Sarah Gold draws on material from an International Food Information Council (IFIC) presentation at a dietetics conference to point out many merits of processed foods. Although sodium and sugar content of processed foods are mentioned in passing, a major theme of the presentation seemed to be that Americans would be malnourished without processed foods.
“This is a very confusing aspect of the debate,” says Victor Fulgoni III, PhD of Nutrition impact and speaker at the FNCE session. “Some of the discontent is fueled by some that want only local and fresh foods to be consumed. While this is a very laudable goal it is just not possible for most of Americans for either time or economic constraints,” adds Fulgoni.In another article, Rachel Perez discusses the new Harvard food plate with my colleagues Jeanne Goldberg, Tim Griffin, and me.
Sadly, only about 300 calories per day come from minimally processed foods in the American diet, according to the data presented by Fulgoni at FNCE. Not surprisingly ready-to-eat (RTE) foods make up the largest portion of calories consumed (about 600 calories) and the top RTE foods consumed include soda, candy, potato chips, and juice drinks. This did not include food eaten at restaurants.
Processed foods contribute more dietary saturated fat, sugar, and sodium than minimally processed foods. However, they also provide the largest source of fiber, B vitamins, folate, iron, and potassium for many Americans. According to the study, most American’s would not meet the daily recommendations for essential vitamins and minerals without processed foods.
Certainly no single icon—whether pyramid, or plate—can effectively portray every nutrition message, let alone change behavior.
To the casual observer, the USDA vs. Harvard plate controversy may amount to mere academic banter or wholesome collegiate competition. But for nutrition professionals, the plates offer a sobering challenge. Dishing out nutrition messages requires both appropriate policy to back food recommendations, along with clear nutrition communications.