REVEALED: 80% of Londoners can’t identify ultra-processed foods (UPFs) according to new research

Despite 8 in 10 inhabitants struggling to identify UPF items, London was among one of the more knowledgeable cities according to a recent study

  • Award-winning nutritionist, Rob Hobson says more needs to be done to demystify ultra-processed foods (UPFs) to empower consumers to make healthier choices

  • Survey reveals Edinburgh as the least knowledgeable city when it comes to understanding UPFs

  • Belfast came up trumps as the most knowledgeable city, despite still 66% of people struggling to identify ultra-processed food items

  • Almost 9 in 10 Brits are unaware that ice cream is an ultra-processed food


Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) continue to hit the headlines for the wrong reasons as numerous studies link a diet high in certain UPFs to particular types of cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Despite the ever-increasing warnings, results from a new survey reveal that over 80% of Brits struggle to accurately identify ultra-processed foods, unveiling a strong lack of understanding amongst consumers.

The new study, conducted by the makers of deliciously wonky, fruit-infused drinks, DASH Water in collaboration with award-winning nutritionist, Rob Hobson, was designed to shine a light on the varying levels of understanding of UPFs across the UK and highlight the need for greater education around the health impacts of certain foods.

Among the various regions surveyed, Edinburgh emerged as the city with the least knowledge about identifying ultra-processed foods. An astonishing 86% of responses from the Scottish capital were unable to correctly identify UPF items, demonstrating a pressing need for enhanced education on this topic in the region. Other cities where knowledge of UPFs is lacking are Bristol, Manchester, and Birmingham, whereupon 85% of respondents incorrectly identified UPFs, closely followed by Cardiff.

Conversely, Belfast distinguished itself as the most knowledgeable city, albeit with 66% of respondents still grappling with the identification of ultra-processed food items. Despite 80% of inhabitants incorrectly identifying UPFs, London was another of the better-performing cities.

Regionally, instant soups remained the least recognisable ultra-processed food in the majority of cities, except for Glasgow, Leeds and Liverpool, where ice cream transpired as the least recognisable UPF.

The findings highlight a vast amount of confusion amongst consumers around what constitutes ultra-processed food, and it’s hard to blame them. Adding to this conundrum and confusion around what we should be selecting from the shelves is the fact that not all ultra-processed food items are bad for us.

Commenting on exactly this, award-winning nutritionist, Rob Hobson comments: 

“It’s hardly surprising that consumers often find themselves perplexed when it comes to understanding what is truly healthy for them, and the broad stroke painted by the media to suggest that all UPFs are as unhealthy as each other is in part to blame.”

“With this in mind, I’ve pulled together some top tips for consumers surrounding UPFs, which should hopefully provide some better clarity, and ultimately enable them to make better, and more informed choices.”

1. Not all ultra-processed foods are bad for us: Contrary to popular belief, not all ultra-processed foods are inherently unhealthy and some even come with an abundance of health benefits such as being high in fibre or rich in certain vitamins and minerals. This contradicts the general idea of what constitutes a UPF and is one of the reasons why there is such confusion among consumers.

2. Some UPFs are designed to be ‘hyper-palatable’: Some ultra-processed foods combine ingredients such as high levels of sugar, salt, fat and additives, to create hyper-palatable products that are challenging to resist due to their specific ingredient interactions. It’s also not just about singular artificial ingredients added to food but the food matrix as a whole and how all these ingredients interact

3. Education is key: Rather than resorting to fear-mongering, we should educate consumers about how to make healthy food choices in the UPF landscape. This involves understanding how to decipher food labels and ingredient lists.

4. Prioritise balanced diets over avoidance: People should prioritise what foods to include in a balanced diet rather than stressing over what to avoid. Restrictive diets focused on avoidance may lead to nutritional deficiencies and imbalances, potentially impacting physical and mental well-being. By prioritising a balanced approach, individuals can enjoy a diverse array of foods while meeting their nutritional needs. This fosters a healthier relationship with food, promoting sustainable habits that support long-term health and vitality.

5. Beware of artificial sweeteners: Beverages pose one of the biggest challenges for consumers, especially if they are used to drinking sugary soft drinks. While diet versions of these drinks contain no added sugar they are still loaded with artificial sweeteners which may not be the best alternative given their potential to disrupt the gut microbiome when consumed in large quantities. Switching to water is unlikely to cut the mustard for most consumers which is why innovative brands like DASH Water are so interesting, creating flavourful drinks with nothing added but natural flavours made from wonky fruits and vegetables.

Taking this conversation further, DASH Water co-founder, Jack Scott states, “We are so pleased to have been able to team up with Rob on this very important and timely piece of research. The findings make clear a lack of understanding around UPFs and how to make healthy food choices, and points to a fierce need to educate consumers that healthy alternatives do exist.”

“It’s also important to note that crafting a healthier diet is a journey, not a sudden transformation. You can certainly try and remove all processed foods from your diet if you wish, but you are likely to find that your diet is very restricted and hard to maintain. Instead, we should be focusing on simple swaps to reduce the intake of certain ingredients which we know are harmful to us, for example, artificial sweeteners.

“At DASH, it’s been our mission for the past few years to change the narrative around artificial sweeteners being a consequence-free alternative to sugar. We are proud that our drinks contain no sugar or sweetener, making them a delicious and healthy alternative to mainstream drinks. Now more than ever, it is vital that we educate consumers that these healthy alternatives do exist, and empower them to make those choices.”

To join the conversation online search @dashdrinks

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