Ultra-processed foods called out by Heart and Stroke Association
Ottawa – The Heart and Stroke Association is calling for stronger food policies and guidelines on ultra-processed foods, citing newly commissioned research that suggests its growing consumption in Canada accounts for almost half of our daily calorie intake.
Young people get more than half their calories from ultra-processed foods – more than any other age group, the association said in a news release. The highest consumers are kids ages 9 to 13 who get 57 per cent of their calories from what it calls “energy-dense, nutritionally lacking products.”
“Ultra-processed food consumption increased from 47.7 per cent of our daily calories in 2004 to 48.3 per cent in 2015. Consumption of these products is high amongst all socio-economic groups,” said Jean-Claude Moubarac, an assistant professor at the University of Montreal and author of the report.
Newcomers consume considerably less of their calories from ultra-processed foods than those born in Canada, he said.
The report cites an earlier study that indicates the most important change in Canadian dietary patterns between 1938 and 2011 was the replacement of diets based on freshly prepared meals and dishes made from unprocessed or minimally processed foods for diets dominated by ultra-processed foods.
The more ultra-processed food products consumed, the poorer the overall nutritional quality of diets, according to the report.
Recent data reveal that unhealthy diets are now the leading risk factor for death in Canada, it says, adding that Canadians as the second largest buyers, next to Americans, of ultra-processed foods and drinks in the world.
Food processing as such is not an issue but ultra-processed foods are the problem, the association said in the release. These are formulations of substances derived from foods, plus additives; they contain little if any intact food. They include pre-prepared ready-to-eat meals, sugary drinks, fatty, sugary or salty snacks, candy, and sweetened cereals among others. Overall, these products have twice the calories (energy density), three times the amount of free sugars, and twice the sodium compared with other food groups, and much less protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals.
The research also suggests the products that provide the most calories in our diets are pre-prepared, ready-to-eat dishes such as pizza, burgers, sandwiches and frozen dishes, followed by packaged breads and sweetened drinks.
“Canadians are consuming high levels of ultra-processed foods, and are not eating enough healthy, whole foods,” Moubarac said. “Ultra-processed foods displace all other food groups. They are usually branded assertively, packaged attractively, and marketed intensively, especially to our children.”
The report calls for stronger food policies and guidelines. It also urges Canadians to avoid ultra-processed foods, and to eat and cook at home as often as possible and in the company of others.
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