Some Ultra-Processed Foods Are Needed for Nutrient Adequate Diets: Linear Programming Analyses of the Seattle Obesity Study

Nutrients. 2021 Oct 28;13(11):3838. doi: 10.3390/nu13113838.


Typical diets include an assortment of unprocessed, processed, and ultra-processed foods, along with culinary ingredients. Linear programming (LP) can be used to generate nutritionally adequate food patterns that meet pre-defined nutrient guidelines. The present LP models were set to satisfy 22 nutrient standards, while minimizing deviation from the mean observed diet of the Seattle Obesity Study (SOS III) sample. Component foods from the Fred Hutch food frequency questionnaire comprised the market basket. LP models generated optimized 2000 kcal food patterns by selecting from all foods, unprocessed foods only, ultra-processed foods only, or some other combination. Optimized patterns created using all foods contained less fat, sugar, and salt, and more vegetables compared to the SOS III mean. Ultra-processed foods were the main sources of added sugar, saturated fat and sodium. Ultra-processed foods also contributed most vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, folate, and calcium, and were the main sources of plant protein. LP models failed to create optimal diets using unprocessed foods only and ultra-processed foods only: no mathematical solution was obtained. Relaxing the vitamin D criterion led to optimized diets based on unprocessed or ultra-processed foods only. However, food patterns created using unprocessed foods were significantly more expensive compared to those created using foods in the ultra-processed category. This work demonstrates that foods from all NOVA categories can contribute to a nutritionally adequate diet.

Keywords: SOS III; diet quality; food patterns; linear programming; ultra-processed foods.

MeSH terms

  • Diet Surveys
  • Diet, Healthy / standards*
  • Fast Foods / analysis*
  • Food Handling
  • Humans
  • Nutrients / analysis*
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Nutritive Value*
  • Obesity
  • Programming, Linear*