What are UPF’s?
Ultra-processed foods, also known as UPF’s, are a type of food which is defined as ‘an ultra-processed food made by industrial processing that often contain additives such as colours, flavours, emulsifiers or preservatives’. This classification is from the NOVA system, which was developed in 2009 and splits foods into four categories:
1) Unprocessed or minimally processed- this includes foods close to, or in their most natural state such as: fruit and vegetables, unpasteurised milk, raw
nuts, beans, legumes, and fresh meat/fish.
2) Processed ingredients- this refers to foods which are derived from Group 1
foods by processes that include pressing, refining, grinding, milling, and
drying. These foods do not usually tend to be eaten alone and are used as
ingredients such as: olive oil, butter, sugar, flour, and salt.
3) Processed foods- most processed foods have two or three ingredients and are modified versions of unprocessed foods. The purpose of processing is to
improve texture, taste, and durability of foods, they can be eaten alone or with other foods. Examples include homemade breads, cheese, pickles, unsweetened yoghurts, canned fish, and fruit in syrups.
4) Ultra-processed foods- these foods have gone through many processing or manufacturing stages and often contain five or more ingredients which are not found in the common household (emulsifiers, sweeteners, artificial colours or flavourings and preservatives). Examples of UPF’s include chocolate, baked beans, many breads we buy in the supermarket, ready meals, fizzy drinks, crisps, cereal, and cereal bars.
Should you be worried about UPF’s?
There has been debate that the consumption of UPF foods is linked to increased risk of obesity and obesity related diseases. Currently, 54% of the calories consumed by UK adults come from ultra-processed foods, 31% from unprocessed or minimally processed food, 10% from processed foods and 5% from processed ingredients (Rauber et al., 2020).
But it has been argumented that the NOVA classification of foods is inaccurate and labels foods as unhealthy and heavily processed when they can be consumed as part of a healthy diet in moderation. These foods include wholemeal breads, baked beans, wholegrain breakfast cereals and fruit yoghurts.
However, it is also important to note that many foods which are ultra-processed, such as cakes, breads, chocolate, crisps, and ready meals are high in calories, salt, and sugar. Therefore, when consumed in high quantities, increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other diet related diseases.
Overall, more research needs to be done on the NOVA system and the link between UPF’s and diseases. When following a healthy diet, it is important to
focus on the consumption of unprocessed foods such as fruit and vegetables, meat, and unsweetened dairy products. The consumption of processed ingredients and foods is inevitable and healthy choices should be made, such as opting for wholegrain varieties and limiting chocolate and processed meat options, which is all reflected in the Government’s Eatwell guide.
For more information on the Eatwell Guide please follow the link below:
Rauber, F., Steele, E. M., Louzada, M. L. da C., Millett, C., Monteiro, C. A., & Levy, R. B. (2020). Ultra-processed food consumption and indicators of obesity in the United Kingdom
population (2008-2016). PLoS ONE, 15(5), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0232676