Processed and ultra-processed food products: consumption trends in Canada from 1938 to 2011

Can J Diet Pract Res. 2014 Spring;75(1):15-21. doi: 10.3148/75.1.2014.15.


Purpose: A classification of foods based on the nature, extent, and purpose of industrial food processing was used to assess changes in household food expenditures and dietary energy availability between 1938 and 2011 in Canada.

Methods: Food acquisitions from six household food budget surveys (1938/1939 , 1953, 1969, 1984, 2001, and 2011) were classified into unprocessed or minimally processed foods, processed culinary ingredients, and ready-to-consume processed or ultra-processed products. Contributions of each group to household food expenditures, and to dietary energy availability (kcal per capita) were calculated.

Results: During the period studied, household expenditures and dietary energy availability fell for both unprocessed or minimally processed foods and culinary ingredients, and rose for ready-to-consume products. The caloric share of foods fell from 34.3% to 25.6% and from 37% to 12.7% for culinary ingredients. The share of ready-to-consume products rose from 28.7% to 61.7%, and the increase was especially noteworthy for those that were ultra-processed.

Conclusions: The most important factor that has driven changes in Canadian dietary patterns between 1938 and 2011 is the replacement of unprocessed or minimally processed foods and culinary ingredients used in the preparation of dishes and meals; these have been displaced by ready-to-consume ultra-processed products. Nutrition research and practice should incorporate information about food processing into dietary assessments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Cooking
  • Diet Surveys
  • Diet* / economics
  • Diet* / trends
  • Employment
  • Energy Intake
  • Family Characteristics
  • Fast Foods* / economics
  • Female
  • Food Handling*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Social Change