Processed foods are an important part of the food supply throughout the world. Nearly all food consumed, whether in low- or high-income countries, rural or urban areas, is processed in some way to allow for the availability of diverse foods year-round. However, we need to design interventions that include food processing to improve diet intake of nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, pulses, fish, dairy, and other animal-source foods that promote health and improve diet quality. Programs should avoid processing that results in contaminated food and foods that are high in sugar, salt, or fat, which contribute to non-communicable diseases. USAID Advancing Nutrition produced a landscape assessment report that helped to understand food processing in Feed the Future programming and recommended ways to improve food processing programming for better nutrition.
Food processing can improve access to, availability of, and desire for a year-round, safe, nutritious diet, and the economic advantages that it can provide up and down the value chain. A range of processing can take place along food value chains to improve the nutrient content of foods; bioavailability of nutrients; and food safety, preservation, cooking time, availability, transportability, and shelf life. Food processing can also support sustainability by maximizing efficient use of raw agricultural products to reduce post-harvest losses and increase the use of by-products for animal feed or as an energy source. It provides economic development and jobs that can improve incomes and the ability to purchase nutritious food.
As a next step, USAID Advancing Nutrition is developing guidance to help programs design food processing interventions and 1) increase year-round access to and intake of safe, nutritious foods; 2) improve nutrient density of the diet; 3) help ensure foods contribute to health and wellbeing; and 4) avoid contributing to non-communicable diseases and displacing nutrient-dense foods in the diet.