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The NOVA classification

The NOVA classification, originally proposed in 2010, has been widely adopted to define a range of food preparation categories:

  1. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods
  2. Processed culinary ingredients
  3. Processed foods
  4. Ultra-processed foods

From: The UN Decade of Nutrition, the NOVA food classification and the trouble with ultra-processing: 

The NOVA classification, outlined above, groups foods according to the nature, extent and purpose of the industrial processing they undergo. Food processing as identified by NOVA involves physical, biological and chemical processes used after foods are separated from nature, and before being consumed or prepared as dishes and meals. Methods used in the culinary preparation of food at home or in restaurant kitchens are not industrial, by definition, and so are not taken into account by NOVA, which classifies all foods, including culinary ingredients and other food products, into the following four groups. This Appendix lists the main items in the four groups.

Group 1. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods

This first NOVA group of unprocessed and minimally processed foods includes fresh, squeezed, chilled, frozen or dried fruits and leafy and root vegetables; grains such as brown, parboiled or white rice, corn cob or kernel, wheat berry or grain; legumes such as beans of all types, lentils, chickpeas; starchy roots and tubers such as potatoes and cassava, in bulk or packaged; fungi such as fresh or dried mushrooms; meat, poultry, fish and seafood, whole or in the form of steaks, fillets and other cuts, or chilled or frozen without added salt or oil; eggs; milk, pasteurized or powdered; fresh or pasteurized fruit or vegetable juices without added sugar, sweeteners or flavours; grits, flakes or flour made from corn, wheat, oats or cassava; pasta, couscous and polenta made with flours, flakes or grits and water without added salt or oil; tree and ground nuts and other oilseeds without added salt or sugar; spices such as pepper, cloves and cinnamon and herbs such as thyme and mint, fresh or dried; plain yoghurt with no added sugar or artificial sweeteners; tea and coffee with no added sugar; drinking-water.

Group 2. Processed culinary ingredients

This second NOVA group of processed culinary ingredients includes vegetable oils crushed from various seeds or nuts, or fruits such as olives; butter and lard obtained from milk and pork; starches extracted from corn and other plants; sugar and molasses obtained from cane or beet; honey extracted from combs and syrup from maple trees; and salt mined or from seawater.

Group 3. Processed foods

This third NOVA group of processed foods includes canned or bottled vegetables, fruits and legumes; salted or sugared nuts and seeds; salted, pickled, cured or smoked meats and other animal foods; canned fish; fruits in syrup; cheeses; and unpackaged freshly made breads.

Group 4. Ultra-processed foods

This fourth NOVA group of ultra-processed food products includes carbonated drinks; sweet or savoury packaged snacks; ice cream, chocolate, candies (confectionery); mass-produced packaged breads, buns, cookies (biscuits), pastries, cakes and cake mixes; breakfast ‘cereals’, ‘cereal’ and ‘energy’ bars; margarines and spreads; processed cheese; ‘energy’ drinks; sugared milk drinks, sugared ‘fruit’ yoghurts and ‘fruit’ drinks; sugared cocoa drinks; meat and chicken extracts and ‘instant’ sauces; infant formulas, follow-on milks and other baby products (which may include expensive ingredients); ‘health’ and ‘slimming’ products such as powdered or ‘fortified’ meal and dish substitutes; and many ready-to-heat products including pre-prepared pies and pasta and pizza dishes; poultry and fish ‘nuggets’ and ‘sticks’; sausages, burgers, hot dogs and other reconstituted meat products; and powdered and packaged ‘instant’ soups, noodles and desserts.