What is ultra-processed food?

The BBC One programme ‘What Are We Feeding Our Kids?’ created some interesting conversations on Twitter regarding ultra-processed foods (UPF). Dr Chris van Tulleken investigated UPF and even underwent his own experiment; for one month he ate the same diet eaten by one in five of us – 80% from UPF. Currently, this type of food accounts for 64% of childrens calories and 67% of teens.

The programme introduced the NOVA food classification system, developed by the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. This system categorised foods and drinks into four groups according to the reason of the industrial processes they undergo.

What are the different food groups?

Group 1: Unprocessed or minimally processed foods

Unprocessed foods are edible parts of plants or animals after separation from nature. Minimally processed foods are unprocessed foods that have been altered in some way like drying, pasteurising and freezing. They also have no other substances.

Group 2: Processed culinary ingredients

These are products derived from Group 1 foods like oils, butter, sugar and salt. They are extracted by processes such as pressing, grinding and refining. They are not meant to be consumed by themselves and are normally used to season and cook with.

Group 3: Processed foods

Processed foods are Group 2 substances added to Group 1 food. Examples include canned vegetables/fruits, canned fish, cheeses and freshly made bread. Most processed foods have two or three ingredient to preserve or to make them more palatable.

Group 4: Ultra-processed foods

Foods and drinks like soft drinks, packaged snacks and reconstituted meat would be considered ultra-processed foods. They undergo several processes with no domestic equivalents, such as hydrogenation and contain little to nothing of Group 1 foods.

Final thoughts…

If we were to summarise the programme with one key message, it would be to reduce group 4 foods and drinks in our diets.

Over the summer months we will be reviewing our Food Changers programme. As a result, we will develop a range of resources and lessons for schools around UPFs and include content into our training.

If you didn’t get a chance to watch the programme, you can watch it on BBC iPlayer here




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