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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Be picky to stay slim

A detailed study says you should choose what to eat carefully and not just eat everything in moderation.
The Straits Times - July 21, 2011
By: Jane Brody
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Be picky to stay slim ST FILE PHOTO

The latest findings on what foods people should eat to keep from gaining weight as they age should be of great interest to many.

The new research, by five nutrition and public health experts at Harvard University, is the most detailed long-term analysis of the factors that influence weight gain.

It followed 120,877 well-educated men and women who were healthy and not obese at the start of the study. In addition to diet, it has important things to say about exercise, sleep, television watching, smoking and alcohol intake.

The study participants - nurses, doctors, dentists and veterinarians in the Nurses' Health Study, Nurses' Health Study II and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study - were followed for 12 to 20 years.

Every two years, they completed detailed questionnaires about their eating and other habits and current weight.

The results were published last month in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The analysis examined how an array of factors influenced weight gain or loss during each four-year period of the study. Each participant gained an average of 1.5kg every four years for a total weight gain of 7.6kg in 20 years.

Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said in an interview: 'This study shows that conventional wisdom - to eat every thing in moderation, eat fewer calories and avoid fatty foods - isn't the best approach.

'What you eat makes quite a difference. Just counting calories won't matter much unless you look at the kinds of calories you're eating.'

Also untrue, he said, is the food industry's claim that there is no such thing as a bad food.

'There are good foods and bad foods, and the advice should be to eat more of the good foods and less of the bad ones,' he said.

'The notion that it's okay to eat every thing in moderation is just an excuse to eat whatever you want.' 

Food for greatest weight gain

French fries led the list. Increased consumption of it was linked to an average weight gain of 1.5kg in each four-year period.

Other important contributors to weight gain were potato chips (0.8kg); sugar-sweetened drinks (0.45kg); red meats and processed meats (0.43kg and 0.42kg respectively); other forms of potatoes (0.25kg); sweets and desserts (0.18kg); refined grains (0.17kg); other fried foods (0.15kg); 100 per cent fruit juices (0.14kg) and butter (0.13 kg).

The foods that resulted in weight loss or no gain when consumed in greater amounts during the study: Fruits, vegetables and wholegrains.

Compared to those who gained the most weight, participants in the Nurses' Health Study who lost weight consumed 3.1 more servings of vegetables each day.

But contrary to what many people believe, an increased intake of dairy products, whether low-fat (milk) or full-fat (milk and cheese), had a neutral effect on weight. 

Food for greatest weight loss

Despite conventional advice to eat less fat, weight loss was greatest among people who ate more yogurt and nuts, including peanut butter, over each four-year period.

Nuts are high in vegetable fat and previous studies have shown that eating peanut butter can help people lose weight and keep it off, probably because it slows the return of hunger.

That yogurt, among all foods, was most strongly linked to weight loss was the study's most surprising dietary finding, researchers said. Participants who ate more yogurt lost an average of 0.37kg every four years.

Yogurt contains healthy bacteria that, in animal studies, increase production of intestinal hormones that enhance satiety and decrease hunger. The bacteria may also raise the body's metabolic rate, making weight control easier.

The New York Times



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