I am old enough to have been taught the four basic food groups in elementary school and the importance of eating some from each of the groups no matter how much I might dislike one or more of them. Dietary guidelines visualized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have evolved since—the food wheel, the food pyramid, and now, MyPlate. They all have in common the idea that healthy eating is about maintaining a proper balance of nutrients.

Executive Summary

The classification of "ultra-processed" food is spawning research—and controversy. While it's not hard to find examples of ultra-processed foods that are nutritious, like soy milk, for the most part they serve up empty calories, and studies indicate that people consuming those calories also tend to overeat. Here, Praedicat's David Loughran reports that while this risk is in the emerging damage phase—with a growing body of research becoming available on the topic—no plaintiff has yet succeeded in holding food companies liable in U.S. courts for the consequences of overeating. Still, it's likely that a government or individual legal action is looming.

How those nutrients are delivered in food products has never been part of the guidance. If nutrition scientists like Carlos Monteiro of the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, have their way, however, food’s form factor will one day feature far more prominently.

Monteiro first coined the term “ultra-processed food” in a 2009 commentary entitled “Nutrition and health. The issue is not food, nor nutrients, so much as processing.” Monteiro’s assertion stemmed from a wealth of research demonstrating that rising rates of obesity and chronic disease throughout the world were correlated with ever increasing consumption of convenience foods. By 2018, Monteiro’s division of foods by extent of processing was baked into the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals in the form of the NOVA system of food classification, along with the strong recommendation that individuals avoid eating ultra-processed foods and that governments act to limit their availability.

Enter your email to read the full article.

Already a subscriber? Log in here