Ultra-processed foods: expert stresses importance of consumer communication

Consumers will likely seek minimally processed products following recent headlines spotlighting the potential health implications associated with UPF consumption, Alex Beckett, director of Mintel, tells NutraIngredients.

Yet, following new research suggesting that not all UPFs are harmful to health, Beckett asserts that companies should focus on communicating the benefits that processing can offer, such as lower costs and enhanced nutrition.

Growing controversy

Over recent months, there has been growing concerns over the health implications associated with the consumption of UPFs. Research ​has increasingly linked increased consumption of UPFs with adverse outcomes, such as altered lipoprotein profiles, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. With increasing consumer awareness of the health risks, scrutiny over the processing methods used by the food industry has been intensifying.

Yet, a recent study​ published in The Lancet suggests that whilst certain types of UPFs may increase risk of disease, such health adversities are dependent on the overall composition of the product. It concludes that products containing nutrients such as fibre exert beneficial effects and prevent disease progression, further adding to recent arguments​ that the vilification of all UPFs is an “oversimplification”.

The researchers observe that ultra-processed breads and cereals, as well as plant-based alternatives, are not associated with disease risk, whilst animal-based products and artificially and sugar-sweetened beverages increase risk. The researchers conclude that UPFs should not be avoided but consumption should be limited.