The NOVA classification of food items has become increasingly popular and is being used in several observational studies as well as in nutritional guidelines and recommendations. We propose that there is a need for this classification and its use in the formulation of public health policies to be critically discussed and re-appraised. The terms ‘processing’ and ‘ultra-processing’, which are crucial to the NOVA classification, are ill-defined, as no scientific, measurable or precise reference parameters exist for them. Likewise, the theoretical grounds of the NOVA classification are unclear and inaccurate. Overall, the NOVA classification conflicts with the classic, evidence-based evaluation of foods based on composition and portion size because NOVA postulates that the food itself (or how much of it is eaten) is unimportant, but rather that dietary effects are due to how the food is produced. We contend that the NOVA system suffers from a lack of biological plausibility so the assertion that ultra-processed foods are intrinsically unhealthful is largely unproven, and needs further examination and elaboration.