Health engineering research studies food insecurity

March 8, 2023 

Calories relate to sodium and price in ultra-processed foods

Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are a dominant food group in the American diet, comprising more than 50 percent of total dietary energy. 

The Food and Health Engineering Laboratory (FHEL), run by Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) Assistant Professor Ilce Medina-Meza, evaluated the nutritional quality of UPFs. Researchers looked at fatty acids, sugar, and sodium contents in a variety of foods as well as how those food attributes are related to the price and portion size.

MSU research is better understanding ultra-processed foods.
Research in the MSU Food and Health Engineering Lab is working to better understanding ultra-processed foods.

“UPFs are popular for being fast, cheap, and convenient meals,” Medina-Meza explained. “Thus, it is important to acknowledge their effect on people’s dietary preferences and nutritional patterns.”

The food used in the study was purchased at a variety of fast-food restaurants, convenience and grocery stores in Michigan. 

The first finding was that the total calories in a food are directly related to sodium and price. As calories increase, sodium and price increase as well.

Ilce Medina-Meza
Ilce Medina-Meza

The second finding focused on the vulnerable populations of infants. According to the American Heart Association, monosaturated fats can have a beneficial effect on your heart when eaten in moderation. This study discovered that monosaturated fats (MUFAs) were the predominant fatty acids group in baby foods. This can fill the nutritional needs of babies in a cost-effective solution.

“MUFAs are associated with favorable nutritional properties that benefit infants during this critical period in life,” she said. “We hope this study promotes active surveillance of the occurrence of these compounds in UPFs, which may enhance current production strategies during food processing that will improve the overall food quality.”

Read more on this research in a story written by Kathryn Kendall, courtesy of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering.