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| 1 minute read

Not all "ultra-processed" foods are created equal, according to recent research into their healthiness.

I've posted about the mostly negative treatment so-called “ultra-processed” foods have received in the health-related media. But a recent study conducted by Mark Messina of the Soy Nutrition Institute Global (SNIG) and others, argues that not all ultra-processed foods can be painted with the same broad brush of unhealthiness. 

Messina and others argue many of the foods that fall into the ultra-processed category under the NOVA Classification system are not unhealthy at all. The NOVA system groups food products into four groups: (1) Unprocessed or minimally processed foods; (2) Processed culinary ingredients; (3) Processed foods; and (4) Ultra-processed foods. The latter group, which has received the negative media attention, includes plant-based meats and milks. All of which are unquestionably ultra-processed but are often touted for their ostensible benefit to human health. 

“It is inconceivable that all foods that are classified as ultra-processed have a similar effect on our heath,” Messina said. He also points to recent research supported by SNIG and others touting the health benefits of some soy-based foods which, despite being classified as ultra-processed, were found to be arguably more health beneficial as compared to unprocessed animal products.

The reason these classifications are so critical is because the US government's Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is looking very closely at the impact food processing has on human health; specifically, growth, body composition, risk of obesity, risk of cancer, and diabetes. Between now and when the next iteration of the Dietary Guidelines come out in 2025, expect the focus on food processing and health to grow and continue to make headlines in the food and beverage space.

Intensifying criticism of ultra-processed foods without nuanced consideration of their nutrition could unfairly tar some plant-based meats and milks that “compare well with their animal-based counterparts,” which may be viewed more favorably because they are classified as unprocessed or minimally processed, according to research presented at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo.


food and beverage, ultra-processed foods, dietary guidelines, nova classification system