Researchers Reveal Surprising Study Results: Not All Processed Foods Make You Fat

We have long been told to avoid eating processed foods because of the unhealthy effects they bring, particularly because processed foods are believed to cause obesity. For many years, eating processed foods is pointed as one of the reasons why a lot of people are overweight. But a new study refutes that conclusion.

A research team comprised of scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) noted that “no study has directly compared the health impacts of diets based on the kind of highly processed boxed foods one finds at the center of the supermarket, versus those based on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”

So, with the aim of determining whether processed foods really make you fat, the researchers assembled 20 adult volunteers who were willing to live in a research facility for a month. The study was conducted on 10 adult males and 10 adult females who lived in a research hospital for a month and were fed with a diet of processed foods.

For the first 2 weeks, the study subjects were given ultra-processed foods. Then, they were given minimally processed foods in the remaining 2 weeks. To keep the conditions as similar as possible, the two diets were prepared to be roughly the same number of calories and with the same level of fat, fiber, carbohydrates, and protein.

Since the study subjects lived at the research facility for the entire duration of the study, the researchers were able to control most of the conditions the subjects were exposed to. This allowed for a more accurate documentation of the study results.

Since they remained at the research facility for a month, the subjects were required to engage in 20-minute sessions on an exercise bike at moderate speed, three times a day. This was done on a daily basis to mimic real-world daily exertion.

The study results showed that eating highly processed foods made the subjects eat more and gain nearly a kilogram of weight. But eating minimally processed foods made them lose nearly a kilogram!

The authors admitted, though, that though healthy foods are still the better option in maintaining good health, most households struggle with money issues – and processed foods can be a lot cheaper than fresh food products.

Photo credit: Mother Jones

What’s a Processed Food?

Processed food is a food item that undergoes transformation from being fresh agricultural products to another form of food. Highly processed foods are those often found in cans or are sold as frozen supplies. Meanwhile, minimally processed foods include roasted nuts or cut vegetable products that were processed for convenience.