Should You Fear Ultra-Processed Foods?

The complex problem of UPFs and why the headlines are very misleading

Gideon M-K; Health Nerd
8 min readMar 8, 2024
Pictured: Processed. Also, yum. I ❤ sausages. Photo by LikeMeat on Unsplash

For decades, we’ve been trying to figure out how to separate food into easy “healthy” and “unhealthy” categories. There was the “calorie-dense and nutrient poor” descriptor, there’s the ever-present discussion about full vs low fat, and the ongoing war about carbs, seed oils, gluten, and everything else under the sun.

It’s enough to make you ignore dietary advice entirely, really.

The most recent fad is processing. If you believe the recent headlines, processed foods dramatically increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and even death. According to the stories, a new study has proven that Ultra-Processed Foods (UPFs) are essentially the devil disguised as a chocolate bar or corn chips.

Pictured: Eeeeevil, apparently. Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

But if you look at the actual evidence here, it’s really not that strong. UPFs are probably, on the whole, worse for health than other foods, but the real issue is that our food system is far more complex than simple designations like “ultra-processed” allow.