How the rise of “ultra-processed” food consumption is affecting our health 

It’s well known that what we eat can impact every aspect of our health. A healthy diet can provide protection against chronic diseases, help the body fight off illnesses, improve energy levels, and reduce stress and anxiety. 

Consumption of ultra-processed and other unhealthy foods has increased in the last two decades. So, what effect has this change had on consumers’ overall health? 

A study conducted by researchers from New York University into trends in consumers’ eating habits in the last 20 years found a substantial rise in how often processed food is eaten. 

The team points out that there are significant health risks associated with this type of diet. And, because of this, the researchers expressed concerns about how this change could affect people’s physical and mental wellness in the future. 

How have eating habits changed? 

For the study, the researchers explored how eating habits have changed by looking at trends over time. They analyzed data from 41,000 people enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2001 and 2018. 

They found that, on average, the percentage of calories people were getting from ultra-processed food was nearly 60% in 2018, compared with 53.5% in 2001. 

In addition to this, calories from whole foods, which includes fresh fruits and vegetables, fell from 33% to 28% between the beginning and the end of the study. 

According to researcher Filippa Juul “The overall composition of the average U.S. diet has shifted towards a more processed diet. This is concerning, as eating more ultra-processed foods is associated with poor diet quality and a higher risk of several chronic diseases. 

The high and increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods in the 21st century may be a key driver of the obesity epidemic. In the current industrial food environment, most of the foods that are marketed to us are in fact industrial formulations that are far removed from whole foods. 

Nevertheless, nutritional science tends to focus on the nutrient content of foods and has historically ignored the health implications of industrial food processing.” 

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