Ultra Processed Food: What Are We Eating?

Watch Ultra Processed Foods: What Are We Eating? on ITV1 at 8:30pm

So called 'ultra processed food’ is often quick, cheap and easy to access - but is it expanding our waistlines and making us ill? Should we be looking more closely at the industrial processes used to produce it, and the chemicals it contains? Is it always something to avoid? And most importantly is what we’re eating doing us harm? Kate Quilton has been finding out. 

In this week's episode we learn that a growing body of evidence has linked ultra processed foods and drinks - now known as UPF’s -  to a whole range of health conditions such as  high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, dementia, being overweight or obese and even depression.

Kate Quliton visits Rotherham Market as she wants to find out if the public knows what UPFs actually are and if they know just how many additives find their way into our food. It turns out a supermarket salad can have nearly 40 ingredients!

TONIGHT is then rejoined by Professor Tim Spector who explains to Kate how you can tell an ultra processed food from a processed item - and why some believe that they are so much worse for us.

Tim Spector said:

I wouldn't call it food [...] these are manufactured edible food-like items that have contents that you wouldn't find in your home kitchen. They're basically, stripping away all the things from the whole food then adding in a whole range of chemicals to stick them together. And this we are now realising is a major problem for our health.”

Expert Katherine Jenner from Obesity Health Alliance said: 

“These foods seem to make us want to eat more and more of them. They don't give you that feeling of fullness quite often because they don't have fibre or other whole ingredients that might make you feel full.”

TONIGHT visits Dr Sarah Berry at Kings’ College London to put this theory to the test. A demonstration is set up with the help of identical twins Jo and Katie. They are given nutritionally matched meals that differ in the level of processing that has taken place and we wait to see how long and how many calories it takes before each of the twins feels full.

Dr Sarah Berry says: 

“[...] the experiment that we've just done has shown really clearly that just changing the way the food is processed impacts the amount of energy consumed.”

TONIGHT takes a look at how easy it is for us to change our diet and to cut out ultra processed foods. Dean is someone who feels he relies too much on convenience food. 

He says: “I want to know what's going into my body now. I'm getting older. I've just hit 45”

Dean decides to ditch the UPFs and keep a video diary for a week to show TONIGHT how he gets on.

AND while some experts clearly feel that reducing UPF consumption is key to combating obesity and other health concerns, Kate visits Reading University’s food processing centre to meet food scientist Gunter Kuhnle who has a different opinion.

Gunter says:

“The data we have at the moment doesn't suggest it's a huge problem. It's sort of a small slight increase in disease risk in some studies. And, it's fairly weak evidence.”


Open Food Facts




British Heart Foundation 


Scientific Advisory Group On Nutrition