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What’s Your Number?


When you go to the store, what percentage of the food you buy is either highly or moderately processed?  Would it shock you if I told you this number is over 75% for the average American household?  I was a little shocked by this…after all, we know these foods are higher in sugar, sodium and other additives that contribute to weight gain and various illnesses and disease.  But, the reality is…processed foods are just so darn convenient!  They are “ready-to-eat” or “ready-to-heat” and don’t require a lot of thought when we are at the store.

I will admit, I used to dread grocery shopping…especially when our kids were small!  My goal was to get what we needed and get out of there as fast as possible!  (Of course, I also had to be prepared for the potential meltdown if I didn't let our kids get their favorite treat!)  I obviously was not taking time to look at ingredient labels and I found myself buying the same products over and over again because it was just part of my routine.  I have learned this is a processed food trap, especially because our kids expected we would always have certain crackers, chips, lunchables, cookies and other treats on hand.  These became their “staples”...and their comfort zone.

Because these foods are so convenient, it may not be so surprising how much of the average American diet comes from highly processed foods!  Results of a recent study (from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) show that a whopping 61% of what the average American household buys at the store is highly processed!  Plus, another 16% is moderately processed!

What is highly processed?  In the study, highly processed foods are those with many ingredients that are industrially processed and no longer resemble their original plant or animal source (in other words, fake food-like products).  Examples include donuts, Pop-tarts, fruit snacks, cheese puffs, Twinkies, cookies, soda, etc.

What is moderately processed?  Moderately processed foods in this study are foods that still resemble their original source, but include additives or preservatives.  Examples include bread, pasta, flavored yogurt, etc.

Some interesting facts about how the study was conducted:

  • 157,000 U.S. households were included in the study.
  • The participants used barcode scanners to track their purchases from 2000 through 2012 (participation varied from 1 year to up to the full 12 years).
  • 1.2 million items were purchased during the study.
  • The ingredients for each of these items were evaluated and categorized based on the level of processing (for example, packaged salad mix is considered minimally processed while a box of Lucky Charms is considered highly processed).
  • The study also found that nearly 1,000 daily calories consumed came from highly processed foods.
  • Now, one potentially misleading factor is many fresh fruits and vegetables may not have had bar codes, so they wouldn’t have been included in the numbers…which could mean the percentage of highly processed foods is slightly overstated.  But, even taking this into consideration, 75% is still a HUGE number!

So what is your number?  Slow down and pay attention the next time you are at the store…you might be surprised!  If your number is higher than you expected, what can you do to lower this % and make REAL food the major part of your diet?

Eat REAL America can help with the planning and keeping it simple, making REAL food just as convenient as processed food!  Plus, all kinds of tips to reduce the % of processed foods and increase the % of REAL foods!  Better breakfast and snack choices (let's face it, that's where a lot of highly processed food shows up), plus great-tasting dinners that could even turn into lunch the next day!

We passionately believe that your health, and your family’s health, are worth it!  Not to mention, the best part...the taste will blow these “food-like products” away!

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