Processed Food

22 Jan 2021


Processed foods are commonplace within people’s diets in the UK. Dependent on the composition and degree of processing, processed foods can add to, or reduce the nutritional quality of an individual’s diet.

Food processing are methods and techniques that turn fresh foods into food products1. A range of operations are used, including washing, chopping, heating, freezing, packaging and the addition of ingredients, which may change the characteristics of a food; including their nutritional composition. This includes food fortification2,3. There is a growing narrative that classes all forms of processing, and in particular significant degrees of processing as less healthy or desirable, even though this does not apply in all cases.

Key points

  • The nutritional quality of foods is more important to consider than simply whether or not they are processed.
  • For some products, consumers should be aware that processing will increase the content of sugar, salt, fat or other ingredients that will make them less healthy than their unprocessed equivalent.
  • It is also important to recognise that processed foods and ultra-processed foods as described by NOVA category 4 are not necessarily high in fat, salt and sugar or other less healthy additives. Processed or ultra-processed foods are not necessarily unhealthy to consume, and in some cases may be beneficial, especially to certain population groups who may have more restricted diets.
  • Food fortification is the addition of vitamins and minerals to increase the micronutrient density in a food to support people in achieving their daily requirements. Such fortification can lead foods to be categorized as processed or ultra-processed, but have positive benefits for health.
  • Some processed and ultra-processed foods have their place to support populations to meet nutritional requirements. It is important that people do not avoid all foods that include more than five ingredients, as many of these products are integral to achieving a balanced diet for good health.

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