Scientists from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and elsewhere found that ultra-processed foods cause excess calorie intake and weight gain.
Increased availability and intake of ultra-processed foods have been linked to obesity, but scientists have not yet found that ultra-processed food causes obesity or harmful health outcomes.
In the current study, researchers examined whether people ate more calories when exposed to a diet composed of ultra-processed foods compared with a diet composed of unprocessed foods.
They examined whether ultra-processed foods affect energy intake in 20 weight-stable adults.
These people were assigned to receive either ultra-processed or unprocessed diets for 2 weeks immediately followed by the alternate diet for 2 weeks.
Meals were designed to be matched for presented calories, energy density, macronutrients, sugar, sodium, and fiber.
The participants were instructed to consume as much or as little as desired.
The team found energy intake was greater during the ultra-processed diet, with increased consumption of carbohydrates and fat, but not protein.
They also found weight changes were highly linked to energy intake, with participants gaining 0.9 kg during the ultra-processed diet and losing 0.9 kg during the unprocessed diet.
The findings suggest that despite the ultra-processed and unprocessed diets being matched for daily presented calories, sugar, fat, fiber, and macronutrients, people consumed more calories when exposed to the ultra-processed diet as compared to the unprocessed diet.
Furthermore, people gained weight on the ultra-processed diet and lost weight on the unprocessed diet.
The researchers suggest that limiting the intake of ultra-processed food may be an effective strategy for obesity prevention and treatment.
The research was published in Cell Metabolism and conducted by Kevin Hall et al.
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