So, there appear to be no significant differences between low-fat and low-carb diets. But what about other diet choices like plant-based vers U.S. animal-based, or processed vers U.S. unprocessed foods? There has to be something in people’s diets that has changed where some people gain weight while others don’t, right?
Unprocessed foods are raw untouched parts of plants and animals such as raw meat and leafy greens that don’t have added sugars or preservatives and have a large amount of nutrients. Processed foods, on the other hand, have been manipulated in some way, often with the addition of artificial sugars, preservatives, artificial dyes, etc. and have fewer nutrients and are usually high in calories. In recent times, we have seen a sharp increase in the number and availability of processed foods. Specifically, we have seen an increase in the availability of Ultra-processed foods, which have little to no resemblance to their unprocessed parent products and have little to no nutritional value. Some examples of Ultra-processed foods that we’ve seen increase include processed grains (such as bread, cakes, pastries, candy, sugary sodas, etc). Because of this increase, Dr. Hall’s lab most recently went on to answer the question: Is there a difference between ultra-processed and unprocessed foods? They performed a study, where they provided participants a diet consisting of mostly processed food or a diet of mostly unprocessed food. The same number of calories were made available (double what they would require for a typical day) and they were allowed to eat as much or as little as they wanted. What they found was striking: Those that were given processed foods gained weight and consumed nearly 500 MORE calories per day than the unprocessed group while those that were given the unprocessed foods lost weight on average. So, this means SOMETHING about processed foods causes people to eat more, leading to weight gain. Here is the big question: Why? While we don’t fully know the answer yet, highly processed foods are less dense and less filling but have more calories. This means anyone will eat more calories before feeling full. For example, because broccoli is less calorie-dense than a donut, you will feel full sooner, all while still consuming fewer calories.