Nutritional Quality, Environmental Impact and Cost of Ultra-Processed Foods: A UK Food-Based Analysis

Abstract: Food-based analyses of the healthiness, environmental sustainability and affordability of processed and ultra-processed foods are lacking. This paper aimed to determine how ultra-processed and processed foods compare to fresh and minimally processed foods in relation to nutritional quality, greenhouse gas emissions and cost on the food and food group level. Data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey nutrient databank year 11 (2018/2019) were used for this analysis. Median and bootstrapped medians of nutritional quality (NRF8.3 index), greenhouse gas emissions (gCO2- equivalents) and cost (in GBP) were compared across processing categories. An optimal score based on the medians was created to identify the most nutritional, sustainable, and affordable options across processing categories. On a per 100 kcal basis, ultra-processed and processed foods had a lower nutritional quality, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and were cheaper than minimally processed foods, regardless of their total fat, salt and/or sugar content. The most nutritious, environmentally friendly, and affordable foods were generally lower in total fat, salt, and sugar, irrespective of processing level. The high variability in greenhouse gas emissions and cost across food groups and processing levels offer opportunities for food swaps representing the healthiest, greenest, and most affordable options.
Refereed journal
Output Tags
RD 3.2.3 Sustainability of healthy diets (RESAS 2016-21)
WP 3.2 Healthy diets and dietary choice (RESAS 2016-21)