Natural Foods Revolution (NFR) bases its philosophy and principles on promoting natural unprocessed food against processed and especially ultra-processed food, to make people healthier and free of diseases. At this point some questions may come across:
- What is processed and ultra-processed food?
- Where can people find natural food?
- What is natural unprocessed food?
- How can people be healthier?
- How can people get sick?
- Isn’t all food natural?
Finding an answer
Answering these questions may look simple, but that’s not entirely the case. Probably, most people think that all food is natural, but unfortunately it is not. Also, they may believe that it is easy to access and find natural food, but again, that’s not the case. The best way to “discover” unprocessed food would be in traditional markets, supermarkets and health shops. However, every single store have shrunk their space for unprocessed healthy food, for the benefit of ultra-processed and unhealthy food.
A constant reduction of unprocessed food availability may be a responsible for the pandemic of obesity. Also for non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and cancer, among the others.
Over the years different countries and organisations have tried to create a system to classify food according to its processing grade. But there has never been a universal rule. However, the University of Sao Paulo published a study called NOVA (a name, not an acronym) in 2009. It has been accepted “universally” as a model for understanding how food can be classified based on its nature, unprocessed or processed. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the Unites Nations and the WHO have also acknowledged NOVA thesis. In this scenario, Natural Foods Revolution supports NOVA food classification too and bases its ideals on unprocessed food as a weapon against Western dieses.
UNDERSTANDING FOOD CLASIFICATION
Group 1. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods.
GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH
Unprocessed foods are edible parts of plants (seeds, fruits, leaves, stems, roots…) or of animals origin ( meat, other flesh, tissue and organs, eggs, milk…). And also fungi, algae and water, after separation from nature. Unprocessed foods need to be consumed shortly after harvesting, gathering, slaughter or husbanding.
Minimally processed foods are unprocessed foods altered in ways that do not add or introduce any substance. However, that may involve subtracting parts of the food. Processes include cleaning, scrubbing, washing; winnowing, hulling, peeling, grating, squeezing, flaking; skinning, boning, carving, portioning, scaling, filleting; drying, skimming, fat reduction, as well as cooking, pasteurization, sterilizing, chilling, refrigerating, freezing; sealing, bottling (as such); simple wrapping, vacuum and gas packing. Malting, which adds water, is also a minimal process, as is fermenting, which adds living organisms, when it does not generate alcohol.
Group 2. Processed culinary ingredients.
These are substances obtained directly from group 1 food or from nature by processes such as pressing, refining, grinding, milling and spray drying.
Processed culinary ingredients are normally not consumed by themselves. Their main role in diets is to be combined with foods, mainly from group 1. They make them palatable, diverse, nourishing and enjoyable dishes and meals. Examples are oils and salt used in the cooking of food or added to salads. Also sugar used to prepare fruit- or milk-based desserts, or added to drinks.
Group 3. Processed foods.
RELATIVELY GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH
Processed foods are made by adding salt or sugar (or other substance of culinary use such as oil or vinegar) to unprocessed or minimally processed foods (group 1). Their role is to preserve or to enhance palatability. Most processed foods have two or three ingredients.
They include canned or bottled vegetables or legumes (pulses) preserved in brine. Additionally, whole or sliced fruits preserved in syrup. Also tinned whole or pieces of fish preserved in oil. Some types of processed meat and fish such as ham, bacon and other unreconstituted meat products, smoked fish, cheeses, breads…
As with processed culinary ingredients, some processed foods can still be hand-made with simple tools, although now almost all are industrial products. Besides cooking and canning or bottling, specific processes include preservation in oil or syrups, salting, salt-pickling, smoking and curing.
Generally speaking processed foods are good, but they should be limited and consumed om small amounts, as components of culinary preparations or as part of meals based on natural or minimally processed foods. Natural Food Revolution principles believe that more than 5 ingredients in a processed food product should be avoided, because it then becomes an ultra-processed food product.
Group 4. Ultra-processed food and drink products.
AVOID AT ALL. BAD FOR YOUR HEALH
These are industrial formulations, typically with five or usually more ingredients. Such ingredients often include those also used in processed food, such as sugar, oils, fats, salt, anti-oxidants, stabilisers and preservatives. Ingredients only found in ultra-processed products include substances not commonly used in culinary preparations and additives whose purpose is to imitate sensory qualities of group 1 or of culinary preparations of these foods, or to disguise undesirable sensory qualities of the final product. Group 1 foods are a small proportions of, or are even absent from ultra-processed products.
Substances only found in ultra-processed products include some that are directly extracted from foods, such as casein, lactose, whey and gluten, and some derived from further processing of food constituents, such as hydrogenated or interesterified oils, hydrolysed proteins, soy protein isolate, maltodextrin, invert sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Classes of additives only found in ultra-processed products include dyes and other colours, colours stabilisers, 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 main purpose of industrial ultra-processing is to create products that are ready to eat, to drink or to heat, liable to replace both unprocessed and minimally processed foods that are naturally ready to consume or freshly prepared. Common attributes of ultra-processed products are hyper-palatability, sophisticated and attractive packaging, multi-media and other aggressive marketing to children and adolescents, health claims, high profitability and branding and ownership by transnational corporations.
List of ultra-processed food is endless: biscuits, cakes, pastries, jams (preserves), fruit canned in syrup, candies, cereals bars, breakfast cereals with added sugar, chips, fizzy drinks, nuggets, hot dogs, burgers, fish sticks, pot noodle…