Ultra-processed foods have become increasingly prevalent in modern diets. They are heavily modified and contain unhealthy fats, added sugars, and salt. While ultra-processed foods may taste appealing, their excessive consumption can lead to weight gain and other health problems.

How Ultra-Processed Foods Contribute to Weight Gain

Several factors contribute to the weight-gaining potential of ultra-processed foods:

  1. High Energy Density: Ultra-processed foods are often packed with kilojoules, providing a large amount of energy in a relatively small volume. This can lead to overconsumption and an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure.
  2. Palatability and Overeating: Ultra-processed foods are engineered to be highly palatable, triggering the release of dopamine, a pleasure neurotransmitter. This can lead to overeating and difficulty controlling their intake.
  3. Lack of Satiety: Ultra-processed foods often lack fibre and protein, nutrients that promote satiety and fullness. This can lead to increased hunger and frequent snacking, contributing to weight gain.
  4. Disruption of Hormones: Ultra-processed foods can interfere with the production and regulation of hormones that control appetite and metabolism. This can lead to increased hunger and an increased tendency to store excess weight.

Studies Linking Ultra-Processed Foods to Weight Gain

Several studies have investigated the association between ultra-processed food consumption and weight gain. A 2019 study published in the journal “PLOS Medicine” found interesting results. Participants who consumed a diet high in ultra-processed foods were more likely to gain weight over a two-year period compared to those who consumed a diet low in ultra-processed foods.

Another study, published in the journal “Cell Metabolism,” investigated what would happen if they gave people two different diets in a very controlled setting. Using 20 volunteers, they randomly allocated whether these people would be fed either ultra-processed or unprocessed diets for 2 weeks immediately followed by the alternate diet for 2 weeks.

Meals were closely matched for energy (kilojoules), energy density, macronutrients, sugar, sodium, and fibre. The people in the study were asked to consume as much or as little as desired.

The researchers found that more energy (kilojoules) were eaten with the ultra-processed diet (consuming more carbs and fat, but not protein). Weight changes were strongly associated with energy (kilojoules) eaten.

Additional Health Concerns Associated with Ultra-Processed Foods

In addition to weight gain, ultra-processed foods have been linked to a range of other health problems, including:

  • Increased risk of heart disease: Ultra-processed foods are often high in saturated and trans fats, which can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Increased risk of type 2 diabetes: Eating ultra-processed foods is linked to worsening of insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes.
  • Increased risk of certain cancers: Ultra-processed foods may contain harmful compounds that have been linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer, such as colorectal cancer.
  • Disruption of a healthy gut microbiome. Ultra-processed foods can disrupt the gut microbiome by not delivering it enough fibre and through containing a variety of additives, such as emulsifiers and preservatives, which can have harmful effects on the microbiome and change these healthy bacteria.

Recommendations for Reducing Ultra-Processed Food Consumption

To reduce the risk of weight gain and other health problems associated with ultra-processed foods, consider the following recommendations:

  1. Prioritise whole, minimally processed foods: Focus on consuming whole, minimally processed foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  2. Limit consumption of packaged and ready-made meals: Packaged and ready-made meals often contain high amounts of ultra-processed ingredients. Opt for cooking meals at home using fresh ingredients whenever possible.
  3. Read food labels carefully: Pay attention to food labels and identify ingredients that indicate ultra-processing. These include preservatives, emulsifiers, sweeteners, and artificial colours and flavours.
  4. Make gradual changes: Gradually reducing your consumption of ultra-processed foods can be more sustainable than making drastic changes overnight.
  5. Seek support: Consider seeking guidance from an accredited practising dietitian to develop a personalised plan for reducing ultra-processed food consumption and achieving your health goals.

Do you need help in making changes to your dietary routines?

Our specialist maternal health dietitians are able to tailor a program to support you to adapt guideline recommendations to your lifestyle and preferences. If you need support, please make an appointment to help you achieve your goals.



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What is bariatric surgery?

Bariatric surgery, also known as weight-loss surgery, is a type of surgery that involves making changes to your digestive system to help you lose weight. It is designed to make the stomach much smaller, which causes you to feel full after eating only a small amount of food.

The most common types in Australia are gastric bypass (called Roux-en-Y gastric bypass) and gastric sleeve surgery (called sleeve gastrectomy). Lap band surgery (called gastric banding) is also a type of bariatric surgery.


How does bariatric surgery help fertility problems?

