Classification of "Food"

Not all "foods" are equal. This is the classification of food I widely use. The healthiest, most nutritious "foods" are the unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Processed foods (as defined here) may be healthy, if not too much salt, sugar or fat is consumed. Though ultra-processed products are heavily marketed, branded, easily available, convenient, easy to store, highly addictive and cheap, the human body does not respond to them in the same manner they react to unprocessed or minimally processed foods.

Unprocessed or Minimally Processed Foods

Unprocessed foods are foods of plant origin (leaves, stems, roots, tubers, fruits, nuts, seeds), or animal origin (meat, other flesh, tissue and organs, eggs, milk) distributed shortly after harvesting, gathering, slaughter, or husbanding. Minimally processed foods are unprocessed foods altered in ways that do not add or introduce any substance but may involve removing parts of the food. Minimal processes include cleaning, scrubbing, washing; winnowing, hulling, peeling, grinding, grating, squeezing, flaking; skinning, boning, carving, portioning, scaling, filleting; pressing, drying, skimming, pasteurizing, sterilizing; chilling, refrigerating, freezing, sealing, bottling, simple wrapping, vacuum- and gas-packing. Malting, which adds water, is a minimal process, as is fermenting, which adds living organisms, when it does not generate alcohol.

Examples are fresh, chilled, frozen, vacuum-packed vegetables and fruits; grains (cereals) including all types of rice; fresh, frozen, and dried beans and other legumes (pulses), roots and tubers; fungi; dried fruits and freshly prepared or pasteurized non-reconstituted fruit juices; unsalted nuts and seeds; fresh, dried, chilled, frozen meats, poultry, fish, and seafood; dried, fresh, pasteurized full- fat, low-fat, skimmed milk, and fermented milk such as plain yogurt; eggs; flours, ”raw” pastas made from flour and water; teas, coffee, herbal infusions; tap, filtered, spring, mineral water.

Processed Culinary Ingredients

Culinary ingredients are substances extracted and purified from food or obtained from nature (such as fats, oils, salt and sugars). These substances are normally not consumed by themselves. They are used to prepare foods and to make them palatable, diverse, nourishing and enjoyable.

Processed foods

Processed foods are manufactured by adding fats, oils, sugars, salt, and other ingredients to minimally processed foods to make them more durable and usually more palatable. These types of foods include simple breads & cheeses; salted & cured meats/seafood; preserved fruits; legumes and vegetables preserved in brine, syrup, or oil. Depending on how they are prepared and used, these foods can be part of healthy diets. Processes include canning and bottling, fermentation, and methods of preservation such as salting, salt- pickling, and curing.

Example are canned or bottled vegetables and legumes (pulses) preserved in brine or pickled; peeled or sliced fruits preserved in syrup; tinned whole or pieces of fish preserved in oil; salted nuts or seeds; non-reconstituted salted or cured processed meat and fish such as ham, bacon, and dried fish; cheeses made from milk, salt, and ferments; and breads made from flours, water, salt, and ferments.

Ultra-Processed Products

This is the actual content of a shopper's grocery cart. Every singly item is an example of an Ultra-processed product. I use the word "product" and not "food" because I don't consider any of this food.  They are formulated mostly or entirely from substances derived from foods or other organic sources. Typically, they contain little or no whole foods. They are durable, convenient, packaged, branded and readily accessible. They are ultra-palatable and often habit-forming. Although they imitate the appearance, shape, and sensory qualities of foods, the human body does not have the typical response to them as foods. Many of their ingredients are not available in retail outlets. Some ingredients are directly derived from foods, such as oils, fats, starches, sugars, and others are obtained by further processing of food constituents or synthesized from other organic sources. Numerically the majority of ingredients are preservatives and other additives such as stabilizers, emulsifiers, solvents, binders, bulkers, sweeteners, sensory enhancers, colors and flavors, and processing aids. Bulk comes from added air or water. Micronutrients ”fortify” the products. Most are designed to be consumed by themselves or in combination as snacks, or to replace freshly prepared dishes and meals based on unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Processes include hydrogenation, hydrolysis, extruding, molding, reshaping, preprocessing by frying or baking.

Ultra-processed ready-to-heat or ready-to-consume products are now very commonly consumed at home or at fast-food outlets. These foods, also known as “ready-meals”, include reconstituted and pre-prepared meat, chips (crisps) and many other types of sweet, fatty, or salty packaged snack product. Ice-cream, chocolates, candy (confectionery). French fries (chips), burgers and hot dogs. Poultry and fish nuggets or sticks (fingers). Packaged breads, buns, cookies (biscuits). Sweetened breakfast cereals and pastries, cakes, cake mixes. Energy bars, preserves (jams), margarines and packaged desserts. Canned, bottled, dehydrated, packaged soups, noodles; sauces; meat and yeast extracts. Carbonated drinks, energy drinks; sugar-sweetened milk drinks including fruit yogurts; fruit and fruit nectar drinks; no-alcohol wine and beer. Pre-prepared meat, fish, vegetable, cheese, pizza and pasta dishes. Infant formulas, follow-on milks, other baby products. "Health" and “slimming” products such as powdered or ”fortified” meal and dish substitutes.


Bomi Joseph