On "Ultra-Processed" Foods, Agriculture Tech and More

Last week, the British Medical Journal published two studies on ultra-processed foods.

  • Association between consumption of ultra-processed foods and all cause mortality”, which included 19,899 Spanish  university graduates aged 20-91 years, said: “During the past two decades, availability and consumption of ultra-processed foods, characterized by food products with a low nutritional quality and high energy density, has increased markedly in many countries.

  • Ultra-processed foods are industrial formulations made mostly or entirely from substances derived from foods and additives, with little, if any, intact food. These food products are convenient (durable, ready to eat, or heat-able), hyper-palatable (extremely tasty), highly profitable (low cost ingredients), anddesigned to replace all other food groups with the aid of attractive packaging and intensive marketing.”

  • Study results show that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods (more than 4 servings per day) was associated with a 62% increased risk of all cause mortality compared with lower consumption (less than 2 servings per day). For each additional daily serving of ultra-processed food, mortality risk relatively increased by 18%.

  • Participants in “Ultra-processed food intake and risk of cardiovascular disease”, which included 105,159 French adults, said: “Higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with higher risks of cardiovascular, coronary heart, and cerebrovascular diseases.

  • "Public health authorities in several countries have recently started to promote unprocessed or minimally processed foods and to recommend limiting the consumption of ultra-processed foods.”


  • These studies, and many others, support the view that to reduce many health riskspeople need to improve their diet (i.e. Mediterranean), exercise regularly and not smoke.  

  • As food processors and suppliers adapt to changing consumer demand for unprocessed or minimally processed foods, various socio-economic groups are challenged by their higher costs and time needed to prepare them

  • Advances in agricultural science (plant/cell based meats, plant genome, CRISPR, etc.) and food production technologies(automation, computer vision, indoor/vertical production, etc.) will have an increasing role in the availability of more affordable and sustainable food offerings.

  • An area for more discussion and research: "Can a reduction in ultra-processed food consumption materially reduce the use of plastics in food production and delivery?"


  • Ultra-processed/highly processed foods include: processed meats; potato chips; breakfast cereals; frozen pizza; margarine;  processed cheese, non-handmade pastries; carbonated drinks; artificially sugared beverages; fruit drinks; milkshakes; instant soups and creams; mayonnaise; alcoholic drinks produced by fermentation followed by distillation such as whisky, gin, and rum

  • Unprocessed or minimally processed foods include: fruit, vegetables, legumes, milk (whole, semi-skimmed, and non-fat), eggs, meats, poultry, fish and seafood, fermented milk as yogurt, grains (white rice, pasta), natural juice, coffee, and water

  • Processed foods include: salt, sugar, honey, vegetable oils (olive, sunflower, corn), butter, condensed milk, cream milk, fresh cheeses, cured traditional ham, bacon, canned and bottled fruit, breads (white and whole), beer, and wine

Paul Dravis