Processed foods trigger cravings, overeating, obesity and disease, NEW study suggests

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processed-foods-linked-to-obesity(NaturalHealth365)  Microwaving a frozen pizza and eating a slice, sipping from a cup of instant soup, crunching away on barbecue-flavored potato chips – for many people, these actions are just part of the daily routine.  But these seemingly innocuous processed foods may be anything but harmless and may even present a serious threat to health.  (Bear in mind that two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese and millions of people eat “fast” food, daily).

Could it be due to the growing preponderance of highly- processed (or “ultra-processed”) snack foods?  Can these foods really promote overeating, contribute to unwanted weight gain, and trigger chronic disease?  Based on a new large-scale population study conducted by scientists at the University of Sydney, the answer is a thundering “yes!”

Read on to find out exactly why – and how – ultra-processed foods can damage your health.

Popular processed foods are deficient in protein, causing increased caloric intake

The study, published in Obesity and involved over 9,000 participants, was based on data obtained by the Australian Bureau of Statistics regarding nutrition and physical activity.  The researchers reported that highly processed and refined foods lead to “protein hunger,” which triggers overeating and contributes to obesity.  Study leaders said that the new research helps to confirm the “Protein Leverage Hypothesis” – the theory that people overeat fats and carbohydrates because the body craves protein above all else.

The scientists noted that the food consumed in Western diets contains lower amounts of protein – with processed foods tending to be particularly deficient.  Sadly, these unhealthy foods make up progressively larger proportions of many people’s daily diets.  “As people consume more junk foods or highly processed and refined foods, they dilute their dietary protein and increase their risk of being overweight and obese,” said study author Dr. Amanda Grech, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre.

Co-author Professor David Raubenheimer, the Leonard Ullmann Chair in Nutritional Ecology at the university, confirms the adverse effects of improper nutrition.  “Obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease – they’re all driven by diet,” Prof. Raubenheimer warned.

Suboptimal protein at first meal causes people to eat more fats and carbs later

The researchers found that those who consumed lower amounts of protein in the first meal of the day increased their overall food intake throughout the day – as if to attempt to compensate by eating more calories.  In addition, they consumed higher amounts of “discretionary foods,” or high-calorie foods that are also high in saturated fats, trans fats, sugars, salt, chemical sweeteners, or alcohol.  (They also ingested fewer grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and meats).

On the other hand, people who ate foods with a higher proportion of protein at their first meal tended to eat less fat and carbohydrates throughout the day.  While other factors – such as eating patterns, physical activity levels, and sleep routines – can contribute to obesity, Prof Raubenheimer concluded that protein hunger from processed foods is a leading cause.  He called the concept of protein mechanism in appetite a “revolutionary insight” with significant implications for global health.

Additional studies link highly processed foods to heart disease and more

Earlier research has examined the subject of processed foods and weight gain.  In an older but still-influential review published in Obesity in 2012, the authors identified three major contributing factors to obesity in Western populations.  The “triple whammy,” as cited by the authors, consists of reduced levels of physical activity combined with a high-fat, high-calorie diet and the frequent ingestion of commercial snack products.

And obesity is not the only adverse outcome.  There is also the increased risk of potentially life-threatening degenerative diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.  For example, one 2019 study of 100,000 adults published in The BMJ found that a ten percent increase in ultra-processed food intake was associated with a corresponding ten percent increase in heart disease!

Promote healthy weight with an array of flavorful, higher-protein snacks

By the way, the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines “processed food” as any raw agricultural product that has been washed, milled, chopped, heated, pasteurized, blanched, cooked, canned, frozen, dried, dehydrated, mixed, or packaged. So, clearly, some degree of light processing is not necessarily bad.  But, it’s the ultra-processed foods – such as frozen meals, instant soups, cakes, cookies, chips, and soda – that are the true nutritional villains.

For healthy snacking, consider pairing Greek yogurt with raspberries, serving apple chunks with almond butter, or mixing a small amount of raw, unpasteurized cheese with fresh papaya.  Or, opt for hummus with carrot sticks and cucumber, or combine cherry tomatoes with cashew cheese drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Rather than “empty” calories, these satisfying snacks offer up antioxidants, dietary fiber, healthy fats, essential vitamins, and important minerals – along with higher amounts of protein than most commercial snack products.

By the way, you can up your daily intake of protein – which is needed for the repair and production of cells – by eating grass-fed beef, pasture raised poultry, eggs, or wild-caught fish.  Plant-based protein sources include soy, legumes, beans, wheat germ, and quinoa. (of course, choose organic – whenever possible.)

Yes, potato chips, cookies, and ice cream can be tempting.  (And, for a healthy individual with no blood sugar issues, the occasional indulgence isn’t exactly the end of the world).  But it’s good to know that healthy, tasty alternatives are available – and you may even find yourself craving them.

You can get off the merry-go-round of toxic, fattening, low-protein snack foods!  Remember, the choice is yours … choose wisely to improve your health today.

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