UPF watch: What’s the latest on ultra-processed food?

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

Is ultra-processed food good, bad, or other? GettyImages/AndreyPopov
Is ultra-processed food good, bad, or other? GettyImages/AndreyPopov

Related tags Ultra-processed food Upfield NOVA classification

Ultra-processed food is making headlines. In our rolling coverage of UPF, we unpack the good, the bad, and the confusion around this classification of products. Here’s the latest…

If you haven’t heard of ultra-processed food, you’re likely in the minority. UPF has made a splash in the media of late, with researchers linking the classification of packaged food products to poor health outcomes.

But the more we delve into the ultra-processed topic, the more complex it becomes. Proponents of food processing argue it’s not as simple as splitting whole foods into the ‘good’ category, and ultra-processed food into the ‘bad’.

Critics, on the other hand, say that ultra-processing directly feeds into Big Food’s strategy of how best to turn a profit.

If that sounds complicated, you’re not alone. Amongst consumers, confusion around UPF is at an all-time high, meaning that even if they want to avoid ultra-processed food altogether, they may not know how.

Surely baked beans aren’t UPF? Oh yes, they are.

To help unpack the intricacies of the UPF debate, we’re bringing you rolling coverage: unpicking the good, the bad, and the confusion around this classification of products.

Here’s the latest…

UPF wildpixel

17 Jun 2024: Does it matter that consumers don't understand the term 'ultra-processed'?

Consumers have consistently been shown not to understand what the term 'ultra-processed' means. But how much does this matter?

12 Jun 2024: Ultra-processed food kills, says WHO

The World Health Organization is linking ultra-processed food, alcohol, tobacco, and fossil fuel industries to millions of deaths in Europe every year.

receipt M Stock
GettyImages/M Stock

29 May 2024: How does taxing ultra-processed food impact sales?

A few months ago, what is considered the world's first UPF tax came into play. Which categories have been hit the hardest?

30 Apr 2024: 'I've heard of ultra-processed food, but can't explain it': Demystifying UPF confusion

What 'ultra-processed food' means to one consumer may not be what it means to another.

burger Hinterhaus Productions (2)
GettyImages/Hinterhaus Productions

21 Mar 2024: Are ultra-processed plant-based burgers healthy? WHO investigates

The World Health Organization has funded research analysing the nutritional composition of ultra-processed plant-based burgers, and the findings are out.

5 Mar 2024: Ultra-processed food linked to 32 poor health outcomes in largest study to date

We ask lead author Melissa M Lane where she stands on the ultra-processed food debate.

UPF wildpixel

23 Feb 2024: The case against ultra-processed food: 'UPF is designed to increase consumption and profit'

Do ultra-processed foods lead to poor health outcomes by definition? A 'hyper-literal' focus on definitions is not the point, suggest Henry Dimbleby and Chris van Tulleken.

19 Feb 2024: Can links be drawn between Nutri-Score and ultra-processed food?

Are ultra-processed foods more likely to have low Nutri-Score ratings? And should the Nova classification system be incorporated into the Nutri-Score algorithm?


16 Feb 2024: Consumers believe ultra-processed foods are damaging to their health and the environment​ 

Is this perception fair and what can food manufacturers to do help challenge these views?

14 Feb 2024: Are we misusing the term 'ultra-processed'? Uncoupling UPF from nutrition

The term 'ultra-processed' is increasingly used to describe the 'unhealthiness' of a product, particularly in the context of plant-based meat. But how processed a food is reveals nothing about its nutritional impact, contends new research.

meat Natalia Semenova
GettyImages/Natalia Semenova

9 Jan 2024: Processed plant-based meat: Clearer communication on the horizon, predict experts

European producers in 2024 will focus on informing consumers about processed and ultra-processed food and drink, potentially lowering content in formulations to encourage plant-based meat or dairy alternatives uptake.

16 Nov 2023: Ultra-processed foods, but not bread or breakfast cereals, linked to multimorbidity: The Lancet

The study found that UPF is often linked to multimorbidity. But no link was found between multimorbidity and consumption of UPFs including breakfast cereals, packaged bread, and plant-based alternatives.

nova Yuki Kondo
GettyImages/Yuki Kondo

28 Jul 2023: Nova classification matches consumer instincts

The Nova classification system is used to ascertain whether foods are minimally processed, processed, or ultra-processed. A new study finds that people's perceptions of foods and their processing levels usually align with the Nova classification.

12 Jul 2023: Scientists stress 'uncertainties' in links between ultra-processed food and health problems

In the UK, government scientists have pointed to 'uncertainties' surrounding the quality of evidence linking consumption of ultra-processed foods with adverse health outcomes.

UPF monticello

3 May 2023: Ultra-processing: The solution for safer, greener, more nutritious food?

As criticism around ultra-processed food builds, a panel of nutritionists and food engineers argue the practice has huge potential in producing safer and environmentally sustainable nutrition to the masses.

2 May 2023: Predicting ultra-processing in food with machine learning algorithm

Acknowledging the pain points of the Nova classification system, researchers have developed a machine learning algorithm to accurately predict the degree of processing for any food.

processing foods celsopupo

27 Apr 2023: Consumers don't know what 'ultra-processed' food is, but know they don't want it

Fresh research suggests consumers struggle to distinguish between ultra-processed and other processed foods, but want to cut back on both. Is lack of trust at play?

11 Nov 2021: Study charts impact of ultra-processed foods: Diet-related disease and climate change 'share an underlying driver'

Increased consumption of ultra-processed foods has been linked to higher greenhouse gas emissions by a new study charting 30 years of dietary change.

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