These Shocking Numbers Reveal What Americans Are Really Eating

Last Update: March 6, 2020

Americans like to talk a big game; it’s part of our national identity, after all. We’re all about lofty ideals—or at least we like people to think we are.

Take last year’s major study that revealed that most of us say we want more hard-hitting news and political reporting—when actual television ratings reveal we’re much more interested in The Bachelor and what the Kardashians are up to. Turns out, many of us are doing pretty much the same thing in the supermarket.

Though Americans report eating healthier than ever, new data published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition polled more than 157,000 Americans about their grocery shopping habits—and the results were shocking. More than three-quarters of the energy we get from our food purchases came from moderately or highly processed foods.

Plus, a whopping 61 percent of that energy came from highly processed foods—that’s almost 1,000 calories per day.

But what exactly does “processed” mean? Obviously, day-glo yogurt and American cheese slices fit the bill, but “processed” might be more far-reaching than you think.

The International Food Information Council defines food processing as “any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it’s available for us to eat.” That means that frozen peas, prepackaged salads, precut apple slices, and even bread all fit the processed definition.

“It’s important for us to recognize that a processed food is not just Coca-Cola and Twinkies—it’s a wide array of products,” the study’s author Jennifer Poti told TIME.

An easy way to make sure you’re eating a minimally processed diet? Shop for fresh fruits, vegetables, and protein at your local farmers market or grocery store, and get all your organic, non-GMO whole grains, nuts and seeds, and healthy snacks from Thrive Market.

Photo credit: Tom Csizmadia via Flickr

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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