KANSAS CITY, Kan. — During a new study, University of Kansas researchers analyzed people’s choices when confronted with an all-you-can-eat buffet.

The study titled “Meal composition during an ad libitum buffet meal and longitudinal predictions of weight and percent body fat change: The role of hyper-palatable, energy dense, and ultra-processed foods,” published in the journal “Appetite,” found out that the food people choose to heap on their plates might predict their chances of having higher weight gain or obesity.

The researchers focused on foods defined as “hyper-palatable,” dividing this category into carbohydrate and sodium (CSOD) foods or fat and sodium (FSOD) foods, and compared them with high-energy dense and ultra-processed foods.

“Hyper palatable foods have combinations of ingredients that can enhance a food’s palatability and make a food’s rewarding properties artificially strong,” said Tera Fazzino, lead author, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, and assistant director of the Cofrin Logan Center for Addiction Research and Treatment at the University of Kansas Life Span Institute.

“Common examples would be various chocolates, hot dogs, pretzels or brownies — foods that can be difficult to stop eating.”

In the study, younger adults without obesity ate a meal at an all-you-can-eat buffet. The research team measured their body composition before the meal and followed up a year later. The study tracked associations between proportions of buffet items chosen by participants — high-energy-density foods, ultra-processed foods, and hyper-palatable foods — and participants’ weight change and percent body fat change one year later.

“We were able to look at their behavioral tendency to consume certain types of foods,” said Fazzino.

“Is that associated with greater energy intake relative to their physiological energy needs, and is it longitudinally associated with weight and percent body fat gain?”

Fazzino’s co-authors were James Dorling, John Apolzan, and Corby Martin of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State University System. They shared the dataset that was analyzed for this study and collaborated on the article.

Fazzino and her colleagues found that participants who consumed a greater proportion of hyper-palatable carbohydrate and sodium (CSOD) foods in their buffet meals had significantly greater weight change and percent body fat change at the assessment a year later.

“A couple of classic examples of hyper-palatable CSOD foods would be pretzels or popcorn,” said Fazzino.

But the study also found no significant body changes a year later for those in the buffet study who ate high proportions of fat and sodium hyper-palatable foods, high-energy dense, and ultra-processed foods.

The researchers concluded eating more hyper-palatable carbohydrate, and sodium foods at an all-you-can-eat buffet may indicate a tendency toward “hedonic eating,” which may boost a person’s risk for weight and body-fat gain in early adulthood. 

“‘Hedonic eating’ is a general term that’s used in the literature to refer to eating that’s more focused on the rewarding characteristics of a food, as opposed to strictly satisfying physiological hunger,” said Fazzino.

“The take-home point is really that people who tended to consume more carbohydrate and sodium foods — when they were freely available — were at greater risk for weight and body fat gain.”

However, some people don’t have a choice in eating hyper-palatable foods.

Fazzino’s new paper builds on the research she co-wrote earlier this year in Frontiers in Psychology, intended to discover how much babies are exposed to foods deemed hyper-palatable. 

“If we think about how these foods can activate the brain-reward neural circuitry similarly as some drugs of abuse, we want to look at the earliest point of exposure,” said Fazzino.

“Also, we wanted to characterize the prevalence of these types of foods in baby foods that are available in the U.S. food system.”

The researchers found that an astounding 90 percent of 147 babies in the study were fed hyper-palatable foods, mainly because they were regularly fed adult foods. Moreover, 12 percent of foods marketed as “baby food” were hyper-palatable in the study.

“We found when babies start to eat the adult foods, that is the primary vehicle for their exposure,” said Fazzino.

“We did characterize their overall caloric intake. For infants under 12 months, they consumed on average 38 percent of their daily food calories from hyper-palatable foods, and for older infants, it was 52 percent.”

Fazzino cautioned parents should focus their attention on the adult foods offered to babies to head off potentially harmful eating habits that could take root in babies as they age.

“If babies are consuming foods that are artificially highly rewarding early in infancy, this could essentially indicate to their system physiologically — and to their brain — that, ‘Hey, this is what food is supposed to taste like, and this is how rewarding it’s supposed to be.’”

“Our concern is they’ll get used to this level of really intense taste and intense reward at an initial point, which will then make them want to consume those types of foods more as they grow up. Ultimately, the worry is that maybe this is an early predisposing factor for obesity risk.”

(With inputs from ANI) 

Edited by Ojaswin Kathuria and Nikita Nikhil



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