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Why Eating Junk Food Puts More Junk In Your Trunk ... (And Some Surprising Reasons You Probably Wouldn't Expect)

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With New Year's resolution season in full swing, millions worldwide are looking to get in shape, lose weight, and adopt better eating habits. (Our 8 Week Reboot package is a fantastic way to kick start that process!) So we wanted to share some recent research that might help you make better informed decisions about your approach to dieting, and everyday nutrition.

How much you eat absolutely matters, and caloric restriction definitely works. (We don't recommend it, but you can even lose weight eating only Twinkies if you're hyper disciplined about your caloric restriction.) However the flaw with a simplistic "calories in vs. calories out" approach is that it assumes that all calories are equal, and that your body responds in the same way to each and every calorie, whether it's from kale, kielbasa, or Keebler Tollhouse Cookies.

Common sense tell us that that's simply not the case. And new research suggests that what we eat can have a far greater impact on whether or not we're able to lose weight than we might realize.

Results from a study published this summer in Cell Metabolism by researchers from the National Institutes of Health help us better understand how and why our bodies respond differently to highly processed foods - and why they make us fat.

The study was a 28 day randomized controlled trial that put participants on two diets that were both identical in terms of presented calories, sugar, fat, fiber, and macronutrients. Halfway through the two weeks, the groups swapped diets. Here's what the study found:

  • People on a diet of highly processed foods for two weeks consumed 500 more calories per day than those eating minimally processed foods (about 3,000 calories a day vs. 2,500 calories). They also gained two pounds on average during the two weeks.
  • Subjects who began with 14 days of eating ultra-processed foods lost two pounds when they switched to minimally processed eating for the final 14 days.
The researchers concluded that highly processed foods cause greater weight gain - even when they don’t have more fat, sugar, or carbohydrates than healthier (non-processed) alternatives - because people on a diet of highly processed foods tend to eat 20% more calories per day than people who eat minimally processed foods.
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OK, but WHY?

The study also found that participants on the ultra-processed diet consumed calories 50 percent faster than when they ate minimally processed foods. This may be because processed foods are often softer and easier to chew, swallow, and digest. Eating more quickly can cause us to overeat by short-circuiting the "gut-brain" connection that tells us when to push the plate away.

The key takeaway is that when we eat processed foods we tend to consume ~20% more calories than when we eat healthier foods. And those calories lead directly to weight gain.


Here are two more important differences between how our bodies react to processed foods:

  • Research has shown that our bodies expend ~50% fewer calories digesting processed foods than non-processed foods.
  • Minimally processed foods often include more insoluble fiber than their ultra-processed counterparts. So we tend to absorb more of the calories in highly processed foods than from non-processed alternatives.

And if that's still not enough, two studies published this year in British Medical Journal both found a lower risk of heart disease risks and greater longevity among adults who eat less processed food.

In summary, when we eat highly processed foods we tend to eat faster, eat more, and gain weight as a result. Our bodies expend less energy digesting processed foods, but we tend to absorb more calories from them. Lastly, avoiding processed foods is likely to lower your risk of heart disease and increase your predicted longevity.

Are you looking to lose weight, gain muscle, change your body composition, or eat healthier? We can help! Check out our 8 Week Reboot package, come on in for an InBody body composition scan to learn what your body is actually made of, and to get a better understanding of your basal metabolic rate, or contact us to set up a time to sit down with our Nutritional Consultant - Barbara Blackwell - to learn more about how Functional Nutrition can help you achieve your goals for 2020.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year!

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