Ultra-processed products in search of reliable classification

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    Ultra-processed foods (UTC) have a bad rap. And for good reason: they would be implicated in some chronic diseases. The problem is that the definition of these TUEs is up for debate.

    Over the past ten years, ultra-processed foods (UTS), which have found their way into our supermarkets and our kitchens through changes in our lifestyle, have regularly been the subject of studies that tend to show that these foods are potentially harmful to our health.

    Based on this fairly consistent work, government nutrition guidelines urge us to reduce our intake. Thus, our food should be prioritized “homemade” at the expense of these industrial dishes, which today account for more than 30% of our daily caloric intake, and in some other countries, such as the United Kingdom, up to 60%.

    The problem of food characteristics.

    But do we know exactly what ultra-processed food is? This is exactly what the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Inrae) sought to find out by taking a closer look at the classification methods used to conduct research on the health effects of these foods, questioning their reliability. .

    His response, which can be read in a collective article published in the June issue of the magazine Notebooks on nutrition and dieteticsis categorical: the current systems for classifying foods according to the degree of their processing are insufficient, starting with the NOVA classification, used in more than 95% of cases, on the basis of which France considers food to be ultra-transformed.

    Today, there is no science-based definition that can reliably and reliably define what ultra-processed food is.confirms Véronique Braesco, research director emeritus at Inrae, head of VAB-Nutrition, a nutrition consulting firm, and co-author of the study. First of all, there is the problem of the characteristics of these food products, the assessments of which, according to experts, are very different.

    Ambiguities that raise questions

    Ambiguity is associated with a number of key concepts of food, starting with everything related to processing. “If we exclude the fruit that we will bite, then the foods we eat always undergo minimal transformation (cleaning, boiling, extrusion, etc.): this is what allows us to consume and assimilate them, notes Veronique Braesco. Then we often confuse processing and recipe, that is, the assembly of products according to the same recipe, which varies from ratatouille to a dish with additives.“You still need to figure out the supplements.

    In fact, the study reveals a certain amount of aberrations. For example, roasting coffee. “Some traditional methods can be very aggressive and transform the raw material a lot and also create compounds that are not necessarily good. explains Veronique Braesco. This is exactly the case of roasting, when coffee is directly exposed to fire.“. In short, be careful not to project too many preconceived ideas.”reproach that can be made to the NOVA system, which generalizes too much“, says the expert.

    So much so that behind this acronym AUT we find a little bit of everything, from refined ingredients to packaging, cooking methods, marketing, etc. In short, a kind of trap.

    NO to diets, YES WW!

    Refocusing the Nutrition Debate

    This finding raises questions about the validity of studies conducted using this classification, which is understood differently depending on the country. We are not talking about completely erasing the existing, assures Véronique Braesco: “It is always best to cook for nutritional and behavioral reasons. On the other hand, it may be necessary to be less strict with manufactured goods. Of course, it would be ideal if we all had a garden and chickens, but this is a utopia. What is troubling is the emphasis on the fact that the product is processed for its disqualification rather than its nutritional quality.“.

    Finally, not everyone has the means and/or the necessary time to go without some of these industrial products. This also needs to be taken into account. Specifically, advises Veronique Braesco,trust the Nutri-Score, the result of science-based nutrition profiling, follow the National Healthy Nutrition Program (PNNS) recommendations, and don’t buy a product with an arm’s length ingredient list.“.


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