Nutrition Foundation

Ultra-processed foods


Ultra-processed foods have been significantly modified through factory processing. These manufactured foods will often come in a packet and have a list of ingredients. The ingredients list may include items that would not normally be used in home cooking.

There are many reasons ultra-processed foods can cause poor metabolic health, including:

  • The food matrix has been destroyed. (In simple terms this means the food ingredients have been so heavily processed that at a microscopic level the food is in tiny pieces. This means when the food is eaten it is rapidly digested and absorbed into our blood.)
  • They often contain a large amount of sugar and refined carbohydrate.
  • The food may be low in fibre.
  • There may be additives that could interfere with gut bacteria (more research is needed to understand the relevance of this).
  • The foods are often low in protein.
  • It may be easy to overeat ultra-processed foods, even when not hungry.

Ultra-processed foods a major component of the UK diet. Over half the food eaten in the UK is ultra-processed. This is because they are engineered to be tasty, they are relatively low cost, and they are often heavily marketed.

Because ultra-processed foods are so easily available it may require some determination and attention to minimise them.

To improve health consider

  • Reduce packaged convenience foods that have a long list of ingredients.
  • If our ancestors would not have recognised the food then stop and consider if it could be ultra-processed.
  • Be aware that some ready-meals may appear heathy but they are often ultra-processed.


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