NOVA food classification system was created to classify foods based on how they are processed and for what purpose (extending shelf life, fortifying with vitamins and minerals, creating ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat foods, etc.)
They classify food into four groups: unprocessed or minimally processed foods, processed culinary ingredients, processed foods, and ultra-processed foods. Ultra-processed foods are defined as “formulations of several ingredients which, besides salt, sugar, oils, and fats, include food substances not used in culinary preparations, in particular flavours, colours sweeteners, emulsifiers, and other additives used to imitate sensorial qualities of unprocessed or minimally processed foods and their culinary preparations or to disguise undesirable qualities of the final product.
The manufacturing of ultra-processed foods consists of various industrial processes with the addition of numerous emulsifiers, thickeners and artificial flavours to food products. This destroys the natural structure of the food ingredients and strips away many good nutrients such as fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
Some of the adverse potential health outcomes as a result of consuming ultra-processed foods in excess are listed below:
1)Excess weight and obesity
High levels of triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein (hyperlipidemia).
4)Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
5)Increase risk of overall cancer, particularly colorectal and prostate cancers
6)Increased risk of developing gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, functional dyspepsia, constipation, and diarrhea
7)Asthma and wheezing
8)Increased risk of overall mortality.
The packaged foods industry claims that its low-calorie products are puffed, roasted and baked & thereby healthy. But these are done at high heat and air-fried, forming AGEs (Advanced Glycation End Products)which attach to protein or lipid molecules.
They promote oxidative stress and inflammation by binding with cell surface receptors or cross-linking with body proteins, altering their structure and function.
A lot of packaged and frozen foods contain potato starch powder or Maltodextrin. It is fairly tasteless, quickly dissolves in water and is used as an additive to improve the texture, flavour and shelf life of foods. It impacts gut health by enabling bacteria to stick to cells lining the intestines. Maltodextrin also has an adverse effect on blood sugar, ranging between 95 and 136 on the glycaemic index.
At high heat, potato starch produces Acrylamides, which are carcinogenic substances that result in cancers. Acrylamides are formed during high-temperature cooking and that's why Air frying should be avoided. Conservative-style cooking with less oil is a healthier option.
According to standard guidelines, Aspartame should not be given to children below 16 years and pregnant women. But this is the group that is getting addicted to artificially sweetened products. Food-grade phosphoric acid, which is used as an ingredient in foods and beverages also impacts bone and dental health.
Examples of ultra-processed foods include ice cream, ham, sausages, chips, mass-produced bread, breakfast cereals, biscuits, carbonated drinks, fruit-flavoured yogurts, instant soups, and some alcoholic drinks including whisky, gin, and rum.
A practical way to identify ultra-processed food is to check to see if its list of ingredients contains either food substances never or rarely used in kitchens. An occasional indulgence is fine but the key to healthy eating starts with you.
Cooking at home more often and bringing a packed lunch to school or work is a healthy options.
Checking food labels for saturated fat, sodium, and sugar quantity, snacking on whole foods and trying to reduce how much fast food you eat will go a long way in keeping you disease free and healthy.