20 May 2019

Cabbage soup and porridge – the key to health

Ultra-processed food made volunteers plump up in just two weeks

And from its alternative, the participants of the experiment, on the contrary, lost weight

Evgenia Shcherbina, "The Attic"

The volunteers were fed two different types of food: ultra-processed, that is, containing flavoring and other additives (sausage, hot dogs, sweet yoghurts), and poorly processed – almost containing none (vegetables, cereals, grilled meat). As a result, each participant of the first group gained an average kilogram of weight in just two weeks, and people from the second, on the contrary, lost weight.

Recently, nutrition experts have been increasingly concerned about the so–called ultra-processed foods - this is how, at the suggestion of Brazilian Professor Carlos Monteiro, ready-made food is called, which contains various flavorings, flavors, flavor stabilizers and the like. Previous studies on thousands of people have shown that the use of such products is associated with health problems, in particular an increased risk of cancer, obesity and even premature death. But scientists have not yet been able to establish a causal relationship between the use of such food and harm.

Experts from the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the USA tried to do this. In the new work, they compared the condition of people after a diet of two types – based on ultra-processed foods and poorly processed food. The latter may be frozen or dried products, cooked or vacuumed, but should not contain extraneous additives, including sugar, salt and oil.

The experiment involved 20 healthy volunteers – 10 men and 10 women. They had to live in a clinical center at the National Institutes of Health for a month and eat only what scientists offered them. One group had two weeks of ultra–processed food-cereals, sweet yoghurts, canned pasta, hot dogs, and so on. The second group was given minimally processed food: oatmeal porridge, steamed vegetables, grilled chicken and vegetable salads.

Nutritionists made sure that in both cases the diet contained the same amount of calories, sugar, fat, dietary fiber and sodium. The participants of the experiment could eat as much as they wanted.

Two weeks later, the groups changed their diets. Scientists determined the amount of food eaten by weighing everything that remained on the table after each meal, up to each portion of ketchup that did not get on the hot dog.

As a result, it turned out that those who ate ultra-processed foods ate an average of 500 calories a day more every day for two weeks than their comrades. Each of them gained an average of 900 grams. At the same time, those who ate minimally processed foods lost about the same amount of weight.


The upper graph shows the number of calories per day consumed by the participants of the experiment. The bottom one shows the weight they gained during the experiment. The days of a particular diet are postponed along the X-axis. Figure from the article by Hall et al. Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake, published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Blood tests of the subjects showed that with an "ultra-processed" diet, people had higher levels of the hormone PYY, which suppresses appetite. The level of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, was lower at the same time. However, scientists have not been able to determine how these changes are related to the quality of food processing.

As scientists suggest, people ate more ultra-processed foods because, firstly, they are bright and attractive. Secondly, such food is softer, so it is easier to chew and swallow. When people eat fast, they tend to eat more, because they miss the moment when a feeling of satiety comes to them.

In addition, despite the efforts that scientists have made to bring both types of diets to the same amount of calories and nutrients, ultra-processed foods usually contain less protein. At the same time, people are saturated with a certain amount of it, so in order to get the norm, you need to eat more of such food.

Thus, scientists have come to the conclusion that deep-processed food leads at least to weight gain, even if it contains a balanced amount of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

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