fat may seem challenging but using herbs and spices can help! Herbs and spices help flavor foods when you cut back on dietary fat, sugar, and sodium.

You can reduce or eliminate sugar with these sweet-tasting spices: allspice, cloves, ginger, cardamom, mace, cinnamon, and nutmeg. When reducing sodium, improve the taste of recipes by adding savory flavors such as black pepper, garlic powder, curry powder, cumin, basil, and onion. Instead of using salt for your pasta, try basil, oregano, parsley, and pepper or use an Italian seasoning blend.

Sources: American Society for Nutrition, news release, March 28, 2015; www.lancaster.unl.edu/food/spiceherbshandout-color.pdf.

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