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These Foods Were Just Linked to Lifetime Weight Gain, New Study Says

Research suggests you need to be careful when loading up your plate with these options.
FACT CHECKED BY Cheyenne Buckingham

There are numerous reasons that "all-you-can-eat" buffets are so popular—they combine a breadth of food variety with affordability, and of course, you can go back for multiple rounds. But what you choose to put on your plate could predict your risk of weight gain, according to a new study in the journal Appetite.

Researchers looked at 82 young adults who were not overweight and recorded what they picked at a buffet, then followed up a year later. Those who chose foods considered "hyperpalatable" were significantly more likely to have a higher body fat percentage and weight gain compared to those who chose healthier foods.

RELATED: One Major Side Effect of Eating Ultra-Processed Foods, Says New Study

Hyperpalatable foods are those categorized as having high amounts of calories, simple carbohydrates, added sugars, fat, and sodium, and a low amount of fiber. They're usually ultra-processed and can be digested very quickly, according to lead author Tera Fazzino, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Kansas University. Because of that, it can make them easy to overeat because it takes longer for your body to send fullness signals to your brain.

Examples of these foods include:

salty snacks
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These foods kick off what's known as a hedonistic response, which means they trigger the reward reaction in the brain, Fazzino notes.

"These foods cause both a psychological and physiological effect, and that drives further food intake and energy balance regulation," she says. "Simply put, you eat more of them, and that increases your calorie intake, sometimes considerably."

That doesn't mean you gain weight whenever you eat them, just as an occasional indulgence at a buffet automatically leads to a higher number on the scale. After all, it's possible to balance out the hyperpalatable choices at a buffet or even a fast food restaurant with foods that don't fit that definition, she says. For example, opt for grilled chicken instead of deep-fried, or a side salad instead of French fries.

Also, she adds, not all of these foods have the same effect. Those in the recent study who chose hyperpalatable foods that tended toward more fat and sodium actually didn't have significant body changes a year later, even though they were having highly caloric and ultra-processed options.

It was those who picked the foods highest in carbs and sodium that were more likely to have weight gain since those choices tend to be associated with hedonic eating, Fazzino says.

The takeaway here? As always, enjoy these foods in moderation, which means having them very occasionally.

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Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, and nutrition. Read more
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