Complete list of health dangers of popular ultra-processed foods like carbonated drinks and baked goods, from cancer to diabetes and depression

Ultra-processed foods may be almost inescapable, but a major study shows that they can be harmful to every part of your body.

The foods, including ready-made meals, sugary cereals and mass-produced bread, have now been linked to a potential increased risk of 32 health problems, including cancer, type 2 diabetes and mental disorders.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, experts claim this is partly due to the way such foods are typically packed with fat, salt and sugar, while at the same time lacking vitamins and fibre.

Some have even compared ultra-processed foods to tobacco and called on officials to introduce similar public health measures, such as warning labels, to help curb consumption that’s akin to smoking.

Here, MailOnline lists the full 32 health problems that experts have linked to diets high in UPFs, from studies involving more than 10 million people.


All-cause mortality: This is a measure of mortality from all causes. The study found that people who followed a UPF-laden diet had a 21 percent increased risk of death.

Cancer-related mortality: Overall, no increased risk of death from cancer was found. However, this was an overall figure. The review’s higher estimates identified an increased risk of 24 percent, while the lower estimate identified a decreased risk of cancer death of 19 percent.

Death from cardiovascular disease: 50 percent increased risk.

Death from heart disease: 66 percent increased risk.


Breast cancer: 15 per increased risk.

Cancer (all types): 12 percent increased risk.

Tumors of the central nervous system: 20 percent increased risk.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia: 8 percent increased risk.

Colorectal cancer: 23 percent increased risk.

Pancreatic cancer: 24 percent increased risk.

Prostate cancer: 2 percent increased risk.

Mental health

Problems sleeping: 41 percent increased risk.

Tension: 48 percent increased risk.

Common mental disorders: 53 percent increased risk.

Depressive Outcomes: 22 percent increased risk.

Respiratory health

Asthma: 20 percent increased risk.

Wheezing: 40 percent increased risk.

Cardiovascular health

Cardiovascular disease events (combined): 35 percent increased risk.

Morbidity of cardiovascular diseases: 20 percent increased risk.

Hypertension: 23 percent increased risk.

Hypertriglyceridemia: Overall, the risk decreased by 5 percent. However, the upper estimate was a 50 percent increased risk, while the lower estimate was a 40 percent decrease.

Low High Density Lipoprotein: 102 percent increased risk.

The Nova system, developed by scientists in Brazil more than a decade ago, divides food into four groups based on the amount of processing it has undergone. Unprocessed foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs and meat. Processed culinary ingredients – which are not usually eaten alone – include oils, butter, sugar and salt

Gastrointestinal health

Crohn’s disease: 71 percent increased risk.

Ulcerative colitis: 17 percent increased risk.

Metabolic health

Abdominal obesity: 41 percent increased risk.

Hyperglycemia: 10 percent increased risk.

Metabolic Syndrome: 25 percent increased risk.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: 23 percent increased risk.

Obesity: 55 percent increased risk.

Overweight: 36 percent increased risk.

Overweight + obesity: 29 percent increased risk.

Type 2 diabetes: 40 percent increased risk.

The study did not identify a set amount of ultra-processed foods that should be consumed to increase the risk of any of these health problems.


Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, preferably whole grains, according to the NHS

Meals should be based on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, preferably whole grains, according to the NHS

• Eat at least 5 portions of varied fruit and vegetables every day. All fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables count

• Basic meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates, preferably whole wheat

• 30 grams of fiber per day: This is the same as eating all of the following: 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, 2 whole wheat cereal biscuits, 2 thick slices of whole wheat bread and large baked potato with skin on

• Provide some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soy drinks), opting for lower fat and lower sugar options

• Eat some beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish per week, one portion of which is fatty)

• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and consume them in small quantities

• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of water per day

• Adults should have less than 6 g of salt and 20 g of saturated fat for women or 30 g for men per day

Source: NHS Eatwell guide