SYDNEY, Aug. 29 (Xinhua) -- Almost half of the Australian diet is made up of ultra-processed foods, a new study showed on Thursday.
Led by the University of Melbourne, in collaboration with three other Australian universities and the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, the nationally representative survey of children and adults found that 42 percent of the country's daily kilojoule intake comes in the form of ultra-processed food.
"While 42 percent is the national average figure, there is great variation between people in Australia," co-author of the study Dr Gyorgy Scrinis, from the University of Melbourne's School of Agriculture and Food Sciences told Xinhua.
"For the top one-fifth of ultra-processed food consumers, these foods make up 75 percent of their total diets, whereas for the bottom fifth of consumers, ultra-processed foods made up only 12 percent."
Defining ultra-processed food as items that have significantly more sugar and salt, and less fibre and micronutrients, Scrinis explained that these foods are generally of much lower nutritional quality than minimally-processed foods.
"Ultra-processed food are defined as products mass-produced by the food manufacturing and fast-food industries that contain any ingredients or additives not typically found in a kitchen or restaurant," he said.
"So it doesn't only include foods that are high in sugar, salt and fats. Ultra-processed foods tend to be produced from low cost processed ingredients such as refined sugars, oils and grains, and they contain few intact or whole ingredients."
Often being a cheap option for shoppers, ultra-processed foods usually have a desirable flavor and texture, with a number of additives also included to extend its shelf-life.
"These foods also tend to be quick to be relatively cheap and quick to consume, and thereby encourage over-consumption," Scrinis said.
"Aside from any direct harm to health these foods may cause, ultra-processed foods have been displacing more nutritious minimally-processed foods from our diets, and this is a pattern that's being observed around the world, in high and low income countries alike."
Although Scrinis admits there are no easy answers to improve Australia's junk-food diet, with around one-third of Aussies either overweight or obese, the study's researchers are calling on regulators to do more to address the matter.
"We need to significantly reduce the overall quantity of ultra-processed foods being consumed," Scrinis said.
"But to do so, governments would need to take a much more active role in regulating the products and practices of the food industry, in contrast with their current soft approach to regulation."