Love Junk Food? There’s a Reason We Keep Going Back for More

Junk food. Most of us love it because it’s got All The Things that keep our brains and bodies ‘happy.’ Sugar, fat, carbs, hydrogenated megazonium (I made that last one up).

And it’s interesting because I came across a study about ultra-processed foods (aka junk food) and how they make us want to eat more.

It’s Not Just Calories In/Out

Here are the basics of what they found in this study: people who eat a diet of “ultra-processed” food take in more calories and gain more weight than people who eat less-processed food – even when they are given meals containing the same calories and macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbs).

The study was conducted by the National Institutes for Health and published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Scientists had 10 men and 10 women check into a clinic for a month, and fed them a controlled diet. For two weeks they were given meals consisting of ultra-processed foods, and then for another two weeks they ate a diet of minimally processed foods. They could eat as much of their meals as they wanted.

As an example, an ultra-processed breakfast was a bagel with cream cheese and turkey bacon, while a whole foods breakfast included oatmeal, bananas, walnuts, and skim milk.

When they were given the “ultra” processed diet, the study subjects ate their meals faster AND consumed about 500 more calories a day… not surprisingly, they also gained an average of about 2 pounds.

Meanwhile, they lost about 2 pounds on the minimally processed diet.

This is the first study to ever show a direct relationship between processed foods and weight gain when other factors are controlled. Even so, it’s something we’ve kind of known over the years, right?

But here’s the kicker: processed foods are filled with things that make us want to eat more – salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats. So not only are they linked with eating more, they ALSO contribute to chronic health problems.

When we eat MORE of those foods, we’re taking in yet more things that are not good for us. (Other studies have suggested that junk foods are engineered specifically to make us want to eat more.)

Here’s another thing “shocking-not shocking” aspect of the study: the processed diet was actually much CHEAPER (by almost 50%!).

Scientists estimated the weekly cost to prepare 2,000 calories a day of the ultra-processed diet at $106, while the minimally processed diet cost $151, based on the prices at a nearby supermarket.

Here’s my personal takeaway on this one. The food you eat is SO MUCH more than just “calories.” It has a powerful effect on your health and well-being… and eating a healthy, whole-foods-based diet makes a strong statement to manufacturers when it comes to our food supply.

“Over time, extra calories add up, and that extra weight can lead to serious health conditions,” said one of the scientists in a press release about the study.

How can you save money when it comes to eating a healthy diet? Buy in bulk, shop sales, and use your freezer as much as possible.

Get a head start with Meal Prep Veggie Bowls.

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