Foods Labeled ‘Healthy’ Can Cause People to Eat More, Study Finds
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Too much ‘healthy’ food is still not healthy
"Healthy" labels can mislead people to eat more than recommended.
When eating foods that are labeled “healthy,” people are in danger of eating more than they should. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity shows that when presented with foods labeled “healthy” as well as unlabeled foods, consumers ate a larger portion of the “healthier” foods compared to the “standard” foods.
The subjects thought that all “healthier” foods were lower in calories than the “standard” foods, and failed to realize that “healthier” foods may have as much as or more calories than the “standard” version of the same foods. Because of this, subjects ate more than the recommended portion size of the “healthier” foods.
A related study published in the Journal of Marketing Research in 2006 showed that “low-fat” nutrition labels led people to overestimate the recommended serving size and led them to feel less guilty about consuming the food.
Clearly, more efforts are needed to inform consumers about food misconceptions, in order to combat obesity and its associated health problems.
Synthetic Food Dyes Affect Children’s Behavior, the State of California Says
Today, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazards Assessment released a ground-breaking, peer-reviewed report concluding that synthetic food dyes negatively affect children’s behavior.
Such a comprehensive and rigorous assessment has never been undertaken before. The final health effects assessment provides authoritative validation of what multiple independent reviews already concluded: that synthetic food dyes can cause or exacerbate behavior problems in some children.
The peer-reviewed assessment used a state-of-the-art approach combining systematic reviews and evidence integration. To reach its conclusions, it integrated evidence from 27 clinical trials in humans, as well as studies of laboratory animals and other types of studies that shed light on how food dyes might exert effects on the body (including studies on cells and neurotransmitters). Clinical trials in humans are the most powerful type of scientific evidence.
“This is the most comprehensive study of the behavioral effects of synthetic food dyes ever conducted,” said Lisa Lefferts, CSPI senior scientist, “Now is the time to turn from science to action.”
The report also concluded that FDA’s ‘safe levels,’ or Acceptable Daily Intakes (ADIs), are not adequate to protect children. “According to the report, these levels are based on decades-old studies incapable of detecting the types of behavioral effects measured in later studies,” said Lefferts.
The California assessment confirms and validates CSPI’s earlier report, Seeing Red, written by Lefferts, which highlighted the strong evidence that dyes negatively impact behavior in children. Synthetic food dyes include numbered colorings, such as Red 40, Red 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2, and Green 3. They often substitute for real, nutritious ingredients such as fruit, and are often used to make junk foods more attractive, especially to children.
“This represents a major victory for good science, and for protecting children, “said Laura MacCleery, CSPI director of program and strategy. “We will be taking this issue to the FDA, and pressing to eliminate dyes in school foods.”
The latest report was funded by the California legislature, through the support of Senator Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont). Sen. Wieckowski recently introduced SB 651, the Reducing Exposure to Synthetic Food Dyes Act, which would require a safety warning label on products containing synthetic food dyes that informs consumers that “[s]ynthetic dyes may cause or worsen behavioral problems in children.”
After Europe enacted a similar labeling requirement over a decade ago, many food manufacturers reformulated their products for the European marketplace to eliminate the dyes subject to the warning label. This important bill will be heard before the California Senate Committee on Health on April 28.
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This seems to reiterate what is told in the Indian text, Bhagavad Gita, a few millennia ago. There are three verses specifically related to food taken in:
1. The foods which promote life, strength, health, joy and cheerfulness, which are sweet, soft, nourishing and agreeable are dear to the ‘good’.
2. The fools that are bitter, sour, saltish, very hot, pungent, harsh and burning, producing pain, grief and disease, are liked by the ‘passionate’.
3. The foods which are spoiled, tasteless, putrid, stale, refuse and unclean is the food dear to the ‘dull’.
You Are What You Eat: How Food Affects Your Mood
For thousands of years, people have believed that food could influence their health and well-being. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, once said: “Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food” (1). In medieval times, people started to take great interest in how certain foods affected their mood and temperament. Many medical culinary textbooks of the time described the relationship between food and mood. For example, quince, dates and elderberries were used as mood enhancers, lettuce and chicory as tranquilizers, and apples, pomegranates, beef and eggs as erotic stimulants (1). The past 80 years have seen immense progress in research, primarily short-term human trials and animal studies, showing how certain foods change brain structure, chemistry, and physiology thus affecting mood and performance. These studies suggest that foods directly influencing brain neurotransmitter systems have the greatest effects on mood, at least temporarily. In turn, mood can also influence our food choices and expectations on the effects of certain foods can influence our perception.
Chocolate is a powerful mood enhancer.
Complex Mood-Food Relationships
The relationship between food and mood in individuals is complex and depends “on the time of day, the type and macronutrient composition of food, the amount of food consumed, and the age and dietary history of the subject” (2).In one study by Spring et al. (1983), 184 adults either consumed a protein-rich or carbohydrate-rich meal. After two hours, their mood and performance were assessed (3). The effects of the meal differed for female and male subjects and for younger and older participants. For example, females reported greater sleepiness after a carbohydrate meal whereas males reported greater calmness. In addition, participants aged 40 years or older showed impairments on a test of sustained selective attention after a carbohydrate lunch. Furthermore, circadian rhythms influence our energy levels and performance throughout the day. “Early birds” feel most productive the first part of the day and their food choices become particularly important during lunch and throughout the afternoon. “Night Owls” feel most energetic later in the day and should pay attention to their breakfast choices as they can increase or decrease energy levels and influence cognitive functioning. For example, according to Michaud et al. (1991), if you are an evening person and you skip breakfast, your cognitive performance might be impaired. A large breakfast rich in protein, however, could improve your recall performance but might impair your concentration (4). This illustrates the complexity of relationships between food and mood and the need to find a healthy balance of food choices.
The Serotonin Theory: the effects of carbohydrates and protein
Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that the brain produces from tryptophan contained in foods such as “clams, oysters, escargots, octopus, squids, banana, pineapple, plum, nuts, milk, turkey”, spinach, and eggs (1). Functions of serotonin include the regulation of sleep, appetite, and impulse control. Increased serotonin levels are related to mood elevation. Wurtman and Wurtman (1989) developed a theory suggesting that a diet rich in carbohydrates can relieve depression and elevate mood in disorders such as carbohydrate craving obesity, pre-menstrual syndrome, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) (5). They theorized that increased patients’ carbohydrate intake associated with these disorders represented self-medicating attempts and that carbohydrates increased serotonin synthesis. A protein rich diet, in contrary, decreases brain serotonin levels.
The synthesis of serotonin in the brain is limited by the availability of its precursor tryptophan. The large amino acids such as tryptophan, valine, tyrosine, and leucine share the same transport carrier across the blood-brain barrier (1). The transport of tryptophan into the brain is “proportional to the ratio of its concentration to that of the sum total” of the other large amino acids since they compete for available transporters (1). Eating foods high in protein increases the amount of many amino acids in the blood but not of tryptophan, which is only found in low doses in dietary protein. Therefore, many large amino acids compete with a small amount of tryptophan for transport into the brain, meaning that less tryptophan is available for serotonin synthesis. Consuming foods high in carbohydrates can also change amino acid levels in the blood. As blood glucose levels rise, insulin is released and enables muscle tissues to take up most amino acids except for tryptophan, which is bound to albumin in the blood. As a result, the ratio of tryptophan relative to other amino acids in the blood increases, which enables tryptophan to bind to transporters, enter the brain in large amounts, and stimulate serotonin synthesis (5).
The potential of increased carbohydrate intake to treat depression, pre-menstrual syndrome and SAD remains small, however. Benton and Donohoe (1999) found that only a protein content of less than 2 percent of a meal favored the rise in serotonin levels. Foods high in carbohydrates such as bread and potatoes contain 15 percent and 10 percent of calories, respectively, that come from protein thereby undermining the effects of carbohydrates on serotonin levels (5).
In addition, “carbohydrate craving” is not an accurate description to describe the craving for foods such as chocolate, ice cream, and other sweets. Although people might think that these foods are high in carbohydrates because of their sweet taste, most of the calories come from fat and contain enough protein to undermine any effect of carbohydrates on serotonin levels (6). Rather, taste preferences for sweets seem already present at birth. For example, the facial expressions of newborns indicate a positive response to sweet stimuli and a negative response to bitter stimuli (7). The innate preference for sweet-tasting foods might have adaptive value since bitter tastes could indicate the presence of toxins and sweetness signals a source of energy in the form of carbohydrates.
The effects of chocolate
Chocolate has a strong effect on mood, generally increasing pleasant feelings and reducing tension. Nevertheless, some women, especially those trying to lose weight, experience guilt after eating chocolate (8).
Many people consume chocolate when they are in negative moods such as boredom, anger, depression and tiredness, experience stress, or are in a particularly happy mood. Furthermore, many women label themselves as “chocoholics,” which led researchers to examine the effects of psychoactive substances in chocolate that potentially could create a drug-like addiction (6). Chocolate contains a number of potentially psychoactive chemicals such as anandamines which stimulate the brain in the same way as cannabis does, tyramine and phenylethylamine which have similar effects as amphetamine, and theobromine and caffeine which act as stimulants (6). Nevertheless, these substances are present in chocolate in very low concentrations. For example, 2 to 3g of phenylethylamine are needed to induce an antidepressant effect, but a 50g chocolate bar only contains a third of a milligram (6). In 1994, Michener and Rozin conducted an important experiment, which showed that the sensory factors associated with the consumption of chocolate produce the chocolate cravings rather than psychoactive substances. Participants were supplied with boxes that contained either milk chocolate, white chocolate, cocoa powder capsules or white chocolate with cocoa and instructed to eat the contents of one box when they experienced a craving for chocolate. If the chemicals in chocolate produced the craving, the intake of pure cocoa would satisfy it. Interestingly, only milk chocolate could alleviate the desire for chocolate. White chocolate was not as effective and adding cocoa to white chocolate did not alter the results. Cocoa powder could not satisfy the craving at all. The unique taste and feel of chocolate in the mouth is responsible for the chocolate craving (8). Therefore, chocolate can serve as a powerful mood enhancer.
Caffeine: a psychoactive drug
Caffeine, mostly consumed in the form of coffee and tea, has stimulant effects enhancing alertness, vigilance, and reaction time but also increases anxiety in susceptible individuals. It is the most commonly used psychoactive substance in the world with an estimated global consumption of 120,000 tonnes per year (7). Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in the brain and can relieve headaches, drowsiness and fatigue. Short-term caffeine deprivation in regular users can lead to withdrawal symptoms (7).
Personality might determine caffeine use. For example, evening people who have difficulty getting up in the morning can improve their alertness and energy levels through caffeine. Contrarily, caffeine can cause unpleasant effects in people who have high levels of anxiety.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Fish oil pills are sold as Omega-3 fatty acid supplements
Omega-3 fatty acids can influence mood, behavior and personality. Low blood levels of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids are associated with depression, pessimism and impulsivity, according to a study by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (9). In addition, they can play a role in major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance abuse and attention deficit disorder. In recent decades, people in developed countries have consumed greater amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, contained in foods such as eggs, poultry, baked goods, whole-grain bread, nuts, and many oils, that outcompete omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), both members of the omega-3 fatty acid family, contribute to the fluidity of the cell membrane thereby playing an important role in brain development and functioning (10). Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, other seafood including algae and krill, some plants, meat, and nut oils. Many foods such as bread, yogurt, orange juice, milk, and eggs are oftentimes fortified with omega-3 fatty acids as well.
According to one study by Benton and Donohoe (1999), insufficient amounts of thiamine or Vitamin B1 caused “introversion, inactivity, fatigue, decreased self-confidence and generally poorer mood” in participants (5). Improved thiamine status increased well-being, sociability, and overall energy levels. Thiamine is contained in foods such as cereal grains, pork, yeast, potatoes, cauliflower, oranges, and eggs and can influence mood states. Thiamine deficiency is very rare in the United States, however.
Iron deficiency represents one of the most common nutritional problems in both developing and developed countries affecting over 2 billion people worldwide. Iron deficiency anemia can result in depressed mood, lethargy and problems with attention (5). A low iron status is most common among women, children, vegetarians, and people who follow a diet. Iron deficiency also results in a decreased ability to exercise. Foods rich in iron include liver, vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, and parsley, seafood, iron-fortified grains, greens, nuts, meat, and dried fruits.
Besides helping in the prevention of neural tube defects, folic acid also plays an important role in the brain. Folic acid deficiency, which is rare in the general population, is associated with depressed mood. Psychiatric patients are particularly at risk for developing folic acid deficiency because of possible disordered eating habits caused by a loss of appetite and anticonvulsant drugs, which inhibit folic acid absorption (6). Foods rich in folic acid include dark, leafy green vegetables, liver and other organ meats, poultry, oranges and grapefruits, nuts, sprouts, and whole wheat breads.
Food effects on emotions
Studies have found that diets low in carbohydrates increased feelings of anger, depression, and tension and diets high in protein and low in carbohydrates increased anger (6). Diets high in carbohydrates have a generally uplifting effect on mood.
Mood effects on food choice
As much as food can affect our mood, our mood can also affect our food choices. In a study by Macht (1999), female and male participants were asked to report how their eating patterns changed with emotions of anger, fear, sadness, and joy. When experiencing anger and joy, participants experienced increased hunger as compared to feelings of fear and sadness. Anger increased comfort and impulsive eating, and joy increased eating for pleasure (6). Another study found that people eat more less-healthy comfort foods when they are sad (11). Participants either watched a happy or a sad movie and were provided with buttered popcorn or seedless grapes throughout the movie. The group watching the upbeat movie consumed significantly more grapes and less popcorn than the group watching the sad movie. In addition, when participants were provided with nutritional information, the sad people consumed less popcorn than the happy people and the happy people did not alter their consumption (11).
Psychological effects of food consumption
Cognitive factors are often more powerful than physiological factors (6). For example, if a group of dieting individuals is asked to eat foods high in calories, they might experience anxiety and other negative emotions because they are afraid of gaining weight. These effects have nothing to do with the ingredients of the foods themselves.
In addition, learned appetites can also influence our experience of foods. For example, our favorite foods usually trigger positive emotions. Even the smell of food can evoke a strong emotional experience. Furthermore, the situation in which food is consumed and our past experience with particular foods also affects our emotional response (6, 7). For example, a person who thinks that drinking a cup of coffee will increase alertness might feel more alert even after drinking decaffeinated coffee.
How to maximize the benefits of food on mood
The perfect diet to enhance mood and optimize performance and health remains unknown. Although abundant research exists on food-mood relationships, the findings of these studies are often generalized and subjective. For example, the ability of carbohydrates to positively influence mood remains controversial. Therefore, it seems best to follow a well-balanced diet rich in protein, moderate in carbohydrates and low in fat since this could generally improve mood and energy levels. This should also ensure the adequate supply of micronutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, iron, folic acid and thiamine. Furthermore, to avoid the sense of guilt evoked from overindulging in craved foods such as chocolate, the best way is to manage their intake such as including them in small amounts with meals and avoiding them when hungry. In addition, reading the labels before consuming these comfort foods can also deter from overconsumption.
1. Prasad, C. (1998). Food, mood and health: a neurobiological outlook. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 31(12): 1517-1527.
2. Rogers P.J. & Lloyd H.M. (1994). Nutrition and mental performance. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 53: 443-456.
3. Spring, B et al. (1983). “Effects of protein and carbohydrate meals on mood and performance: interactions with sex and age”. Journal of psychiatric research (0022-3956), 17 (2): 155.
4. Michaud C., Musse N., Nicolas DI & Mejan L. (1991). Effects of breakfast size on short-term memory concentration and blood glucose. Journal of Adolescent Health, 12: 53-57.
5. Benon D. & Donohoe, RT. 1999. The effects of nutrients on mood. Public Heath Nutrition, 2(3A): 403-9.
6. Ottley, C. 2000. Food and mood. Nursing Standard, 15(2): 46-52.
7. Rogers, P. 1995. Food, mood and appetite. Nutrition Research Reviews, 8: 243-269.
8. Macht, M. & Dettmer, D. 2006. Everyday mood and emotions after eating a chocolate bar or an apple. Appetite. 46(3): 332-336.
9. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (2006, March 4). Omega 3 Fatty Acids Influence Mood, Impulsivity And Personality, Study Indicates. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 28, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060303205050.htm
10. Pawels, E. K. & Volterrani, D. (2008). “Fatty acid facts, Part I. Essential fatty acids as treatment for depression, or food for mood?”. Drug news & perspectives (0214-0934), 21 (8): 446.
11. Lang, Susan. (2007). “Mood-food connection: We eat more and less-healthy comfort foods when we feel down, study finds”. Cornell Chronicle.
Processed Foods and Health
Processed foods are generally thought to be inferior to unprocessed foods. They may bring to mind a packaged food item containing many ingredients, perhaps even artificial colors, flavors, or other chemical additives. Often referred to as convenience or pre-prepared foods, processed foods are suggested to be a contributor to the obesity epidemic and rising prevalence of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. However, the definition of a processed food varies widely depending on the source:
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a processed food as one that has undergone any changes to its natural state—that is, any raw agricultural commodity subjected to washing, cleaning, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, blanching, cooking, canning, freezing, drying, dehydrating, mixing, packaging, or other procedures that alter the food from its natural state. The food may include the addition of other ingredients such as preservatives, flavors, nutrients and other food additives or substances approved for use in food products, such as salt, sugars, and fats.
- The Institute of Food Technologists includes additional processing terms like storing, filtering, fermenting, extracting, concentrating, microwaving, and packaging. 
According to these standards, virtually all foods sold in the supermarket would be classified as “processed” to some degree. Because food begins to deteriorate and lose nutrients as soon as it is harvested, even the apples in the produce aisle undergo four or more processing steps before being sold to the consumer. That’s why in practice, it’s helpful to differentiate between the various degrees of food processing.
Types of food processing
A popular system to classify processed foods was introduced in 2009, called the NOVA classification. It lists four categories detailing the degree to which a food is processed: [2,3]
Unprocessed or minimally processed foods
Processed culinary ingredients
The NOVA system is recognized by the World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization, and the Pan American Health Organization, but not currently in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration or USDA. NOVA has been criticized for being too general in its classification of certain foods, causing confusion. For example, yogurt may fall into more than one category: plain yogurt is minimally processed, but fruited yogurt with added sweeteners could be labeled either processed or ultra-processed depending on how much sweetener and other chemical additives are incorporated. NOVA also does not provide comprehensive lists of specific foods in each category, so the consumer is left to guess where each may fall.
Is processed food unhealthy?
There’s no doubt that at least some processed foods are found in most people’s kitchens. They can be time-savers when preparing meals, and some processed and fortified foods provide important nutrients that may not otherwise be obtained in a busy household or one that has a limited food budget. From a nutritional standpoint, processed and even ultra-processed foods can provide key nutrients. Some nutrients like protein are naturally retained throughout processing, and others like B vitamins and iron may be added back if they are lost during processing. Fruits and vegetables that are quickly frozen after harvesting can retain the majority of vitamin C.
Throughout history, foods fortified with specific nutrients have prevented deficiencies and their related health problems in certain populations. Examples include infant cereals fortified with iron and B vitamins to prevent anemia, milk fortified with vitamin D to prevent rickets, wheat flour fortified with folic acid to prevent birth defects, and iodine added to salt to prevent goiter.
Processing by certain methods like pasteurization, cooking, and drying can destroy or inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. Additives such as emulsifiers preserve the texture of foods, such as preventing peanut butter from separating into solid and liquid parts. Other functions of processing include delaying the spoilage of food preserving desirable sensory qualities of food (flavor, texture, aroma, appearance) and increasing convenience in preparing a complete meal.
But food processing also has drawbacks. Depending on the degree of processing, many nutrients can be destroyed or removed. Peeling outer layers of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may remove plant nutrients (phytochemicals) and fiber. Heating or drying foods can destroy certain vitamins and minerals. Although food manufacturers can add back some of the nutrients lost, it is impossible to recreate the food in its original form.
If you are deciding whether or not to include a highly processed food in your diet, it may be useful to evaluate its nutritional content and long-term effect on health. An ultra-processed food that contains an unevenly high ratio of calories to nutrients may be considered unhealthy. For example, research supports an association between a high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. But some processed foods that contain beneficial nutrients, such as olive oil or rolled oats, have been linked with lower rates of these chronic diseases.
Decoding the ingredients list on a food label
- The ingredients are listed in order of quantity by weight. This means that the food ingredient that weighs the most will be listed first, and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last. 
- Some ingredients like sugar and salt may be listed by other names. For example, alternative terms for sugar are corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, agave nectar, cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, coconut sugar, dextrose, malt syrup, molasses, or turbinado sugar. Other terms for sodium include monosodium glutamate or disodium phosphate.
- If the food is highly processed, it may contain several food additives such as artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Their ingredient names may be less familiar. Some preservatives promote safety of the food by preventing growth of mold and bacteria. Others help prevent spoilage or “off” flavors from developing. Examples that you may see on the label include:
- Preservatives—ascorbic acid, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, tocopherols
- Emulsifiers that prevent separation of liquids and solids—soy lecithin, monoglycerides
- Thickeners to add texture—xanthan gum, pectin, carrageenan, guar gum
- Colors—artificial FD&C Yellow No. 6 or natural beta-carotene to add yellow hues
Ingredients used widely in the production of highly/ultra-processed foods such as saturated fats, added sugar, and sodium have become markers of poor diet quality due to their effect on heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure. [6,7] It is estimated that ultra-processed foods contribute about 90% of the total calories obtained from added sugars. 
- In 2015, the World Health Organization categorized processed meats as cancer-causing to humans. They defined “processed meat” as meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation. The statement was made after 22 scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer Working Group evaluated more than 800 studies on the topic. The evidence on processed meats was strongest for colorectal cancer, followed by stomach cancer. 
- An analysis of the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study found that a higher intake of ultra-processed foods like processed meats and potato chips was associated with weight gain over 4 years.  Other studies suggest that the more that ultra-processed foods are eaten, the greater the risk of a diet lacking in important nutrients. An evaluation of the dietary intakes of 9,317 U.S. participants in an NHANES cohort found that higher intakes of ultra-processed foods were linked with greater consumption of refined carbohydrate, added sugars, and saturated fat. At the same time, intakes of fiber, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A, C, D, and E decreased. 
