On Getting Healthier, with Better Food

Photo by  Dan Gold

Photo by Dan Gold

In the report “The Healthfulness of the US Packaged Food and Beverage Supply” (July 24, 2019), researchers found that the US packaged food and beverage market is very large and generally unhealthy, with a high proportion of ultra-processed foods produced by the top 25 manufacturers. The study, the largest of its kind, analyzed 230,156 products. Comments included:

  • “The US food supply is dominated by packaged food and beverage products, with around 80% of total calories consumed coming from store-bought foods and beverages

  • “the US population is being exposed to products that are high in energy, saturated fat, sugar, and salt

  • Even small changes in levels of these nutrients of concern in the food supply have the potential to produce large health gains at relatively low cost

  • Eggs, seafood and seafood products, and fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes had the highest proportion of productsconsidered ‘healthy

  • “a significant positive association exists between national household availability of ultra-processed foods and nationalprevalence of obesity among adults

  • "almost two thirds of energy content in purchases by US households came from ultra-processed food sources, themajority of which food items exceed recommended limits for saturated fat, sugar, and sodium content"

Note: The researchers were from Northwestern University (Chicago), University of New South Wales (Sydney) andLabel Insight (Chicago).


  • Benefits associated with ultra-processed products are their convenience and relative low cost. However, given their large market presence, they are contributing to increased obesity in the US and globally, which has significant negative health and economic implications.

  • More broadly, consuming sugars, high fructose corn syrupand refined wheat (in ultra-processed and other food/beverage categories) can increase insulin levels - which is linked to obesity, heart disease and various cancers.

  • While some food products emphasis their organic and non-GMO content, more emphasis should be placed on health food content, such as 1) lower amounts of saturated fat, sugar, sodium and 2) more nutritional ingredients (fiber, protein, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes).

Paul Dravis