Eating highly processed foods add 500 extra calories a day causing weight gain

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Eating highly processed foods add 500 extra calories a day causing weight gain

Next time you’re tempted to take a bite out of a sugary donut or drink that oversized sugary soda, stop. Besides being a poor nutritional choice, a steady diet consisting of ultra processed foods, can cause result in weight gain.

While it is well-known that eating more calories than what you body needs is a sure-fire way to put on excess pounds, a new study finds consuming less-expensive, easier-to-prepare ultraprocessed foods in and of themselves can also add extra pounds. Ultra processed foods are defined as any food containing industrial ingredients, such as hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, flavoring agent, and emulsifiers. Ultra processed foods also consist of ready-to-eat meals as well as snacks and desserts. Over the past several decades, more people have been eating this type of food. In fact, in the United States, 61% of adults’ total diet comes from ultra processed foods, according to an unrelated study.

The small study was published in the journal Cell Metabolism and specifically found people who limit their diet made of mainly of highly processed foods ate more calories and gained more weight than when their diet mostly consisted of minimally processed foods. The study lasted for one month and had recruited 20 healthy adults who voluntarily stayed at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center.  All meals were provided to the volunteers during the length of the study.

During their month-long stay, they had two different versions of meals – one type of meal was made up of minimally processed foods while the other version consisted of ultra processed foods. Each version of these meals had the same amounts of calories, sugars, fiber, fat and carbohydrates. As an example, the unprocessed breakfast might be oatmeal with bananas, walnuts, and skim milk while the ultra processed breakfast may have consisted of a bagel with cream cheese and turkey bacon. For 14 days, the volunteers followed the unprocessed meals and then for the next 14 days, they switched and followed the unprocessed meals.

Throughout their stay, all participants were allowed to exercise about the same amount of time each day.

Results of the study found when participants ate the ultra processed meals for 14 days, they not only ate about 500 extra calories more per day but also ate faster when compared to the 14 days when they ate the unprocessed meals. The extra calories consumed during the ultra processed phase were primarily due to the participants taking extra helpings. Because of their extra helpings, the increase in calories also consisted of higher quantities of carbohydrates and fat but not protein.  This resulted in a gain, on average, of about 0.9 kilograms or 2 pounds. When the participants were following the unprocessed diet, they lost about 2 pounds.

This is not the first time that research has shown that ultra processed foods can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and cancer. Why are ultra processed so popular among a good portion of people?  The ultra processed foods tend to be cheaper and take less time to prepare than minimally processed foods. People want convenience and want food done quickly. 

Other factors involved in consumers choices when it comes to food include public confusion and mistrust in nutrition science.  There are so many diet wars between those that promote low-carbohydrate, keto, paleo, high-protein, low-fat, plant-based, vegan, along with others. If ultra processed foods can be limited, this may help consumers naturally choose more minimally processed that result in less weight gain and better health.