31 March 2012

CRAP food

CRAP == calorie-rich and processed.

In fact, most food processing consists of taking away fiber and micro-nutrients and putting in more calories. I found this great diagram the other day which shows how much calories in the average US diet come from added fat and sugar:

However, for anybody who's regularly reading ingredient lists of food they buy, there is one other additive that makes it into virtually every item of processed food and also contains a big share of calories which very quickly get turned into sugar by your intestines. That third thing is starch, mostly in the form of refined wheat flour with ever more of that being replaced by corn starch recently. The nutritional value of starch is just as low as it is for sugar, and the sugar-high provided from starch is just as real as that from simple sugars, only that it's spread out a little more.
As you can see in the diagram, added fats make up the largest source of standard American Calories, but the close runner-up is "grains". Now –I thought– most of those grains are consumed as bread, pasta, pizza (dough), cake, pastries, (all made mostly of refined flour) and of course, lot's of starch added to almost any other food to make sauces more creamy or doughs stick together better. In other words: most of those "grains" are in fact just "added starch". Shouldn't that be reflected better in the diagram?
Fortunately the authors of that original post at Grist have provided a link to their source, the US Dep't of Agriculture, who in turn provide spreadsheets with all the detailed numbers. I guessed that about 60 to 90% of the "grain" bubble in the diagram could be labelled as "added starch". Thanks to the good scholarship of my sources, I could easily look it up! Here's a Google Docs Spreadsheet with the bubbles taken apart. While I was at it, I also broke up that weird protein  bubble into animal foods and the poor nuts who don't deserve to live in that same group. Here's a diagram of the results:
You can look at the spreadsheet to see which food is grouped where. (Pedantics can check the formulas.) The actual ratio of "added starch" vs "healthy whole-grain" depends a bit on interpretation, but according to the data I think that about 80% added starch and refined flour made from all consumed grains is a fair guess. (Remember that most white breads, doughs, and pasta are 99% starch.) So this much belongs into the CRAP portion of the diagram, because starch and white flour are almost pure calories with little other nutrients. The remaining 20% of grains (and that includes pop corn, for example) goes to the healthy plant foods group.

Now, take one more look the diagram. See that large chunk of 60% calorie-rich and processed foods? Any doubts what the Americans mainly consume? Holy CRAP!



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