Ultra-processed foods have gained a lot of media attention at the moment. It’s a scary fact that British children get 60% of their daily calorie intake from ultra-processed foods – most are devoid of many nutrients and instead replaced with many chemicals. So with all the media hype, what are some examples of ultra-processed food?
The most widely used definition is the NOVA classification which is:
Group 1. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods
Parts of plants (seeds, fruits, leaves, stems, roots) or of animals (muscle, offal, eggs, milk), and also fungi, algae and water, after separation from nature.
Including removal of inedible or unwanted parts, and drying, crushing, grinding, fractioning, filtering, roasting, boiling, non-alcoholic fermentation, pasteurization, refrigeration, chilling, freezing, placing in containers and vacuum-packaging. These processes are designed to preserve natural foods, to make them suitable for storage, or to make them safe or edible or more pleasant to consume.
Group 2. Processed culinary ingredients
Oils, butter, sugar and salt derived from Group 1 foods or from nature by processes that include pressing, refining, grinding, milling and drying. The purpose of such processes is to make durable products that are suitable for use in home and restaurant kitchens to prepare, season and cook Group 1 foods and to make with them varied and enjoyable hand-made dishes and meals.
Group 3. Processed foods
Bottled vegetables, canned fish, fruits in syrup, cheeses and freshly made breads, are made essentially by adding salt, oil, sugar or other substances from Group 2 to Group 1 foods. Various preservation or cooking methods, and, in the case of breads and cheese, non-alcoholic fermentation. Most processed foods have two or three ingredients, and are recognizable as modified versions of Group 1 foods.
Group 4. Ultra-processed foods
Soft drinks, sweet or savoury packaged snacks, reconstituted meat products and pre-prepared frozen dishes, are not modified foods but formulations made mostly or entirely from substances derived from foods and additives, with little if any intact Group 1 food. Ingredients of these formulations usually include those also used in processed foods, such as sugars, oils, fats or salt. But ultra-processed products also include other sources of energy and nutrients not normally used in culinary preparations. Some of these are directly extracted from foods, such as casein, lactose, whey and gluten. Many are derived from further processing of food constituents, such as hydrogenated or interesterified oils, hydrolysed proteins, soya protein isolate, maltodextrin, invert sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Additives in ultra-processed foods (preservatives, antioxidants and stabilizers). Classes of additives found only in ultra-processed products include those used to imitate or enhance the sensory qualities of foods or to disguise unpalatable aspects of the final product. These additives include dyes and other colours, colour stabilizers; flavours, flavour enhancers, non-sugar sweeteners; and processing aids such as carbonating, firming, bulking and anti-bulking, de-foaming, anti-caking and glazing agents, emulsifiers, sequestrants and humectants. The processes include several with no domestic equivalents, such as hydrogenation and hydrolysation, extrusion and moulding, and pre-processing for frying.
Ingredients only found in Group 4:
To read more about the NOVA classification click here.