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The present commentary contains a clear and simple guide designed to identify ultra-processed foods. It responds to the growing interest in ultra-processed foods among policy makers, academic researchers, health professionals, journalists and consumers concerned to devise policies, investigate dietary patterns, advise people, prepare media coverage, and when buying food and checking labels in shops or at home. Ultra-processed foods are defined within the NOVA classification system, which groups foods according to the extent and purpose of industrial processing. Processes enabling the manufacture of ultra-processed foods include the fractioning of whole foods into substances, chemical modifications of these substances, assembly of unmodified and modified food substances, frequent use of cosmetic additives and sophisticated packaging. Processes and ingredients used to manufacture ultra-processed foods are designed to create highly profitable (low-cost ingredients, long shelf-life, emphatic branding), convenient (ready-to-consume), hyper-palatable products liable to displace all other NOVA food groups, notably unprocessed or minimally processed foods. A practical way to identify an ultra-processed product is to check to see if its list of ingredients contains at least one item characteristic of the NOVA ultra-processed food group, which is to say, either food substances never or rarely used in kitchens (such as high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated or interesterified oils, and hydrolysed proteins), or classes of additives designed to make the final product palatable or more appealing (such as flavours, flavour enhancers, colours, emulsifiers, emulsifying salts, sweeteners, thickeners, and anti-foaming, bulking, carbonating, foaming, gelling and glazing agents).
Digital image correlation (DIC) in a scanning electron microscope and high-angular resolution electron backscatter diffraction (HREBSD) provide valuable and complementary data concerning local deformation at the microscale. However, standard surface preparation techniques are mutually exclusive, which makes combining these techniques in situ impossible. This paper introduces a new method of applying surface patterning for DIC, namely a urethane microstamp, that provides a pattern with enough contrast for DIC at low accelerating voltages, but is virtually transparent at the higher voltages necessary for HREBSD and conventional EBSD analysis. Furthermore, microstamping is inexpensive and repeatable, and is more suitable to the analysis of patterns from complex surface geometries and larger surface areas than other patterning techniques.
It is now generally agreed that the impact of the current nature, purpose and extent of food processing on human well-being, health and disease needs to be better understood and explained, in order to improve public health. The special issue of Public Health Nutrition devoted to the concept of ultra-processing of food, and the NOVA classification of which ultra-processed foods are one category, is a great step forward in this work. Coincidentally, a polemical ‘critical appraisal’ of ultra-processing was recently published in another journal. Debate and discussion are an essential part of the scientific endeavour. In this commentary, we correct inaccurate statements made about NOVA in the ‘appraisal,’ rebut points raised, and discuss the larger issue of scientific responsibility for publishing opposing views on controversial topics.
To assess household availability of NOVA food groups in nineteen European countries and to analyse the association between availability of ultra-processed foods and prevalence of obesity.
Ecological, cross-sectional study.
Estimates of ultra-processed foods calculated from national household budget surveys conducted between 1991 and 2008. Estimates of obesity prevalence obtained from national surveys undertaken near the budget survey time.
Across the nineteen countries, median average household availability amounted to 33·9 % of total purchased dietary energy for unprocessed or minimally processed foods, 20·3 % for processed culinary ingredients, 19·6 % for processed foods and 26·4 % for ultra-processed foods. The average household availability of ultra-processed foods ranged from 10·2 % in Portugal and 13·4 % in Italy to 46·2 % in Germany and 50·4 % in the UK. A significant positive association was found between national household availability of ultra-processed foods and national prevalence of obesity among adults. After adjustment for national income, prevalence of physical inactivity, prevalence of smoking, measured or self-reported prevalence of obesity, and time lag between estimates on household food availability and obesity, each percentage point increase in the household availability of ultra-processed foods resulted in an increase of 0·25 percentage points in obesity prevalence.
The study contributes to a growing literature showing that the consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of diet-related non-communicable diseases. Its findings reinforce the need for public policies and actions that promote consumption of unprocessed or minimally processed foods and make ultra-processed foods less available and affordable.
To estimate the dietary share of ultra-processed foods and to determine its association with the overall nutritional quality of diets in Brazil.
A representative sample of 32 898 Brazilians aged ≥10 years was studied. Food intake data were collected. We calculated the average dietary content of individual nutrients and compared them across quintiles of energy share of ultra-processed foods. Then we identified nutrient-based dietary patterns, and evaluated the association between quintiles of dietary share of ultra-processed foods and the patterns’ scores.
The mean per capita daily dietary energy intake was 7933 kJ (1896 kcal), with 58·1 % from unprocessed or minimally processed foods, 10·9 % from processed culinary ingredients, 10·6 % from processed foods and 20·4 % from ultra-processed foods. Consumption of ultra-processed foods was directly associated with high consumption of free sugars and total, saturated and trans fats, and with low consumption of protein, dietary fibre, and most of the assessed vitamins and minerals. Four nutrient-based dietary patterns were identified. ‘Healthy pattern 1’ carried more protein and micronutrients, and less free sugars. ‘Healthy pattern 2’ carried more vitamins. ‘Healthy pattern 3’ carried more dietary fibre and minerals and less free sugars. ‘Unhealthy pattern’ carried more total, saturated and trans fats, and less dietary fibre. The dietary share of ultra-processed foods was inversely associated with ‘healthy pattern 1’ (−0·16; 95 % CI −0·17, −0·15) and ‘healthy pattern 3’ (−0·18; 95 % CI −0·19, −0·17), and directly associated with ‘unhealthy pattern’ (0·17; 95 % CI 0·15, 0·18).
Dietary share of ultra-processed foods determines the overall nutritional quality of diets in Brazil.
