What Matters More for Weight Loss, Food Quality or Quantity?

New research sheds light on why the quality of our food may be more important for maintaining a healthy weight

Flickr/forever5yearsold, Licensed under Creative Commons

For a long time (and sometimes still) many weight loss programs focused heavily on the caloric value of foods. Some professionals suggest that weight loss clients pay close attention to “calories in versus calories out.”

Some weight loss candidates may even be advised to calculate the exact amount of calories that can be consumed daily in order to lose a certain number of pounds per week.

However, recently more and more scientists, nutritionists and health professionals are investigating whether those who are trying to lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight, should be focusing so heavily on calories. Could it be that the quality of our food matters more than the quantity?

For example, a recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the types of carbohydrate- and protein-rich foods that we eat may have an effect on long-term weight gain.

Researchers examined follow-up data from three long-term studies over the course of 16 years, which included 120,000 men and women. They found that study participants with high-glycemic diets (or diets containing many refined grains, sugars and starches) gained more weight.

The results also found that eating more red meat and “processed” meat products was strongly associated with weight gain and that eating foods like yogurt, seafood, skinless chicken and nuts were most strongly associated with weight loss.

The study also examined whether changes in the “glycemic load (GL)” of a diet had any effect on the relationship between protein-rich foods and long-term weight gain.

For example, the researchers found consuming red meats as a protein source while decreasing the overall GL of the diet by incorporating more vegetables instead of starchy carbs helped to lessen the weight gain effects associated with eating red meat.

Similarly, decreasing the overall GL of a diet high in foods like yogurt, seafood, skinless chicken and nuts helped to enhance the weight loss effects associated with those foods.

The study’s senior author, Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H., dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University, said the study adds to a growing body of research that shows why counting calories may not be the most effective strategy for weight loss and long-term weight management. “Some foods help prevent weight gain, others make it worse. Most interestingly, the combination of foods seems to make a big difference,” he said.

Of course, while this study and others have shown that the quality of the foods we eat is likely more significant than the quantity when it comes to losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight, it doesn’t mean that we can completely disregard portion sizes and eat as much of the “healthy” stuff as we want.

Ultimately, energy balance (how many calories you consume versus how many you expend) will have an effect on your weight to a certain extent, so keeping track of your intake, especially for those who want to lose weight, won’t be entirely pointless. It’s just important to remember that calories are not an exact science, and that because everyone’s bodies are different it’s important not only to pay attention to the types of foods you eat, but also to learn about and tune in to your own personal dietary needs.

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