Why Eating Processed Foods Might Make You Fat

People who followed a diet of ultra-processed foods ate about 500 more calories a day compared to when they ate a whole foods diet.

Processed Snacks: Baked potato chips (Lay’s); dry roasted peanuts (Planters); cheese & peanut butter sandwich crackers (Keebler); Goldfish crackers (Pepperidge Farm); applesauce (Lucky Leaf)CreditCreditPhotographs courtesy of Paule Joseph and Shavonne Pocock

In recent years, many nutrition experts have linked the obesity epidemic to the spread of ultra-processed foods that are engineered to have a long shelf life and irresistible combinations of salt, sugar, fat and other additives.

These foods tend to make people overeat because they are full of refined carbohydrates, added sugars and fat that appeal to the human palate, experts say. Most of these foods, however, tend to lack fiber, protein, vitamins and other important nutrients.

Now a small but rigorous new study provides strong evidence that not only do these foods tend to make people eat more, but they also may result in dramatic and relatively rapid weight gain and have other detrimental health effects.

The research, published Thursday in the journal Cell Metabolism, found that people ate significantly more calories and gained more weight when they were fed a diet that was high in ultra-processed foods like breakfast cereals, muffins, white bread, sugary yogurts, low-fat potato chips, canned foods, processed meats, fruit juices and diet beverages. These foods caused a rise in hunger hormones compared to a diet that contained mostly minimally processed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, grilled chicken, fish and beef, and whole grains, nuts and seeds.

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