They are now said to be harmful to all parts of the body.
But the endless series of health warnings does not stop the average Briton from consuming ultra-processed foods.
Data shows that the UK consumes more ultra-processed foods (UPF), a category that includes cakes, sweets and biscuits, than anywhere else in Europe.
Nearly 60 percent of an adult’s daily diet is made up of garbage, a report showed.
Similar figures are observed in the United States.
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The Nova system, developed by scientists in Brazil more than a decade ago, divides foods into four groups based on the amount of processing they have gone through. Unprocessed foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, and meat. Processed culinary ingredients, which are not typically eaten alone, include oils, butter, sugar, and salt.
Food experts say some UPF can be “part of a healthy diet.” Baked beans, fish fingers and whole wheat bread are sufficient, according to the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF). Tomato-based pasta sauces, whole grain breakfast cereals and fruit yoghurts are also “healthier processed foods”, the charity claims.
By comparison, rates are below 20 percent in Italy, where the Mediterranean diet, beloved by experts for its host of health benefits, is common.
Additive-laden foods have been vilified for decades for their supposed risks, and dozens of studies link them to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Leading scientists have even called for UPFs to be eliminated from diets entirely or treated like cigarettes. However, others argue that there is no evidence that the processing itself is dangerous and that some UPFS may be perfectly healthy.
Despite growing fears, use has increased worldwide in both adults and children over the past decade.
A British Medical Journal report last year revealed that the average diet of an American adult is about 57.9 percent UPF.
It was the only country over 30 years analyzed that surpassed the United Kingdom in terms of consumption.
France and Belgium consume only half the amount that the United Kingdom consumes, averaging 29.6 and 31.1 percent respectively.
The findings were based on nationally representative samples conducted over the past few years.
By comparison, Romania’s intake was around 15 percent.
UPFs refer to items that contain ingredients that people would not normally add when cooking homemade food.
These additions can include chemicals, dyes, sweeteners and preservatives that extend shelf life.
Prepared meals, ice cream, and tomato ketchup are some of the most beloved examples of products that fall under the umbrella term UPF, now synonymous with foods that offer little nutritional value because they are typically higher in sugar, salt, and fat.
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Around two-thirds of over-16s in England (64 per cent) are overweight, including tens of thousands who are morbidly obese. This is an 11 percent increase from 1993, when 53 percent were considered overweight. Experts blame a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diets. Source: Health Survey for England 2021
They are different from processed foods, which are modified to make them last longer or improve their flavor, such as cured meat, cheese, and fresh bread.
It comes as a major review of current research concluded that diets high in UPF may be harmful to all parts of the body.
It linked the foods to an increased risk of 32 health problems, including cancer, type 2 diabetes and mental health disorders.
In the largest analysis of evidence to date involving 10 million people, researchers also found that those who consumed the most UPF had a 40 to 66 percent increased risk of dying from heart disease.
Health experts have long called for health claims to be removed from “harmful” junk foods like coconut popsicles and their advertising to be banned.
Others, however, have pointed to other lifestyle factors as culprits, such as low levels of exercise, high rates of smoking, and lack of nutrients from fresh foods consumed by people who consume a lot of UPF.
Last week, TV star and author Dr Chris van Tulleken said the mass-produced food industry was acting similarly to Big Tobacco by selling addictive products that could be harmful.
He called for warnings to be brandished on “black label octagon” labels on foods with few health benefits. Similar ones are already used in Chile.
The latest NHS data shows that 26 per cent of adults in England are obese and a further 38 per cent are overweight but not obese.