Canada's Food Guide recommends limiting the consumption of highly processed foods. What is a processed food Are all processed foods the same? Is there a difference between one processed food and another Since 2009, there has been a tool, little known to the general public, which makes it possible to categorize foods according to the degree of their processing: the NOVA classification.VA.
The NOVA classification
The NOVA classification was developed by researchers affiliated with the Center for Epidemiological Research in Nutrition and Health at the University of São Paulo in Brazil. It classifies foods according to the degree, nature and usefulness of their processing rather than their botanical or animal origin as with traditional food groups (vegetables and fruits, grain products, milk and alternatives, meats and alternatives). The NOVA classification is divided into four categories.
The four categories of the NOVA classification
In their report, The United Nations Decade of Nutrition, the NOVA Food Classification and the Problem of Ultra-Processing, the researchers behind the classification define the nature of foods belonging to the four categories.s.
Category 1 of the NOVA classification
The first category includes unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Unprocessed foods include the edible parts of plants (seeds, roots, stems, leaves, fruits) and animals (eggs, milk, muscle, organ meats), fungi, algae and water. As for minimally processed foods, these are unprocessed foods modified by processes such as roasting, non-alcoholic fermentation, and grinding. The purpose of these processes is to optimize the preservation of food or to make it edible. Examples of foods belonging to this first category are:
- Thefruits and fresh, squeezed, chilled, frozen or dried vegetables
- Mushrooms, fresh or dried
- Fresh or pasteurized fruit or vegetable juices, without sugar, sweeteners or flavorings
- Grain products like rice, millet or barley
- Groats, flakes or flour
- Pasta, couscous and polenta, made from flour, flakes or groats and water
- Nuts and seeds, no salt or added sugars
- Legumes like white beans, green lentils, and chickpeas
- Meats, poultry, fish and seafood, whole or cut, chilled or frozen
- Milk, pasteurized or powdered
- Plain yogurt, with no added sugars or artificial sweeteners
- Aromatic herbs and spices such as pepper, cinnamon, thyme and oregano, fresh or dried
- Thetea, coffee and drinking water
Category 2 of the NOVA classification
The second category includes processed culinary ingredients. These are substances derived from foods of the first category by processes such as refining, drying and pressing. These processes aim to create sustainable products used to season or cook foods of the first category. Indeed, they are generally not consumed alone, but in combination with foods of the first category. Processed culinary ingredients include:
- Sugar, molasses, honey and maple syrup
- Butter, lard, bacon, and vegetable oils likeolive oil and sesame oil
- Starches (e.g. corn starch)
Category 3 of the NOVA classification
The third category is processed foods. These foods are obtained by adding ingredients from the second category (salt, sugar, oil, etc.) to the foods of the first category. The processes involved in their manufacture include different cooking and preservation methods (eg: non-alcoholic fermentation). The objective of these processes is to improve the durability or the organoleptic qualities of foods of the first category. Processed foods generally consist of a few ingredients and can be recognized as modified versions of foods in the first category. They can be eaten alone or with other foods. Examples of processed foods include:
- Canned fish
- Canned fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds, sweet or savory
- Dried, salted or smoked meats
- Fresh cheeses
- Fresh bread
Category 4 of the NOVA classification
Finally, the last category includes ultra-processed foods. These are products made mainly or wholly with substances derived from food and additives, with little or no intact food from the first category. Their ingredients generally include sugars, salt and / or fats (eg oils). Regarding the additives used in their preparation, we can find dyes, colorings, preservatives, stabilizers, emulsifiers and flavorings. These additives are used to improve the organoleptic qualities of foods or the final appearance of the product. Several food processing processes are used in the manufacture of these foods, hence the term ultra-processed. These processes include, among others, hydrogenation, hydrolysis and extrusion. The aim of these processes is to produce practical, attractive and profitable products. In this fourth category, we find: :
- Carbonated, energy, milk or fruity drinks
- Sweet yogurts
- Thesnacks packaged, sweet or savory
- Ice creams,chocolates and thecandies
- Industrial breads and bakery products
- Margarines and spreads
- Cookies, pastries, cakes and cake mixes
- Breakfast cereals, granola bars and energy bars
- Ready-to-use sauces
- Infant formulas
- Products made from meat extracts such as chicken nuggets and sausages
- Health and slimming productsur »
- Products ready to reheat
The usefulness of the NOVA classification
In recent years, the food supply has changed dramatically. With the advent of ultra-processed foods, the usual food groups (vegetables and fruits, grain products, milk and alternatives, meats and alternatives) can no longer distinguish them from other foods. In addition, research using the NOVA classification finds that ultra-processed foods negatively affect diet. On the one hand, they promote an increased consumption of foods with high energy density, saturated fats, trans fats and free sugars (added sugars and those naturally present in syrups, honey and fruit juices). On the other hand, they decrease the consumption of fiber and micronutrients such as iron, zinc and vitamin A. Some studies also observe a direct association between ultra-processed foods and hypertension, obesity, syndrome. metabolic (a set of factors that increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke) and dyslipidemia (blood profiles where lipids are abnormal). With the NOVA classification, consumers can differentiate foods from the four categories and make informed food choices.
Healthy eating should favor foods belonging to the first category, that is, unprocessed or minimally processed foods. As for processed foods, they should be limited and ultra-processed foods avoided. The best way to do this: cook more!
- Monteiro, Carlos Augusto, et al. NOVA. The star shines bright.” World Nutrition, flight. 7, no. 1-3, 2016, pp. 28-38.
- Monteiro, Carlos Augusto, et al. The UN Decade of Nutrition, the NOVA Food Classification and the Trouble with Ultra-Processing.” Public Health Nutrition, flight. 21, no. 1, 2017, pp. 517., doi: 10.1017 / s1368980017000234..
Article written by:
Marie-Noël Marsan, Nutritionist