Bariatric surgery can help you lose significant amounts of weight and improve your overall health. Being above your most comfortable or healthy weight may trigger hormone imbalances that can affect your ovulation cycles and make it harder to get pregnant. Moving towards a healthier weight can help address these issues. Improved fertility results from promoting more predictable ovulation cycles and reducing insulin resistance.

Significant weight loss can lead to dramatic fertility improvements. As such, it is important to consider contraception following this type of surgery and not to try to become pregnant straight away. This is for a number of reasons. The first is that it  gives your body time to lose weight (and importantly, stabilise) before conceiving. Secondly, delaying conception also allows your body’s vitamin levels to stabilize, which reduces the risk for fetal malnutrition as well as complications like premature birth and low birth weight.

Here are five important tips for women who want to fall pregnant after bariatric surgery:

  1. Wait at least 12 to 18 months after surgery before trying to conceive. This will give your body time to heal and adjust to the changes caused by surgery.
  2. Reach and maintain your most comfortable or healthy weight before getting pregnant. This will help to reduce the risks of complications during pregnancy. You should not be actively trying to lose weight.
  3. Eat a nourishing diet and take an appropriate multivitamin. This will help to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients that you and your baby need. Bariatric surgery causes malabsorption, a significant reduction in nutritional intake, or both. Following this type of surgery you need lifelong multivitamin supplementation. A “pregnancy multivitamin” will not be enough.
  4. Be as physically active as possible. Prioritising movement, reducing sitting time and finding activities that you enjoy all support your health and wellbeing. Think bone, heart, and mental health as well as helping to manage your weight and metabolic and reproductive health.
  5. See your health care professional team regularly for antenatal care. This will help to ensure that your pregnancy is progressing normally.

How can a dietitian help?

At a minimum, a pregnant person who has had bariatric surgery should see a dietitian in early pregnancy and then approximately every trimester. Bariatric surgery can change the way your body absorbs nutrients, so you can be at increased risk of developing nutrient deficiencies.

Once you become pregnant you have the additional issues of juggling:

  • increased requirements for protein and most micronutrients,
  • the pregnancy symptoms that can further affect your intake (nausea, vomiting, reflux, constipation, food aversions), and
  • the need to monitor your weight gain closely, especially in the second and third trimesters.

It is important to talk to your bariatric surgery team and a maternal health accredited practising dietitian about your specific needs and to develop a plan to make sure that you are getting all the nutrients that you and your baby need and that this is monitored through blood tests.

The dietitians at Lifestyle Maternity are expert maternity dietitian who have also worked with bariatric surgeons, providing care to their patients. For further information book an appointment with a Lifestyle Maternity Dietitian.


Queensland Clinical Guidelines. Obesity and pregnancy (including post bariatric surgery). Guideline No. MN21.14-V6-R26. Queensland Health. 2021.


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What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) affects around 10% of Australian women in their reproductive years. This is due to hormonal changes.

This ‘syndrome’ is linked to a range of health issues for affected women, trans or non-binary people. In the short term, those with PCOS may have reduced fertility and difficulty conceiving. In the longer-term obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are more likely for people with PCOS.

Normally the ovaries produce large amounts of the female hormone oestrogen, lesser amounts of the male hormone testosterone, and the pregnancy hormone progesterone (which is only produced in greater amounts after ovulation and during pregnancy). In PCOS, testosterone levels are often mildly increased.

The causes of PCOS are unknown. In some cases, it seems to run in the family whereas for other women the condition only occurs when they are above their most healthy weight.

Women who have PCOS may experience:

  • Irregular menstrual cycles – menstruation may be less frequent due to less frequent ovulation, and may be either heavier or lighter than average.
  • Amenorrhoea – some women with PCOS do not menstruate, in some cases for many years.
  • Infertility – related to less frequent, incomplete or absent ovulation.
  • Increased body hair (hirsuitism)
  • Obesity
  • Acne

There may also be long-term health risks. Recent research suggests that PCOS is related to insulin resistance and the development of type 2 diabetes. Some women with PCOS develop type 2 diabetes, especially if they are overweight.

What is the latest research on PCOS and lifestyle changes?

Recently, new international evidence-based guidelines for the assessment and management of PCOS were released. This large body of work documented results from studies around the world and gives direction for the best treatment steps to take.

A take home message from these guidelines is the important role of ‘lifestyle management’ as the first line of therapy for PCOS and outline the clear benefits that result from a very achievable weight loss and increase in physical activity.

Do I have to get back to my ‘healthy’ BMI range for me to see improvements in my health?

