In May, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) presented draft protocols for the upcoming 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) with a focus on defining nutrient profiles that promote healthy eating patterns while allowing for a broader selection of foods within food groups, as reported previously by FoodNavigator-USA.
Discussions on defining ultra-processed foods during the May meeting were unclear, and at the third DGAC meeting that began yesterday and continues today, CBA VP of Product Policy Sarah Gallo criticized the “lack of a consistent, science-based definition for the term ‘ultra-processed’ and subsequent systems that inconsistently and ambiguously classify foods according to levels of processing.”
Gallo urged the DGAC to develop its recommendations on more research and randomized controlled trials, towards defining ultra-processed foods, considering the lack of evidence-based recommendations within the scientific community.
She added, “Any potential conclusion from the Committee on the relationship between consumption of dietary patterns and ultra processed foods would be premature and inconsistent with the requirements that the Dietary Guidelines be based on the current body of nutrition science.”
Gallo further explained that the current processing classification system, NOVA, “lacks clear criteria, threatening erroneous classifications and overall functionality of the entire system.”
In an article in Nature, the the four categories of NOVA are defined as:
- NOVA1: “unprocessed or minimally processed foods,” namely the edible parts of plants or animals that have been taken straight from nature or that have been minimally modified/preserved;
- NOVA2: “culinary ingredients,” such as salt, oil, sugar or starch, which are produced from NOVA1 foods;
- NOVA3: “processed foods,” such as freshly baked breads, canned vegetables or cured meats, which are obtained by combining NOVA1 and NOVA2 foods;
- NOVA4: “ultra-processed foods,” namely ready-to-eat industrially formulated products that are “made mostly or entirely from substances derived from foods and additives, with little if any intact Group 1 food"
Gallo refered to a recent American Society for Nutrition meeting, where speakers “reiterated the importance of moderation and context-specific factors when considering the effect of ultra processed foods on diet.”
This includes considering “all aspects of food processing to improve health equity and nutrition security, including food safety, affordability, accessibility, convenience and the reduction of food waste,” Gallo elaborated.
Gallo emphasized the benefits of processed foods “can help optimize health and reduce the risk of diet-related chronic disease,” adding that “processed foods can be of critical importance for those with disabilities or without adequate storage for fresh foods,” highlighting DGAC’s push to evaluate nutrition considerations from a health equity lens.