- Another observational study among nearly 20,000 Spanish university graduates in the Seguimiento University of Navarra cohort found that higher consumption (more than 4 servings per day) of ultra-processed food was associated with a 62% increased risk of death from any cause compared with lower consumption (less than 2 servings per day). For each additional daily serving of ultra-processed food, there was an 18% increased risk of death. Based on their findings, the researchers noted the importance of policies that limit the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet and promote consumption of unprocessed or minimally processed foods to improve global public health.  Other cohort studies in France (NutriNet Santé) and the U.S. (NHANES) have also found that consumption of ultra-processed foods was directly associated with high all-cause mortality. [12,13]
- In 2019, a randomized controlled trial looked at whether ultra-processed foods, as defined under the NOVA classification, might indeed cause people to eat more. Ten men and ten women were randomized to receive either an ultra-processed diet or unprocessed diet for 14 days, followed by 14 more days of the alternate diet. The diets were relatively equal in calories, sugar, fat, fiber, and other nutrients, and participants were allowed to eat as much or as little as they liked. The study found that participants ate about 500 calories more on the ultra-processed diet and also gained weight (about 2 pounds).  Most of the extra calories came from carbohydrate and fats, and the diet also increased their sodium intake. When the participants changed to the unprocessed diet, they ate fewer calories and lost the weight. According to appetite surveys, the diets did not differ in levels of hunger, fullness, and satisfaction, though participants tended to eat faster on the ultra-processed diet.
The bottom line
Food processing is a spectrum that ranges from basic technologies like freezing or milling, to the incorporation of additives that promote shelf stability or increase palatability. As a general rule, emphasizing unprocessed or minimally processed foods in the daily diet is optimal. That said, the use of processed foods is the choice of the consumer, and there are pros and cons that come with each type. The Nutrition Facts Label and ingredients list can be useful tools in deciding when to include a processed food in the diet. There is evidence showing an association with certain types of food processing and poor health outcomes (especially highly- or ultra-processed foods). This association applies mainly to ultra-processed foods that contain added sugars, excess sodium, and unhealthful fats.
- Weaver CM, Dwyer J, Fulgoni III VL, King JC, Leveille GA, MacDonald RS, Ordovas J, Schnakenberg D. Processed foods: contributions to nutrition. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2014 Apr 2399(6):1525-42.
- Monteiro CA. Nutrition and health. The issue is not food, nor nutrients, so much as processing. Public health nutrition. 2009 May12(5):729-31.
- Monteiro CA, Cannon G, Moubarac JC, Levy RB, Louzada ML, Jaime PC. The UN Decade of Nutrition, the NOVA food classification and the trouble with ultra-processing. Public Health Nutrition. 2018 Jan21(1):5-17.
- Steele EM, Baraldi LG, da Costa Louzada ML, Moubarac JC, Mozaffarian D, Monteiro CA. Ultra-processed foods and added sugars in the US diet: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study. BMJ open. 2016 Jan 16(3):e009892.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Food Labeling Guide: Guidance for Industry. January 2013.
- Tapsell LC, Neale EP, Satija A, Hu FB. Foods, nutrients, and dietary patterns: interconnections and implications for dietary guidelines. Advances in Nutrition. 2016 May 97(3):445-54.
- Poti JM, Braga B, Qin B. Ultra-processed Food Intake and Obesity: What Really Matters for Health—Processing or Nutrient Content?. Current obesity reports. 2017 Dec 16(4):420-31.
- Bouvard V, Loomis D, Guyton KZ, Grosse Y, El Ghissassi F, Benbrahim-Tallaa L, Guha N, Mattock H, Straif K. Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. The Lancet Oncology. 2015 Dec 116(16):1599-600.
- Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. New England Journal of Medicine. 2011 Jun 23364(25):2392-404.
- Steele EM, Popkin BM, Swinburn B, Monteiro CA. The share of ultra-processed foods and the overall nutritional quality of diets in the US: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study. Population health metrics. 2017 Dec15(1):6.
- Rico-Campà A, Martínez-González MA, Alvarez-Alvarez I, de Deus Mendonça R, de la Fuente-Arrillaga C, Gómez-Donoso C, Bes-Rastrollo M. Association between consumption of ultra-processed foods and all cause mortality: SUN prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2019 May 29365:l1949.
- Schnabel L, Kesse-Guyot E, Allès B, Touvier M, Srour B, Hercberg S, Buscail C, Julia C. Association Between Ultraprocessed Food Consumption and Risk of Mortality Among Middle-aged Adults in France. JAMA internal medicine. 2019 Feb 11.
- Kim H, Hu EA, Rebholz CM. Ultra-processed food intake and mortality in the USA: results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III, 1988–1994). Public health nutrition. 2019 Feb 21:1-9.
- Hall KD, Ayuketah A, Brychta R, Cai H, Cassimatis T, Chen KY, Chung ST, Costa E, Courville A, Darcey V, Fletcher LA. Ultra-processed diets cause excess calorie intake and weight gain: an inpatient randomized controlled trial of ad libitum food intake. Cell metabolism. 2019 May 16.
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Specific Foods That Can Affect Sleep
Researchers, including nutritionists and sleep experts, have conducted different types of studies to try to discover the best foods for sleep. While this research provides important clues, it’s not conclusive. In general, there’s a lack of direct evidence about specific foods that are good for sleep.
In addition, the range of varieties of cultivars of most foods means that their nutrient profile can be inconsistent. For example, some varieties of red grapes have high levels of melatonin while others have virtually none. Climate and growing conditions may further alter the nutrients in any particular food product.
That said, there are indications that certain foods can make you sleepy or promote better sleep. Sometimes this is based on a particular research study and in other cases on the underlying nutritional components of the food or drink.
Dietary choices affect more than just energy and sleepiness they can play a major role in things like weight, cardiovascular health, and blood sugar levels just to name a few. For that reason, it’s best to consult with a doctor or dietician before making significant changes to your daily diet. Doing so helps ensure that your food choices support not just your sleep but all of your other health priorities as well.
The kiwi or kiwifruit is a small, oval-shaped fruit popularly associated with New Zealand even though it is grown in numerous countries. There are both green and gold varieties, but green kiwis are produced in greater numbers.
Kiwifruit possess numerous vitamins and minerals, most notably vitamins C and E as well as potassium and folate.
Some research has found that eating kiwi can improve sleep. In a study, people who ate two kiwis one hour before bedtime found that they fell asleep faster, slept more, and had better sleep quality.
It is not known for sure why kiwis may help with sleep, but researchers believe that it could relate to their antioxidant properties, ability to address folate deficiencies, and/or high concentration of serotonin.
Tart Cherries and Tart Cherry Juice
As the name indicates, tart cherries have a distinct flavor from sweet cherries. Sometimes called sour cherries, these include cultivars like Richmond, Montmorency, and English morello. They may be sold whole or as a tart cherry juice.
Several studies have found sleep benefits for people who drink tart cherry juice. In one study, people who drank two one-cup servings of tart cherry juice per day were found to have more total sleep time and higher sleep efficiency.
These benefits may come from the fact that tart cherries have been found to have above-average concentrations of melatonin, which is a hormone that helps regulate circadian rhythm and promote healthy sleep. Tart cherries may also have an antioxidant effect that is conducive to sleep.
Malted Milk and Nighttime Milk
Malted milk is made by combining milk and a specially formulated powder that contains primarily wheat flour, malted wheat, and malted barley along with sugar and an assortment of vitamins. It is popularly known as Horlick’s, the name of a popular brand of malted milk powder.
In the past, small studies found that malted milk before bed reduced sleep interruptions. The explanation for these benefits is uncertain but may have to do with the B and D vitamins in malted milk.
Milk itself contains melatonin, and some milk products are melatonin-enriched. When cows are milked at night, their milk has more melatonin, and this milk may be useful in providing a natural source of the sleep-producing hormone.
A research study found that fatty fish may be a good food for better sleep. The study over a period of months found that people who ate salmon three times per week had better overall sleep as well as improved daytime functioning.
Researchers believe that fatty fish may help sleep by providing a healthy dose of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which are involved in the body’s regulation of serotonin. This study focused particularly on fish consumption during winter months when vitamin D levels tend to be lower.
Nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and cashews are often considered to be a good food for sleep. Though the exact amounts can vary, nuts contain melatonin as well as essential minerals like magnesium and zinc that are essential to a range of bodily processes. In a clinical trial using supplements, it was found that a combination of melatonin, magnesium, and zinc helped older adults with insomnia get better sleep.
Studies of carbohydrate intake and sleep have had mixed results overall, but some evidence connects rice consumption with improved sleep.
A study of adults in Japan found that those who regularly ate rice reported better sleep than those who ate more bread or noodles. This study only identified an association and cannot demonstrate causality, but it supports prior research that showed that eating foods with a high glycemic index around four hours before bedtime helped with falling asleep.
At the same time, sugary beverages and sweets have been tied to worse sleep, so it appears that not all carbohydrates and high glycemic index foods are created equal. Additional research is necessary to fully identify the sleep-related effects of different carbohydrates.
The impact of carbohydrates on sleep may be influenced by what is consumed with them. For example, a combination of a moderate amount protein that has tryptophan, a sleep-promoting amino acid, and carbohydrates may make it easier for the tryptophan to reach the brain. Turkey is an example of a protein with high levels of tryptophan.
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Great advice for entertaining at home as well. Its really easy to set out salty chips, cold cuts and other party snacks that are processed instead of preparing yourself.
Control the sodium in the recipes you are making and serve a variety of fruits and vegetables cut into finger food sized bites. Leave out on your bartop or cocktail table for guests to choose from and they’ll be heart healthy favorites.
Food and Diet
It’s no secret that the amount of calories people eat and drink has a direct impact on their weight: Consume the same number of calories that the body burns over time, and weight stays stable. Consume more than the body burns, weight goes up. Less, weight goes down. But what about the type of calories: Does it matter whether they come from specific nutrients-fat, protein, or carbohydrate? Specific foods-whole grains or potato chips? Specific diets-the Mediterranean diet or the “Twinkie” diet? And what about when or where people consume their calories: Does eating breakfast make it easier to control weight? Does eating at fast-food restaurants make it harder?
There’s ample research on foods and diet patterns that protect against heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. The good news is that many of the foods that help prevent disease also seem to help with weight control-foods like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and nuts. And many of the foods that increase disease risk-chief among them, refined grains and sugary drinks-are also factors in weight gain.Conventional wisdom says that since a calorie is a calorie, regardless of its source, the best advice for weight control is simply to eat less and exercise more. Yet emerging research suggests that some foods and eating patterns may make it easier to keep calories in check, while others may make people more likely to overeat.
This article briefly reviews the research on dietary intake and weight control, highlighting diet strategies that also help prevent chronic disease.
Macronutrients and Weight: Do Carbs, Protein, or Fat Matter?
When people eat controlled diets in laboratory studies, the percentage of calories from fat, protein, and carbohydrate do not seem to matter for weight loss. In studies where people can freely choose what they eat, there may be some benefits to a higher protein, lower carbohydrate approach. For chronic disease prevention, though, the quality and food sources of these nutrients matters more than their relative quantity in the diet. And the latest research suggests that the same diet quality message applies for weight control.
Dietary Fat and Weight
Low-fat diets have long been touted as the key to a healthy weight and to good health. But the evidence just isn’t there: Over the past 30 years in the U.S., the percentage of calories from fat in people’s diets has gone down, but obesity rates have skyrocketed. (1,2) Carefully conducted clinical trials have found that following a low-fat diet does not make it any easier to lose weight than following a moderate- or high-fat diet. In fact, study volunteers who follow moderate- or high-fat diets lose just as much weight, and in some studies a bit more, as those who follow low-fat diets. (3,4) And when it comes to disease prevention, low-fat diets don’t appear to offer any special benefits. (5)
Part of the problem with low-fat diets is that they are often high in carbohydrate, especially from rapidly digested sources, such as white bread and white rice. And diets high in such foods increase the risk of weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease. (See Carbohydrates and Weight, below.)
For good health, the type of fat people eat is far more important that the amount (see box), and there’s some evidence that the same may be true for weight control. (6) In the Nurses’ Health Study, for example, which followed 42,000 middle-age and older women for eight years, increased consumption of unhealthy fats-trans fats, especially, but also saturated fats-was linked to weight gain, but increased consumption of healthy fats-monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat-was not. (6)
Protein and WeightRead more about healthy proteins on The Nutrition Source
Higher protein diets seem to have some advantages for weight loss, though more so in short-term trials in longer term studies, high-protein diets seem to perform equally well as other types of diets. (3,4) High-protein diets tend to be low in carbohydrate and high in fat, so it is difficult to tease apart the benefits of eating lots of protein from those of eating more fat or less carbohydrate. But there are a few reasons why eating a higher percentage of calories from protein may help with weight control:
- More satiety: People tend to feel fuller, on fewer calories, after eating protein than they do after eating carbohydrate or fat. (10)
- Greater thermic effect: It takes more energy to metabolize and store protein than other macronutrients, and this may help people increase the energy they burn each day. (10,11)
- Improved body composition: Protein seems to help people hang on to lean muscle during weight loss, and this, too, can help boost the energy-burned side of the energy balance equation. (11)
Higher protein, lower carbohydrate diets improve blood lipid profiles and other metabolic markers, so they may help prevent heart disease and diabetes. (4,12,13) But some high-protein foods are healthier than others: High intakes of red meat and processed meat are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer. (14)
Replacing red and processed meat with nuts, beans, fish, or poultry seems to lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes. (14,16) And this diet strategy may help with weight control, too, according to a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health. Researchers tracked the diet and lifestyle habits of 120,000 men and women for up to 20 years, looking at how small changes contributed to weight gain over time. (9) People who ate more red and processed meat over the course of the study gained more weight-about a pound extra every four years. People who ate more nuts over the course of the study gained less weight-about a half pound less every four years.
Carbohydrates and Weight
Lower carbohydrate, higher protein diets may have some weight loss advantages in the short term. (3,4) Yet when it comes to preventing weight gain and chronic disease, carbohydrate quality is much more important than carbohydrate quantity.
Read more about carbohydrates on The Nutrition Source
Milled, refined grains and the foods made with them-white rice, white bread, white pasta, processed breakfast cereals, and the like-are rich in rapidly digested carbohydrate. So are potatoes and sugary drinks. The scientific term for this is that they have a high glycemic index and glycemic load. Such foods cause fast and furious increases in blood sugar and insulin that, in the short term, can cause hunger to spike and can lead to overeating-and over the long term, increase the risk of weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease. (17)
For example, in the diet and lifestyle change study, people who increased their consumption of French fries, potatoes and potato chips, sugary drinks, and refined grains gained more weight over time-an extra 3.4, 1.3, 1.0, and 0.6 pounds every four years, respectively. (9) People who decreased their intake of these foods gained less weight.
Specific Foods that Make It Easier or Harder to Control Weight
There’s growing evidence that specific food choices may help with weight control. The good news is that many of the foods that are beneficial for weight control also help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. Conversely, foods and drinks that contribute to weight gain—chief among them, refined grains and sugary drinks—also contribute to chronic disease.
Whole Grains, Fruits and Vegetables, and Weight
Read more about whole grains on The Nutrition Source
Whole grains-whole wheat, brown rice, barley, and the like, especially in their less-processed forms-are digested more slowly than refined grains. So they have a gentler effect on blood sugar and insulin, which may help keep hunger at bay. The same is true for most vegetables and fruits. These “slow carb” foods have bountiful benefits for disease prevention, and there’s also evidence that they can help prevent weight gain.
