by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Ultraprocessed

Jan 25 2024

Mind-boggling product of the week: Doritos spirit

I learned about this one from Beverage Daily:

Unexpected and bold: The iconic nacho cheese taste of Doritos imbued into a first-of-its-kind spiritThe Frito-Lay brand has collaborated with Danish flavour innovator Empirical to launch Doritos Nacho Cheese Spirit – a limited edition, multi-sensorial experience that really tastes like nacho cheese…. Read more

Limited edition bottles will be available in select New York and California markets for $65 for a 750ml bottle.

Now you get to have your ultra-processed snack and 42% alcohol by volume—all at once!

Oh no!  According to the company, the product is sold out.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Jan 10 2024

Colombia is taxing ultra-processed foods!

Let’s start the new year with some good news.

I was excited to read in The Lancet that Colombia has enacted a tax on junk foods.

The new tax was included in a wider reform that passed into law in December, 2022, seeking to reduce the
burden of obesity and other diseases on Colombia’s health system, while also bringing in revenue in a country that manages a fiscal deficit.

This is a tax on ultra-processed foods!

The tax is being implemented gradually, beginning at 10%, before rising to 15% in 2024 and 20% in 2025, and targets foods are high in salt and saturated fat, as well as industrially manufactured prepackaged foods.

Colombia already has warning labels.  Here’s who else has them.


The warning label movement!

Now, if we only could get these in the U.S….

But note: not everyone loves the tax.  The Guardian reports charges that it is unfair to the poor.  But so is type 2 diabetes.

Jan 8 2024

The pushback on ultra-processed: a study (of sorts)

Lots of people are uncomfortable about the concept of ultra-processed foods, the category of processed foods made mainly of industrially extracted ingredients, containing little or no recognizable food, and able to reproduced in home kitchens only if you have the ingredeients and the equipment.

Here is an example: The Guardian headline: “Ultra-processed foods are not more appealing, study finds”

The Study: Evidence that carbohydrate-to-fat ratio and taste, but not energy density or NOVA level of processing, are determinants of food liking and food reward.  Appetite, Volume 193, 2024, 107124,

  • Purpose: “This virtual (online) study [highlighted so you won’t miss this point] tested the common but largely untested assumptions that food energy density, level of processing (NOVA categories), and carbohydrate-to-fat (CF) ratio are key determinants of food reward.”
  • Method: “Individual participants (224 women and men, mean age 35 y, 53% with healthy weight, 43% with overweight or obesity) were randomised to one of three, within-subjects, study arms: energy density (32 foods), or level of processing (24 foods), or CF ratio (24 foods). They rated the foods for taste pleasantness (liking), desire to eat (food reward), and sweetness, saltiness, and flavour intensity (for analysis averaged as taste intensity).”
  • Results: Against our hypotheses, there was not a positive relationship between liking or food reward and either energy density or level of processing. As hypothesised, foods combining more equal energy amounts of carbohydrate and fat (combo foods), and foods tasting more intense, scored higher on both liking and food reward. Further results were that CF ratio, taste intensity, and food fibre content (negatively), independent of energy density, accounted for 56% and 43% of the variance in liking and food reward, respectively. We interpret the results for CF ratio and fibre in terms of food energy-to-satiety ratio (ESR), where ESR for combo foods is high, and ESR for high-fibre foods is low.”
  • Conclusion: “We suggest that the metric of ESR should be considered when designing future studies of effects of food composition on food reward, preference, and intake.”I ca


I can’t say this any better than Stuart Gillespie, who posted:

Or Tamar Haspel (@Tamar Haspel) who points out:

Want to find out what properties of food drive consumption?

Is it fat/carb ratio, degree of processing, sweetness?

I’m gonna say asking a self-selected group of internet randos to rate a bunch of really unappetizing photographs isn’t the way.

If nutrition and food scientists want to shoot down the concept of ultra-processed foods, they are going to have to refute hundreds of studies linking such foods to poor health outcome, as well as the carefully controlled clinical trial demonstrating that ultra-processed foods encourage overeating.


Sep 29 2023

Weekend reading: rising prevalence of obesity in developing countries

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), as part of its IFAD Research Series, released a report, Overweight and obesity in LMICs in rural development and food systems, along with a literature review.

The report finds obesity rates across developing countries to be approaching levels found in high-income countries.

