In light of a new study from the University of North Carolina, the nickname given to the standard American diet—SAD—seems more fitting than ever. That’s because study author Jennifer Poti and her team determined that more than 60% of our total daily calories come from heavily processed foods loaded with unhealthy fats, sugar, and salt.
Researchers looked at grocery purchasing data from more than 157,000 American households, which included over 1 million different products. What they found was that the biggest chunk of calories came from highly processed foods such as pre-packaged meals, refined breads, chips, snacks, desserts, candy, and sugary drinks—all of which have been linked to inflammation, obesity, diabetes, and more.
These findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, point out that not all processed foods are bad, since pasteurized milk as well as frozen fruits and veggies undergo minimal processing, but that Americans clearly seem to prefer their highly processed foods—those defined as “multi-ingredient industrial mixtures that are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal source.”
The bottom line is this: we are consuming nearly 1,000 calories a day from foods that barely even resemble real food, but it is never too late to make smarter choices. Experts suggest cooking more meals at home with simple, fresh ingredients such as poultry, seafood, and non-starchy veggies; swapping unhealthy snacks for low-sugar fruits, plain Greek yogurt, and nuts; and replacing sugary drinks and soda with purified water.