Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Over 60% of Supermarket Foods Purchased in Canada are "Ultra-processed"

No doubt you've heard of "processed" food before, but what about "ultra-processed"?

According to researcher Jean-Claude Moubarac and colleagues we might all be well advised to consider a more complete classification scheme whereby processed foods can be categorized into 3 groupings.

Group 1: Unprocessed and minimally processed foods (eg. fresh produce and meats, fresh or pasteurized milk and plain yoghurt, whole or polished grains and nuts).

Group 2: Processed culinary ingredients made up of inexpensive substances extracted from Group 1 foods (eg. vegetable oils, flours, and pastas) and that are typically inedible on their own and rather are used in cooking to enhance the flavour of a meal.

Group 3: The ultra-processed. These are ready to consume (or heat) formulations manufactured from cheap ingredients either directly extracted from whole foods or processed from components extracted from whole foods (eg HFCS). These products are said to typically contain the addition of preservatives and "cosmetic additives" and are usually energy dense with high fat, sugar and salt contents and with little or no water, fibre, micronutrients or other "protective bioactive compounds" which exist in whole foods.

Using their groups, Moubarac's team assessed Canada's FOODEX data and found that as a function of calories purchased 61.7% of the average Canadian's shopping cart was ultra-processed.

Nutritionally that's bad news. According to the paper,
"when compared with a diet made of Group 1 foods and Group 2 ingredients, a diet containing only Group 3 products contains less than half the dietary fibre, almost six times the free sugars, and significantly more Na... Perhaps most significant of all, the diet made up only of ultra-processed products is more than twice as energy-dense as the other one."
I've said it before and I'll say it again, mixing, pouring and stirring ain't cooking - but sadly, at least here in Canada, it would seem that's the bulk of what we do as evidenced by what I feel is Moubarac's most important discussion statement,
"A main finding of the study is that 80 % of the Canadian population has diets that include more than 50% of ultra- processed products in terms of energy. It is not possible to manipulate these diets to make them to correspond with WHO and other recommendations designed to prevent and control obesity and related chronic diseases without radical reductions in ultra-processed products. This would mean a fundamental change, from a reliance on ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat Group 3 products to preparation and cooking of meals based on Group 1 foods and Group 2 ingredients."

Bring back Home Economics!