Ultra-processed foods and the limits of product reformulation

Public Health Nutr. 2018 Jan;21(1):247-252. doi: 10.1017/S1368980017001392. Epub 2017 Jul 13.


The nutritional reformulation of processed food and beverage products has been promoted as an important means of addressing the nutritional imbalances in contemporary dietary patterns. The focus of most reformulation policies is the reduction in quantities of nutrients-to-limit - Na, free sugars, SFA, trans-fatty acids and total energy. The present commentary examines the limitations of what we refer to as 'nutrients-to-limit reformulation' policies and practices, particularly when applied to ultra-processed foods and drink products. Beyond these nutrients-to-limit, there are a range of other potentially harmful processed and industrially produced ingredients used in the production of ultra-processed products that are not usually removed during reformulation. The sources of nutrients-to-limit in these products may be replaced with other highly processed ingredients and additives, rather than with whole or minimally processed foods. Reformulation policies may also legitimise current levels of consumption of ultra-processed products in high-income countries and increased levels of consumption in emerging markets in the global South.

Keywords: Food processing; Nutrition policy; Product reformulation; Ultra-processed foods.

MeSH terms

  • Diet*
  • Fast Foods*
  • Food Analysis
  • Food Handling
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Nutritive Value*