NOVA system unfairly tars plant-based milks, burgers from soy with ‘ultra-processed’ brush, argues academic

“We should all eat more whole foods, including edamame,​” said Mark Messina, an adjunct professor at Loma Linda University and executive director of the Soy Nutrition Institute.

But putting soymilk and veggie burgers in the same category as soda and Twinkies is not helpful, said Messina, who has just co-authored an articlespublished in the journal Advances in Nutrition arguing that the NOVA classification system​ – which categorizes foods according to the level of processing they undergo – is “simplistic and does not adequately evaluate the nutritional attributes of meat and dairy alternatives based on soy.”

Processing can impact nutrition, Messina acknowledged, noting that eating an apple is preferable to drinking apple juice (read Dr Robert Lustig’s take on this HERE​​) while soy protein isolates and concentrates do not contain the same level of fiber and isoflavones as the whole bean, for example.

Using the apple vs apple juice example, Messina told FoodNavigator-USA: “Disrupting the food matrix can have an effect on blood glucose levels, for example, even if the fiber and nutrient content is the same, but our primary point​ [in this paper] is that it makes no sense from a nutritional standpoint to compare a plant-based burger to a sugary soda or snack food, but because of NOVA, they are classified in the same way.

“We looked at some of the common criticisms of ultra-processed foods and examined whether they applied more to soy milk and soy burgers than they do to their animal-based counterparts cow’s milk and beef, and for the ones we looked at, that was just not the case.”

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