Highly processed foods fill most grocery carts

Highly processed foods fill most grocery carts

Most people know that canned soups, potato chips, cookies, frozen dinners and pop aren’t healthy food choices, but that doesn’t seem to stop them from buying them.

During a 12-year analysis of grocery purchases, researchers at the University of North Carolina found that 60 percent of the calories in food purchases came from highly processed foods such as soda, cookies, chips, white bread, candy and prepared meals. In the final year of the analysis, 80 percent of calories purchased were ready-to-eat items like candy or ready-to-heat foods such as frozen dinners.

“Overall, we found that not only are highly processed foods a dominant, stable part of U.S. purchasing patterns, but also that the highly processed foods that households are purchasing are higher in fat, sugar, and salt, on average, compared to the less-processed foods that they buy,” says Jennifer M. Poti, PhD, lead study researcher, in a press release.

According to Rosemary Mueller, a registered dietitian with Advocate Medical Group – Weight Management, processed food is food that is altered to have an extended shelf life.

“Unfortunately, most of the ingredients used to accomplish this are pretty unhealthy if eaten in large amounts, such as sodium, hydrogenated fats and sugar,” she says. “Other additives are used to enhance flavor, add appealing color, change the texture of food, and add vitamins and minerals to foods that do not normally contain them, such as enriched bread or calcium-fortified orange juice.”

For those looking to replace frozen and ready-to-eat foods with healthy alternatives that cook quickly, Mueller recommends making a stir-fry and cooking from scratch on the weekend. These meals can be portioned out as single meals for work. Home-cooked meals can be made with less fat, salt and sugar than store bought varieties.

When purchasing processed foods, avoid completely or limit foods that contain nitrates, high levels of sodium, unnecessary sugar and saturated or trans-saturated fats, says Mueller.

She recommends the following healthier choices – frozen orange juice, skinless chicken breast, raisin bran, whole wheat pizza shells, sundried tomatoes, frozen vegetables in steamer bags, crushed pineapple packed in juice, no sugar added applesauce, lean turkey sausage, whole wheat bread, veggie burgers, and peanut butter.

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  1. Dr. Ashwani Garg
    Ashwani Garg MD April 6, 2015 at 2:14 pm · Reply

    For another quick snack / meal idea, make a green smoothie! This just takes a few minutes, and you can throw together fresh ingredients and have something very filling. You need a high-powered blender such as the Nutri-bullet, Ninja, Vitamix or Blendtec (the last 2 are the most powerful and reliable) Some examples: peanut butter, bananna, kale and carrot; pineapple, kale, bananna, carrot, ginger; if you are looking for extra calories and bulk you can add chia / hemp / flax seeds to it, or some cashews. Also with this kind of blender you can make soups – for example, steam broccoli and then blend with soaked cashews, and then add to sauteed onions and garlic. For a healthy dessert, try frozen ripe banannas, then add cocoa powder to it, blend and enjoy! For pudding, try silken tofu like Mori-Nu, add cocoa powder and agave, blend and refrigerate. Healthy eating doesn’t have to come in a package! Blending is a quick and easy thing to make cold and hot meals. For more great ideas, go to You Tube and search for Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s videos.

  2. Dr. Ashwani Garg
    Ashwani Garg MD April 6, 2015 at 2:18 pm · Reply

    Another great idea is an electric programmable pressure cooker – you just come home, throw the ingredients in, and start it – after about 15-20 minutes, you have a hot, fresh dinner ready. Alternately, you can throw the stuff in a slow cooker and have it ready by evening. For great recipes and ideas, try Jeff Novick’s Fast Food – all recipes under 10 minutes, and also Chef AJ’s Eatunprocessed (dot) com website.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.