Obesity – Are Ultraprocessed Foods the Culprit?

Polls have shown that weight loss is the most common New Year’s resolution. The average weight of Americans has steadily increased over the last several decades with an estimated 71% of us now classified as overweight and nearly 40% of us considered obese. Fad diets and multiple theories abound, often with little or no basis in controlled scientific studies. Part of the problem is that it is very difficult to do well-controlled nutrition studies on the general population as our life styles and eating habits are quite diverse. Also, compliance to test regimens is difficult to ensure as it relies on self-reporting by participants which is notoriously inaccurate. In contrast, in “lab” testing situations it is difficult to replicate real life conditions, to sequester people for long periods of time, and to even get large enough sample sizes to obtain statistically meaningful results. Still, nutrition scientists continue to explore reasons to account for America’s weight gain. An interesting summary in Scientific American of some recent diet studies makes the case that ultraprocessed foods may be a contributor to the problem.  It describes ultraprocessed foods as ready-to-eat formulations with five or more ingredients, often including flavor-enhancing additives, dyes, or stabilizers. Not only are such foods usually high in fats and sugars, some small studies suggest that these ultraprocessed foods may be confusing our brains in ways that promote overeating. Much more work is needed to explore this idea, but it’s something to think about when you grab that next round of frozen pizza!

P.S. If you want to check your own body mass index here is a simple calculator.

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