Sometimes I read studies that totally blow my mind and fly in the face of an assumption I had about a health topic and sometimes I read one and say "yeah, that's about right". I recently read a study that invoked the latter response. It turns out that processed foods make you fat...but hang on. There are some surprises hidden in here.
A recent study published in the journal Cell Metabolism examined the effects of ultra-processed meals versus unprocessed meals on appetite and weight gain in study participants. 20 adult inpatient subjects were studied over the course of four weeks at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center and given an ultra-processed food diet for two weeks and an unprocessed diet for two weeks.
Study participants had a stable weight and an average BMI of 27 at the beginning of the study. The results shows that while eating the ultra-processed diet participants consumed an average of 500 more calories per day and gained roughly .9 lbs. While eating the unprocessed diet the participants lost .9 lbs on average.
This won't come as a major shock to most of you as processed foods have been attacked for years for being unhealthy. But as the study author notes, surprisingly this is the first randomized controlled trial that links ultra-processed foods to weight gain. There have been plenty of studies linking ultra-processed foods to cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases but this is the first quality study that links it to a larger mid-section.
One of the most surprising aspects of the study is what types of foods were considered ultra-processed. Generally when you think about that type of food you are thinking candy bars, coca-cola, fast food and gas station burritos. But these meals were calorie and macro controlled to offer the same numbers as the unprocessed meals and consisted of things like a lunch meat and cheese sandwich on white bread with diet lemonade and low-fat chips, or sugary flavored yogurts, fruit juices, muffins, turkey sausage and the like. So it is not as if they were exactly eating unhealthy in the eyes of your average American.
So this is a valuable little pearl of information dropped into our laps. Some gold hidden behind the veil of the mundane and obvious. Given that meals were calorie and macro controlled and participants still averaged 500 more calories per day with the ultra-processed foods, it just goes to show that something hidden in the ingredients of these foods is causing you to crave more and eat more of them throughout your day. Even if they seem like a healthy choice compared to the golden arches.
That is why I always say stick to whole foods!
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