Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

Here are definitions of processed and ultra-processed foods by NOVA: Monteiro, C., et al., The star shines bright. World Nutrition, 2016. 7(1-3): p. 28-38.

Ultra-processed foods:

« These are industrial formulations typically with five or more and usually many ingredients. Such ingredients often include those also used in processed foods, such as sugar, oils, fats, salt, anti-oxidants, stabilizers, and preservatives. Ingredients only found in ultra-processed products include substances not commonly used in culinary preparations, and additives whose purpose is to imitate sensory qualities of un/minimally-processed foods or of culinary preparations of these foods, or to disguise undesirable sensory qualities of the final product. Raw/minimally-processed foods are a small proportion of or are even absent from ultra-processed products. »

« Substances only found in ultra-processed products include some directly extracted from foods, such as casein, lactose, whey, and gluten, and some derived from further processing of food constituents, such as hydrogenated or interesterified oils, hydrolyzed proteins, soy protein isolate, maltodextrin, invert sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Classes of additive only found in ultra-processed products include dyes and other colors, color stabilizers, flavors, flavor enhancers, non-sugar sweeteners, and processing aids such as carbonating, firming, bulking and anti-bulking, de-foaming, anti-caking and glazing agents, emulsifiers, sequestrates and humectants. Several industrial processes with no domestic equivalents are used in the manufacture of ultra-processed products, such as extrusion and moulding, and pre-processing for frying. The main purpose of industrial ultra-processing is to create products that are ready to eat, to drink or to heat, liable to replace both unprocessed or minimally processed foods that are naturally ready to consume, such as fruits and nuts, milk and water, and freshly prepared drinks, dishes, desserts and meals. Common attributes of ultra-processed products are hyper-palatability, sophisticated and attractive packaging, multi-media and other aggressive marketing to children and adolescents, health claims, high profitability, and branding and ownership by transnational corporations. »


Processed foods:

« These are relatively simple products made by adding sugar, oil, salt or other culinary ingredients to raw or minimally-processed foods. Most processed foods have two or three ingredients. Processes include various preservation or cooking methods, and, in the case of breads and cheese, non-alcoholic fermentation. The main purpose of the manufacture of processed foods is to increase the durability of raw or minimally-processed foods, or to modify or enhance their sensory qualities. Typical examples of processed foods are canned or bottled vegetables, fruits and legumes; salted or sugared nuts and seeds; salted, cured, or smoked meats; canned fish; fruits in syrup; simple breads and cheeses. Processed foods may contain additives used to preserve their original properties or to resist microbial contamination. Examples are fruits in syrup with added anti-oxidants, and dried salted meats with added preservatives».