Posted on Wed, 29 Jun 11
Focusing on the single biggest causes of weight gain may improve your success. To find out what are the most important dietary and lifestyle factors a team from Harvard University studied over 120,000 men and women for 12 to 20 years and the findings have just been published.
The most fattening foods were potatoes. Potato chips, fries, or any potato based foods accounted for more weight gain than any other dietary factor including soft drink, sweets and desserts. Over a 4 year interval potato chips accounted for 1.69 lb, which may not seem like a great deal but over years would have a significant impact on your waist line.
The top 5 most fattening foods (ranked in order) were:
unprocessed red meats
Vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fruits and yoghurt all protected against weight gain when people reported eating more of these foods. “Higher fibre content and slower digestion of these foods would augment satiety, and their increased consumption would also displace other, more highly processed foods in the diet, providing plausible biologic mechanisms whereby persons who eat more fruits, nuts, vegetables, and whole grains would gain less weight over time” commented the study investigators.
Other lifestyle behaviours
Not surprisingly regular physical activity protected against weight gain but other lifestyle factors including alcohol use, smoking (new quitters and former smokers), sleep (more weight gain with <6 or >8 hours of sleep), and television watching all increased weight gain.
Small change. Big benefit
Most of the dietary and lifestyle factors had a modest affect on weight gain but this should not down play their importance. Weight gain is a slow process that occurs over many years.
“A habitual energy imbalance of about 50 to 100 kcal per day may be sufficient to cause the gradual weight gain seen in most persons” commented the Harvard team. “This means that unintended weight gain occurs easily but also that modest, sustained changes in lifestyle could mitigate or reverse such an energy imbalance.”
Attention to a few small dietary and lifestyle changes may translate to big changes in the long term. Why not start by replacing potatoes (which cause weight gain) with vegetables (which protect against it)?
Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Hu FB. Changes in diet and lifestyle and long-term weight gain in women and men. N Engl J Med. 2011 Jun 23;364(25):2392-404.