Intuitively, we “just know” ultra-processed foods are not as healthy as food we prepare ourselves from scratch. There isn’t an ingredients label for broccoli or green beans or apples or other fruits and vegetables in the produce aisle so no one is reading them. Go through the frozen foods aisle and everyone from Millennials to Baby Boomers will pour over those labels. But we all buy ultra-processed foods anyway for convenience, price (who can pass up a good sale?), good marketing, and so on. After all, how bad can it be? New research shows that it might worse than many thought.
A U.S. government-led trial may confirm the worst fears of anyone whose diet starts and ends in the frozen food aisle. It suggests that people who mostly eat ultra-processed foods will take in more calories and gain more weight than those who stick to mostly unprocessed foods—even if the two diets start off with the same amounts of fat, carbs, and other nutrients.
Lots of circumstantial evidence (and common sense) would lead you to think that diets rich in ultra-processed foods can be unhealthy and likely to cause weight gain. But according to the study’s lead author Kevin Hall, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, there’s not much concrete proof of a direct cause-and-effect link. That’s a long-standing problem in the world of nutrition, since it’s hard (and expensive) to study people’s diets in isolation.
“There’s this old adage that correlation doesn’t necessarily equate causation. For instance, it could be that people who eat ultra-processed foods are unhealthy in other ways. Or they could be less wealthy than people who don’t eat a diet as high in ultra-processed foods. So you don’t know whether ultra-processed foods could be an innocent bystander in all this,” Hall told Gizmodo by phone.
You may also enjoy this article How Big Food Is Going Vegan, According To Health Warrior Co-founders Shane Emmett and Dan Gluck