What Does Your Weekly Grocery Haul Look Like?

I was listening to a podcast the other day and heard that some photographer had taken some pictures of what a week’s worth of groceries looks like for various families from around the globe.

After some Googling I found what this person was referring to. The photographer’s name is Peter Menzel and he actually turned the photographs into a book called Hungry Planet.

Luckily you don’t need to buy his book to see the pictures he took, he has posted them all in a gallery on his website.

I really encourage you to look at all 40 pictures, some of them are truly eye opening. You will notice just based on the pictures that the book is several years old now. It was originally published in 2007, and most of the pictures were taken in 2005 (according to copyright information). While it might not be the most up to date representation, it’s still insightful nonetheless.

One of the first things I noticed was the differences even within the same country. For example, Peter captures ta weeks worth of groceries from families in California, Texas, and North Carolina.

But when we start to look across the globe, we see even bigger differences. Here are some of the ones that stood out to me.








Chad and Sudan stand out amongst the rest due to the lack of food. It is really illustrative of how different the availability of food is. It makes me feel quite grateful to have the availability of healthy nutritious food and plenty of it.

The other photos in that list, including the ones from the US, stand out either due to the amount of processed food or lack of processed food. In these pictures you either see an abundance of processed foods and little whole foods or the complete opposite, a lot of whole foods and a sprinkling of processed foods.

There is something about the picture from Mexico that really strikes me. There is actually a lot of whole foods on the tables, but then there are twelve two liter bottles of coke lining the back of the table…that are consumed by the 2 adults and 3 small kids in 7 days.

The biggest problem with processed foods has nothing to do with the fats, carbs, types of oils used, sweeteners, artificial ingredients or anything else. It’s the calories per gram, the lack of protein, and lack of nutrients.

These three things combine to form the perfect storm of ill health.

You eat the Snickers bar, it tastes great and initially you feel good. You get a nice spike of energy, but a little while later that all fades, you feel lethargic, maybe your stomach is upset, and worst of all YOU ARE HUNGRY AGAIN!

How can that be? That snickers bar contained A LOT of calories, especially considering its size!

The answer lies in what it doesn’t contain more than what it does contain, it has no fiber, no nutrients, little protein, and it takes up very little room in your stomach!

On top of that, it could have caused a big blood sugar crash, which is viewed as an energy crisis to your body.

So your body is not concerned about the massive amount of calories it just consumed, it cares about the things it needs to survive, namely protein and essential nutrients. Now it also has to deal with your blood sugar dropping rapidly, which is literally a life threatening situation.

Your brain is telling you that you need to solve this situation and fast so you turn to more processed foods because they are easy, quick, and they fit the bill in this moment of crisis.

This cycle then repeats over and over again.

Let’s look at what happens when this cycle repeats itself over the course of several decades.

I came across a recent study looking at the correlation between processed food intake and cancer [1]. While the connection between processed food intake and cancer may be interesting, what caught my attention from this study was the relationship between how much processed food was consumed by people and and markers of health and certain lifestyle factors

This particular study was done using the UK biobank data. This data set consists of 40-69 year old participants who completed dietary recalls done between 2009 and 2012. I completely admit that dietary recall data can be pretty terrible when it comes to accuracy, so we need to keep that in mind when having this discussion. However, the dataset is massive, it consists of 197,426 people (54.6% women) and there is no way you are going to get accurate data from that many people. So while accuracy may not be great, it can be useful to look at in terms of general trends, and that is what I think is interesting about this data.

Before we dive into the data let me first explain how this data is represented. The researchers split up the data set into quartiles based on the amount of ultra-processed food people consumed. People in the first quartile ate the LEAST amount of ultra-processed food, while people in the fourth quartile ate the MOST amount of ultra-processed food. In other words, as the quartiles increase, the more ultra-processed food is consumed.

Let’s first look at the macro breakdown of what people ate in the various quartiles.


