Lots of people talk a good game about eating more natural foods, but a new study suggests that the convenience of “ultra-processed” meals is just too hard to resist.
Researchers found that nearly three in five of our calories come from this category, reports the Los Angeles Times. That raises a host of health concerns, given that these foods are loaded with sugar, preservatives, artificial flavors, colors—generally speaking, the unpronounceable stuff in ingredient lists.
So what qualifies as “ultra-processed”? Think breakfast cereals, frozen pizzas, soda, cookies, salty snacks, etc. The study in the journal BMJ Open looked at what more than 9,000 participants ate over a 24-hour period and found that 58% of the average 2,070 calories consumed qualified for the “ultra-processed” label.
As for the rest, 28 percent came from foods with zero or minimal processing—eggs, fish, vegetables, essentially food “you’ve just ripped … out of the ground or off a tree and shoved … in your mouth,” explains the Atlantic.
Another 10% came from foods with a higher degree of processing (but not at the “ultra” level), such as cheese, canned vegetables, bread, and cured meat.
The remainder of the calories came from cooking ingredients such as olive oil. The researchers were particularly concerned that the ultra-processed foods delivered 90% of the added sugar in participants’ diets, writing that limiting their consumption “may be a highly effective way” to keep sugar intake under control, notes Live Science.
(If you’re trying to cut down on not-so-healthy snacking, one key might involve your sleep.)