Read more about vegetables and fruits on The Nutrition Source
The weight control evidence is stronger for whole grains than it is for fruits and vegetables. (20) The most recent support comes from the Harvard School of Public Health diet and lifestyle change study: People who increased their intake of whole grains, whole fruits (not fruit juice), and vegetables over the course of the 20-year study gained less weight-0.4, 0.5, and 0.2 pounds less every four years, respectively. (9)
Of course, the calories from whole grains, whole fruits, and vegetables don’t disappear. What’s likely happening is that when people increase their intake of these foods, they cut back on calories from other foods. Fiber may be responsible for these foods’ weight control benefits, since fiber slows digestion, helping to curb hunger. Fruits and vegetables are also high in water, which may help people feel fuller on fewer calories.
Nuts and Weight
Read more about nuts on The Nutrition Source
Nuts pack a lot of calories into a small package and are high in fat, so they were once considered taboo for dieters. As it turns out, studies find that eating nuts does not lead to weight gain and may instead help with weight control, perhaps because nuts are rich in protein and fiber, both of which may help people feel fuller and less hungry. (9,23) People who regularly eat nuts are less likely to have heart attacks or die from heart disease than those who rarely eat them, which is another reason to include nuts in a healthy diet. (19)
Dairy and Weight
Read more about calcium and milk on The Nutrition Source
The U.S. dairy industry has aggressively promoted the weight-loss benefits of milk and other dairy products, based largely on findings from short-term studies it has funded. (26,27) But a recent review of nearly 50 randomized trials finds little evidence that high dairy or calcium intakes help with weight loss. (28) Similarly, most long-term follow-up studies have not found that dairy or calcium protect against weight gain, (29) and one study in adolescents found high milk intakes to be associated with increased body mass index. (33)
One exception is the recent dietary and lifestyle change study from the Harvard School of Public Health, which found that people who increased their yogurt intake gained less weight increases in milk and cheese intake, however, did not appear to promote weight loss or gain. (9) It’s possible that the beneficial bacteria in yogurt may influence weight control, but more research is needed.
Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight
Read more about healthy drinks on The Nutrition Source
There’s convincing evidence that sugary drinks increase the risk of weight gain, obesity, and diabetes: (34) A systematic review and meta-analysis of 88 studies found “clear associations of soft drink intake with increased caloric intake and body weight.” (34) In children and adolescents, a more recent meta analysis estimates that for every additional 12-ounce serving of sugary beverage consumed each day, body mass index increases by 0.08 units. (35) Another meta analysis finds that adults who regularly drink sugared beverages have a 26 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than people who rarely drink sugared beverages. (36) Emerging evidence also suggests that high sugary beverage intake increases the risk of heart disease. (37)
Like refined grains and potatoes, sugary beverages are high in rapidly-digested carbohydrate. (See Carbohydrates and Weight, above.) Research suggests that when that carbohydrate is delivered in liquid form, rather than solid form, it is not as satiating, and people don’t eat less to compensate for the extra calories. (38)
These findings on sugary drinks are alarming, given that children and adults are drinking ever-larger quantities of them: In the U.S., sugared beverages made up about 4 percent of daily calorie intake in the 1970s, but by 2001, represented about 9 percent of calories. (36) The most recent data find that on any given day, half of Americans consume some type of sugared beverage, 25 percent consume at least 200 calories from sugared drinks, and 5 percent of consume at least 567 calories-the equivalent of four cans of sugary soda. (39)
The good news is that studies in children and adults have also shown that cutting back on sugary drinks can lead to weight loss. (40,41) Sugary drinks have become an important target for obesity prevention efforts, prompting discussions of policy initiatives such as taxing soda. (42)
Fruit Juice and Weight
Read more on The Nutrition Source about the amount of sugar in soda, fruit juice, sports drinks, and energy drinks, and download the How Sweet Is It? guide to healthier beverages
It’s important to note that fruit juices are not a better option for weight control than sugar-sweetened beverages. Ounce for ounce, fruit juices-even those that are 100 percent fruit juice, with no added sugar- are as high in sugar and calories as sugary sodas. So it’s no surprise that a recent Harvard School of Public Health study, which tracked the diet and lifestyle habits of 120,000 men and women for up to 20 years, found that people who increased their intake of fruit juice gained more weight over time than people who did not. (9) Pediatricians and public health advocates recommend that children and adults limit fruit juice to just a small glass a day, if they consume it at all.
Alcohol and Weight
Read more about alcohol on The Nutrition Source
Even though most alcoholic beverages have more calories per ounce than sugar-sweetened beverages, there’s no clear-cut evidence that moderate drinking contributes to weight gain. While the recent diet and lifestyle change study found that people who increased their alcohol intake gained more weight over time, the findings varied by type of alcohol. (9) In most previous prospective studies, there was no difference in weight gain over time between light-to-moderate drinkers and nondrinkers, or the light-to-moderate drinkers gained less weight than nondrinkers. (43)
Diet Patterns, Portion Size, and Weight
People don’t eat nutrients or foods in isolation. They eat meals that fall into an overall eating pattern, and researchers have begun exploring whether particular diet or meal patterns help with weight control or contribute to weight gain. Portion sizes have also increased dramatically over the past three decades, as has consumption of fast food-U.S. children, for example, consume a greater percentage of calories from fast food than they do from school food (48)-and these trends are also thought to be contributors to the obesity epidemic.
Dietary Patterns and Weight
So-called “prudent” dietary patterns-diets that feature whole grains, vegetables, and fruits-seem to protect against weight gain, whereas “Western-style” dietary patterns-with more red meat or processed meat, sugared drinks, sweets, refined carbohydrates, or potatoes-have been linked to obesity. (49) The Western-style dietary pattern is also linked to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.
Following a Mediterranean-style diet, well-documented to protect against chronic disease, (53) appears to be promising for weight control, too. The traditional Mediterranean-style diet is higher in fat (about 40 percent of calories) than the typical American diet (34 percent of calories (54)), but most of the fat comes from olive oil and other plant sources. The diet is also rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and fish. A 2008 systematic review found that in most (but not all) studies, people who followed a Mediterranean-style diet had lower rates of obesity or more weight loss. (55) There is no single “Mediterranean” diet, however, and studies often use different definitions, so more research is needed.
Breakfast, Meal Frequency, Snacking, and Weight
There is some evidence that skipping breakfast increases the risk of weight gain and obesity, though the evidence is stronger in children, especially teens, than it is in adults. (56) Meal frequency and snacking have increased over the past 30 years in the U.S. (57)-on average, children get 27 percent of their daily calories from snacks, primarily from desserts and sugary drinks, and increasingly from salty snacks and candy. But there have been conflicting findings on the relationship between meal frequency, snacking, and weight control, and more research is needed. (56)
Portion Sizes and Weight
Since the 1970s, portion sizes have increased both for food eaten at home and for food eaten away from home, in adults and children. (58,59) Short-term studies clearly demonstrate that when people are served larger portions, they eat more. One study, for example, gave moviegoers containers of stale popcorn in either large or medium-sized buckets people reported that they did not like the taste of the popcorn-and even so, those who received large containers ate about 30 percent more popcorn than those who received medium-sized containers. (60) Another study showed that people given larger beverages tended to drink significantly more, but did not decrease their subsequent food consumption . (67) An additional study provided evidence that when provided with larger portion sizes, people tended to eat more, with no decrease in later food intake. (68) There is an intuitive appeal to the idea that portion sizes increase obesity, but long-term prospective studies would help to strengthen this hypothesis.
Fast Food and Weight
Fast food is known for its large portions, low prices, high palatability, and high sugar content, and there’s evidence from studies in teens and adults that frequent fast-food consumption contributes to overeating and weight gain. (61) The CARDIA study, for example, followed 3,000 young adults for 13 years. People who had higher fast-food-intake levels at the start of the study weighed an average of about 13 pounds more than people who had the lowest fast-food-intake levels. They also had larger waist circumferences and greater increases in triglycercides, and double the odds of developing metabolic syndrome. (62) More research is needed to tease apart the effect of eating fast food itself from the effect of the neighborhood people live in, or other individual traits that may make people more likely to eat fast food.