Given evident multiple threats to food systems and supplies, food security, human health and welfare, the living and physical world and the biosphere, the years 2016–2025 are now designated by the UN as the Decade of Nutrition, in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For these initiatives to succeed, it is necessary to know which foods contribute to health and well-being, and which are unhealthy. The present commentary outlines the NOVA system of food classification based on the nature, extent and purpose of food processing. Evidence that NOVA effectively addresses the quality of diets and their impact on all forms of malnutrition, and also the sustainability of food systems, has now accumulated in a number of countries, as shown here. A singular feature of NOVA is its identification of ultra-processed food and drink products. These are not modified foods, but formulations mostly of cheap industrial sources of dietary energy and nutrients plus additives, using a series of processes (hence ‘ultra-processed’). All together, they are energy-dense, high in unhealthy types of fat, refined starches, free sugars and salt, and poor sources of protein, dietary fibre and micronutrients. Ultra-processed products are made to be hyper-palatable and attractive, with long shelf-life, and able to be consumed anywhere, any time. Their formulation, presentation and marketing often promote overconsumption. Studies based on NOVA show that ultra-processed products now dominate the food supplies of various high-income countries and are increasingly pervasive in lower-middle- and upper-middle-income countries. The evidence so far shows that displacement of minimally processed foods and freshly prepared dishes and meals by ultra-processed products is associated with unhealthy dietary nutrient profiles and several diet-related non-communicable diseases. Ultra-processed products are also troublesome from social, cultural, economic, political and environmental points of view. We conclude that the ever-increasing production and consumption of these products is a world crisis, to be confronted, checked and reversed as part of the work of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and its Decade of Nutrition.
To present and discuss the dietary guidelines issued by the Brazilian government in 2014.
The present paper describes the aims of the guidelines, their shaping principles and the approach used in the development of recommendations. The main recommendations are outlined, their significance for the cultural, socio-economic and environmental aspects of sustainability is discussed, and their application to other countries is considered.
Brazil in the twenty-first century.
All people in Brazil, now and in future.
The food- and meal-based Brazilian Dietary Guidelines address dietary patterns as a whole and so are different from nutrient-based guidelines, even those with some recommendations on specific foods or food groups. The guidelines are based on explicit principles. They take mental and emotional well-being into account, as well as physical health and disease prevention. They identify diet as having cultural, socio-economic and environmental as well as biological and behavioural dimensions. They emphasize the benefits of dietary patterns based on a variety of natural or minimally processed foods, mostly plants, and freshly prepared meals eaten in company, for health, well-being and all relevant aspects of sustainability, as well as the multiple negative effects of ready-to-consume ultra-processed food and drink products.
The guidelines’ recommendations are designed to be sustainable personally, culturally, socially, economically and environmentally, and thus fit to face this century. They are for foods, meals and dietary patterns of types that are already established in Brazil, which can be adapted to suit the climate, terrain and customs of all countries.
To investigate consumption of ultra-processed products in Canada and to assess their association with dietary quality.
Application of a classification of foodstuffs based on the nature, extent and purpose of food processing to data from a national household food budget survey. Foods are classified as unprocessed/minimally processed foods (Group 1), processed culinary ingredients (Group 2) or ultra-processed products (Group 3).
All provinces and territories of Canada, 2001.
Households (n 5643).
Food purchases provided a mean per capita energy availability of 8908 (se 81) kJ/d (2129 (se 19) kcal/d). Over 61·7 % of dietary energy came from ultra-processed products (Group 3), 25·6 % from Group 1 and 12·7 % from Group 2. The overall diet exceeded WHO upper limits for fat, saturated fat, free sugars and Na density, with less fibre than recommended. It also exceeded the average energy density target of the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Group 3 products taken together are more fatty, sugary, salty and energy-dense than a combination of Group 1 and Group 2 items. Only the 20 % lowest consumers of ultra-processed products (who consumed 33·2 % of energy from these products) were anywhere near reaching all nutrient goals for the prevention of obesity and chronic non-communicable diseases.
The 2001 Canadian diet was dominated by ultra-processed products. As a group, these products are unhealthy. The present analysis indicates that any substantial improvement of the diet would involve much lower consumption of ultra-processed products and much higher consumption of meals and dishes prepared from minimally processed foods and processed culinary ingredients.
To assess time trends in the contribution of processed foods to food purchases made by Brazilian households and to explore the potential impact on the overall quality of the diet.
Application of a new classification of foodstuffs based on extent and purpose of food processing to data collected by comparable probabilistic household budget surveys. The classification assigns foodstuffs to the following groups: unprocessed/minimally processed foods (Group 1); processed culinary ingredients (Group 2); or ultra-processed ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat food products (Group 3).
Eleven metropolitan areas of Brazil.
Households; n 13 611 in 1987–8, n 16 014 in 1995–5 and n 13 848 in 2002–3.
Over the last three decades, the household consumption of Group 1 and Group 2 foods has been steadily replaced by consumption of Group 3 ultra-processed food products, both overall and in lower- and upper-income groups. In the 2002–3 survey, Group 3 items represented more than one-quarter of total energy (more than one-third for higher-income households). The overall nutrient profile of Group 3 items, compared with that of Group 1 and Group 2 items, revealed more added sugar, more saturated fat, more sodium, less fibre and much higher energy density.
The high energy density and the unfavourable nutrition profiling of Group 3 food products, and also their potential harmful effects on eating and drinking behaviours, indicate that governments and health authorities should use all possible methods, including legislation and statutory regulation, to halt and reverse the replacement of minimally processed foods and processed culinary ingredients by ultra-processed food products.