1st Quartile

2nd Quartile

3rd Quartile

4th Quartile

 Total energy intake, kcal/day





 Alcohol intake, g/day





 Carbohydrate intake, g/day





 Total fat intake, g/day





Total Protein intake, g/day





It is no surprise that as processed food consumption increases so does calories, carbohydrates, and fats. Surprisingly alcohol consumption decreased as processed food consumption increased, I honestly would have expected the opposite.

The researchers actually didn’t include protein intake in their original study, I had to actually back calculate those numbers based off of the macros they did include and total calories. Anyways, while protein consumption certainly decreased, it’s not as much as I would have thought. More on this protein topic in a bit.

It is also interesting to look at fruit and vegetable consumption.


1st Quartile

2nd Quartile

3rd Quartile

4th Quartile

 Fruit intake, g/day





 Vegetable intake, g/day





Notice how both fruit and vegetable consumption decreases as processed food consumption increases. This brings me back to one of the problems we discussed above with processed food consumption, it lacks nutrients.

Protein, specifically animal based protein, is perhaps the most nutrient dense food out there. People often make the argument that processed food consumption offsets protein intake and hence you lose out on a lot of nutrients. That does not appear to be the case in this dataset. Protein intake is relatively the same across all quartiles. However, no matter how you look at it, the protein intake for the people in this dataset is way too low, and therefore you could assume these people may be lacking nutrients across the board.

However you could also make the argument that perhaps the fruit and vegetable intake of the people who consumed less processed food was helping to increase the amount of nutrients people were lacking from protein. But as processed food intake increases and vegetable and fruit intake decreases. In those quartiles where vegetable, fruit, and protein intake is low, there is a higher chance that these people are lacking in nutrients. It is this lack of nutrients that is going to cause your brain to tell you to go find more food so it can get the nutrients it needs even if you have eaten more than your fair share of calories.

The next piece of information that is interesting to look at is how many people were underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese. Now this is based on BMI, and so it comes with the caveat that some people do not fit into these categories nicely due to the amount of muscle mass one has, however in a dataset this large, the number of people miscategorized as overweight or obese due to having a lot of muscle mass is going to be small.


1st Quartile

2nd Quartile

3rd Quartile

4th Quartile

 Underweight (<18.5 kg/m2)





 Normal (18.5–24.9 kg/m2)





 Overweight (25–29.9 kg/m2)





 Obese (≥30 kg/m2)





Perhaps the surprising outcome from thas data is that the number of overweight people was virtually the same across the board no matter how much processed food people completed. Perhaps this speaks to the fact that there are a number of lifestyle factors that contribute to body composition, it’s not just about how healthy your diet is.

Looking at physical activity when it comes to processed food intake is also interesting. There are two reasons why physical activity is important. Obviously it can help offset the calories taken in from consuming processed foods, but also physical activity can help regulate your appetite, causing people to consume less calories and processed foods.


1st Quartile

2nd Quartile

3rd Quartile

4th Quartile
















We do see that those that consumed the least amount of processed food had the most amount of people doing the high amounts of physical activity. When we look at the group of people who are doing the least amount of physical activity, those that fell into the highest processed food intake had the greatest amount of people.

The other thing that comes into play when we talk about processed food intake is socio-economic status. The dataset also takes into account poverty level. This data set uses what’s called the index of multiple deprivation. The index takes into account 7 different measures of poverty each weighted differently. This paper splits the data set into 5 quantiles with the 1st quintile being the least deprived and the 5th quintile being the most deprived.


1st Quartile

2nd Quartile

3rd Quartile

4th Quartile

 Quintile 1 (Least deprived)





 Quintile 2





 Quintile 3





 Quintile 4





 Quintile 5 (Most deprived)





It’s no surprise that the least deprived quintile also consumed the least amount of processed food. It is also no surprise that in the most deprived people the 4th quartile of processed food intake contains the most people.

