It’s not just how much we eat, it’s WHAT we eat that affects our weight.  Those who eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains gain less weight, and maintain weight loss better than those who eat a lot of carbohydrates, potatoes, starches, and meats, and drink a lot of sweetened sodas.  It’s not enough to eat in moderation; it’s important to choose the right foods.  Another study just came out that proves it.

Harvard University Medical School studied “120,877 American women and men who were free of chronic diseases and not obese at baseline, with follow-up periods from 1986 to 2006, 1991 to 2003, and 1986 to 2006,” as reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.

We knew that potatoes, any way we cook them: French-fried, mashed, baked or broiled, or potato chips, make us gain weight.  This study establishes that daily consumption of potatoes can put on the pounds.   It also found weight gain with consumers of sugary beverages and red meats. Curiously, though, nuts, yogurt, whole grains, vegetables and fruits are connected with weight loss.

From the NEJM: “Within each 4-year period, participants gained an average of 3.35 lb (5th to 95th percentile, ?4.1 to 12.4). On the basis of increased daily servings of individual dietary components, 4-year weight change was most strongly associated with the intake of potato chips (1.69 lb), potatoes (1.28 lb), sugar-sweetened beverages (1.00 lb), unprocessed red meats (0.95 lb), and processed meats (0.93 lb) and was inversely associated with the intake of vegetables (?0.22 lb), whole grains (?0.37 lb), fruits (?0.49 lb), nuts (?0.57 lb), and yogurt (?0.82 lb) (P?0.005 for each comparison).”

It’s also proven that exercise, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption and lethargic TV watching (computers too?) are important in the weight loss/weight maintenance equation.

From the NEJM: “Aggregate dietary changes were associated with substantial differences in weight change (3.93 lb across quintiles of dietary change). Other lifestyle factors were also independently associated with weight change (P<0.001), including physical activity (?1.76 lb across quintiles); alcohol use (0.41 lb per drink per day), smoking (new quitters, 5.17 lb; former smokers, 0.14 lb), sleep (more weight gain with <6 or >8 hours of sleep), and television watching (0.31 lb per hour per day).”

So – why do potatoes, sugar, processed grains like white bread make us gain?  It’s likely about insulin, and insulin resistance.  We’ve been talking about that for the last couple of years in this column, and it’s important to know it, and not eat much of those things.  Less carbs and starches = less weight.

So – why do nuts and yogurt, and vegetables, fruits and whole grains help?  Also due to less impact on insulin, lower fats, non-saturated fats, and fiber.  We’ve talked about that a lot, too.

So – now we really know what we knew, but have gotten confirmed in a study of over a hundred-thousand people.  So just eat less potatoes and red/processed meats, and more whole grains, vegetables and fruits, and don’t forget to walk, dance and play every day!

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