To ban or not to ban, the case for reformulating ultra-processed foods

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In a caller reappraisal article published successful nan diary Nutrients, researchers summarized nan statement astir ultra-processed foods (UPFs) and their effect connected non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

They concluded that location is simply a deficiency of causal grounds regarding nan effect of UPFs connected NCDs and that reformulating these foods alternatively of banning them altogether could output important wellness benefits.

 AtlasStudio / ShutterstockStudy: Ultra-Processed Foods—Dietary Foe aliases Potential Ally? Image Credit: AtlasStudio / Shutterstock


Research has highlighted nan world dispersed of Western dietary patterns, peculiarly nan accrued depletion of UPFs crossed different economical stages. While UPFs are often precocious successful saturated fats, salt, and sugar, their classification has go much analyzable owed to evolving formulations.

Despite ongoing debates astir nan classification and wellness effect of UPFs, their value successful world nutrient systems cannot beryllium ignored. According to immoderate estimates, UPFs lend complete 50% of nan population's caloric intake successful nan United States, while depletion of health-beneficial foods has decreased.

Many group whitethorn look challenges accessing and affording healthier alternatives, starring to poorer wellness practices. However, existent UPFs tin lend to raising scores according to nan Healthy Eating Index (HEI) contempt lacking basal nutrients.

Epidemiological grounds links UPF depletion to NCDs for illustration obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Debates situation whether UPFs' adverse wellness effects stem from their nutrient-poor contented aliases additives that imitate earthy flavors, starring to discussions connected banning UPFs aliases reformulating them for amended wellness outcomes.

The communicative reappraisal intends to beforehand knowing by examining systems for nutrient classification and proposing guidelines for UPF formulation and user selection.

Systems for nutrient classification

Food classification systems purpose to categorize foods based connected shared characteristics, typically for providing dietary guidance and informing nutrition policies. Traditional systems, for illustration nan US Dietary Guidelines, attraction connected culinary definitions and nutritional needs.

However, interest complete nan wellness impacts of nutrient processing has led to replacement classification schemes. These newer systems, specified arsenic NOVA, categorize foods based connected nan grade and intent of processing, distinguishing betwixt minimally processed, extracted substances and UPFs.

While nan NOVA strategy is wide used, it has faced criticism, prompting investigation into replacement classification methods. Recent advancements see instrumentality learning algorithms, for illustration FoodProX, which measure nan grade of nutrient processing and nexus dietary value to NCD consequence biomarkers.

Causal grounds regarding UPFs

Studies bespeak a deficiency of clear causal grounds linking UPFs straight to adverse wellness outcomes. The researchers identified 4 categories for further investigation: power balance, nutrient density, nutrient processing, and usage of non-culinary additives.

The existent grounds suggests a affirmative relation betwixt UPF intake and obesity risk, moreover erstwhile controlling for calorie intake, suggesting that power equilibrium unsocial whitethorn not explicate nan relation betwixt UPFs and wellness issues.

While early assumptions linked UPFs pinch mediocre nutritional content, galore nutrient-dense UPFs are now available. Poor nutritional position could beryllium a biomarker for different processes that modify NCD risk, but whether these products impact nan likelihood of NCDs is unclear.

Specific nutrient processing techniques and additives person been implicated successful a higher consequence of NCD. These alterations whitethorn impact nan gut microbiome and lend to metabolic diseases. It is important to analyse nan effects of refined macronutrients, additives, microbial products, and caller chemicals formed during processing.

A determination character model tin beryllium utilized to research causality by implementing a bid of experiments to find whether factors related to UPFs impact NCD risk. Preclinical models, specified arsenic rodent models of hepatic steatosis, tin beryllium utilized to analyse these factors systematically.

Reformulating UPFs for wellness benefits

Developers of nan NOVA strategy urge limiting UPF intake. Several strategies person been identified to beforehand healthier eating habits and counteract nan power of UPFs successful nan nutrient system, specified arsenic promoting nan mentation of patient food, expanding support for family farmers, and creating nationalist wellness policies to modulate UPFs pinch debased nutritional value.

However, these recommendations place nan entreaty of UPFs to consumers, including their palatability and convenience. Limiting UPF readiness and depletion could trim nutrient security, particularly among susceptible populations for illustration older adults.

An replacement attack is reformulating UPFs to make them healthier. Whole-food formulation, which replaces processed ingredients pinch intact aliases minimally processed ones, is 1 specified approach. Changing cultivation and economical incentives could promote nan improvement of healthier processed foods.

Additionally, nan military's ready-to-eat meals (MREs) model could beryllium utilized arsenic a exemplary for UPF formulation. It focuses connected evidence-based nutritional standards and emphasizes convenience, adjustability, and palatability. Collaboration betwixt nan nutrient manufacture and investigation sectors could lead to communal benefits and improved user health.


UPFs are often misunderstood, pinch unclear causal links to wellness outcomes. Standardization issues successful nutrient classification systems for illustration NOVA further complicate matters; while technology, for illustration instrumentality learning, immunodeficiency successful knowing UPFs, be aware is required to debar bias. Collaboration and investigation are needed to amended UPF formulations for amended wellness outcomes.

Journal reference:

  • Ultra-processed foods – dietary foe aliases imaginable ally? Nees, S., Lutsiv, T., Thompson, H.J. Nutrients (2024). DOI: 10.3390/nu16071013,

Article Revisions

  • Apr 2 2024 - Correction to nan diary insubstantial title and link.