Food processing scoring (NOVA Food Classification system)

The NOVA Food Classification system for food processing was designed by Center for Epidemiological Studies in Health and Nutrition, School of Public Health, University of Sao Paulo.

The NOVA system aims to help people make better choices by highlighting the extend of the processing the food available in stores undergoes. By processing, the NOVA system refers to all physical, biological and chemical processes that occur after foods are separated from nature, and before they are consumed or used in the preparation of dishes and meals1.

Why is this important?

First of all, The World Health Organization has classified processed meats including ham, bacon, salami and frankfurts as a Group 1 carcinogen (known to cause cancer) which means that there’s strong evidence that processed meats cause cancer. Eating processed meat increases your risk of bowel and stomach cancer.

Furthermore, there are numerous studies and articles that corelate ultra-processed food (UPF) with a higher risk of cancers in general, such as the “Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort” (2018, BMJ). The study concluded with: “Ultra-processed food intake was associated with higher overall cancer risk (n=2228 cases; hazard ratio for a 10% increment in the proportion of ultra-processed food in the diet 1.12 (95% confidence interval 1.06 to 1.18); P for trend<0.001) and breast cancer risk (n=739 cases; hazard ratio 1.11 (1.02 to 1.22); P for trend=0.02). These results remained statistically significant after adjustment for several markers of the nutritional quality of the diet (lipid, sodium, and carbohydrate intakes and/or a Western pattern derived by principal component analysis).”2

Other studies regarding this subject are undergoing so, for now, we believe it is wise to be aware that consumption of ultra-processed food could have an impact in our health.

The food processing scoring system3

NOVA system

References

  1. Food, Nutrition & Fitness I: The Digestion Journey Begins with Food Choices. Compiled in 2018 by EduChange with guidance from NUPENS, Sao Paulo. [online] https://educhange.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/NOVA-Classification-Reference-Sheet.pdf
  2. Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort, 2018. [online] https://www.bmj.com/content/360/bmj.k322
  3. Monteiro, C.A.; Cannon, G.; Levy, R.B.; Moubarac, J.-C.; Louzada, M.L.; Rauber, F.; Khandpur, N.; Cediel, G.; Neri, D.; Martinez-Steele, E.; et al. Ultra-processed foods: what they are and how to identify them. Public Health Nutr. 2019, 22, 936–941, doi:10.1017/S1368980018003762.
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