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'Frankenfoods': Why ultra-processed foods make you crave more unhealthy stuff

Scientifically designed to trigger cravings, these foods are linked to a lot of health issues. If you cook the same foods from scratch, you can lose weight.

HOUSTON — Ultra-processed foods are a big part of the American diet. According to the Washington Post, 60 percent of the calories American adults eat are from the "frankenfood." 

Scientists call these foods hyper-palatable because they're designed to deliver a combination of fat, sodium and sugar that can hijack the brain’s reward system and trigger powerful cravings. 

The problem is that ultra-processed foods have been linked in dozens of studies to obesity, heart disease and colon cancer.

So what counts as ultra-processed food? They typically are industrial creations using a lot of additives like salt, sugar and oils, along with preservatives. 

They often go through a lot of processing methods to change texture and appearance; think hot dogs, sugary cereals and boxed macaroni and cheese.

Interestingly, a study from the National Institutes of Health found subjects who ate similar foods that were mostly made from scratch lost weight and lowered their cholesterol. The foods had similar levels of fat, sugar and sodium but the people who ate the ultra-processed versions quickly gained weight and body fat. 

If you don’t feel like cooking everything from scratch, experts suggest looking at labels where fewer ingredients often indicate the food is less processed.

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