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.
Author Dr Laure Schnabel, a nutritional epidemiologist at Paris-Sorbonne University, said: “Ultra-processed foods contain multiple ingredients. They are usually ready to heat and eat, affordable, and hyper-palatable.
“Examples include mass-produced and packaged snacks, sugary drinks, breads, confectioneries, ready-made meals and processed meats.”
Such foods can also contain additives such as sodium nitrite and titanium oxide, which have been linked to high blood pressure and cancer.
Research has also suggested that artificial sweeteners present in such foods may alter gut bacteria – increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases which are major causes of premature mortality.
Dr Schnabel said: “Nutritional characteristics of ultra processed foods could partly explain the development of non-communicable chronic diseases among those who consume them.
“Ultra-processed foods are generally energy dense, rich in refined carbohydrates, saturated fats and salt, and contain low dietary fibre.
“These features have been associated with several non-communicable diseases that are the leading causes of mortality.
“Beyond their nutritional aspects, ultra-processed foods have specific characteristics, owing to the industrial processes they undergo.
“Thus, concern is rising about the potential harmful health consequences of newly-formed contaminants or food additives.”