We all know processed foods, such as chips, instant noodles, chicken nuggets, frozen pizzas, and sodas, are full of salt, sugar and fat. However, now, researchers are trying to dig more to find out why it is so hard to stop eating processed foods.
Already, processed foods have been associated with rising obesity rates across the world. Yet, repeated recommendations to cut down processed foods do not seem helpful, given how easily they are available and how tempting they are.
After analyzing three studies, researchers are able to offer more clues on how processed foods are affecting our health. They also underscore how difficult nutrition science and advice can be.
The researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that people ate at least 500 extra calories a day when they were fed processed foods when compared with the same people who were fed minimally processed foods. The researchers tried to match those foods for nutrients such as fat, fiber, and sugar.
Another study conducted in France, which was based on questionnaires, found that people who ate more processed foods were at a higher risk of developing heart disease. And a similar study in Spain found that eating processed foods was associated with a higher risk of death in general.
Apart from the fact that processed foods taste really good and tempting, there could be other reasons why it becomes so difficult to stop eating processed foods.
According to the US study, when the participants were fed minimally processed foods, the researchers found that people secreted more of a hormone that suppresses appetite and less of a hormone that increases appetite. However, the physiological reaction is unclear. They also found that people at processed foods much faster than unprocessed foods.
Referring to the processed foods, lead study author Kevin Hall said, “Those foods tend to be softer and easier to chew and swallow.”
Hall noted. “The source of nutrients might make a difference. Fibers from whole fruits and vegetables, for instance, may be better for making people feel full than the types of fiber added to packaged foods such as cookies, yogurt and even soda.”
The French study’s author Mathilde Touvier noted, “The largely unexamined effects of the cocktail of additives used to make the various processed foods we eat.”
However, these three studies come with certain limitations. The US study was small and individual behavior varied. For instance, some participants ate about the same number of calories on both processed and unprocessed foods, while the rest ate more of the processed foods.
Considering the French and Spanish studies, there might be some other factors that explain the differences in potential health risks. These studies did not reflect the wider population. Participants in the Spanish study were college graduates and relatively younger.
Meanwhile, researchers recommend limiting processed foods. They say minimally processed foods are richer in nutrients and it is difficult to overeat them, as they not as widely available and convenient as processed foods.