Tag Archives: Meal

Ultra-processed foods cause weight gain, over eating, according to a new study

A preliminary study reports that eating ultra-processed leads to eating more calories and weight gain.

Instant Noodles.

Image via Pixabay.

People who eat ultra-processed foods have a higher calorie intake and gain more weight compared to those who eat a minimally-processed diet, a new study from the National Institutes of Health reports. This difference, the team explains, was seen even when participants in the ultra-processed and minimally-processed diet groups received the same number of calories and macronutrients in their food.

Processed

“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.”

The study, at the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), was small-scale — it only included 20 adult volunteers. The authors report that it is the first randomized trial meant to look into the effects of ultra-processed foods as defined by the NOVA classification system. Previous observational studies, they explain, worked with large groups of people and have uncovered an association between diets with high amounts of processed food and health complications. However, these efforts had been randomized, so they can’t be used to establish a clear link between the two (people might have experienced health complications due to other factors, such as lack of access to fresh food, not necessarily from ultra-processed ones).

Under the NOVA system, foods that have ingredients predominantly found in industrial food manufacturing, such as hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, flavoring agents, and emulsifiers, are considered to be “ultra-processed”.

“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.”

The participants, 10 male and 10 female, were admitted to the NIH Clinical Center for one continuous month. They were placed on each diet for two weeks (in random order), the team providing them with meals consisting of either ultra-processed or minimally processed foods. An ultra-processed breakfast, for example, might consist of a bagel, cream cheese, and turkey bacon, while the unprocessed breakfast was oatmeal with bananas, walnuts, and skim milk. Meals in both courses were controlled to have the same amounts of calories, sugars, fiber, fat, and carbohydrates. Participants were allowed to eat as much as they wanted.

People on the ultra-processed diet ate about 500 calories more per day than those on the unprocessed one. They also ate faster and gained weight, whereas their counterparts lost weight. On average, participants in the ultra-processed group gained 2 pounds (0.9 kilograms) and lost an equivalent amount on the unprocessed diet. “We need to figure out what specific aspect of the ultra-processed foods affected people’s eating behavior and led them to gain weight,” Hall admits. For example, the team says that slight differences in protein levels between the ultra-processed and unprocessed diets used in the study could explain up to half of the difference in caloric intake between the two groups.

“The next step is to design similar studies with a reformulated ultra-processed diet to see if the changes can make the diet effect on calorie intake and body weight disappear,” Hall explains.

“Over time, extra calories add up, and that extra weight can lead to serious health conditions,” said NIDDK Director Griffin P. Rodgers, M.D. “Research like this is an important part of understanding the role of nutrition in health and may also help people identify foods that are both nutritious and accessible — helping people stay healthy for the long term.”

While the study reinforces the benefits of unprocessed foods, researchers note that ultra-processed foods can be difficult to restrict. “We have to be mindful that it takes more time and more money to prepare less-processed foods,” Hall said. “Just telling people to eat healthier may not be effective for some people without improved access to healthy foods.”

The paper “Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake” has been published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Breakfast.

Sharing a plate helps with both love and work

Need a boost to persuasion power at your next big meeting? Try changing the setting to someplace less plate-y.

Breakfast.

Image via Pixabay.

Business negotiations go more smoothly and take less time when participants share a plate, not just a meal, new research reveals. Shared plates are customary in Chinese and Indian cultures (among others), and people sharing a plate are able to collaborate better and reach deals faster, the study explains.

Breaking Bread

Ayelet Fishbach and Kaitlin Wooley, a Professor at the University of Chicago and PhD student Cornell University, respectively, say a family-style meal with a prospective business partner can help the deal go through smoothly.

The duo asked a group of participants (all strangers to one another) to pair off in a lab experiment regarding negotiation patterns. Before the experiments began, participants were invited to have a snack of chips and salsa with their partners. Half of the pairs received one bowl of chips and one bowl of salsa to share, while the others each had their own bowls.

After this light snack, the pairs were asked to simulate a negotiation between a member of management and a union representative. Their goal was to settle on an acceptable wage for workers of both parties in the span of 22 rounds of negotiations. To put a little bit of pressure on the hypothetical scenario, a “costly union strike” was scheduled to start on round three. Each party would incur costs from this strike which, the team hoped, would help coax the participants into reaching a deal as quickly as possible.

On average, participants that shared a bowl of snacks reached an agreement in nine strike days (i.e. in twelve turns). Their separate-bowl counterparts needed, on average, took four days longer to agree on their terms. In the team’s hypothetical scenario, these four extra days translated to an extra $1.5 million in combined losses.

What’s particularly interesting is that it didn’t much matter if the two parties liked one another — what mattered was whether or not they had coordinated their eating. This finding came from a repeat experiment carried out by Woolley and Fishbach, in which they had both friends and strangers participate. Both groups received pairs of both friends and strangers, and sharing plates had a significant effect in both cases.

