Study links processed foods to PROTEIN HUNGER, which causes overeating and contributes to obesity
02/17/2023 // Zoey Sky // Views

When you're hungry and craving a quick snack, it's tempting to make some instant noodles or reheat leftover pizza instead of cooking something healthy. However, enjoying these processed foods regularly may have a negative effect on your overall health.

Data reveals that at least two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese. At the same time, millions of people eat fast food every day.

According to a large-scale population study conducted by researchers from the University of Sydney (USYD), eating highly-processed (ultra-processed) snacks can promote overeating, contribute to unwanted weight gain and even increase your risk of developing chronic disease.

The study was published in the journal Obesity.

Processed foods lack protein and cause increased caloric intake

For the study, researchers examined data from more than 9,000 volunteers obtained by the Australian Bureau of Statistics regarding nutrition and physical activity.

After analyzing the data, scientists found that highly-processed and refined foods cause protein hunger, a condition that triggers overeating and contributes to obesity. The researchers said that the findings help to confirm the "Protein Leverage Hypothesis" or the theory that people overeat fats and carbohydrates because their body craves protein more than other nutrients.

Worth noting is the fact that the food consumed in Western diets contains lower amounts of protein, something highly lacking in processed foods. Additionally, processed foods continue to make up larger proportions of many people's daily diets.


Dr. Amanda Grech, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Center, explained that as people consume more junk foods or highly-processed and refined foods, they continue to "dilute their dietary protein and increase their risk of being overweight and obese."

David Raubenheimer, study co-author, a professor and the Leonard Ullmann Chair in Nutritional Ecology at USYD, confirms the negative effects of improper nutrition. "Obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease – they're all driven by diet, cautioned Raubenheimer.

The research team discovered that participants who consumed lower amounts of protein in their first meal of the day increased their overall food intake throughout the day, which could be due to an attempt to compensate by consuming more calories.

The participants who also lacked protein consumed higher amounts of discretionary foods or high-calorie foods that are also full of saturated fats, trans fats, salt, sugars, chemical sweeteners or alcohol. Additionally, they consumed vegetables, fruits, fewer grains, dairy products and meats.

Meanwhile, the participants who ate foods with a higher proportion of protein at their first meal tended to eat less fat and carbohydrates throughout the day.

Other factors like physical activity levels, eating patterns and sleep routines can also contribute to obesity, but Raubenheimer concluded that protein hunger due to eating processed foods is a major cause.

He believes that the concept of protein mechanism in appetite is a "revolutionary insight" with significant implications for global health.

Other studies show that highly processed foods are linked to several diseases

The USYD study isn't the first to highlight the adverse effects of poor eating habits, weight gain and disease risk.

In a 2012 review also published in the journal Obesity, researchers identified three major contributing factors to obesity in Western populations.

This "triple whammy" includes:

  1. Reduced levels of physical activity
  2. A high-fat, high-calorie diet
  3. Eating commercial snack products frequently

Obesity isn't the only adverse outcome.

Having poor eating habits can also increase the risk of potentially life-threatening degenerative diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

In a 2019 study of 100,000 adults published in The BMJ, scientists reported that a 10 percent increase in ultra-processed food intake was linked to a corresponding 10 percent increase in heart disease risk.

Maintain a healthy weight by following a balanced diet

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines processed food as any raw agricultural product that has been:

  • Washed
  • Milled
  • Chopped
  • Canned
  • Frozen
  • Dried
  • Dehydrated
  • Mixed
  • Heated
  • Pasteurized
  • Blanched
  • Cooked
  • Packaged

Eating whole foods is good for you, but it's also fine to eat food that has had some degree of light processing. Just make sure you limit your intake of or avoid ultra-processed foods like cakes, cookies, chips, frozen meals, instant soups and soda because they are bad for you.

If you love processed foods but want to improve your eating habits, try some of the tips below:

Make healthy snacks

If you want something sweet, pair Greek yogurt with raspberries. You can also eat apple chunks with almond butter.

If you like cheese and fruits, mix a small amount of raw, unpasteurized cheese with fresh papaya.

If you want a savory snack, eat hummus with carrot sticks and cucumber. You can also eat cherry tomatoes with cashew cheese drizzled with a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Instead of eating junk food with empty calories, choose healthy snacks like fruits, vegetables and nuts that are more satisfying. They also contain antioxidants, dietary fiber, healthy fats, essential vitamins, important minerals and higher amounts of protein than most commercial snack products. (Related: Cut down on processed food intake with these simple steps.)

Boost your protein intake

Increase your daily intake of protein, which your body needs for the repair and production of cells, by eating grass-fed beef, pasture-raised poultry, eggs or wild-caught fish.

If you are vegetarian, choose plant-based protein sources like beans, legumes, quinoa, soy and wheat germ. Try to buy organic products to avoid pesticides in fruits and vegetables.

Eat more fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are rich in various nutrients. They contain dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and plant compounds that help fight inflammation and prevent cell damage.

Many large observational studies have found a link between high fruit and vegetable intake to a reduced risk of health problems like cancer and heart disease.

If possible, eat fresh vegetables and fruits since most of them can be consumed raw immediately after picking and washing.

Here are some tips on how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your regular diet:

  • Top your cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt with sliced bananas, berries or plums.
  • Add fruits like apples, grapes, strawberries, tangerines or watermelon to your salad.
  • Make your salads colorful by including at least three different vegetables and leafy greens.
  • When making soups and stews, add collards, kale, spinach or squash.
  • If time is an issue, wash and chop vegetables, toss them with olive oil and herbs. Store the cooked vegetables in an air-tight container in your refrigerator to save time when cooking your next meal.
  • To save money and time, use frozen or canned versions of fruits or vegetables.

Drink more water

Water is the most natural beverage you can drink: It is free from harmful additives, sugars, artificial sweeteners or other unhealthy ingredients.

You also need to drink enough water every day to prevent dehydration. Staying hydrated may also help you achieve a moderate weight.

Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and store-bought fruit juices that have been linked to diseases like Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

If you are not sensitive to caffeine, unsweetened coffee and tea are also good choices. These beverages offer several health benefits.

If you don't like drinking plain water, add sliced fruit or the juice of a lemon or lime to naturally add flavor to a glass of water.

Avoid processed foods like cookies and potato chips and prepare healthy snacks like veggie sticks with homemade dip to prevent overeating and avoid unhealthy weight gain.

Watch the video below to learn how citrus fruits can help counteract some of the health risks of obesity.

This video is from the Groovy Bee channel on

More related stories:

US facing obesity problem as poor parents feed their children cheap, unhealthy foods.

Study: Ultra-processed foods linked to increased risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease.

Common food additive in ultra-processed foods no longer considered safe by the European Food Safety Authority.

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