Ultra-Processed Foods and Nutritional Dietary Profile: A Meta-Analysis of Nationally Representative Samples

Nutrients. 2021 Sep 27;13(10):3390. doi: 10.3390/nu13103390.


Excessive consumption of ultra-processed foods (UPFs), as described by the NOVA classification system, represents a potential threat to human health. The nutritional composition of UPFs may explain their observed adverse effects. The present study aimed to provide a quantitative meta-analysis of nationally representative surveys on the consumption of UPFs and the dietary/nutrient composition of respondents' diets. A systematic search for relevant studies published prior to July 2021 was conducted via electronic databases. The studies that provided the dietary/nutrient composition of foods categorized according to the NOVA classification system were selected. The association between UPFs and other dietary variables was modelled using ordinary least squares linear regression based on aggregated data extracted from the selected articles. Consumption of UPFs represented up to 80% of total caloric intake in the US and Canada, with confectionery and sugar-sweetened beverages being the most consumed items. When considered in relation to other food groups, an inverse linear relation between UPFs and less-processed foods was evident. Increased UPF intake correlated with an increase in free sugars, total fats, and saturated fats, as well as a decrease in fiber, protein, potassium, zinc, and magnesium, and vitamins A, C, D, E, B12, and niacin. In conclusion, the data indicate that increased UPF consumption negatively affects the nutritional quality of diets.

Keywords: diet quality; nationally representative; nutrients; sugar-sweetened beverages; sweets; ultra-processed food.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Sugars
  • Energy Intake
  • Fast Foods*
  • Female
  • Food Handling
  • Food Quality*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Nutritive Value*
  • Snacks*
  • Sugar-Sweetened Beverages*


  • Dietary Sugars