Food and Behaviour Research

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Current food classifications in epidemiological studies do not enable solid nutritional recommendations for preventing diet-related chronic diseases: the impact of food processing

Fardet A, Rock E, Bassama J, Bohuon P, Prabhasankar P, Monteiro C, Moubarac JC, Achir N. (2015) Adv Nutr. 2015 Nov 13 6(6) 629-38. doi: 10.3945/an.115.008789 

Web URL: View this and related abstracts via PubMed here


To date, observational studies in nutrition have categorized foods into groups such as dairy, cereals, fruits, and vegetables. However, the strength of the association between food groups and chronic diseases is far from convincing.

In most international expert surveys, risks are most commonly scored as probable, limited, or insufficient rather than convincing. In this position paper, we hypothesize that current food classifications based on botanical or animal origins can be improved to yield solid recommendations.

We propose using a food classification that employs food processes to rank foods in epidemiological studies. Indeed, food health potential results from both nutrient density and food structure (i.e., the matrix effect), both of which can potentially be positively or negatively modified by processing.

For example, cereal-based foods may be more or less refined, fractionated, and recombined with added salt, sugars, and fats, yielding a panoply of products with very different nutritional values. The same is true for other food groups.

Finally, we propose that from a nutritional perspective, food processing will be an important issue to consider in the coming years, particularly in terms of strengthening the links between food and health and for proposing improved nutritional recommendations or actions.