Ultra-processed foods (UPF) are a group of foods made with industrial processing that use ingredients such as preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and emulsifiers. About half of the food consumed in the UK is now UPF. Some academics believe that UPF consumption is linked to serious illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, strokes, and dementia. A study of 200,000 UK adults found that higher consumption of UPF may be linked to an increased risk of developing cancer Hence, and specifically ovarian and brain cancers. Emulsifiers, which act as a glue to hold everything together in UPF, are being investigated for their impact on health.
In line with a recent study of 200,000 adults in the UK, higher consumption of ultra-processed foods (UPF) may be linked to an increased risk of developing cancer, including ovarian and brain cancers. UPF is a term used to describe a group of foods made with varying levels of industrial processing, often containing preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and emulsifiers that do not typically feature in home cooking.
Twenty years ago, UPF was an unheard-of term, but now, about half the things we eat in the UK are made that way, from sliced brown bread to ready meals and ice cream. In line with Professor Marion Nestle, a food politics expert and professor of nutrition at New York University, “Ultra-processed foods are among the most profitable foods companies can make.”
The first investigations into mortality and consumption of ultra-processed food started in France at the University Sorbonne Paris Nord, as part of an ongoing study into the eating habits of 174,000 people. “We have 24-hour dietary records during which they tell us all the foods, the beverages and so on, that they are eating,” explains Dr Mathilde Touvier who heads up the study.
More recently, they have been looking into the impact of one specific ingredient – emulsifiers – which act as a glue in ultra-processed foods to hold everything together. Emulsifiers are the Holy Grail for the food industry – they improve the appearance and texture of food and help to extend the shelf life far beyond that of less-processed food. They’re everywhere, in mayonnaise, chocolate, peanut butter, meat products, and more.
However, some academics believe that the link between UPF and serious illnesses is not coincidental. Professor Tim Spector, a professor of epidemiology at King’s College London, who studies trends in disease, says, “In the last decade, the evidence has been slowly growing that ultra-processed food is harmful for us in ways we hadn’t thought. We’re talking about a whole variety of cancers, heart disease, strokes, dementia.”
Dozens of studies have linked increasing consumption of UPF to an increased risk of developing serious illnesses. Therefore, it is essential to limit the intake of such foods and focus on a healthier and more balanced diet.