The degree to which a person felt they were collaborating with their partner while eating — sharing food rather than competing for that last bite — predicted their feelings of collaboration during the negotiation phase, the team adds. Fischbach says that the results showcase the powerful effect a meal can have on interpersonal connections. Despite how convenient remote meetings can be, they simply don’t stack up to sharing a meal — and, he adds, this holds true for professional as well as personal relationships.

“Basically, every meal that you’re eating alone is a missed opportunity to connect to someone,” says Fishbach. “And every meal that involves food sharing fully utilizes the opportunity to create that social bond.”

The paper ” Shared Plates, Shared Minds: Consuming from a Shared Plate Promotes Cooperation” has been published in the journal Psychological Science.

Eating sweets with every meal may help your memory

Scientists at the Georgia State University, Georgia Regents University and Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center found that the brain uses sweet foods to form the memory of a meal. The paper shows how the neurons in the dorsal hippocampus — a part of the brain that is critical for episodic memory — are activated by consuming sweets.  Episodic memory records autobiographical events and their particular time and context.

Eating sweets helps your brain remember meals and eat less.
Image via wikimedia

The team fed rats with a sweetened solution, made with wither sucrose or saccharin. They found that eating this meal showed significantly increased expression of the synaptic plasticity marker called activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein (Arc) in dorsal hippocampal neurons compared to other types of food.

“We think that episodic memory can be used to control eating behavior,” said Marise Parent, professor in the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State. “We make decisions like ‘I probably won’t eat now. I had a big breakfast.’ We make decisions based on our memory of what and when we ate.”

It probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone that increased snacking (both in quantity and frequency) has been associated with obesity. Research also shows that over the past three decades, children and adults are eating more snacks per day and deriving more of their daily calories from snacks, mostly in the form of desserts and sweetened beverages.

Previous work of the team showed how temporarily inactivating dorsal hippocampal neurons following a sucrose meal, during the period during which the memory of a meal forms, determines the rats to eat again sooner and ingest larger quantities of food.

A former London-based study investigated how disrupting the encoding of the memory of a meal in humans, such as by watching television, increases the amount of food they consume during the next meal. It also found that people with amnesia will eat again if presented with food, even if they’ve already had a meal.

The results of all these experiments illustrate the key role the brain has on meal onset and frequency, and how memory comes into play. To understand energy regulation and the causes of obesity, we need to have a better understanding of the organ’s internal workings, Parent said.

Now the team aims to determine if nutritionally balanced liquid or solid diets that typically contain protein, fat and carbohydrates have a similar effect on Arc expression in dorsal hippocampal neurons and whether increases in Arc expression are necessary for the memory of sweet foods.

Astronaut food during the Skylab days in the 1970s: grape drink, beef pot roast, chicken and rice, beef sandwiches and sugar cookie cubes, orange drink, strawberries, asparagus, prime rib, dinner roll and butterscotch pudding. Credit: NASA.

Astronaut food: what astronauts eat in space

Astronaut food during the Skylab days in the 1970s:  grape drink, beef pot roast, chicken and rice, beef sandwiches and sugar cookie cubes, orange drink, strawberries, asparagus, prime rib, dinner roll and butterscotch pudding. Credit: NASA.

Astronaut food during the Skylab days in the 1970s: grape drink, beef pot roast, chicken and rice, beef sandwiches and sugar cookie cubes, orange drink, strawberries, asparagus, prime rib, dinner roll and butterscotch pudding. Credit: NASA.

Many of you reading this hope to one day be able to explore outer space; the thrill of discovery, entwined with the peace and solitude that only the silent void can provide. It’s awesome stuff, I’m completely on board. But as it usually goes, great adventures come with great sacrifices.

Little comforts, like hanging out with friends, enjoying a movie, or holding a cup of hot chocolate in your hands by the fire tend to be the first to go for more practical concerns, like efficiency and ease of transport. Would-be space explorers like ourselves know this already. We’re here for the good of all, the call of wanderlust, and we’re glad to sacrifice part of our comforts on the altar of human exploration.

The real question is…Do you have the stomach for the trip?

First meals in space

The first meals in space were…Pretty horrible.

Beef and vegetable tube.

John Glenn was the first American to have a bite in orbit, and while he found the actual process of eating pleasant enough, the menu was more to be endured than enjoyed: bite-sized cubes, freeze-dried powders, and semi-liquids stuffed in aluminum tubes.

During the Project Mercury flights, astronauts complained that the chow was unappetizing and that they disliked squeezing the tubes, the freeze-dried courses were nearly impossible to re-hydrate, and crumbs from the cubes would float through the cabin and interfere with the wiring in the walls. It was a disheartening business and something had to be done. Thankfully, NASA took this seriously and things started to look up nom-wise for our intrepid explorers.

