USDA scientists construct a healthy diet with 91% of calories coming from ultra-processed foods

Woman shopping in a supermarket for processed food

A recent study conducted by the USDA’s Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center showed that it is possible to create a healthy diet that contains up to 91% of calories coming from ultra-processed foods, as measured by NOVA, while still meeting the recommendations of the Guidelines. Dietetics for Americans 2020-2025 (DGA).

Scientists from the USDA’s Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center have demonstrated that a healthy diet can include up to 91% of ultra-processed foods, in line with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, though future research will assess the effects. Potentially harmful health effects.

Scientists at the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Grand forks human nutrition research center Led a study This shows that it is possible to build a healthy diet in which 91% of calories come from ultra-processed foods (as rated using the NOVA scale) while still following the recommendations in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The study highlights the versatility of using the DGA recommendations in creating healthy menus.

“The study is a proof-of-concept that shows a more balanced view of healthy eating patterns, where the use of ultra-processed foods can be an option,” said Julie Hess, a registered dietitian at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center. “According to current dietary recommendations, the nutritional content of a food and its place in a food group is more important than how well the food has been processed.”

Understanding the Nova Scale

In the study, scientists used the NOVA scale to determine which foods should be classified as ultra-processed. The Nova scale first appeared in the literature in 2009 and is the most widely used scale in nutritional science for classifying foods by degree of processing.

According to the Nova scale, foods can be classified into four groups according to their degree of processing:

  1. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods.
  2. Processed cooking ingredients.
  3. Processed foods.
  4. Ultra-processed foods.

Experiment details

To test whether ultra-processed foods could be used to build a healthy diet, ARS scientists and their collaborators created a menu containing breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks using MyPyramid as a guide for a 2,000-calorie dietary pattern for seven days. Consists of foods classified as ultra-processed by at least two NOVA graders. The foods on the list also meet the 2020 DGA recommendations for servings of groups and subgroups of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy products.

Scientists chose food products that contain lower levels of saturated fats and added sugars while still containing enough micronutrients and macronutrients. Some of the ultra-processed foods used in this list include canned beans, instant oatmeal, filtered milk, whole wheat bread, and dried fruits.

“We used it Healthy eating index “Evaluate the quality of the diet because it is in line with key DGA recommendations,” Hess said. “The menu we developed scored 86 points out of 100 on the 2015 Healthy Eating Index, meeting most thresholds, with the exception of sodium content (exceeding recommendations) and whole grains (below recommendations).”

Future research directions

While this study provided valuable insights, there is more work on the horizon. Scientists aim to delve deeper into this topic, recognizing that some observational research studies suggest that ultra-processed products could be associated with adverse health outcomes.

This research demonstrates that there is a role for a variety of foods when building a healthy diet and that more research is needed in this area, especially intervention studies.

Details of the study were published in Nutrition magazine.

Reference: “Dietary Guidelines Meet NOVA: Developing a Menu for a Healthy Diet Using Ultra-Processed Foods” by Julie M. Hess, Madeline E. Cuomo, Shannon Casperson, Joanne L. Slavin, J.H. Johnson, Mark Messina, Susan Ratz, Angela J. Chait, Anne Bodensteiner, and Daniel J. Palmer, June 24, 2023, Nutrition magazine.
doi: 10.1016/j.tjnut.2023.06.028

The study’s authors are Julie M. Hess (USDA-ARS), Madeline E. Cuomo (USDA-ARS), Shannon Casperson (USDA-ARS), Joanne L. Slavin (University of Minnesota), JH. Johnson (Johnson Nutrition Solutions, LLC), Mark Messina (Global Soy Nutrition Institute), Susan Ratz (University of Minnesota), Angela J. Chait (USDA-ARS), Anne Bodensteiner (University of North Dakota), Daniel J. Palmer (USDA-ARS) ).

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