Processed Foods and Health

A number of headlines have reported the impact of processed and ultra-processed foods on obesity, health and premature death. So we have explored what these terms mean and what the evidence really shows.

What are Processed Foods?

There are a number of different definitions for processed and ultra-processed foods which tend to separate foods by the number of ingredients they contain and the level of processing undergone. The most common definition for processed foods is the NOVA classifications:

  • Processed foods are foods containing 2-3 ingredients that are minimally processed e.g. canned vegetables, cheese, freshly made bread.
  • Ultra-processed foods are foods containing 5 or more ingredients with ‘industrial formulations’ with added ingredients to enhance flavour, texture of life e.g. cakes, cured meat, ice creams, added sugar fizzy drinks.

These rather broad and varying definitions of processed foods means it’s difficult to gather evidence to understand their impact on health.

These classifications also don’t take into account the calorie or nutrient content of the foods which research has shown has a direct influence on our health and weight.

What's the Evidence?

So What Should I Do?

The Eat Well Live Well approach to healthy eating helps you to simply balance your diet that’s not only better for you but also better for the environment. Eat Well Live Well helps you to achieve a balance of the food groups and nutrients your body needs to stay healthy whilst also managing consumption of less healthy foods, typically classified as processed or ultra-processed, such as cakes, biscuits and fizzy drinks.

Choosing more foods and drinks which carry the Eat Well Live Well logo is the delicious and simple way to a healthy diet (labelling currently available at selected sites). Find out more here.


  • Gibney, M. et al (2017) Ultra-processed foods in human health: a critical appraisalAm J Clin Nutr. 106(3):717-724.
  • Monteiro, A.(2018) Household availability of ultra-processed foods and obesity in nineteen European countries. Public Health Nutr. 21(1):18-26.