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This small-scale study of 20 adult volunteers, conducted by researchers at the NIH's National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), is the first randomized controlled trial examining the effects of ultra-processed foods as defined by the NOVA classification system. This system considers foods "ultra-processed" if they have ingredients predominantly found in industrial food manufacturing, such as hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, flavoring agents, and emulsifiers.
Previous observational studies looking at large groups of people had shown associations between diets high in processed foods and health problems. But, because none of the past studies randomly assigned people to eat specific foods and then measured the results, scientists could not say for sure whether the processed foods were a problem on their own, or whether people eating them had health problems for other reasons, such as a lack of access to fresh foods.
Group - Results - Experiment - Difference - Diets
"Though we examined a small group, results from this tightly controlled experiment showed a clear and consistent difference between the two diets," said Kevin D. Hall, Ph.D., an NIDDK senior investigator and the study's lead author. "This is the first study to demonstrate causality -- that ultra-processed foods cause people to eat too many calories and gain weight."
For the study, researchers admitted 20 healthy adult volunteers, 10 male and 10 female, to the NIH Clinical Center for one continuous month and, in random order for two weeks on each diet, provided them with meals made up of ultra-processed foods or meals of minimally processed foods. For example, an ultra-processed breakfast might consist of a bagel with cream cheese and turkey bacon, while the unprocessed breakfast was oatmeal with bananas, walnuts, and skim milk.
Meals - Amounts - Calories
The ultra-processed and unprocessed meals had the same amounts of calories,...
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