The study attributes the rise to:

  • Food Prices: The price gap between healthy foods (expensive) and unhealthy foods (inexpensive) is greater in developing countries than in rich developed countries.
  • Diet: Sugar-sweetened beverage consumption is on the rise in developing countries and the global sales of highly processed foods rose from 67.7kg per capita in 2005 to 76.9kg in 2017.
  • Culture: In some developing countries, childhood fatness is associated with health and wealth and consumption of unhealthy foods carries prestige.
  • Gender: Women are more likely to be overweight or obese than men in nearly all developing countries.

One strength of this study is its consideration of the need for interventions across the entire food system:

The study results show that food system-related interventions are not overweight or obesity specific. Instead, they tap into the wider field of making diets more healthy and nutritious, and emerge as necessary strategies to set the scene for creating non-obesogenic food supply chains. The identified intervention strategies cut across different food system domains: there were production strategies for improved dietary diversity, strategies for processing (which involved food package labelling or price mechanisms), strategies for changing the food environment and strategies to address consumer behaviour.

Sep 5 2023

British Nutrition Foundation vs. concept of Ultra-Processed Food

I’m always surprised when the nutrition community opposes evidence for the association of ultra-processed foods with poor health outcomes.

I read an article about such opposition from the British Nutrition Foundation.

Bridget Benelam, a BNF spokesperson, explained: For many of us when we get home after a busy day, foods like baked beans, wholemeal toast, fish fingers or ready-made pasta sauces are an affordable way to get a balanced meal on the table quickly. These may be classed as ultra-processed but can still be part of a healthy diet.

I looked up the position statement of the British Nutrition Foundation.

At present, the British Nutrition Foundation believes that due to the lack of agreed definition, the need for better understanding of mechanisms involved and concern about its usefulness as a tool to identify healthier products, the concept of UPF does not warrant inclusion within policy (e.g. national dietary guidelines).

I also looked up its “Why trust us?” statement.

Our funding comes from: membership subscriptions; donations and project grants from food producers and manufacturers, retailers and food service companies; contracts with government departments; conferences, publications and training; overseas projects; funding from grant providing bodies, trusts and other charities.  Our corporate members and committee membership are listed on our website and in our annual reports.

With some diligent searching, I did indeed manage to find the list of corporate members.

Front group anyone?  Take a look.

Current members
AHDB (Agricultural and Horticulture Development Board)

Aldi Stores Ltd

Associated British Foods


ASDA Stores Ltd

British Sugar plc

Cargill Inc

Coca Cola

Costa Coffee

Danone Ltd


General Mills

Greggs plc

Innocent Drinks Ltd

International Flavors & Fragrances Inc.

J Sainsbury Plc

Kellogg Europe Trading Ltd

Kerry Taste & Nutrition

KP Snacks Limited

Lidl GB


Marks and Spencer plc

Mars UK Ltd

McDonald’s Restaurants Ltd

Mitchells & Butlers

Mondelez International

National Farmers’ Union Trust Company Ltd

Nestlé UK Ltd

Nestlé Nutrition

Nomad Foods Europe

PepsiCo UK Ltd


Premier Foods


Slimming World



Subway UK & Ireland

Tata Global Beverages Ltd

Tate & Lyle www.tate&

Tesco Plc

The Co-operative Group Ltd

Uber Eats

UK Flour Millers

Waitrose & Partners



Wm Morrisons Supermarkets plc



Sustaining Members

Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board

ASDA Stores Ltd

Associated British Foods

Coca-Cola Great Britain and Ireland

Danone UK Ltd

International Flavors & Fragrances Inc.

J Sainsbury plc

Kellogg Europe

Marks and Spencer plc

Mondelez International

Nestlé UK Ltd

PepsiCo UK Ltd

Tate & Lyle


Sustaining members agree to provide a donation to the British Nutrition Foundation for at least three years to support our wider charitable work focussing on consumer education, and engagement with the media, government, schools and health professionals. 

Help us improve

Aug 2 2023

Do people understand what ultra-processed means? Yes, they do.

My email and Twitter (sorry, X) feeds are full of arguments about the NOVA classification of foods, which divides foods into four categories:

  1. Unprocessed and minimally processed foods
  2. Processed culinary ingredients
  3. Processed foods
  4. Ultra-processed foods

By this classification system, you don’t need to worry about the first three categories.  The only one that matters is #4, associated strongly with poor health and demonstrated in one clinical trial to induce over-eating; ultra-processed foods are formulated to make them irresistable so you can’t eat just one.

