Here’s an all too common scenario: It’s late, you’re tired and you don’t want to cook. Instead, you head to the drive-through and pick up something on your way home. Anyone? Eating ultra-processed convenience foods may save you time in the short-term but it could have a long-term impact on your health.
What is processed food?
So what exactly is this processed food we’re supposed to avoid? Problematic forms of processed convenience foods remove things that are good for you (fibre and vitamins, for example) and add in things that aren’t good for you – ingredients like sodium, trans fat and added sugars.
A recent study found that when people ate a highly processed diet for two weeks, they consumed far more calories and gained more weight and body fat than they did when those same people ate a less processed diet.
Usually studies looking at diets are taken with a pinch of salt (pun intended). That’s because they rely on what people remember they ate. In this study, participants lived in a lab for a full month, where they were given their meals and snacks – all of which were accurately recorded.
Processed foods affect your hunger hormones
What they found was that the group who were eating the processed diet landed up eating way more. This is because ultra-processed diets cause a change in our hunger hormones. The UNprocessed diet led to an increase in an appetite-suppressing hormone (called PYY), and a decrease in the hunger hormone (ghrelin.) Which means that when you eat UNprocessed foods, you automatically reduce the amount you eat. This means your body naturally loses body fat and weight without having to carefully count calories or go on a specific diet.
Tips for eating more unprocessed foods
Reading labels is not a popular pastime and deciding which foods are processed, and to what degree, can be complicated. A simpler approach would be to start from the opposite direction. Pick foods that are unquestionably healthy, from healthy sources you can trust. Remember that ditching processed foods doesn’t mean you can’t have convenient meals. It just means you’ll have choose them carefully from a reputable retailer. Alternatively, make them yourself and freeze for later. That way, when you’ve had a hard day and just want a meal you can microwave in moments, you can skip the drive through and swing past your freezer instead.
A note from Vital’s Experts:
Vital has a range of foods designed to make healthier eating both convenient and delicious. Click here to view the food range.