Decades ago, we could shop at a supermarket and expect that the majority of food available for purchase was good for us.

But in today’s world, that’s no longer the case, according researchers from the George Institute for Global Health.

Researchers in an Institute study investigated a total of 40,664 packaged products commonly found on Australian supermarket shelves.

They found that only 38 per cent of those products have a Health Star rating of 3.5 or more.

(A score of 3.5, according to the researchers, indicates “a basic level of healthfulness.”)

Unfortunately, packaged foods comprise a staggering 59 percent—nearly two-thirds—of the food and beverages Australians purchase from food service and retail stores.

And six out of ten packaged foods are classified as being highly or ultra-processed, according to the study.

“Our supermarket shelves are full of products that are making us fat and making us sick,” reports lead researcher Michelle Crino.

America and the UK have similar issues. In the U.S., approximately 70% of what Americans consume is highly processed.

In the UK, a study of 19 European countries published in a special issue of the journal of Public Health Nutrition reports that UK families buy more ultra-processed food than any others in Europe. And it amounts to 50.7 per cent of their diet.

How fat and sick are we?

A staggering 63.4 percent of Australian adults were overweight or obese in 2014-15. That’s nearly two-thirds of Australia’s population, or two out of three adults.

The rate in 1995 was 56.3 percent, a clear indication obesity is on the rise at an alarming rate.

Obesity is linked to all manner of health problems and is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain musculoskeletal conditions, and certain cancers, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

And increased levels of body fat increase the risk of developing these conditions. In 2012, 22 percent of Australians were diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, the number one cause of death and illness in Australia.

And 280 Australians develop diabetes every single day.

Being overweight also interferes with attempts to control or manage chronic disorders.

In the United States, a 2017 report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that almost 40 per cent of American adults and nearly 20 per cent of adolescents are obese.

These are the highest rates in America’s recorded history.

Overall, 70.7 per cent of Americans—nearly three-quarters—are overweight or obese.

The United Kingdom is not far behind, according to data published as part of a World Health Organisation study.

WHO reports that 28.1 per cent of adults were recognised as clinically obese, and 62 per cent were classified as overweight.

The correlation between our increase in weight and decline in health and the increase in packaged food consumption is hard to ignore.

More and more, a healthy body weight has become the exception, not the norm.

With supermarket shelves overflowing with packaged foods, what actions can be taken by consumers looking to maintain a healthful diet and free themselves from obesity and disease?

Shop the perimeter

The layout of supermarkets varies, but more and more supermarkets are arranging whole, real foods on the outer perimeter, while packaged foods are placed in the inner aisles.

Shopping the perimeter and steering clear of most inner aisles not only dramatically increases the likelihood of encountering healthy foods, it helps you avoid most of the packaged foods.

For many people, not even seeing packaged foods is enough to prevent them from making the purchase.

When in doubt, defer to nature

One of the simplest ways to ensure a healthy diet is to eat food as close to its natural state as possible.

Choose real, whole foods that occur in nature, vs. foods that are full or chemicals and artificial ingredients.

Whole, real food is incredibly versatile, and with a little seasoning, can be made into delicious, wholesome meals that heal and promote weight loss (such as found on The Healthy Mummy plans).

Limiting—or even eliminating—your purchase and consumption of fast food and packaged food will further improve health.

Remember, as pleasant and convenient as packaged foods may be in the moment, the long-term costs in medical expenses and health detriments simply aren’t worth it.

Simplify meals

Many people purchase packaged foods simply for convenience. So if it’s convenience you need, here are two things to do.

First, simply your meals.

I love recipes and gourmet feasts as much as you do, but when you just don’t have the time, stick with single-ingredient foods, like veggies, fruits, and meats, instead of resorting to packaged or fast foods stuffed with chemicals and preservatives (you will find over 4,000 healthy and family friendly recipes on the 28 Day Challenge).

Taking one day a week to pre-cook these simple meals will also save time.

Second, cook foods that last for multiple meals. A whole chicken, a roast, soups, and casseroles can each give you several days’ worth of meals.

Packaged food likely isn’t going anywhere in the immediate future. But choosing whole, real foods and simplifying meals instead of reaching for processed convenience foods, are two ways to ensure you’re eating healthfully.

Another benefit of spending your money on whole, real food instead of food in packages is sending the message about the kinds of foods you want to see on supermarket shelves.

Money talks, so talk with yours.

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