At issue is the definition, with critics arguing that ultra-processed foods are so confusingly defined that nobody can figure out what they are.

That has not been my experience in talking about ultra-processed foods.  As far as I can tell, people get the concept right away, which is one reason why the food industry opposes the concept so strongly.

A new study confirms my view.  I first read about it in Food Navigator, a newsletter I read daily:

NOVA classification matches consumer instincts, study findsThe NOVA classification system is used to ascertain whether foods are minimally processed, processed or ‘ultra-processed’. A new study has found that people’s perceptions of foods and their processing levels usually align with their NOVA classification…. Read more

I went immediately to the study: Perceived degree of food processing as a cue for perceived healthiness: The NOVA system mirrors consumers’ perceptions,
Alenica Hässig, Christina Hartmann, Luisma Sanchez-Siles, Michael Siegrist, Food Quality and Preference, Volume 110, 2023, 104944,

Its main points:

  • Consumers had negative associations of foods produced by the industry.
  • Perceived degree of processing was a cue for consumers’ evaluation of food healthiness.
  • Laypeople’s perception of food processing was in line with the NOVA classification.

I”d say the NOVA classification is doing exactly what it is supposed to, and misunderstanding it is not an issue.


A reader writes that she is pushing back on this post suggesting (correctly) that I did not read the study carefully.  She points out:

  • Its authors work for a food company that might have a conflicted interest.
  • Some of its methods seem dubious [I don’t agree about all her points].

She concludes: “We should all be careful about rushing in, reading abstracts & author’s conclusions and making comments, without first reading the study in its entirety.”

She’s right.  Apologies.

Jul 21 2023

Why ultra-processed foods matter: the state of world hunger

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. released its annual State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report last week.  Its conclusions are sobering.

Global hunger is still far above pre-pandemic levels. It is estimated that between 690 and 783 million people in the world faced hunger in 2022. This is 122 million more people than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, the increase in global hunger observed in the last two years has stalled and, in 2022, there were about 3.8 million fewer people suffering from hunger than in 2021. The economic recovery from the pandemic has contributed to this, but there is no doubt that the modest progress has been undermined by rising food and energy prices magnified by the war inUkraine. There is no room for complacency, though, as hunger is still on the rise throughout Africa, Western Asia and the Caribbean.

Ultra-processed foods are a critical part of this story.  The word “processed” comes up 264 times in this report; “highly processed” comes up 99 times .  Some examples:

  • Healthy diets are essential for achieving food security goals and improving nutritional outcomes. A healthy diet…is based on a wide range of unprocessed or minimally processed foods, balanced across food groups, while it restricts the consumption of highly processed foods and drink products…Eating a healthy diet throughout the life cycle is critical for preventing all forms of malnutrition, including child stunting and wasting, micronutrient deficiencies and overweight or obesity. It also helps reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
  • The unfinished agendas to reduce stunting, wasting and micronutrient deficiency, along with rising overweight and obesity, represent the current challenge to address multiple forms of malnutrition. Malnutrition in all its forms is related to poor diets, the rise of low-cost
    nutrient-poor foods and the increasing availability of highly processed foods in rural areas.
  • Supply-side factors, including globalized technology in food production, transportation and marketing, coupled with an increase in demand for readily available foods, have contributed to a substantial expansion of supermarkets, hypermarkets, food deliveries and other convenience retailers. However, these are also associated with increased supply and spread of energy-dense and highly processed foods.
  • However, urbanization has also contributed to the spread and consumption of processed and highly processed foods, which are increasingly cheap, readily available and marketed, with private sector small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and larger companies often setting the nutrition landscape. Cost comparisons of individual food items and/or food groups from existing studies indicate that the cost of nutritious foods – such as fruits, vegetables and animal source foods – is typically higher than the cost of energy-dense foods high in fats, sugars and/or salt, and of staple foods, oils and sugars.
  • The dynamics of supply and demand for processed foods, however, are complex. There has been a surge on the supply side, with small and medium enterprises and large private companies alike making massive aggregate investments in all types of processed foods (from minimally to highly processed) in response to demand. At the same time, aggressive marketing and relatively low pricing – and even interference in policies to curb consumption of highly processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages – are driving up consumption.

