In a recent study, researchers attempted to determine the effects of an ultra-processed diet on the human body compared to an unprocessed diet.
An ultra-processed diet consists of food that has many additives and uses processed – instead of whole – foods. Ultra-processed foods are cheap, convenient, and can have some nutritional value. These qualities have allowed ultra-processed foods to be mass-produced all over the world. Studies have found that there is an association between having a diet limited to such meals and having poor health outcomes.
A recent study wanted to compare how an ultra-processed diet versus an unprocessed diet influences body weight and energy intake. The study consisted of 20 individuals. Half of them began with an unprocessed diet for two weeks, while the other half had the ultra-processed diet. The groups then switched diets for another two weeks before the study ended. The diets were similar in calories and other nutrients, but there were unavoidable differences in the diet, such as sugar and fat content. The participants were allowed to eat as much as they wanted within a 60-minute time slot, three times a day.
It was found that the people on the ultra-processed diet had a higher intake of energy. There was less protein consumed compared to fat and carbohydrates. Most of the energy intake and intake of carbohydrates in the ultra-processed diet occurred at breakfast and lunch. On the other hand, increased fat intake occurred during all three meals.
The ultra-processed diet also encouraged more sodium intake, but the same could not be said for fiber or sugar intake. The researchers also found that the palatability of either diet did not seem to affect the levels of consumption between the groups. It was also found that people gained about 1 kg on the ultra-processed diet and lost about the same amount when on the unprocessed diet.
The study suggests that consuming a diet consisting mainly of ultra-processed foods promotes an increase in energy intake and weight, in contrast to consuming a diet that is made up of unprocessed foods The authors, however, caution that this study is not meant to determine what causes the variation in energy intake, nor is it reflective of people outside of their laboratory conditions. Such conditions include the fact that in a study such as this, diet can be monitored.
Written by Olajumoke Marissa Ologundudu, B.Sc. (Hons)
Reference: Hall et al. Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake. Cell Metab. 2019;30(1):67-77.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008.
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