What Everybody Ought to Know About Ultra-Processed Foods

Having trouble staying full while trying to lose body fat?

Do you feel like you can always eat more and more while trying to lose body fat?

Have you ever had the intention of eating only a slice of pizza and then the next thing you know half the pizza is gone?

If so, it’s completely normal and happens a lot.

Actually, I have written about how hunger and cravings are your number 1 enemy for fat loss here. So check that out here.

If you are trying to diet for fat loss, then you will experience hunger at some point. This is not something we can bypass, unfortunately.

But there is some good and bad news.

Let’s start with the good.

The good news is that you can eat whatever you want and lose weight, as long as you are in a calorie deficit for the day. Here are two examples of this:

Fitness coach Jordan Syatt ate a Big Mac every day for 30 days and lost 7 pounds, read more here: https://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/a29399193/jordan-syatt-mcdonalds-big-mac-weight-loss/

University professor Mark Haub lost 27 pounds on what has been coined the “Twinkie Diet”. Read more here: https://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/11/08/twinkie.diet.professor/index.html

Both are great examples of how the most important thing is being in a calorie deficit (eat less than you burn) for weight loss.

Now time for the bad news.

The truth is that the types of foods you are eating may be making your hunger worse and causing you to overeat for your goals, making it much tougher to reach your fat loss goals than it needs to be.

Lets look into this more.

Easier to overeat ultra-processed foods?

A 2019 study by Hall. et al. looked at unprocessed diets vs ultra-processed diets. The goal of this study was to see if ultra-processed diets lead to a higher food intake.

I do want to make one point, no matter what you eat, it’s most likely going to be at least a little bit processed.

Let’s get into the study.

The subjects were kept in a metabolic ward for 28 days! This is important because in many nutrition studies, they still live their normal lives, therefore they can sneak in extra food without telling anyone about it. Not here. They did not leave for the entire study.

The subjects were given 2 weeks of unprocessed meals and then 2 weeks of ultra-processed meals. They had 3 meals daily and could eat as much as they wanted in 60 minutes.

They also had access to snacks throughout the day. If they were on the unprocessed diet, then they had unprocessed snack options and vice versa.

Here are two examples of the meals they were given so you can get an idea of what the meals looked like.

Ultra-processed meal:

Lunch
Macaroni and cheese (Stouffer’s)
Chicken tenders (Perdue)
Canned green beans (Giant)
Diet lemonade (Crystal Light) with NutriSource fiber

IMG-4485
Unprocessed meal:

Lunch
Baked cod filet (Harbor Banks) with fresh squeezed lemon juice
Baked russet potato with olive oil
Steamed broccoli with olive oil and garlic
Side salad (green leaf lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and carrots)
Vinaigrette (balsamic vinegar (Nature’s Promise) and olive oil)
Salt and Pepper (Monarch)

IMG-4505

In this study, the subjects consumed up to 508 calories more on the ultra-processed diet compared to the unprocessed diet. This led to increases in body weight and body fat.

How did this happen?

The authors speculate a few reasons.

  1. The subjects ate ultra-processed foods much faster than the unprocessed ones. According to James Kreiger, some studies have shown that eating faster leads to a higher intake of calories.
  2. Food reward. When you eat these highly processed foods they are usually calorie-dense, meaning they have a lot of calories per volume of food. A good example would be how two oreo cookies have more calories in them compared to an apple.

Our brain places a higher value on these calorie-dense foods (think Oreos) more than foods that have more volume (think apples) but not as many calories. We just eat more when presented with these types of foods.

Think, what would be easier to overeat?

2 chickens breasts

Or

An entire bag of chips?
Verdict: Ultra-processed foods are not as filling, are eaten much faster, and they can cause you to want to eat more. Making fat loss much tougher. 

Taking ultra-processed foods completely out of your diet is not practical for most, plus there is nothing inherently wrong with these foods.  The first step is being aware of how ultra-processed foods are valued by the body and can lead to over eating, which you now are after reading this.

The second step is finding ways to work around this.

Practical Application:

So let’s figure out some ways to work around this.

  1. Meal prep meals ahead of time

Taking some time to prep meals for the week can be a great way to reduce ultra-processed food consumption. If you need help with meal prep check out this article: https://www.bairfit.com/blogs/news/the-meal-prep-guide-set-yourself-up-for-fat-loss-success

 2. Combine unprocessed food with ultra-processed foods

Maybe have some broccoli and a chicken breast with mac n cheese. This allows you to fill up on the unprocessed foods, so then you eat less of the ultra-processed foods.
 3. Eat 80% unprocessed 20% whatever

This is in line with combining meals, however, instead of looking at one meal, look at your day as a whole. Think 80% of the time unprocessed, 20% ultra-processed.

80_20 (2)

4. Slow down your eating

As mentioned earlier, one of the reasons ultra-processed foods tend to be associated with higher calorie intake is because people eat them much faster. Therefore, we can work on slowing down our eating to help combat this. Also eating undistracted is a great way to eat less, so no smashing a bag of potato chips while watching your favorite show.

 

There you have it, you are now aware that ultra-processed foods can cause you to overeat and you now have some tools to work around this.

If you want more expert nutritional/training guidance, daily accountability, and a
strategy fit to your specific needs and lifestyle, click here to apply for Online Coaching.

 

References:

Hall, K. D., Ayuketah, A., Brychta, R., Cai, H., Cassimatis, T., Chen, K. Y., Chung, S. T., Costa, E., Courville, A., Darcey, V., Fletcher, L. A., Forde, C. G., Gharib, A. M., Guo, J., Howard, R., Joseph, P. V., McGehee, S., Ouwerkerk, R., Raisinger, K., Rozga, I., … Zhou, M. (2019). Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake. Cell metabolism, 30(1), 67–77.e3. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008

 

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