The Bottom Line: Healthy Diet Can Prevent Weight Gain and Chronic Disease
Weight gain in adulthood is often gradual, about a pound a year (9)-too slow of a gain for most people to notice, but one that can add up, over time, to a weighty personal and public health problem. There’s increasing evidence that the same healthful food choices and diet patterns that help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions may also help to prevent weight gain:
- Choose minimally processed, whole foods-whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, healthful sources of protein (fish, poultry, beans), and plant oils.
- Limit sugared beverages, refined grains, potatoes, red and processed meats, and other highly processed foods, such as fast food.
Though the contribution of any one diet change to weight control may be small, together, the changes could add up to a considerable effect, over time and across the whole society. (9) Since people’s food choices are shaped by their surroundings, it’s imperative for governments to promote policy and environmental changes that make healthy foods more accessible and decrease the availability and marketing of unhealthful foods.
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Study Finds Some Meateaters Experience ‘Meat Disgust’, Too
Researchers think this could power meat consumption reduction.
A new study authored by Elisa Becker at the University of Exeter may have found a tool to get people to eat less meat.
Becker’s work focuses on the concept of “meat disgust,” a negative and repulsed reaction to meat. You might expect that kind of reaction from those who have chosen not to eat meat, but a new study, published in the journal Appetite finds that those who eat meat experience this, too.
Becker told BBC Radio Devon that while, “on average, the omnivores liked the meat images a lot,” around 7 percent of those omnivores reported a fairly strong disgust response—not a huge number, but much more than you’d expect, given that those respondents do eat meat. In an interview with Modern Farmer , she said that she had asked about hunger levels, too, and that there was no correlation between hunger and disgust levels, meaning that particularly peckish respondents maintained their feeling about the disgusting level of these foods.
The study used two methods to figure out levels of meat disgust in 711 people, chosen from around the Exeter area. The first was simple: Subjects were shown pictures of various foods, including rice, bread and meat items, such as a roast chicken and bacon, and asked to rate how “disgusting” and “delicious” those foods are to the subjects. Then the subjects were given what’s known as an implicit association test, or IAT.
The IAT is a social psychology tool used to measure subconscious biases it’s most often used to study racism. It relies on word association, measuring the speed with which subjects classify various attitudes (good, bad, disgusting) with concepts or groups such as racial minorities or, in this case, meat. The IAT has engendered a fair amount of controversy , although the IAT is so varied that individual criticisms of certain tests or conclusions about results have been inflated to account for the entire concept, often for political reasons .
The IAT was used to prevent—or try to account for—the possibility that people were not entirely honest about their feelings about meat, out of a desire to be seen a certain way. “Food is always a quite emotive topic, so I was worried about that. The results from that [IAT] completely confirmed the explicit measure, the rating of the images,” says Becker.
The study also included a survey over the following six months, to see whether the test results had any predictive effect. They found that those classified as “flexitarians,” meaning those trying to reduce their meat intake, were more likely to succeed in that quest if they demonstrated a disgust response in the initial tests. This could, theoretically, be used in a tool to help people stop eating meat—play up their disgust for it, rather than rely on self-control. Becker used a standard self-control measure, the Brief Self-Control Scale, and found that self-control had little impact on whether those trying to reduce their meat intake actually succeeded. Their levels of disgust, though, were strongly correlated with success.
There are, of course, angles to the study that could impact the results. The tests were exclusively English people from the southwest of the country who had volunteered with the National Health Service to take part in studies like this, and 711 is not a particularly large sample size. While Becker says the study tried to hide its intentions by asking other questions (such as how much did they like roast chicken or bacon), the study does still force people to think about typical English food in language (“disgusting”) that they may not usually use, which could bias the results.
And those semantics could have thrown off the study in more ways than one might expect. For Becker, and in the scientific literature , “disgust” is a specific term with specific meanings. But the respondents weren’t asked what they interpreted the word to mean they could have interpreted it as simply not enjoying the flavor, for example. “Disgust and distaste are two concepts that lay people use interchangeably,” says Becker. The study did require a fairly high bar for “meat disgust” to avoid an issue of, say, someone being disgusted by specifically bacon but not all meat, but there are levels to “disgust” into which this particular study didn’t dive.
“What this doesn’t tell us is what type of disgust,” says Becker. “There is core disgust, moral disgust and animal reminder disgust, and it would be really interesting to know which of these types of disgust meat disgust actually elicits.” Becker is already working on followup studies that dive into that more elaborate studies could include physiological measures (heart rate, facial muscle movement, perspiration) to provide data that isn’t self-provided.
The study has led to some ire from some ranchers and some on the right wing, who see it as a form of manipulation in service of vegetarianism, which they see as a political position. Becker, though, notes that if these findings are used as a tool in future studies, they’ll only be used for people who actually want to reduce their meat intake.
Foods Labeled ‘Healthy’ Can Cause People to Eat More, Study Finds - Recipes
No matter what your age, acne is always embarrassing. Whether you’re getting ready for a night out with friends, taking family pictures or dressing up for that hot date – it’s the last thing you want to see when you look in the mirror.
Unfortunately, breakouts can rear their ugly head no matter who you are. So what causes these embarrassing zits and breakouts?
Your Skin and the Holistic Approach
If we view the body from a holistic perspective, acne can be an indication that things on the inside are out of balance. Whether it’s hormonal imbalance, toxicity or digestive issues, the human body is very smart. And sometimes it will use the skin (since it is the largest organ) to detox and/or express what is happening within.
The Link Between Food and Acne
Although many people don’t want to believe it (I didn’t when I first started researching natural and organic skin care), what you eat can play a major role in your skin and how it appears. It’s true that certain foods that cause acne can increase the frequency of your breakouts.
In fact, there’s a lot of research that shows a link between your diet and skin behavior. According to Dr. Whitey Bowe , Medical Director at Advanced Dermatology, diet is an important part of achieving clear skin (well, duh!). Eating right and avoiding foods that cause acne can help you fight chronic acne (the kind that never seems to go away) as well as the occasional blemish (like those zits that pop up every now and then).
With that in mind, here are the leading food offenders that you must keep away from your plate if you want to have a gorgeous, glowing complexion.
Note : Food and beverages that are generally considered to be highly nutritious and healthy may not be all that great for clearing up your acne.
Foods that Cause Acne
If you are a sushi-lover, don’t cry. There is no reason to be disappointed yet. According to Jolene Hart , not all types of Sushi are acne-causing culprits. But there are some types that you should avoid including the California rolls.
Those have white rice which has a high glycemic index , while crab meat and soy sauce are often tainted with gluten. These are huge contributors to cellular inflammation and can promote acne and aggravate breakouts. The nori sheets that contain iodine can pose a threat, as it is capable of triggering acne too.
If you cannot part ways with Sushi, the best alternative is to go for sashimi with brown rice.
Chocolate always finds itself at the receiving end whenever there is a debate on foods that cause acne. Dr. Ava Shamban , a popular dermatologist in California, believes that chocolate doesn’t literally cause breakouts.
Truth be told, there is little to no evidence that any fatty food, including chocolate, literally causes acne. However, she insists that high-fat or high-sugar diet can promote the production of sebum and maximize the inflammatory response within the body, leading to more zits and breakouts.
That means, although there is no conclusive evidence that foods containing high content of fat or sugar can directly cause acne, there is a definite connection between over-intake of fatty and sugary foods and breakouts. Individuals who have more fat and sugar content in their diets are more prone to breakouts than the ones with diets rich with fresh fruit and vegetables.
As I have mentioned above, even the best of body-friendly foods may turn out to be skin damagers. Milk (especially the skim) has a tendency to enter into our bloodstream, affect insulin, promote inflammation and increase oil production.
