There's a lot to like about the weight-loss article published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine. For beginners, the 20-year study followed more than 120,000 men and women, and the Harvard research team is top notch. But the part that's most interesting is that this group was willing to identify foods that represent "good guys" and "bad guys" in the national struggle with obesity.
In the past, nutritionists and other health professionals have preferred a more vague, less hard-hitting approach: eat moderately, exercise moderately, balance calories in and calories out, yada yada. This obviously hasn't worked, so new thinkers are trying new approaches. A couple of weeks ago, the Food Plate replaced the Food Pyramid–a simple but important step forward. We eat off plates, after all, and portion-control is an important part of weight control.
The Harvard team understands that we eat foods first and foremost, not calories. And according to their findings, the foods we eat make a difference in our weight gain (or loss). With no further folderol, here are the good guys and bad guys. (Note: These numbers represent average weight gain associated with eating quite a lot of these foods vs. not-so-much of them. A negative number (-) is good; it represents weight loss; a positive number (+) represents weight gain. On average, subjects gained a little less than 4 pounds over the four years shown below.)
Low fat dairy
Whole fat dairy
100% fruit juice
Unprocessed red meats
The yogurt finding surprised the investigators a bit. Most people associate yogurt with calcium (for the bones) and active cultures that might improve stomach health. But why should yogurt hold the top rung as a weight-loss food? The researchers cite "intriguing evidence suggesting that changes in colonic bacteria might influence weight gain."
What about exercise? Yes, the study measured that too, and the high-exercise subjects lost about 1.7 lbs vs. the very-light exercisers. On the other hand, watching a lot of TV led to a weight gain of .32 lbs in four years, and drinking more alcohol to a +.39 lbs.
Remember that all these numbers are averages. Your own situation might be different. Or, as the researchers put it, "Individual variations exist."
The biggest conclusion of all parallels what other investigators have pointed out: Americans are getting fatter at the rate of just 50 to 100 calories per day. That's an almost miniscule number, but it begins to add up after 365 days, and 730 days, and 3,650 days (roughly a decade). Yet the tide could be turned, the Harvard group thinks, if "particular foods and beverages are targeted for decreased (or increased) consumption."
So look at the table above, and see if there aren't one or two good-guy or bad-guy foods that you can do something about in your own diet.