Interfacing Food Science and Nutrition, Tackling Public Health

By: Lauren Gillman


Lately when I have conversations about studying food science with friends, I have gotten responses such as, “But you’re not going to be one of those scientists putting all those preservatives in food, right?” After cringing and trying to explain, I realize that this innocent conversation may turn ugly very fast. These days, I can rarely go a week without hearing someone decide to cut out all “processed” foods, go on a paleo diet, or eat completely raw. It can be difficult to discuss the benefits of processed foods without people’s emotions and egos getting in the way. Thankfully, some professionals in our combination of fields have already taken it upon themselves to form a joint task force to tackle the preconceived notions about the food industry.


As the student representative for the Food Science and Nutrition Science Solutions (FNSS) Task Force, I have had the privilege to see what can be accomplished when Food Science and Nutrition professionals work together. The FNSS has brought together 4 influential organizations: the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the International Food Informational Council, the American Society for Nutrition, and IFT. Recently their published work on redefining processed foods for U.S. consumers was a top story in IFT’s Weekly Newsletter and also their look at processed foods was featured in Food Technology. Since 2007 they have hosted various educational symposia, held grant writing workshops for food science and nutrition interfacing, and published a paper assessing the nutrition provided from processed foods in the Journal of Nutrition. In this paper, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) was utilized to assess the contributions of processed foods to the total dietary intake for over 25,000 Americans.


The paper may be long, but it is worth the read. It succinctly defines processed food without bias and provides countless data to show the benefits that come along with the convenience and improved safety of processed foods. They have a defined range of processing starting with “minimally processed foods” (washed fruits, nuts) to “prepared foods/meals” (frozen dinners). To some people’s surprise, the study found that all categories of processed foods were neither consistently “healthy” nor “unhealthy.”



So what can we take away from that? In my thoughts, it is to eat a variety of foods and not worry so much. By taking the nutritional NHANES data and adding the continuum of processing levels, we can see that this interface of food science and nutrition brings new light to benefiting our health. Next time someone berates you for eating/promoting processed food, I’d send them to this article and then open up some discussion.



What do you think of interfacing food science and nutrition? Do you think the level of processing a food dictates its health value?

Photo credits:

Science Meets Food

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  1. People like to generalize and say processed foods are “bad”. What does that mean exactly? Like the article you linked to states “Food processing is any deliberate change made in a food from the time of origin to the time of consumption” and I like that the article has made clear distinctions about the varying degrees of processing. Cutting and freezing of vegetables, for example, is not going remove nutrients from the food itself. Frozen fish is another example. Many people perceive fresh fish as being higher quality but the reality is that “fresh” fish spends several days in transit at fluctuating temperatures, whereas frozen is fish is caught, filleted and frozen immediately, preserving the freshness and quality.

    I would agree that a food product made with empty calories and low nutrient density is not a healthy food choice. But not all processed foods are alike, and many have enrichment and fortification to reduce vitamin deficiencies. Like you said, there is a great variety of foods and we have the ability to make the right decisions for ourselves. We know we should only eat those foods with empty calories in moderation and make healthy foods a large part of our diet, regardless if they are “processed”. Thanks for the post Lauren, I hope to see more from you!!

  2. You bring up a very good point about the controversy of “processed foods”. Thank you for the article which sheds light on this broad category of processed foods. Processed food does not necessarily mean bad food. Instead of wiping out all processed food from ones diet out of ignorance and fear it is refreshing to have people out there educating us on the how’s and whys so we can make better choices for ourselves and the ones we feed.

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