A recent study lends support to the intuitive belief that eating processed meat and red meat, french fries, potato chips, and sugar-sweetened drinks leads to excess weight gain whereas consumption of unprocessed plant-based foods such as whole grains, vegetables, and nuts helps to avoid weight gain. No one would challenge the conclusion that excess weight and obesity can lead to diseases and medical problems such as heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cancer. Most people would not argue with the thought that most people who are overweight or obese would rather loose the excess weight than maintain or gain additional weight.
What this recent study adds to the discussion is the finding that the types of foods consumed are important to age-related weight gain, not just the amount of calories consumed.
Simply put, weight gain occurs when the amount of energy you consume is greater than the amount of energy you expend (that is, if you take in more calories from your food than you burn in your daily activities, then you gain weight). The research sought to investigate what changes in lifestyles lead to gradual weight gain over time. The research involved over 120,000 health care professionals who were followed over 12 to 20 years by having them complete a detailed survey every two years regarding their level of physical activity, their television viewing habits, their consumption of alcohol, the amount of sleep they got, and their diets. Then, their weight was taken every 4 years.
The research found that the study participants who increased their physical activity gained less weight than those who did not (no surprise there), people who slept more than 8 hours per day or less than 6 hours per day gained more weight (this was an interesting finding), and that there was an average weight gain of one-third pound for every hour of television viewing per day (this quantitative finding can be put to good use — put down the remote, get up, and get moving!).
With regard to food consumption, the research found that potato chips, sugar-sweetened drinks, processed meats and unprocessed red meat were each responsible for weight gain of one pound or more. Eating more french fries was responsible for an average weight gain of 3 pounds or more. Consuming more refined grains, sweets, and deserts resulted in about one-half pound of weight gain.
Want to loose weight? Eat more vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and yogurt (hey, your mom was right!). For example, yogurt helped in weight loss by an average of .82 pounds over the four year period.
The researchers also suggested that highly processed foods may not satisfy hunger as well as less processed and higher fiber foods, leading to a higher amount of total calories consumed.
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