The report emphasizes the importance of food processing in contributing to poor diets and health.

What is to be done?  From the Brief summary:

Leveraging connectivity across the rural–urban continuum will require adequate governance mechanisms and institutions to coordinate coherent investment beyond sectoral and administrative boundaries. To this end, subnational governments can play a key role in designing and implementing policies beyond the traditional top-down approach. Approaches to agrifood systems governance should ensure policy coherence among local, regional and national settings through the engagement of relevant agrifood systems stakeholders at all levels.

I read this as saying what’s need is community-based, bottom up approaches at the local level.  That’s a great place to start.  Go for it.



Jul 20 2023

Ultra-processed pushback #4: a debate

The British journal, Public Health Nutrition, published a debate about ultra-processed foods this month.

Invited commentaries

CON:  Michael Gibney.  Ultra-processed foods in public health nutrition: the unanswered questions,

Several definitions of the degree of processing have been proposed. However, when each of these is used on a common database of nutritional, clinical and anthropometric variables, the observed effect of high intakes of highly processed food, varies considerably.. Moreover, assigning a given food by nutritional experts, to its appropriate level of processing, has been shown to be variable. Thus, the subjective definitions of the degree of food processing and the coding of foods according to these classifications is prone to error…Another issue that need[s] resolution is the relative importance of the degree of food processing and the formulation of a processed food. Although correlational studies linking processed food and obesity abound, there is a need for more investigative studies.

PRO: Mark Lawrence.  Ultra-processed foods: a fit-for-purpose concept for nutrition policy activities to tackle unhealthy and unsustainable diets.  Also an addendum: Ultra-processed foods: a fit-for-purpose concept for nutrition policy activities to tackle unhealthy and unsustainable diets.

This commentary describes the UPF concept as being fit-for-purpose in providing guidance to inform policy activities to tackle unhealthy and unsustainable diets. There is now a substantial body of evidence linking UPF exposure with adverse population and planetary health outcomes. The UPF concept is increasingly being used in the development of food-based dietary guidelines and nutrition policy actions. It challenges many conventional nutrition research and policy activities as well as the political economy of the industrial food system. Inevitably, there are politicised debates associated with UPF and it is apparent a disproportionate number of articles claiming the concept is controversial originate from a small number of researchers with declared associations with UPF manufacturers.

Letters to the editor

CON: Mark J Messina, John L Sievenpiper, Patricia Williamson, Jessica Kiel, John W Erdman.  Ultra-processed foods: a concept in need of revision to avoid targeting healthful and sustainable plant-based foods

we take issue with his perspective on our recently published article in which we make two fundamental points. First, the common criticisms of ultra-processed foods (UPF) do not apply to soya-based meat and dairy alternatives more so than they do to their animal-based counterparts, meat and cows’ milk, despite the former being classified as UPF and the latter as unprocessed/minimally processed foods. Second, NOVA is overly simplistic and does not adequately evaluate the nutritional attributes of meat and dairy alternatives based on soya….We therefore stand by our opinion that NOVA does a disservice to the public by suggesting that because soya burgers and soyamilk are NOVA-classified as UPF, they should be avoided. These foods can aid in the transition to and maintenance of plant-based diets.

PRO:  Mark Lawrence. The need for particular scrutiny of claims made by researchers associated with ultra-processed food manufacturers.

In this Commentary, I referred to challenges the UPF concept presents to researchers with declared associations with UPF manufacturers. The interplay between nutrition research and commercial interests is a widely recognised phenomenon in the commercial determinants of health literature…UPF-related research has become highly politicised and the integrity of the claims presented by researchers associated with UPF manufacturers demands close scrutiny.


In his letter, Mark Lawrence noted my having included the paper by Messina et al as one of my “industry-funded studies of the week” on this website.  In it, I reproduced the unusually long conflict of interest declaration of the authors, many of them disclosing ties to companies making ultra-processed foods.  Again, the ultra-processed concept is backed up by an extraordinary amount of research far beyond the point where it can be ignored or dismissed out of hand.

Professor Lawrence explains why there is so much pushback: “It [the UPF concept] challenges many conventional nutrition research and policy activities as well as the political economy of the industrial food system.”