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Ultra-processed vs minimally-processed foods: Does it really matter?

Spoiler alert: the kinds of food you eat can make a big difference.

In a recent study, NIH researchers admitted 20 adults to a metabolic ward, where the participants stayed for the duration of the trail. (This way, the scientists could measure every calorie the volunteers ate and burned.)

Each participant was randomly assigned to a diet of ultra-processed foods or minimally-processed foods. They were allowed to consume as much or as little as desired.

After two weeks, they switched and did the alternative diet for two weeks.

The result: Participants ate 508 more calories per day and gained weight on the ultra-processed diet. They lost weight on the minimally-processed diet.

Make no mistake: Switching from eating a lot of ultra-processed foods to all minimally-processed foods isn’t easy to do overnight.

But the good news: Unless you sign up for a study, you don’t need to do it overnight.

Instead, start by adding more minimally-processed foods—such as vegetables, fruit, legumes, 100 percent whole grains, or lean protein—and don’t worry about cutting out or “subtracting” ultra-processed foods.

This “add first” strategy can be highly effective at “crowding out” the ultra-processed foods that are so easy to overeat.

That’s because, as this study suggests, minimally-processed foods are more filling and satisfying, which can help reduce your calorie intake naturally.

PMID: 33027677

Hall KD, Ayuketah A, Brychta R, Cai H, Cassimatis T, Chen KY, et al. Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake. Cell Metab. 2019 Jul 2;30(1):67–77.e3.

Image file name: UltravsMinimal.png

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