Consuming Ultra-processed Foods Leads to Weight Gain and Overeating, reveals NIH Study

The research is the first randomized controlled trial that examines the NOVA classification system-defined effects of ultra-processed foods.

In a recent study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it was found that people who ate ultra-processed foods gained more weight and consumed more calories compared to when they followed a minimally processed diet. Published in the journal Cell Metabolism, the study also revealed that the difference was noticed even when the same number of micronutrients and calories were included in the meals as part of minimally processed diets and ultra-processed diets provided to the volunteers.

The authors of the study are researchers from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of the NIH. The study included only 20 adult volunteers and was conducted on a small scale.

“Although a small group was examined by us, a consistent and clear difference between the two diets was shown by the results of this tightly controlled experiment. This study is the first to show causality – that people tend to gain weight and eat too many calories because of ultra-processed foods,” said the lead author of the study and senior investigator at NIDDK, Kevin Hall, Ph.D. (source).

Study helps in understanding the role that nutrition plays in maintaining health

“Additional calories add up over time, and that additional weight could lead to serious health conditions. Research such as this one plays a significant part in understanding nutrition’s role in health and may even help people in identifying foods that are accessible and also nutritious – helping people to remain healthy for the long term,” said Griffin Rodgers, M.D., Director of NIDDK.

According to a news release by the NIH, the study is the first randomized controlled trial that examines the effects of ultra-processed foods described by the NOVA classification system. At the time when the study was conducted, 10 healthy adult male and 10 healthy adult female volunteers were admitted to the NIH Clinical Center for 30 continuous days. The volunteers were given meals containing minimally processed foods and those containing ultra-processed foods. For two weeks, they were kept on each diet in random order.

“We need to find out the specific aspect of the ultra-processed foods that led people to gain weight and affected their eating behavior. The second step involves designing studies similar to this one, including a reformulated ultra-processed diet to check if the changes could make disappear the diet effect on body weight and calorie intake,” said Hall.

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