No, the good news is that research shows that achieving a loss of just five to ten percent of your body weight, whatever weight you are at now, has significant effects for fertility and symptom management in women with PCOS. What might this look like? For most women, it is a loss of only 4 to 5 kg. Further health benefits come from greater losses, and are enhanced by increasing physical activity.

How active do I have to be to get health benefits?

A good goal is at least half an hour of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably, all days. You do not have to do it all at once. Your exercise can be spread over the day, in ten minute blocks. Try three ten minute walks, or two fifteen-minute periods of activity.

What does moderate-intensity activity mean? Moderate-intensity means you are exercising at a comfortable pace. A good guideline is the “talk test” – you should be able to maintain a conversation easily without being short of breath.

What happens if I am already in my healthy BMI range?

Maintaining your weight in the healthy range can help prevent symptoms and longer term health risks for women with PCOS. Being a healthy weight is a balancing act: having a good knowledge of nutrition is important, but we also need to understand the reasons for why we eat, how we eat, what we eat, who we eat with and where we choose to eat. Believe it or not, there is a lot more to reaching and maintaining a comfortable weight than counting up kilojoules!

Dietitians are trained to take a key role in assisting women with PCOS to manage their symptoms. Here at Lifestyle Maternity, specialist women’s health dietitians are able to tailor a program to support you to adapt guideline recommendations to your lifestyle and preferences. We look forward to supporting you on your journey to better health and quality of life. For further information book an appointment with a Lifestyle Maternity Dietitian or enrol in an online, self-paced course.


Interested in the new PCOS app that was produced to accompany these guidelines? Check it out here


 Figure 1. The Lifestyle and PCOS infographic produced to accompany the new PCOS guidelines.



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What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM) or gestational diabetes (GD) is a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. It is diagnosed following a 2-hour Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) at around 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy.  

Some women whose health, pregnancy or family history put them at a higher risk will also have this test early in their pregnancy.  

The OGTT is a blood test ordered by your GP, obstetrician, or antenatal clinic. This is considered a ‘universal test’, which means all pregnant women should have this test. 

What happens if my blood glucose levels stay too high in pregnancy?

If high blood glucose levels (BGLs) are not treated you and your baby may experience a number of problems.  Women with sub-optimal BGLs are at much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes mellitus after pregnancy. This risk increases when women are not supported to follow a healthy lifestyle during and after pregnancy. This risk is exacerbated by postpartum weight retention in the longer term.

A woman with GDM can have a baby that has an unhealthy growth pattern before it is born.  Glucose crosses the placenta into your baby’s bloodstream. If your BGLs are high, your baby will receive high amounts of glucose.  A baby’s insulin still works well meaning, even in utero, it is able to store this extra glucose and will grow faster and fatter.

This means the growing baby can be at risk of:

  • being a very large baby
  • being born early
  • being distressed during birth, and/or
  • having low blood glucose levels at birth.

Babies born to mums who have had sub-optimal BGLs are also more likely to be overweight or obese into their adult lives, and have diabetes themselves.

What do I do if I have a high BGL reading?

If you have a high BGL it is important to work out why so you can minimise the chance of it happening again. Ask yourself the following questions to help work out why your level might be high.

Did you eat a larger meal than usual (e.g. eating out)?

Check your serve sizes against the portions list and sample meal plan provided by your dietitian.

Did you eat too much carbohydrate?

Take care with large serves of bread, pasta, noodles and rice – these can increase your BGLs.

Try to choose slow release (low GI) carbohydrate e.g. grain bread in place of white, high fibre cereal rather than low fibre and fresh fruit rather than juice. Make sure you choose ‘slow’ rather than ‘no’ carbs.

Did you wait long enough after eating before your BGL test?

Always wait for a full hour after starting to eat a meal before testing and delay snacks until after you test.

Were your hands clean?

Always wash your hands prior to testing, dirty hands can affect your BGL reading.

Have you been taking your diabetes medication as prescribed?

If you have been prescribed insulin or other medication to manage your gestational diabetes missing this medication will cause a high BGL reading.

Were you active after your meal?

Sitting down immediately after your meal can cause a higher BGL reading than if you do some activity such as a short walk or some housework.  Exercise can help to lower your BGL after a meal.

Do you need more help?

Our specialist maternal health-GDM dietitians are able to tailor a program to support you to adapt guideline recommendations to your lifestyle and preferences. If you need support, please make an appointment to help you achieve your goals. 




IMAGE CREDIT: Unsplash Rima Kruciene

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