processed food
Most of the calories  Americans consume come from processed foodGetty Images

More than half of the calories consumed daily by Americans come from ultra-processed food, rich in added sugars, scientists say.

The study published online in BMJ Open, investigates the contribution of ultra-processed food to Americans' daily consumption of added sugar.

The researchers looked at the data of 9,317 volunteers, members of the 2009-10 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The group was a representative sample of the general US population.

Ultra-processed foods are industrial meals, filled with ingredients not included in other culinary preparations; emulsifiers, flavouring and added sugars in particular. They include packaged sweet and savoury snacks, soft drinks, reconstituted meat products like nuggets, instant noodles as well as packaged baked goods and soups.

The scientists assessed the amount of ultra-processed food was consumed by the participants, by looking at their average dietary content. They also estimated the proportion of people who consumed more than 10% of their total energy intake from added sugar, the limit recommended by nutrition experts.

82% of Americans above the limit

processed food
Soft drinks and packaged snacks are filled with added sugarsFlickr Creative Commons/kris krüg

The study revealed not only the controlled group received 57.9% of their daily calorie intake through ultra-processed food, but also that these meals represented nearly 90% of their energy intake, way above the 10% recommendation. In total, 82% of the participants were in this case, consuming more added sugars than the established limit.

Added sugars is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and obesity. Several studies have also showed it increases the probability of having high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.

In the US, more than a third of adults are considered obese, and one in four deaths that occur has cardiovascular origins.

The scientists therefore advise cutting back on the consumption of processed foods is an easy way to curb excessive added sugar intake.