'Ultra-processed' products now half of all ... - Healthy Eating

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'Ultra-processed' products now half of all UK family food purchasesExclusive: health experts warn increasing popularity of industrially-mad



Half of all the food bought by families in the UK is now “ultra-processed”, made in a factory with industrial ingredients and additives invented by food technologists and bearing little resemblance to the fruit, vegetables, meat or fish used to cook a fresh meal at home.

Research by global nutrition experts reveals the scale of our food evolution, from farm-fresh to factory-manufactured. “Real food” has been replaced by salty snacks and sugary cereals, industrially-made bread and desserts, ready-meals and reconstituted meats alongside sweetened soft drinks.

The study of 19 European countries is published this month in a special issue of the journal Public Health Nutrition. It shows that UK families buy more ultra-processed food than any others in Europe, amounting to 50.7% of the diet. Germany comes second, on 46.2% and then Ireland on 45.9%. While the figures are not directly comparable, extracted from national surveys carried out differently and from different years, the trend is clear.

The UK data they analysed came from the Living Costs and Food Survey 2008, the latest available. They categorised foods into four groups. More than a quarter of food (28.6%) was unprocessed or minimally so, 10.4% was processed cooking ingredients such as vegetable oil and 10.2% was ordinarily processed, such as cheese or cured meat. Ultra-processed food amounts to more than all the other groups combined.

Professor Carlos Monteiro from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, who led the research team, told the Guardian of his deep concern about the links between ultra-processed food with obesity and poor health.

Ultra-processed foods may look attractive and are designed with sweet or salty tastes that make us want more. But there is nothing nutritious about them, Monteiro said.

“Take breakfast cereals. If you take Froot Loops, for instance, more than 50% is sugar,” he told the Guardian. “[But] there is no fruit ...

“Ultra-processed foods are essentially new creations of the food industry with very low cost ingredients in a very attractive product.”

Separate data obtained by the Guardian from Euromonitor reveals the biggest selling brands of ultra-processed foods in the UK.

13 Replies

Absolutely incredible isn't it. I must say, when I go back to the UK, I'm appalled at the amount of stuff on the supermarket shelves that's "manufactured" rather than grown or raised. I'd estimate something like 80% of the floor space is taken up by packaged, processed garbage. It doesn't help that the government actively encourages people to (for example) eat packaged cereal instead of (say) a scrambled egg for breakfast. It's no wonder consumers find it hard to avoid.

BadHare in reply to TheAwfulToad

I don't consider half the "edible" stuff in supermarkets is really food.

It's really depressing isn't it? I was recently in hospital.....because I've broken my leg and needed an operation on it....and found that the hospital staff really struggled to find me something gluten free that I could eat. 🙄 I kept telling them I could eat eggs, fruit, fish etc, but they seemed consumed with trying to find me highly processed stuff like bread or pre-made puddings and the like. Maybe for them it felt safer, even though I doubt they even knew about cross contamination. So even in hospital, the food emphasis is on processed foods rather than fresh and healthy foods. I couldn't wait to get out. It's interesting why so many people opt for highly processed food over fresh food. Are we all brainwashed to some extent by the media and the supermarkets?

BadHare in reply to MeTeeCee

Most likely they were trying to feed you the cheapest easiest options. :'(

My last hospital stay involved being offered roast beef just after my wisdom teeth were removed, despite repeating I was vegetarian. Hope I never need to go in without plenty of warning!

MeTeeCee in reply to BadHare

Unbelievable! 😂 Another anecdote.....My sister was also in hospital recently and she's gluten intolerant like me but also mildly lactose intolerant too. The hospital wouldn't let her have mayonnaise.....? Even though she said she would be fine with it.

BadHare in reply to MeTeeCee

Perhaps their mayonnaise contained lactose or some kind of filler. The stuff in jars doesn't look natural, & certainly doesn't taste like the real thing.

Odd that hospital staff are so clueless. Maybe they're terrified of law suits?

MeTeeCee in reply to BadHare

There seemed to be an awful lot of confusion about dietary needs in general. Another lady on my ward was gluten and lactose intolerant and had been there for a while before me, so they'd had time to acquaint themselves with the whole idea before I arrived. I had to subsist on a banana and two tiny yogurts one day 🙄 As for the mayonnaise for my sister, who knows? Cheap mayo might well have had anything in it I suppose. But the level of awareness about food intolerances was quite shocking.

It is fairly simple why the staff are clueless. There is little money and they look at cutting the food bill to save money. Food quality is poor and secondary to medical care. My wife has just come out of hospital and if anyone wants to lose weight then stay in hospital for a month as it will kill your appetite. The only way to get decent food was for me to bring it in.

I believe that Jeremy Hunt and the whole cabinet should eat standard NHS food as their main lunch every week. I wonder what their reaction would be instead of fine dining in the HOC.

"Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food" - Hippocrates.

PS. Most of the NHS nursing staff were great or exceptional.

Hope your wife's on the mend, & has her appetite back!

It actually is a misguided obsession with "safety". A long time ago I worked on a project for electronic HACCP monitoring, specifically for the NHS. It was utterly ridiculous. One thing that made me laugh was that the procedures required endlessly sticking temperature probes into the middle of meals "to check they're heated through". Frankly, I can't think of any better way to inadvertently introduce contamination into food (consider what people are likely to do with the probe equipment when they're not using it, and what kind of gunk is likely to build up on it because people are lazy). I have no doubt things have got even worse since then.

So, basically, they can't cook an egg for you because, like, salmonella. They therefore have to give you something that's been steamrollered, nuked, chemical-ed up, so that even the bacteria won't eat it. It might have no food value, but at least it's safe!

- facepalm -


Michael Moss has written about the food industry deliberately producing food that is addictive (“Salt, Sugar, Fat”). It’s then heavily advertised, often in a way to suggest that it is somehow healthy.

The figure of UK families buying 50% ultra processed foods is quite shocking.

BadHare in reply to Penel

I'm shocked every time I see the c**p piled up in people's shopping trolleys!

You can almost guarantee that if a food is advertised as "healthy", it will be the exact opposite. Very sad.

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