Perhaps even more impactful than the foods associated with the most weight gain and weight loss in this study are the general findings below. They’re equal parts disturbing and eye opening and overall, support fears that aging is simply a slow train wreck in which you’re damned to gain weight unless preventative measures are taken:
Average weight gain for participants was 3.35 lbs every 4 years
Average participant gained 16.8 lbs over 20 years (!!!!)
This study followed 120,877 chronic-disease free, non-obese participants for 20 years. Participants were sent detailed questionnaires on their diet and lifestyle every 4 years for 20 years. The foods associated with the most weight gain per 4 year period were:
1. Potato chips
3. Sugar-sweetened drinks
4. Unprocessed red meats
5. Processed meats
Since sugar is widely held to be Satan’s fattening agent of choice, I was surprised not to see common sweets (apart from sweetened beverages) like ice cream or cookies at the top of this list.
Ok, chips, sure no real surprises there (hopefully this new knowledge will prevent me from acting when the next inexplicably strong craving for Jalapeno chips strikes).
Red meats? Not super surprising either, as it’s high calorie and the red meat most often consumed in this country is full of antibiotics, steroids and from harvested from sick animals fed grain or corn (rather than their natural food source, grass) which negatively alters the nutritional profile of the meat quite a bit.
Processed meats, which have been found to increase risk of cancer (especially colorectal sorts, eek!) are not at all surprising to see on the list. A host of unsavory elements are at play with these franken-meats like added sugar, nitrates & other carcinogens, not to mention truly shocking levels of sodium.
But potatoes? Fuck. WHY. They’re one of my favorite ‘splurge’ foods. Thankfully, the authors do clarify that this doesn’t include plain baked potatoes, a relatively low calorie food. When they say potatoes, they really mean french fries and other high calorie (delicious) preparations like mashed potatoes, tater tots etc.
At any rate, there were also foods found to be associated with the most weight loss. Paleo & Keto people may be surprised to see the list, in order:
1. Yogurt (-0.82 lb)
2. Nuts (-0.57 lb)
3. Whole grains (-0.37)
4. Vegetables (but apparently not potatoes) (-0.22 lb)
WTF vegetables were last? I would have guessed they would have been #1. Yogurt topping the list as the food most associated with weight loss makes a compelling argument for the primal vs. paleo approach. Especially since there have been studies that show yogurt eaters tend to lose more belly fat than non-yogurt eaters.
The participants of this study were not obese. Why would it matter if the participants are obese or not you ask? Excellent question. The thing about most studies related to weight loss is that they’re typically performed on people who are overweight or obese, which may make the data less relevant to people at a healthy weight. One of the reasons is that excess weight- the fat itself- alters hormone levels, which can affect metabolic rate as well as other issues which could make someone process a food differently than a non-obese person.
Another compelling fact about the way this study was designed is that it did not involve placing people on some highly restrictive or otherwise bizarre diet. People ate what they normally eat.
Lastly, the time span of the study also makes it unique. The study followed 120,877 chronic-disease free, non-obese participants. Participants were sent detailed questionnaires on their diet and lifestyle every 4 years for 20 years.