Highly processed foods dominate U.S. food supply, study finds

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A recent study conducted by scientists from Northeastern University has uncovered a concerning trend in the U.S. food supply: a staggering 73% of it consists of ultra-processed foods.

This extensive reliance on highly processed foods is linked to an increased risk of various health problems. The researchers aim to bridge the gap in public knowledge regarding the extent of food processing and its potential health implications.

Their findings, published in Nature Food and led by Giulia Menichetti and her team, shed light on the level of processing in over 50,000 food products available in the United States.

Understanding Food Processing

Food processing encompasses any alteration made to a food item, from chopping vegetables to chemical transformations. However, what distinguishes ultra-processed foods is the extent of chemical alteration they undergo.

For example, certain orange juices labeled as “natural” may actually be divided into multiple chemicals, stored separately, and later remixed. Unfortunately, most food packaging does not indicate whether a product is ultra-processed.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) tracks and reports only a limited number of nutritional components, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates the reporting of approximately 12 nutrients. There is no specific biomarker or chemical indicator for ultra-processed foods.

The Study’s Approach

In their study, the research team assessed the level of processing for a wide range of foods available in the U.S. market.

They developed an equation that could help determine whether a food product had been chemically altered by comparing its nutrient concentrations to those found in natural, non-processed ingredients.

This innovative approach aimed to identify foods in the U.S. supply that deviate from nutrient ranges observed in natural ingredients.

Empowering Informed Food Choices

The researchers recognized the importance of making this information accessible to the public, enabling individuals to make more informed dietary decisions.

To achieve this, they created an online database that allows consumers to explore the level of processing in various foods.

Each food product is assigned a score on a scale from 0 to 100, allowing users to compare different products and assess their degree of processing.

Implications for Health

The dominance of ultra-processed foods in the U.S. food supply raises concerns about the potential health consequences.

These highly processed foods are often associated with a host of health issues, including obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes.

By providing consumers with the tools to identify and choose less processed alternatives, the database seeks to empower individuals to make healthier dietary choices.


The prevalence of ultra-processed foods in the U.S. food supply highlights the need for greater awareness and informed decision-making when it comes to dietary choices.

The groundbreaking research conducted by Northeastern University offers a valuable resource in the form of an online database, enabling consumers to assess the level of processing in various food products.

By taking advantage of this tool, individuals can take steps toward a healthier diet and potentially reduce their risk of developing diet-related health issues. It is a significant stride toward a more health-conscious and informed society.

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