People may eat more of ultra-processed foods in part because they’re often soft and eaten quickly.

In a recent study, when scientists offered 50 people one of four unlimited meals (on four different days), they ate:

  • 480 calories of hard minimally processed food (baked chicken, salad, apple, multigrain pilaf, plain yogurt),
  • 630 calories of hard ultra-processed food (heat-and-eat seasoned chicken, fried vegetable snacks, waffle fries, dried mango, flavored yogurt),
  • 720 calories of soft minimally processed food (salmon, steamed vegetables, banana, homemade mashed potatoes, unflavored yogurt drink), and
  • 790 calories of soft ultra-processed food (battered fish, coleslaw, instant mashed potatoes, canned mango in syrup, flavored yogurt drink).

(The ultra-processed foods had more ingredients and additives. All meals had additional sauces.)

Softness and ultra-processing also led people to consume calories more quickly.

What to do

Load up on unprocessed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. Minimize ultra-processed foods, which are usually soft and calorie dense.