60% of Staple Foods In These Supermarkets Are Ultra-Processed

Americans are often forced to choose between health and cost when grocery shopping, with nearly 60% of staple foods found at certain budget-friendly supermarkets in the United States falling under the category of ultra-processed foods (UPF).

According to new research, roughly 58% of staple foods found at Walmart and Target — including bread, canned goods, cereals, eggs, milk, vegetables, and yogurt — are UPFs, containing additives and cosmetic ingredients that are bad for human health.

The U.S. is known to be a world leader when it comes to the sale and consumption of common UPFs, including soft drinks, snacks, processed meats, cookies, and candy, but researchers hypothesized that even basic, staple foods are often highly processed in the U.S.

And they were right.

Commissioned by GoCoCo — an app that consumers can use to scan items and detect unhealthy UPFs in supermarkets — the study analyzed 10,000 different food products in supermarkets in the U.S., France, and Spain.

Using an algorithm that identifies UPF values based on the NOVA and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations guidelines, researchers determined not only UPF prevalence in different stores but also the average number of UPF markers (cosmetic ingredients/additives) in specific UPFs. In other words, they were able to both identify the foods that are considered highly processed, and determine just how many unhealthy ingredients had been added to these products.

Previous research has linked consumption of UPFs with increased risks of health issues, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, mental health issues, and death.

The study results show that Walmart and Target — two budget-friendly retailers in the U.S. — feature 41% more UPFs than Whole Foods, a more quality-focused store. UPFs in Walmart and Target were also found to have 75% and 57% more UPF markers, respectively, than UPFs in Whole Foods. This reaffirms the notion that cost is a significant barrier to making healthy dietary choices for many Americans.

The study also demonstrates that staple foods in the leading affordable U.S. supermarkets are 41% more processed than those in Europe, and UPFs in the U.S. contain 41% more UPF markers than their EU counterparts.

The authors suggest that the European model is a good example of how to decrease UPF prevalence in large supermarkets and one the U.S. could replicate.

“Making healthy food choices in the United States is a challenge that is compromised by the high availability and accessibility of UPFs, even among everyday products that constitute the dominant part of the diet of a population,” the authors wrote. “American consumers need more tools and guidance to identify UPFs along with greater regulation of UPF products to prioritize healthy choices and reduce UPF availability.”

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