Existing highly processed food (HPF) classification systems show large differences in the impact of these foods on biochemical risk factors for disease. If public health nutrition is to consider the degree of food processing as an important element of the link between food and health, certain gaps in research must be acknowledged. Quantifying the food additive exposure derived from HPFs is a task made challenging by the lack of data available on the occurrence and concentration of additives in food and the degree to which the natural occurrence of additives in unprocessed foods confounds exposure estimates. The proposed role of HPFs in health outcomes could also be associated with altered nutrient profiles. Differences exist within and between HPF classification systems in this regard and there are conflicting data on the impact of controlling for nutrient intake. Furthermore, research is needed on how the sensory aspects of HPFs contribute to energy intake. Current data suggest that high energy intake rate may be the mechanism linking HPFs and increased energy intake. A high priority now is to clarify the basis of definitions used to categorize foods as highly processed and, in a constructive sense, to distinguish between the contributions of nutrients, additives and sensory properties to health.
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Gibney, M.J., Forde, C.G. Nutrition research challenges for processed food and health. Nat Food 3, 104–109 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00457-9