Not to mention, that dairy in general can promote mucous secretion in the gut as well as inflammation. Digestive health is very closely tied to your skin’s appearance – most especially the skin in the forehead and chin region. If you struggle with breakouts in those areas then you likely need digestive support.
Cutting out dairy from your diet for a limited time (say 2 to 4 weeks) to see if your skin starts to clear is a good idea. At the very minimum, organic milk is the better option (in comparison to conventional) because it does not have added hormones which can also cause hormone disruption and hormone related breakouts.
I know – if you’re a coffee lover you’re just shaking your head right now. Sadly, this energizing drink is also one of the foods that cause acne. Coffee beans contain an organic acid content that increases cortisol levels. Cortisol is popularly called the ‘stress hormone’ that acts like androgen promoting inflammation and sebaceous glands.
Consider replacing coffee with tea, a better and healthier option any day. I love Teecino – this brand of tea has the flavors and aroma of coffee without the caffeine jolt and acne inducing properties.
5) Secretly Sweet Smoothies
It is estimated that a majority of Americans consume approximately twenty-two teaspoons of sugar every day. This is three times more than the recommended amount. Most sugar intake comes from hidden sugars. And smoothies are one of the biggest perpetrators. The problem is smoothies do not contain the natural sugar that you find in fruits.
Bottled smoothies that you purchase from the market and even drive through smoothie stores may contain frozen yogurt, juice and sometimes sherbet all these are packed with added sugar.
If you absolutely cannot live without smoothies, make them at home with healthy and nutritious ingredients like frozen berries and coconut or almond milk. Nut milks and frozen berries contain no added sugar, but tons of fiber and antioxidants to support your body and skin. This way, you can ensure that you are protected from the sugar bomb.
6) The so-called healthy cereals
Do you often get fooled by the “natural” packaging that you see on the foods in the store? It makes sense that whole grains are healthy since you see that promoted everywhere.
In reality, wheat and specifically the protein gluten that is found in wheat products, is damaging to the digestive system. Not only can it create microlesions in the gut, but it’s just so hard for the body to digest. It compromises digestive function and this is a one of the main contributing factors to breakouts that beauty companies will never tell you.
Plus, cereals are highly refined and high in sugar and that’s not a great combination for clear, glowing skin.
7) Dried Fruits
Fresh fruits are great for your health, but dried fruits can be a problem – especially if you over consume. The latter contain refined carbohydrates that have a high glycemic index. They can cause a significant spike in blood sugar levels which in turn increases insulin levels.
These changes can trigger oil production, thereby increasing breakouts. Stay away from any kind of wheat based pasta, white bread, crackers and cereals as they are the worst foods that cause acne. They all have similar effects and can harm your skin. Wherever possible, stay away from refined carbs as much as you can.
Most chips are loaded with bad fats and promote inflammation and oxidative stress that also cause damage to DNA and collagen. Collagen is what keeps your skin looking youthful as you age. According to a study by the Journal of Drugs (2014), refined carbs are often found to be the primary culprits in the case of adult acne, wrinkles, age spots and fine lines.
If you want to snack on some chips, do so sparingly and reach for a bag of coconut chips, like these instead of conventional chips that are full of bad fats.
10) Sodas and Juices
It’s a well-known fact that packaged juices and sodas are nothing more than sugar-delivery trucks. But did you know that it’s the absence of fiber that makes them the worst contenders among foods that cause acne?
Fiber is a must-have nutrient for preventing blood sugar spikes without it, you may experience premature aging with your skin. When you drink your sugar, wrinkles will soon follow – and so will extra pounds.
Seafood lovers with acne breakouts – there’s more bad news for you. You must ‘say no’ to lobster and shrimp these two types of seafood contain high content of iodine. The mineral iodine is certainly beneficial for your skin and overall health. But, it can also cause breakouts on individuals who are sensitive to it or simply take too much of it.
Try satisfying your craving for seafood with healthier options like fish. Wild Salmon, thanks to its omega-3 fatty acid content, is a wonderful option for your skin.
12) Alcohol-rich Cocktails
Mojitos, margaritas and most other cocktails out there are all packed with sugar (remember blood sugar spikes and inflammation promote breakouts and the breakdown of collagen through a process called AGEs).
Adding insult to injury, alcohol, a diuretic can dehydrate your skin. If your skin is dry, the pH will be out of balance. This can cause overproduction of sebum, the pores get clogged and more breakouts occur.
Of all the foods that can cause acne, alcohol is kind of a double whammy because of all of its other negative health effects. Hard liquor is just bad for your skin long term.
If you want to have a drink, red wine should be your best alternative. Time and again, red wine has proven itself as an anti-aging drink. Because it contains resveratrol it’s friendly for most skin types, including acne prone skin.
If hard liquor is what you’re after, the best choice is Grey Goose Vodka. Have a glass of water between each cocktail to stay hydrated and reduce the amount of alcohol intake.
13) Bad Fats
The world would have been a better place without bad fats like canola oil – one of the most common ingredients in processed foods including cakes, cookies and chips. Do not forget to check the ingredients printed on food packages – even the ones labeled “natural” and “organic.”
You might be surprised by what makes it’s way into those bags. Processed foods like these can block tiny blood vessels present in the skin, just like they clog arteries in the heart. When blood circulation in your (facial) skin becomes stagnant, say hello to dark circles. Some women experience dark circles under the eyes due to blood pooling in that area causing the appearance of a “shadow” or darkness under the eyes.
And if that’s not enough these bad fats and processed foods also cause inflammation, exacerbating acne flares.
But you don’t need to steer clear of all foods that contain fat. Omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats are great for your skin. Chia seeds, walnuts, avocados and flaxseed oil are all skin-saving foods.
14) Non-organic meat
Meat, by itself, is not a problem. It’s mostly conventional beef we’re talking about. Conventional beef contains a large quantity of antibiotics and hormones that are usually fed to the cattle. By continuously exposing ourselves to antibiotics, we make way for resistance and spoil the balance of good bacteria and bad bacteria inside our body. There are tons of good bacteria that work on our skin to keep it healthy.
Eat only organic or at the bare minimum antibiotic and hormone-free meat whenever you can. Supplement it with probiotics and fermented foods to increase good bacteria inside your body and on the skin as well. Remember, your digestive health is very closely linked to your skin.
Peanuts are surely the most surprising inclusion among foods that cause acne . Peanuts can worsen your breakout, thanks to an androgen it contains, by increasing the production of sebum. Peanuts are believed to make your face oilier. People who consume an excess of peanut butter are known to have more acne concerns than those that don’t.
Other nuts like cashews and almonds are acne-safe and are better alternatives to peanuts. They have no connection with androgen.
Even though there is no direct connection between pizzas and pimples, there is enough evidence showing that acne can occur because of hormonal responses. When oils, debris and cells work together to arrest sebaceous glands (which has a direct link to the skin), they can block soft pores, promote inflammation and cause pimples.
It is also clear that a dairy-rich diet can trigger acne in some people. I hate to admit it, but I’m one of those people. My skin (really my body) just doesn’t like dairy and when I eat it, I always pay for it with a nice zit in the upper right area of my forehead.
If you’re wondering if you might be prone to dairy sensitivity, there’s an easy method to find out. Simply, cut down cheese, milk, pizza and all the other dairy foods you may be eating for the next 2 to 4 weeks (minimum). If you find that the frequency or severity of your breakouts has reduced, it’s pretty clear that your dairy intake is the cause of this skin condition. A healthy diet in conjunction with a natural skincare routine will really help reduce breakouts and acne. Check out this article on How to Find the Best Moisturizer for Acne.
Obviously, there are many other factors that cause breakouts. But a healthy and balanced diet can help you keep that acne at bay, besides all the other benefits.
Are there specific foods that you’ve noticed that promote acne for you? If so, let me know in the comments below!