Food processing is any procedure that alters food from its natural state, such as heating, freezing, milling, mixing, and adding flavorings. Cooking and preparing raw ingredients at home is also processing them, but the term “processed” is almost always reserved for commercial foods, usually packaged.
NOVA, the classification system used by food scientists and researchers, defines ultra-processed foods as ready-to-eat, packaged products with five or more ingredients, including sensory-enhancing additives, that have gone through a number of processes to combine and transform them. They include everything from processed meats, margarine, jarred sauces, and frozen entrées to most baked goods, chips, breakfast cereals, ice cream, and candies. Think of them as multi-ingredient industrially formulated mixtures that are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal sources. It’s estimated that such foods provide about 60 percent of the calories consumed by the average American.
This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.