'Ultra Processed' Foods and Statistics

Ultra processed foods (UPF) have been in the news lately with dire warnings that, apart from the levels of fat, salt and sugar, the processing and use of artificial ingredients itself can cause health issues to consumers. This despite some artificial ingredients being identical in composition to their 'natural' counterparts. 

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) considered ultra-processed foods at its horizon scanning meeting on 17 June 2022 (PDF, 173KB).  Members noted that it would be timely to consider this issue since there was increasing discussion and debate regarding the implications of food processing on health. In light of recent newspaper reports highlighting specific attributions it is useful to see the SACN’s consideration of this topic SACN statement on processed foods and health - summary report - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) which was published 11 June 2023.

‘Studies are almost exclusively observational and confounding factors or key variables such as energy intake, body mass index, smoking and socioeconomic status may not be adequately accounted for.’

‘Consumption of (ultra-) processed foods may be an indicator of other unhealthy dietary patterns and lifestyle behaviours. Diets high in (ultra-) processed foods are often energy dense, high in saturated fat, salt or free sugars, high in processed meat, and/or low in fruit and vegetables and fibre.’

‘It is unclear to what extent observed associations between (ultra-) processed foods and adverse health outcomes are explained by established nutritional relationships between nutritional factors and health outcomes on which SACN has undertaken robust risk assessments.’

In summary it was stated, as with most health outcomes connected with food, this was likely to be multi-factoral and that more detailed research was required.  

Food businesses should seek to keep abreast of any new developments in scientific knowledge and utilise due diligence within their supply chain and product development to ensure products are compliant with all Food Safety Requirements, which incorporates a 'fitness' for consumption test and so the concept of 'acceptability' to consumers.

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