On the Gemini mission, the aluminum tubes were scrapped altogether. A special gelatin coat was applied to the cubes to reduce crumbling, and the freeze-dried foods were packaged in a special plastic container to make reconstitution easier. Variety improved too, with shrimp cocktail, chicken and vegetables, butterscotch pudding, and applesauce on the menu.

This didn’t exactly bode well with all astronauts. John Young launched to Earths’ orbit aboard the Gemini 3 some 50 years ago. With him was crewmate Gus Grissom and a two days old corn beef sandwich, smuggled without permission on the spacecraft.

Grissom: What is it?
Young: Corn beef sandwich.
Grissom: Where did that come from?
Young: I brought it with me. Let’s see how it tastes. Smells, doesn’t it?

A corn beef sandwich encased in acrylic to prevent decay, on display at the Grissom Memorial Museum in Indiana. Image: Collect Space

A corn beef sandwich encased in acrylic to prevent decay, on display at the Grissom Memorial Museum in Indiana. Image: Collect Space

Suffice to say, even after two bites, the sandwich crumbled into thousands of pieces which spread out through the spacecraft. It was a novice move, but nothing bad happened.

Gemini Meal Preparation
Food packages of beef and gravy fully reconstituted and ready to eat. The water gun is used to reconstitute dehydrated food and the scissors are used to open the packages to eat.
Image via airandspace

By the time the Apollo program was off the ground, both quality and variety increased even further. The crew had access to hot water to improve freeze-dried food preparation, and a new “spoon bowl” container made it more enjoyable to actually get the food where it’s needed — your belly.

How do they make these tasty concoctions?

The main concern of the space agency is to keep the food as light as possible while making sure they’re nutritious, tasty, and stable without refrigeration for as long as they possibly can. The usual foods an astronaut has available include rehydratable, thermostabilized, intermediate moisture, irradiated, and natural form courses, which must provide an astronaut with at least 2,500 calories per day.

Rehydratable foods are items that have had their water content extracted, basically super-dry foods. This is done to conserve weight, but also to stop the items from spoiling: the bacteria that decompose foods require water just as much as we do, and find it hard to survive in this bone-dry environment. Thankfully for the crew, shuttle fuel cells, that combine oxygen and hydrogen for electricity also provide ample reserves of water for them to mix with the course before eating.

Image via quest.arc.nasa

From soups — like chicken consomme and cream of mushroom — to macaroni and cheese or chicken and rice casseroles, appetizers — like shrimp cocktail — and breakfast foods — like scrambled eggs and cereals — many types of food are usually prepared this way.

Thermostabilized food is heat processed and sealed; in essence, this category includes canned foods, be it in aluminum or bimetallic cans, plastic cups, or chow in flexible retort pouches.

Thanksgiving dinner.
Image via Tech Times

Courses such as beef tips with mushrooms, tomatoes and eggplant, chicken a la king, and ham are prepared this way.

Intermediate moisture foods have just the right level of water content to prevent microbial growth while allowing the food to maintain its soft texture and to be eaten without further preparation — usually between 15 to 30 percent water content, but the water molecules are chemically tied and can’t support microbial growth. The most common preparation process is salting or sugaring.

Image via dehydrator.letaq

Dried peaches, pears, or apricots and dried beef are examples of this type of Shuttle food.

On the other hand, Natural form foods are packed as-is in clear, flexible pouches. They are ready to eat with no preparation required. NASA classifies foods such as nuts, granola bars, and cookies as natural form foods.

Image via quest.arc.nasa

And lastly, Irradiated foods are cooked, packaged in foil-laminated pouches, and sterilized by treatment with ionized radiation, to remain stable at room temperature.

Beefsteak is currently the only irradiated product intended for space consumption.

What astronauts eat today for breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Food aboard the Space Shuttle served on a tray, with magnets, springs, and Velcro to hold the cutlery and food packets down. Image via wikipedia

Food aboard the Space Shuttle served on a tray, with magnets, springs, and Velcro to hold the cutlery and food packets down.
Image via Wikipedia

Today’s astronauts dine better than any before. On the ISS, due to constraints regarding water generation, most of the food will be delivered frozen, refrigerated, or thermostabilised once every 90 days. Astronauts will cook these in microwave ovens and the better quality of the food, together with cutlery that won’t float away and sitting while eating, make for a much more filling meal. Different nations are also supplying their astronauts with traditional courses, helping the crew socialize and share cultures.

Food choice is extremely important to astronauts, and the longer the flight, the more significant those choices become:

“Being on Space Station, so much of what is going on is beyond their control,” said Vickie Kloeris, JSC manager of Space Food Systems.

“And so food is just a comfort thing that they would like to feel they have some input on or some control over. It’s just a big psychological thing — I don’t know if we’ve flown anyone to Station that has not been concerned about their food.”

Crew members can pick what they want to eat, so if they feel chicken three nights in a row, they can do that.

Compared to sucking applesauce through a tube, dining in space has gone a long way. Station farms are also being tested, and soon ships might be able to produce some or all of their food for long voyages.