The key to healthy and sustainable diets… more processed foods?September 9, 2020
While some people steer away from foods containing ingredients that are perceived as ‘unnatural’, processed foods don’t have to be unhealthy. That’s according to the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF)’s new special edition exploring innovations in the food industry to improve the nutrient profile of food products and thus potentially improve public health.
The special edition, which contains a series of newly-published papers, argues that acceptance of new ingredients will be a key to ensuring a healthier and more sustainable future for the food supply as demand for food grows alongside rises in global population.
“Just because many of the processed foods currently available are unhealthy when overconsumed, this does not mean that processed foods per se are unhealthy or undesirable. It is possible to create healthier processed foods by the careful application of science and technology,” said Professor Julian McClements, University of Massachusetts, author of one of the papers.
For decades, nutritionists and public health campaigners have urged the general public to eat more fruits and vegetables, nuts and wholegrains. But this has not done enough to improve the overall health status of the general population, he said, or ‘overcome the imbalance between energy consumed and energy expended’.
“Many people do not have the time or resources to prepare foods from fresh ingredients every meal. Instead, many rely on the convenience of processed foods that are relatively quick and easy to prepare. We should, therefore, be encouraging the food industry to create healthier processed foods, rather than demonising all processed foods.”
COVID and resulting lockdowns have accelerated calls for a return to old-fashioned values such as family mealtimes and cooking from scratch using fresh ingredients to improve individual health. Processing, however “often improves the safety, palatability, bioavailability, and shelf life of foods, thereby increasing the healthiness and sustainability of the food supply”, continued McClements.
“Nevertheless, food technology approaches should be combined with other strategies to achieve these goals, including changes in government policies that promote healthy eating, such as targeted taxes, fiscal incentives, research funding, subsidies, education, and regulations on marketing and promotion, as well as changes in agricultural practices, such as regenerative agriculture, which includes farming and grazing practices that aim to mitigate the effects of climate change.”
An ‘irrational’ aversion to non-natural ingredients among consumers
Jon Poole, the chief executive of the Institute of Food Science and Technology, noted in the abstract to the special edition, that consumers are increasingly seeking what are referred to as ‘clean labelled’ products – that is, products containing fewer ingredients or fewer or no ingredients that are seen as ‘non‐natural’.
But this ‘often…