Nutritional Quality, Environmental Impact and Cost of Ultra-Processed Foods: A UK Food-Based Analysis

Magaly Aceves Martins*, Ruth Slater, Leone Craig, Neil Chalmers, Graham Horgan, Bram Boskamp, Baukje de Roos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
23 Downloads (Pure)


Food-based analyses of the healthiness, environmental sustainability and affordability of processed and ultra-processed foods are lacking. This paper aimed to determine how ultra-processed and processed foods compare to fresh and minimally processed foods in relation to nutritional quality, greenhouse gas emissions and cost on the food and food group level. Data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey nutrient databank year 11 (2018/2019) were used for this analysis. Median and bootstrapped medians of nutritional quality (NRF8.3 index), greenhouse gas emissions (gCO2-equivalents) and cost (in GBP) were compared across processing categories. An optimal score based on the medians was created to identify the most nutritional, sustainable, and affordable options across processing categories. On a per 100 kcal basis, ultra-processed and processed foods had a lower nutritional quality, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and were cheaper than minimally processed foods, regardless of their total fat, salt and/or sugar content. The most nutritious, environmentally friendly, and affordable foods were generally lower in total fat, salt, and sugar, irrespective of processing level. The high variability in greenhouse gas emissions and cost across food groups and processing levels offer opportunities for food swaps representing the healthiest, greenest, and most affordable options.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3191
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

This research was funded by the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS) and responsive opportunity funding from the Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes (SEFARI).

Data Availability Statement

This study was based on secondary data analysis in the NDNS nutrient database, and other publicly available data. Data described in the manuscript and R code are available upon request pending application and approval from the authors.


  • NOVA
  • NRF8.3
  • sustainability
  • cost
  • food
  • NDNS


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