This brings up an important point. We can’t discuss the topic of processed foods without talking about one of its main attractions, it costs less (at least in the short term). When you don’t have a lot of money and you need to decide how to feed your family, processed foods often appear to be the most economical way to do so. Unfortunately I can’t do this topic justice, I have no knowledge or experience in this area. However I didn’t want to leave this important consideration out of this discussion because it is an important piece to this puzzle.

I am not here to tell you that you should never consume processed foods. If you can manage to do that, that’s great. However, for myself, I am going to enjoy a piece of cake on my birthday and the birthdays of my loved ones. I am going to have the Christmas cookies my Mom makes once a year on Christmas. I am going to have a slice of pie on Thanksgiving. The problem really comes when the cakes, cookies, pies, etc are part of your daily diet and when we look at some of the pictures from some of the families from around the world it’s clear that this is the case.

This brings me to my number one tip when combating the battle with processed foods. The best way to avoid eating them is to remove them from your environment! They should not be part of your weekly grocery haul. If you can’t walk over to your cabinet or freezer and grab them when you are hungry the chances of you consuming them are going to be very slim.

In addition, without the quick processed foods around, you are going to be forced to prep some healthy food ahead of time that you can grab when you need it. In the process of doing this you can begin to realize how tasty and simple whole foods can be.

Finally when your diet shifts away from processed foods to whole foods your nutrient needs are more easily satisfied. This means your body is not going to tell you to keep “hunting” for food to find these nutrients. So even if you do consume some processed foods, you are likely to have the slice of cake and be done, no seconds, no additional treats. Your consumption of whole foods satisfied all your nutrient needs, you ate enough calories, you had the slice of cake, you are satisfied all around. You won’t find yourself raiding the cabinets an hour later.

The next thing you can do to combat processed food intake is move your body. Just a simple walk can help immensely. The next time you are hungry, go for a 10 minute walk, then notice if you are just as hungry after. I bet your hunger levels will decrease. Movement regulates your appetite. It’s important to be moving your body throughout the day to help keep your appetite in line.

Exercise is also important. Exercise is going to be the thing that will help your metabolism buffer the occasional processed food. Specifically if you strength train, the muscle you build can help soak up those calories, and then use them to build more muscle. I love hitting the gym the day after a big holiday meal like Thanksgiving, the workout is amazing, my performance is usually great, and I can really feel myself turning all those calories I ate the day before into muscle!

You might be wondering…

“Ryan, what does your week’s worth of groceries look like?”

Lucky you, I can show you!

Let’s start out with the processed food on the table!

You will see two things there, chips and powdered sugar. What’s up with that?

Well this weekend is my father-in-laws birthday so my daughter is making him his birthday cake, that’s what the powdered sugar is for. The chips are for a sausage dip we are bringing for an appetizer for everyone.

Will I have some chips, and a piece of cake?


Am I concerned about it?


This is the exception, they are not the norm.

The rest of the food on the table is fruits and vegetables, along with some fruit pouches and yogurt for my daughter and some dairy free “cheese”.

You might be wondering, where is the protein?

We buy our protein in bulk so we usually don’t buy any from the grocery store, that is why it’s not pictured here.

The next time you go grocery shopping for a week, lay out your groceries and take an honest look at what you see. Which family from around the world does your grocery haul resemble? Does the processed food on the table outweigh the whole foods? If so that is OK, the first step is realizing what needs to change. The next step is swapping it out, get it out of your environment! I have created a number of videos to help you get started with that process. In addition if you are looking for a list of what foods you should be shopping for here is a good list to get you started. It’s not comprehensive but it’s definitely a great starting point.

For more actionable real world insights into how you can reach your goals and live a balanced healthy well into your old age sign up for my newsletter using the form below. I provide actionable advice like you found in this post on a weekly basis that you can put to work right away!

Success! You're on the list.
  1. (2023, January 31). Ultra-processed food consumption, cancer risk and cancer mortality. Retrieved February 15, 2023, from https://www.thelancet.com/journals/eclinm/article/PIIS2589-5370(23)00017-2/fulltext

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close