Can processed foods play an important role in the healthy diets of Australians?

The AFGC keeps a watching brief on research publications across scientific and technical disciplines of importance to the food industry. 

Processed foodsOne of the barriers to selecting food choices is cost. This is especially true for low socioeconomic status (SES) households which regularly choose processed foods. Additionally, lower and medium SES households spend a greater proportion of their income on food as compared with high SES households.  

Can processed foods help or hinder the quality and cost of a diet? 

This study of Australian foods and households show that the quality and affordability of a diet can be improved by including nutritious low-cost processed foods. Interestingly, green leafy vegetables were in the highest nutrient density food category and also the most expensive, and fruit juice had the highest nutrient density for least cost. Some ultra-processed foods as defined by NOVA* (e.g. RTE breakfast cereals, whole grain breads, dairy milk alternatives) can provide important nutrition when consumed within national food group recommendations. 

Key take out: The inclusion of some select processed and ultra‐processed foods may be of benefit in lowering overall daily food costs while providing nutrition benefits. This is important given that the review of the Australian Dietary Guidelines is in progress and food processing is likely to be a consideration. 

*NOVA is a classification of food quality based on level of processing. 

Reference – Blumfield M et al. Diet and Economic Modelling to Improve the Quality and Affordability of the Australian Diet for Low and Medium Socioeconomic Households. Int J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2021:18; 5771.