Ultra-processed food: a useful concept for public health?

A recent commentary in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition offered a “critical appraisal” of NOVA as a system of classifying foods. NOVA (a name not an acronym) classifies all foods and food products into four clearly distinct groups: unprocessed or minimally processed foods, processed culinary ingredients, processed foods and ultra-processed food and drink products. The authors of the AJCN commentary challenge many of the basic arguments of using the NOVA food classification system to examine the link between food and health.

In a response to this commentary in Public Health Nutrition, Carlos Monteiro and other developers of the NOVA system, correct inaccurate statements made about NOVA in the ‘appraisal,’ rebut points raised, and discuss the larger issue of scientific responsibility for publishing opposing views on controversial topics.  They conclude, “the NOVA classification system challenges a much older and dominant system of classifying foods based on nutrient composition. Of course, it should be appraised. But scientific advances come from the exchange of well-reasoned and supported arguments, and from balanced debate. We invite further discourse on the topic of ultra-processed foods, for the sake of science and public health. We also respectfully suggest that all journals take on the responsibility of encouraging the informed and constructive exchange of ideas in controversial areas.”