Background: Processed foodstuff may have a lower nutritional value than natural products.
Aim: To analyze the impact of ready-to-consume products on diet quality of Chilean households.
Material and methods: A national representative sample of 10,096 households, based on the 6th Survey on Household Budget and Expenses (VI Encuesta de Presupuestos y Gastos Familiares, 2006-2007), was studied. Foodstuffs were classified as follows: 1) Unprocessed foods or minimally processed foods (G1); 2) Processed culinary ingredients (G2); and 3) Ready-to-consume products (G3). Calorie contribution and energy availability of each household food group, was calculated. The nutritional profile of the national food basket was calculated and compared with two simulated baskets (G3 vs G1+G2), based on international nutritional recommendations.
Results: Overall energy availability was of 1,885 kcal per capita/ day; 24% derived from unprocessed foods (G1), 21% from processed culinary ingredients (G2) and 55% from ready-to-consume products (G3), whose proportion increased along with income level. The 2007 national food basket contained an excess of total fat (34% vs 30%), free sugars (16% vs 10%), energy density (2.1 vs 1.3 kcal/gram) and a low amount of fiber (8.4 vs 12.5 g/1,000 kcal). The basket consisting in ready-to-consume products (G3) had a higher percentage of carbohydrates (61% vs 46%) than the basket consisting in unprocessed foods and ingredients (G1+G2). It also had a higher percentage of free sugars (17% vs 15%), less dietary fiber (7 vs. 10 g/1,000 kcal) and, above all, a higher energy density (2.6 vs 1.6 kcal/g).
Conclusions: The Chilean dietary pattern, based on ready-to-consume products (G3), is affecting the nutritional quality of the diet.