Processed Foods Increase Hunger Hormones

Study shows that people who consumed a heavily processed diet ate more and gained weight, compared to when they followed a whole foods diet.

Ultra-processed foods are engineered to not only have a long shelf life, but to also have an irresistible concoction of salt, sugar, fat and other additions that make you fat. This is according to a study published this month in the journal, Cell Metabolism.

Foods like breakfast cereals, muffins, white bread, sugary yogurts, low-fat potato chips, canned foods, processed meats, fruit juices and diet beverages cause a rise in hunger hormones compared to a diet of minimally processed foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, grilled chicken, fish, beef, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

In this small, yet intense study researchers at the National Institutes of Health recruited subjects who agreed to live in a research facility for four weeks where they would consume a whole foods diet or an ultra-processed one. The diets were comparable in calories, carbohydrates, fats and proteins. For example, the processed diet offered Honey Nut Cheerios with whole milk and added fiber and the whole breakfast consisted of a greek parfait with strawberries, bananas, walnuts, salt, olive oil, apple slices and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Among the most remarkable findings, was that while on the ultra-processed diet subjects consumed 500 more calories a day, which amounts to an average of two pounds of weight gain in two weeks.

“Though we examined a small group, results from this tightly controlled experiment showed a clear and consistent difference between the two diets,” said Kevin Hall, the study’s lead author. This is the first study to demonstrate causality – that ultra-processed foods cause people to eat too many calories and gain weight.”

What can you do?

Whole foods can be more expensive and less convenient than highly processed foods. Albeit, with a little extra thought you can cook and prepare meals at home that do not take a lot of time or money. Pre-cut fruits and veggies save time, and are minimally processed, as is a loaf of whole grain bread. When fresh fruits and veggies are not readily available, frozen veggies are an excellent option. Over the weekend think about your weekly meals, cook in bulk and use coupons. This will ensure a great start to your and your family’s week!

Blog written by NAC’s Registered Dietitian, Lisa James, MS, RD.


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