Home > News > Dangers of ultra-processed foods (UPF)

Update Dec 9, 2020

What are UPFs?

Industrially produced and highly transformed foods. Ultra-processed foods UPF are a risk for health. Some new studies and research.

Ultra-Processed Foods and the Corporate Capture of Nutrition

BMJ essay by Gyorgy Scrinis (Dec 2020). Food corporations have exploited the dominant model in nutrition science to shape the way their ultra-processed products are defended, promoted, and regulated. Gyorgy Scrinis examines their scientific strategies and suggests ways to reframe the debate. https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4601

First-food systems transformations and the ultra-processing of infant and young child diets

Phillip Baker et al. (July 2020) in Maternal and Child Nutrition. The determinants, dynamics and consequences of the global rise in commercial milk formula consumption. The inappropriate marketing and aggressive promotion of breastmilk substitutes (BMS) undermines breastfeeding and harms child and maternal health in all country contexts.

Ultra-processed foods: A new holistic paradigm?

Fardet & Rock (Nov 2019) in Science Direct

Highlights of the Fardet & Rock study

• Ultra-processed foods (UPF) is a new nutritional concept released in 2009.
• UPF is a holistic concept including food matrix and nutrient composition degradation.
• UPFs are empty calories, poorly satiating, and hyperglycaemic.
• Excess UPF consumption is associated with increased risks of many chronic diseases.


The concept of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) is new, and it was proposed for the first time in 2009 as group 4 of the NOVA classification to address the degree of food processing. UPFs include not only “junk foods” but also foods marketed as healthy, such as light, vegan, organic, or gluten-free products. UPFs are characterized by the presence of highly-processed/purified “cosmetic” ingredients and/or additives to restore and/or exacerbate organoleptic properties, i.e., taste, aroma, color and texture. Substantial industrial processing techniques, e.g., puffing, extrusion cooking, and/or extreme fractioning/refining that greatly breakdown the food matrix, may also be markers of ultra-processing. The UPF concept has been consistently criticized for being an overly heterogeneous concept, and the NOVA classification has been criticized for being qualitative only and too imprecise.

Scope and approach

This review is intended to discuss the UPF concept from a holistic perspective and to analyze the scientific soundness of criticisms about UPFs and NOVA. The UPF concept is first defined; then, its primary nutritional characteristics are described, followed by their association with health based on human studies.

Key findings and conclusions by Fardet & Rock 2019

UPF criticisms differ between holistic and reductionist perspectives. In a holistic concept, reductionist researchers view the proposed definition of UPF as an imprecise, vague and heterogeneous technological group. However, from a holistic perspective, the UPF concept has serious advantages, such as broad and common deleterious health attributes (i.e., the loss of “matrix” effect, empty calories, poorly satiating, hyperglycemic and containing artificial compounds foreign to the human body).

Ultra-processed food consumption and obesity in the Australian adult population

Priscila Pereira Machado et al. 2020 in Nutrition and Diabetes. Background: Rapid simultaneous increases in ultra-processed food sales and obesity prevalence have been observed worldwide, including in Australia. Consumption of ultra-processed foods by the Australian population was previously shown to be systematically associated with increased risk of intakes of nutrients outside levels recommended for the prevention of obesity. This study aims to explore the association between ultra-processed food consumption and obesity among the Australian adult population and stratifying by age group, sex and physical activity level.Conclusion: The findings add to the growing evidence that ultra-processed food consumption is associated with obesity and support the potential role of ultra-processed foods in contributing to obesity in Australia.

BPNI Webinar 2020

The BPNI (Breastfeeding promotion network India) hold a webinar on the unseen dangers of UPFs and made a Press release. (10 pages) Downloadable

FAO Report

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published “2030, Food, Agriculture and rural development in Latin America and the Caribbean” showing the impacts of UPFs on health. (27 pages). Downloadable

The dangers of ultra-processed foods UPFs

The World Health Organisation recommends “healthy diet” for all infants, young children and adults. The WHO also advises about salt, sugar and fats one should consume. Concerns have been expressed globally about the negative impact on human health of the replacement of real foods by products so industrially processed that they are hardly recognisable from their raw ingredients.

Ultra-processed foods have undergone significant mechanical, chemical and biological transformations through industrial processes and additions (salt, fats, colourings, preservatives, flavour enhancers…).

Industrialised Nations have witnessed substantial replacement and developing countries are fast catching up. Increased intake of UPFs often high in fat, sugar, salt, chemical additives, low in fibre and food-based nutrients, is a matter of great concern. Recent reviews have thrown light on health outcomes as a result of exposure to UPFs.


In conclusion we would like to underline that breastfeeding is feeding an unprocessed food. Compared to breastfeeding and all its nutrients and protective factors, feeding a baby with formula or breastmilk substitutes which are ultra processed foods UPFs may have negative impact on baby’s health and development.

IBFAN and GIFA point out that artificial infant formula is also an ultra-processed product.