Ultra-Processed Foods & the American Diet

Americans are eating more ultra-processed foods than ever. That’s not a good thing, considering the link between highly processed foods and chronic disease, obesity, and cancer.

  • Highly processed foods account for two-thirds of the calories consumed by American youths aged 2-19. (NIH)
  • Ultra-processed foods account for 57 percent of total calories consumed by American adults. (AJCN)

We have a new poster that addresses this issue head on: Nutrient-Dense vs. Ultra-Processed Food poster. This beautiful poster uses photographs of real food to encourage people to eat more whole foods and minimally processed foods that are nutrient-dense instead of ultra-processed foods.

You can include the idea of nutrient-dense versus ultra-processed foods when you teach about most nutrition education topics. For example:

  1. MyPlate: Emphasize less processed foods for each food group.
  2. Supermarket tours and shopping tips: Explain where in the grocery store you’re most likely to find less processed foods and which aisles are danger zones for ultra-processed foods.
  3. Healthy beverages: We automatically think of sugary sodas, but diet soda is also ultra-processed.
  4. Plant-based eating: Point out that some plant-based foods are highly processed.
  5. Medical nutrition therapy: Help your clients find alternatives to any ultra-processed foods they regularly eat.

Hollis Bass, MEd, RD, LD

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updated on 09-26-2022