Ultra-processed foods increase noncommunicable chronic disease risk

Nutr Res. 2021 Nov:95:19-34. doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2021.08.006. Epub 2021 Sep 11.


Several studies have associated the food processing classification - NOVA - and health, but this is not true for all noncommunicable chronic diseases (NCDs). This study aimed to systematically review the association between the intake of NOVA food groups and NCDs. We hypothesized that ultra-processed foods and drinks (UPFD) and processed foods (PF) could increase the risk of NCDs, and that unprocessed (UPF) and minimally processed foods (MPF) may provide protection. We carried out a systematic review of observational studies in January 2021. Searches were performed in SCOPUS, MEDLINE (via PubMed), EMBASE, WEB OF SCIENCE, SCIELO, related articles, hand-searching of reference lists, and direct author contact. In all, 2217 citations were identified and 38 articles met the eligibility criteria for inclusion in this systematic review. Among the analyzed food groups, higher UPFD consumption was positively associated with obesity and associated with the development of all NCDs, mainly hypertension, diabetes and dyslipidemia. However, only a few studies have demonstrated the protective effect of natural foods and MPF consumption on the occurrence of NCDs. In conclusion, UPF may increase the risk of NCDs, and natural foods and MPF may reduce it. Our results reinforce the need for the implementation of policies to mitigate the intake of UPF by the population, as it would improve the quality of the dietary patterns, and directly impact on the incidence of NCDs.

Keywords: Dietary pattern; Food classifications; NOVA; Oncommunicable chronic diseases; Processed food; Ultra-processed food.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease
  • Diet
  • Energy Intake*
  • Fast Foods / adverse effects
  • Food Handling
  • Humans
  • Noncommunicable Diseases* / epidemiology