Avoiding ultra-processed food is probably the number one most important thing you can do to improve your diet.
Stress has led many people to rely on processed foods for their convenience and rewarding taste profile. In fact, traditional processed food manufacturers like Kraft-Heinz and Mondelez have seen their sales skyrocket since the pandemic started.
This contributes to the “covid 15” fat gain that many people have experienced. Now is a great time to make the switch to avoid processed foods in favor of foods in their most natural state.
Why are ultra-processed foods so bad?
They are low in nutrients and won’t provide the body with the building blocks needed for optimal health or performance.
They are linked with poor cognitive performance and mental issues.
Processed foods are made of refined grains that elevate blood sugar and predispose you to metabolic problems.
They lead to a variety of poor health outcomes, including diabetes, obesity, and death.
They lack the nutrients necessary for your body to handle the physical ravages of stress, increasing aging and poor health.
Processed foods are designed to be irresistible, stimulating food intake and weight gain.
Avoid Ultra-Processed Foods To Overcome Obesity
If you're battling obesity, the number one thing you can do to improve your situation is to avoid processed foods. The effect of swapping out processed food is huge: One study found that when volunteers ate a diet high in processed foods for 2 weeks they took in more than 500 extra calories daily than when they ate a macronutrient-matched whole food diet.
This was the first randomized-controlled study to compare processed with whole food diets on eating behavior, metabolic markers, and body composition. Scientists took 20 volunteers and randomized them into a group that ate an ultra-processed diet or a group that ate a whole food diet for two weeks.
An example of the processed diet was a breakfast of Eggo pancakes, turkey sausage, tater tots, and orange juice. For the whole food diet, breakfast consisted of a spinach omelet with sweet potato hash and skim milk. Processed snack options included potato chips, goldfish crackers, and peanut butter sandwich crackers. Whole food snacks were oranges, apples, almonds, walnuts, and raisins.
Subjects ate as much or as little as they wanted at each meal. After two weeks the group traded regimens.
Processed Foods = 500 Extra Calories A Day
Participants had a much higher calorie intake from ultra-processed foods. Intake was 508 extra calories on the processed food diet. About half of those extra calories came from carbohydrates and half from fat. There was no increase in protein.
Participants consumed the extra calories from the ultra-processed foods at breakfast and lunch. At breakfast, the subjects ate 124 more calories and at lunch they ate 213 extra calories. Carbs were also a much greater percentage of calories at these two meals.
The added calories in the processed diet led participants to a gain a predictable 2 pounds. In contrast, participants lost the same amount when eating the healthier whole foods diet.
Whole Foods Are Just As Enjoyable
Both groups reported that the diets were flavorful enough to enjoy eating. There was no difference in “pleasantness” of meals. Instead, people often ate easier-to-chew processed foods faster, leading to a delay in satiety signals and greater food consumption.
It’s also possible that processed foods negatively affect the gut, which communicates with the brain to regulate food intake. When you impair this communication axis, the “stop eating” message from the gut is disrupted.
Avoiding processed foods is a simple way to lower calorie intake for better body composition and lower risk of obesity. Choose whole foods in their most natural state.
Breakfast and lunch are times when people are especially susceptible to overeating processed foods. This may be partly due to lack of time when people are on the go. Avoid processed foods by preparing foods in advance and prioritizing high-quality protein and fibrous vegetables to moderate hunger and keep eating in check.
If you aren't able to avoid processed foods in your diet, focus on mindful eating. Slow your eating rate down and savor the food to allow for hunger-dampening messages to register in the brain.
It’s possible to train your taste buds to enjoy healthy whole foods. Sometimes eating healthy is about changing your habits to reach for nutritious options instead of the same old junk that has come to dominate the average American’s diet. Swap out the chips for nuts, candy for berries, and chicken wings for vegetable sticks with hummus.