Wed, Feb 07, 2018 - Page 9 News List

‘Ultra-processed’ products make up half of UK food purchases

By Sarah Boseley  /  The Guardian

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 “Real food” has been replaced by salty snacks and sugary cereals, industrially made bread and desserts, ready-meals and reconstituted meats alongside sweetened soft drinks.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 percent of the diet. Germany comes second, on 46.2 percent and then Ireland on 45.9 percent.

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 analyzed came from the Living Costs and Food Survey 2008, the latest available. They categorized foods into four groups:

More than a quarter of food (28.6 percent) was unprocessed or minimally so, 10.4 percent was processed cooking ingredients such as vegetable oil and 10.2 percent was ordinarily processed, such as cheese or cured meat. Ultra-processed food amounts to more than all the other groups combined.

Carlos Monteir, a professor at 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 might 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 Professor 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,” he said.

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

Mr Kipling, made by Premier Foods, tops the poll for cakes. They also own Batchelors, which lead on dried ready meals, such as Super Noodles and soups in a cup. McVitie’s are the lead sellers of sweet biscuits. Kellogg’s dominates cold breakfast cereals. Cadbury’s chocolate, Wrigley’s gum and Haribo sweets all top their categories in confectionery. Lay’s, from Pepsico, are the biggest selling salty and savory snacks.

These foods are made from cheap ingredients and produced on a huge scale, Moneteiro said.

Ultra-processed cheese is made of milk powder and additives, for example.

Some instant noodles are not noodles, he said.

“If you have instant noodles that are essentially based on oils and starch and additives, you are not eating real noodles. The same goes for chicken nuggets — when you get these ultra-processed chicken nuggets you are not getting real chicken,” he said.

There are two problems with all this, he said.

People are missing out not only on vitamins and minerals, but also bioactive compounds found in natural foods such as phytoestrogens and fiber.

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