We have heard ample downsides of ultraprocessed foods such as pizzas, burgers and French fries yet continue to splurge on them mindlessly as it has almost become an addiction to us. We can’t stay without potato chips or colas during parties or celebrate without pizzas at offices for successful project deliveries. Any foods that’s been altered from its natural state mechanically or chemically is termed to be ‘processed’. Ultraprocessed foods are those that include ingredients such as added sugars, fats and preservatives to improve shelf life, flavor and color of the foods. Foods can also be slightly processed, moderately or highly processed and for the list of foods that belong to the different categories please visit the website www.firsteatright.com. Through the years we have had plenty of research clearly showing an association between ultraprocessed foods and health problems such as cancer, obesity and risk of death. The downside here is that many of them derived results from the answers given by people in the form of questionnaires and couldn’t establish any direct relationship. This sparkled a totally different idea to a group of researchers who wanted firsthand information on the effects of ultraprocessed foods.
The Battle between Unprocessed & Ultraprocessed Foods
A group of researchers took the pain of preparing, serving and tracking every single meal and every single ingredient that was consumed by their volunteers-a group of 20 people constituting of 10 men and 10 women who were randomly assigned to either of the two menus that constituted of ultraprocessed or unprocessed foods for a period of one month. Each of the volunteers were assigned to each of the two food groups for two weeks and then switched. Each of the meals constituted of 4000 calories comprising of three full meals and snacks in between. All the participants were requested to eat as much as they wanted through the day. The researchers ensured that both the diets were equal on everything right from nutrition composition to the average number of calories per gram of food. Ultraprocessed foods contributed to 80% of calories in the ultraprocessed diet but did not have any role to play in the unprocessed version. Easy to tell, nevertheless it was a time-consuming job for the researchers to match the menus keeping all the macronutrients within desired ranges.
The research team were extremely careful about their study in the sense that, they even ensured that all the participants wore loose-fitting clothes to keep their weight loss/gain under wraps. As the days of the study proceeded researchers found that those put on a ultraprocessed diet started eating 500 additional calories daily leading to weight gain and fat increment in many people over the first two-week period, almost 1 kilogram during this period. Contrarily, those eating unprocessed foods lost 1 kilogram and witnessed a potential increase in the gut hormone peptide YY that suppresses hunger and also reduces the secretion of hunger hormone, ghrelin. Participants did not consciously eat more ultraprocessed foods as they reported that both the meals tasted equally delicious and yummy. The only difference was that the ultraprocessed foods triggered a subtle but subconscious shift in behavior.
Researchers’ only concern was that something in the ultraprocessed foods were making participants eat more but that ‘something’ remains untraceable until now. Individuals almost ate 17 more calories every minute owing to the soft texture of the ultraprocessed foods compared to unprocessed ones that mostly comprise of veggies, whole grains and fruits. Enriched with sugars and fats ultraprocessed foods trigger the brain’s pleasure system forcing us into a habit almost that continues over our lifetime. Maybe its time now to get rid of these pleasure pangs and enter into the real world where consuming ultraprocessed foods increased consumption rates and weight gain.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.
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