Eating too many ultra-processed foods containing preservatives, sweeteners and artificial colours may be seriously damaging to your health, studies suggest.
But experts said the term ultra-processed is being ‘overused’ and ‘not explained well’, causing confusion and worry.
This week, campaigners warned the UK faces a ‘tidal wave of harm’ from the over-consumption of ultra-processed food, after studies suggested it raised the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
However, the European Food Information Council warned the data should be ‘considered with caution’.
Adding that there ‘is also an on-going debate about the usefulness of the term ultra-processed when it comes to guiding consumers in their dietary choices’.
British dieticians have told MailOnline they want UK health chiefs to take similar action.
Experts warned that the UK faces a ‘tidal wave of harm’ from the over-consumption of ultra-processed food, after two studies suggested they raise the risk of heart attacks and strokes, but dietitians argue this classification is causing confusion
One, Dr Duane Mellor, said the recent hyper-focus on ultra-processed food (UPFs) was unhelpful and British health authorities should step-in to clear the confusion.
‘They need to explain carefully and clearly that the term Ultra Processed Foods, is getting a lot of attention at the minute, but it is possibly being overused, and not explained well,’ he said.
While he acknowledged the food industry needed to use processing methods that produced healthier food, the panic over UPFs wasn’t helping.
‘We need a food system which supports our health, but by getting consumers to worry or not worry about UPF is not tackling that issue,’ he said.
He added that avoiding ultra-processed foods is not helpful for some people, for example, those with poor appetite or illness who need to consume nutritional supplements while they recover.
Instead, he suggested providing advice on what we should be eating more of such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds which have been consistently shown to be associated with a decreased risk of heart disease.
Nutritionists split food into three groups based on the amount of processing they have gone through. Minimally processed foods, like apples, are usually exactly how they appear in nature. Processed foods, like apple sauce, have gone through at least one level of processing that has changed their original form. In contrast, ultra-processed foods like apple jelly babies, have gone through multiple levels of processing and are usually full of extra fats, colours and preservatives
Instead of telling people to avoid all ultra-processed foods such as mass produced bread and baked beans, pictured, more advice should be provided on what we should be eating more of such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds
Dr Mellor also stressed that we need to understand what we are eating so we ‘don’t falsely demonise all food ingredients’.
For example, although he admitted sweeteners may have ‘a modest effect on how are bodies work’, they can be used as a way of reducing sugar intake, which can help people avoid problems like obesity and diabetes.
Other chemicals used in ultra-processed foods such as emulsifiers can change gut health.
Dr Mellor said: ‘Emulsifiers are a wide range of compounds from synthetic compounds such as polysorbate-80 which has been linked to alterations in gut health through to lecithin which contains choline which has been shown in some circumstances to be beneficial to health.
‘We need an open conversation about additives and understand that about these effects.’
Another expert, Professor Gunter Kuhnle, does not think we need a warning against ultra-processed foods, instead he wants to see more research.
The food scientist, based at Reading University, said there is currently no reason to worry people over ultra-processed food.
He explained that some ultra-processed foods such as soft drinks are associated with increased risks, but with other foods such as massed produced wholegrain bread, it shows a reduced risk for some diseases.
He said: ‘Such a warning would achieve little but create uncertainty among consumers – there is already confusion about the distinction between processed and ultra-processed foods.
‘The additives have been assessed by many different agencies and found to be safe in the amount consumed.
‘If there are data that suggest otherwise and have not been reviewed, they should be sent to EFSA and FSA so they can assess them.’
However, some doctors are calling for warning labels to be slapped on ultra-processed foods due to the dangers it poses to our health.
Dr Chris van Tulleken told MailOnline the new studies added weight to calls for a warning label system in the UK to ward people away from eating them.