We examined the relationship between ultra-processed food (UPF) intake and type 2 diabetes (T2D) risk among 3 large U.S. cohorts, conducted a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies, and assessed meta-evidence quality.


We included 71,871 women from the Nurses’ Health Study, 87,918 women from the Nurses’ Health Study II, and 38,847 men from the Health Professional Follow-Up Study. Diet was assessed using food frequency questionnaires and UPF was categorized per the NOVA classification. Associations of total and subgroups of UPF with T2D were assessed using Cox proportional hazards models. We subsequently conducted a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies on total UPF and T2D risk, and assessed meta-evidence quality using the NutriGrade scoring system.


Among the U.S. cohorts (5,187,678 person-years; n = 19,503 T2D cases), the hazard ratio for T2D comparing extreme quintiles of total UPF intake (percentage of grams per day) was 1.46 (95% CI 1.39–1.54). Among subgroups, refined breads; sauces, spreads, and condiments; artificially and sugar-sweetened beverages; animal-based products; and ready-to-eat mixed dishes were associated with higher T2D risk. Cereals; dark and whole-grain breads; packaged sweet and savory snacks; fruit-based products; and yogurt and dairy-based desserts were associated with lower T2D risk. In the meta-analysis (n = 415,554 participants; n = 21,932 T2D cases), each 10% increment in total UPF was associated with a 12% (95% CI 10%–13%) higher risk. Per NutriGrade, high-quality evidence supports this relationship.


High-quality meta-evidence shows that total UPF consumption is associated with higher T2D risk. However, some UPF subgroups were associated with lower risk in the U.S. cohorts.

Clinical trial reg. no. CRD42022337267, PROSPERO https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/

This article contains supplementary material online at https://doi.org/10.2337/figshare.22006727

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