A series of studies have recently linked consumption of processed foodstuffs to a number of diseases, including cancer and heart disease, but scientists still do not fully understand the exact cause behind the link.
Such meals often have a higher content of total fat, saturated fat and added sugar and salt along with a lower fibre and vitamin density.
They can can also contain additives such as sodium nitrite and titanium oxide, which have been linked to high blood pressure and cancer.
Researchers called for policies to urgently limit people’s intake of such foods which include fizzy drinks, sugary cereals, packaged baked goods and snacks, dehydrated vegetable soups and reconstituted meat and fish products.
One study, led by the University of Navarra, in Spain, involved almost 20,000 adults, with an average age of 38, who were asked to complete detailed questionnaires about their daily habits.
This found that those eating four portions a day of highly processed foods had a 62 per cent increased mortality risk, compared with those eating less than two.
Scientists said a healthy diet meant limiting factory-produced foods, suggesting that the Mediterranean diet, rich in fish, vegetables and legumes, protects best against chronic diseases.
They also raised fears that Government policies aimed at “reformulating” meals to reduce their calorie content could prove dangerous.