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Ultra Processed Food


A recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations revealed that India’s Ultra-Processed Food Sector witnessed a significant Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 13.37% in retail sales value between 2011 and 2021.


GS II: Health

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Ultra-Processed Food
  2. Key Highlights of the Report on Indian Ultra-Processed Food Sector
  3. Recommendations from the Report on Indian Ultra-Processed Food Sector

Ultra-Processed Food

Definition and Characteristics
  • Processed vs. Ultra-Processed: Processed food contains added salt, sugar, and fat. Ultra-processed food goes beyond, with five or more ingredients added.
  • Additional Ingredients: These include flavor enhancers, emulsifiers, colors, and preservatives, enhancing taste, shelf life, and convenience.


  • Gradation of Processing: Raw atta is unprocessed, dalia (wheat porridge) with salt and sugar is processed, while cookies with multiple added ingredients are ultra-processed.
Health Implications
  • Salt, Sugar, and Fat: Commonly added to processed food, contributing to taste but posing health risks.
  • Negative Health Outcomes: Regular consumption of ultra-processed foods can lead to obesity, hypertension, cardiac issues, and lifestyle diseases.
  • Gut Health Impact: Artificial chemicals in ultra-processed food harm gut health, potentially causing various problems from neurological issues to obesity.
Addictive Nature
  • Taste Enhancers: Ultra-processed foods often contain taste enhancers that can lead to addiction.
  • Rapid Absorption: Ultra-processing breaks down natural food quickly, leading to rapid absorption by the body.
  • Sugar’s Impact: High doses of simple sugar trigger insulin release, causing hunger and cravings, contributing to sugar addiction.

Key Highlights of the Report on Indian Ultra-Processed Food Sector

Pandemic Impact
  • Temporary Disruption: Covid-19 Pandemic led to a decline in annual growth rate of Indian ultra-processed food sector from 12.65% (2019) to 5.50% (2020).
  • Remarkable Rebound: The sector demonstrated resilience, bouncing back with an impressive 11.29% growth in 2020-2021.
Popular Food Categories
  • Leading Categories: Notable ultra-processed food categories include chocolate and sugar confectionery, salty snacks, beverages, ready-made and convenient foods, and breakfast cereals.
  • Retail Sales Volume: From 2011 to 2021, beverages accounted for the largest share in retail sales volume, followed by chocolate and sugar confectionery, and ready-made convenience foods.
Consumer Shifts
  • Health-conscious Choices: During the pandemic, health-aware consumers transitioned from carbonated sugar-sweetened beverages to fruit and vegetable juices, possibly due to perceived immune-boosting properties.
  • Sugar Concerns: Alternative beverages, while seen as healthier, may still contain significant levels of free sugars, highlighting the need for balanced consumption.

Recommendations from the Report on Indian Ultra-Processed Food Sector

Stricter Advertising and Marketing Regulations
  • Focus on Children: Implement stringent regulations for advertising and marketing of products like sweet biscuits that appeal to children.
Addressing Salt Content in Salty Snacks
  • Health Risks: High salt content in salty snacks poses health risks. Regulations should be put in place to address this issue effectively.
Defining High Fat Sugar Salt (HFSS) Foods
  • Collaboration with FSSAI: The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) should collaborate with stakeholders to establish a clear and comprehensive definition of HFSS foods.
Taxation for Healthier Options
  • GST Council Involvement: Link tax structure with HFSS food definition through the GST Council. Higher taxes can incentivize reformulated products and healthier alternatives by taxing items exceeding recommended fat, sugar, and salt levels.
Comprehensive National Nutrition Policy
  • Addressing Under- and Over-Nutrition: Develop a robust national nutrition policy through consultations with stakeholders. Ensure comprehensive coverage of both undernutrition and diet-related diseases.
Healthier Lifestyle Promotion
  • Reduce Ultra-Processed Food Consumption: Encourage a healthier lifestyle by advocating reduced consumption of ultra-processed foods and promoting higher intake of whole grains.
  • Address Noncommunicable Diseases: Recognize low whole grain intake as a key dietary risk factor for noncommunicable diseases in India.

-Source: Down To Earth

February 2024