Food groups attack ‘ultra-processed’ food criticism

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Researchers linked ultra-processed foods to obesity and poor health
Researchers linked ultra-processed foods to obesity and poor health

Related tags Nutrition

Food industry groups have challenged claims that ‘ultra-processed’ foods cause higher rates of obesity and are inherently bad for consumers.

A report issued last week, Household availability of ultra-processed foods and obesity in 19 European countries​, found that more than half the food UK consumers bought (50.7%) was ‘ultra-processed’. The term was used to mean made in a factory with industrially processed ingredients and additives.

Head of the research team Professor Carlos Monteiro from the University of São Paulo claimed there was a link between these types of food and obesity and poor health.

However, the Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST) refuted these claims, saying processing was a normal part of food preparation that was often necessary for safety and palatability of products.

A spokesman told “The fact that the finished dish has been through processing in an industrial environment – or indeed that other ingredients or additives have been used in the process – does not make the finished products less nutritious or inherently ‘bad for you’.

‘Little relevance to nutrition’

“Ultra-processing is a concept; at best a suggested means of categorising foods produced in an industrial setting. The relevance of consumption of such food and beverage products to health outcomes is not validated by science and has little relevance to nutrition.”

The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) echoed the IFST’s sentiments. It also claimed the report did not take into consideration the different types of processed foods consumers ate or the foods’ nutrient content.

“Many of the foods classed as ‘ultra-processed’ – such as confectionery or fried snacks – would be considered as foods to limit, according to UK healthy eating advice,” ​the BNF stated.

However, it continued: “It also includes foods considered part of a healthy diet, such as breads, breakfast cereals and unsaturated spreads.

“Conversely, some of the foods that are in the less processed categories are those that should be limited in the diet, such as salt, sugar, honey and butter. Therefore, it’s difficult to draw conclusions about the effects suggested in this study.”

‘Safe, affordable food’

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) urged people to stop demonising processed foods, as they provided all sectors of society “access to safe, affordable food”.

It also claimed processed foods had become healthier in the past 10 years, due to reformulations by manufacturers.

An FDF spokesman said: “In the last decade food and drink manufacturers have reduced the sugar, salt, fat and calories in their product ranges, and there is now a greater variety of healthier products available to shoppers than ever before.”

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1 comment

Obesity and type of food

Posted by Alan Dixon,

The FDF are right to criticise the term "ultra-processed", it is meaningless. However, one of the main causes of the obesity crisis, because that is what it is, is the availability of the vast quantity of cheap processed, foods with high calorific values and little nutritional value. These foods are often cheaper than customers buying fresh foods themselves and are therefore not "safe, affordable food" at all but actually contributing to the reversal of the life expectancy statistics. The only reason that any processed food has become healthier is not to do with the food and drink industry, who fight every attempt to do anything about the problem, but is everything to do with pressure from government, consumers and the media, amongst others
Every industry does the same when challenged about their products, from tobacco to cars to alcohol.

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