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Ultra-processed foods lead to weight gain, study results show



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By Erika Edwards

People Who Consume Highly Processed Food A new study by the National Institutes of Health has found that more calories and more weight have been gained than those who stick to a minimally processed diet.

Many real diet and nutrition studies rely on participants to remember what they have eaten. This is notoriously difficult for most people. The results of the study were published on Thursday in the journal Cell Metabolism.

This project was much more controlled. A group of 10 men and 10 women lived for 28 days at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Their meals were provided by investigators from the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

In the first two weeks, half of the subjects ate something like an "ultra-processed diet". These included foods that many thought were reasonable: turkey bacon, chicken salad from chicken canned, sweetened Greek yogurt, bagels with cream cheese, and baked potato chips.

The other half followed a minimally processed diet, including meat and fish, whole fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts and oatmeal. In the second two weeks the participants changed their diet.

This is an example of what the participants ate on the minimally processed diet: plain Greek yogurt, bananas, apple slices and walnuts, salt and olive oil. Hall et al / Cell Metabolism

"We found that people in the ultra-processed diet consumed on average more than 500 calories a day too much," said study author Kevin Hall. "They increased and gained body fat."

Nutritional information is not the whole story.

Although both diets were tailored to the same amount of calories, sugars, fats, fiber and macronutrients as carbohydrates and protein, people gained about two pounds while they ate the processed foods. And so much did they lose on the other diet.

People may tend to eat faster and consume more fat and carbs in the ultra-processed diet.

Nutritionists say the findings confirm what they've seen in studies. "Satiety is higher and lasts longer when we eat foods that have been minimally processed," said Elisabetta Politi of Duke Diet and Fitness Center of Durham, North Carolina diet: Honey Nut Cheerios, whole fiber with fiber supplement, blueberry muffin and margarine. Hall et al. / Cell metabolism

The blood tests were also meaningful. When participants were on the minimally processed diet, they were producing more of a hormone called PYY, which makes people sick, and less of a hormone called ghrelin, which stimulates the appetite.

"This is the first study that shows the nutrients in the diet Fact labels are not the whole story," Hall told NBC News. "These processed foods have something else."

But what exactly are processed foods? Some say that all food goes through a certain process to make sure they get from the farms to our forks.

The study categorized food as "ultra-processed" if it contained ingredients known to be derived from industrial food production, such as hydrogenated oils or artificial flavors, and other additives to stabilize products and extend their shelf life.

Hall suspects that processed foods are just what your grandmother would not recognize.

Real people have shown that it is really possible to deviate from heavily processed foods. Lisa Leake, a mother of two in Charlotte, North Carolina, overhauled her family's diet in 2010 and eliminated all of the processed food.

Within days, Leake and her husband lost five pounds, "without trying," she said. They had more energy, and she said her good cholesterol had risen by 50 percent in a year.

Leake, who recently published a cookbook titled "100 days of real food on a budget," told NBC News the key to getting started is reading ingredient labels and choosing those that contain five or less whole ingredients.

And plan meals in advance, she said. "If you do not know what your next meal will be, you will starve."

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