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Consumption of ultra-processed foods increasing in Canada, finds study
Wednesday, 06 December, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
New research commissioned by Heart and Stroke has shown that ultra-processed food consumption in Canada is continuously increasing and is alarmingly high, accounting for almost half of people’s daily calorie intake.

Most troubling was that young people obtained more than half their calories from ultra-processed foods – more than any other age group. The highest consumers were kids aged between nine and 13, who got 57 per cent of their calories from these 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, assistant professor, University of Montreal, and author of the report.

Newcomers consumed considerably less of their calories from ultra-processed foods than those born in Canada.

An earlier study showed that 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 by diets dominated by ultra-processed foods.

Similar trends have been reported from other high-income countries, and now also from middle-income countries.

Diet has a significant impact on the health of Canadians, and ultra-processed foods are nutritionally poor. The more ultra-processed food products consumed, the poorer the overall nutritional quality of the diet.

Recent data reveal that unhealthy diets are now the leading risk factor for death in Canada.

Canadians are, unfortunately, the second-largest buyers of ultra-processed foods and beverages in the world, second only to Americans.

Food processing, as such, is not an issue. Almost all food is processed in some way, and ranges from minimally-processed foods (such as frozen vegetables, eggs and milk), to culinary ingredients (such as oil and table sugars), to processed foods (like simple breads and cheeses).

Ultra-processed foods are the problem. 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 reveals that the products that provide the most calories in our diets are pre-prepared, ready-to-eat dishes, such as pizzas, 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,” said Moubarac.

“Ultra-processed foods displace all other food groups. They are usually branded assertively, packaged attractively and marketed intensively, especially to our children,” he added.

With the proliferation of processed, packaged and ready-to-eat or heat foods in Canada and the negative effects on health, stronger food policies and guidelines are required.

“Food processing has increased rapidly and the resulting products are problematic. We need to work together to change the food environment to make the healthy choices the easier choices,” said Yves Savoie, chief executive officer, Heart and Stroke.

“We are looking forward to the release of the revised Food Guide, implementation of new easy-to-understand, highly visible front-of-package nutrition labelling, and legislation restricting unhealthy food and beverage marketing to children,” he added.

Canadians should eat and cook at home as often as possible and in the company of others. Healthy, balanced diets include a rich variety of whole and minimally-processed foods. Canadians should avoid ultra-processed foods, including sugary drinks.

The report also revealed that healthy diets were being consumed by a substantial number of Canadians.
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