Vegetarians’ and vegans’ experiences with and attitudes towards ultra-processed foods (UPF) with a specific focus on health, food waste, and sustainability: a qualitative study
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Background: The consumption of ultra-processed foods (UPF) is increasing in many countries. Concomitantly, there is a growing number of consumers that are adjusting to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Aligned with these changes, the popularity and demand for plant-based substitute products are thriving, of which many can be classified as ultra-processed. Methods: Semi-structured, individual interviews were conducted digitally with 14 participants. The interviews took place between September and December 2021. The participants were from different areas in Norway as interviews were conducted digitally. The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. The data were analyzed with thematic analysis by Braun and Clarke. Results: In general, participants appeared to have a diverse knowledge of and divergent attitudes towards UPFs. Participants had the experience that availability and convenience were the main reasons for them to purchase and eat UPFs. They had the experience that the selection of vegetarian and vegan food had improved in the last years. The increased selection and availability made it easier to eat plant-based overall. They shared their thoughts on different aspects of UPFs. Negative associations were related to the industrial processing and the products’ nutritional content. Positive associations were related to the existence of UPFs, where taste and consistency were highlighted as one of the main reasons for buying and eating vegetarian and vegan UPFs. Conclusions: The findings of this study indicated that there was a diverse knowledge of and various attitudes towards UPFs among the participating vegetarians and vegans. Vegetarians and vegans should be provided with information about the health consequences of ultra-processed substitute products. The focus should be on limiting the consumption of UPFs along with increasing the consumption of whole foods and minimally processed foods, which can have a positive impact on health, sustainability, and food waste.