Losing Weight: It’s What You Eat That Matters, Not How Much

We are used to the assumption that in order to lose weight one has to count calories and run away in fear when he or she sees a huge helping. However, it appears that this approach does not stand up to scrutiny: researchers claim it is the quality of food, not quantity that matters.

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We are used to the assumption that in order to lose weight one has to count calories and run away in fear when he or she sees a huge helping. However, it appears that this approach does not stand up to scrutiny: researchers claim it is the quality of food, not quantity that matters.

Should I count calories to lose weight?

Well, the short answer is no. Or, alternatively, it depends. Of course, the advice to cut down on calorie intake was not given for nothing: to get rid of extra pounds, a person should spend more calories, either by exercising or by reducing the amount of food consumed, than there are in the food eaten. However, many of us know how difficult it can be to write down everything you consumed and count how many calories there were in that tiny cookie you indulged in only to feel guilty afterwards. That is why a different, newly studied approach to losing weight can be a nice option, since it does not imply calorie intake restriction: instead, the quality of food used becomes the diet cornerstone. Surprisingly, the research findings prove the suggested approach is reasonable and effective regardless of insulin resistance or certain genetic factors.

Innovative diet research: no calorie counting

A team of investigators from Stanford carried out a research aimed at finding out whether following a healthy diet while focusing on diet quality restrictions instead of using calorie intake limits can help the obese and the overweight lose weight.

The trial involved over 600 volunteers who were divided into 2 groups: one of them was told to cut down on carbs, and the other group was asked to limit fat intake. Both groups attended lectures during which they learned what foods they should prefer and cook in the course of the trial. The volunteers were told to follow a healthy diet devoid (or almost devoid) of processed foods that contain sugar and refined starches, including white bread, pastry, unhealthy snacks, etc. Instead, they were supposed to focus on the quality of food, not the quantity, and eat lean meat, a lot of vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. Juices had to be substituted with fresh fruits, and whole grains were preferred over white bread.

However, there were different dieting advice given to the groups: those from the “low-carb” group agreed to follow the diet including many nutritious foods, such as olive oil, vegetables, salmon, nuts, seeds, and quality animal foods. The “low-fat” diet peculiarity was eating plenty of fresh fruit, legumes, lean meat, barley, brown rice, etc. The two key rules were to avoid foods that are low-fat only technically, such as white bread, and try to make the foods consumed as high-quality as possible. As to physical activity levels, the guidelines were recommended to be met, but there was no special emphasis on it.

What did the study find?

The findings turned out to be quite surprising. First, the project participants lost 13 pounds (in the low-carb group) and 11.7 pounds (in the low-fat group) on average. The results varied to a great extent, with some people gaining weight and others losing whopping 50-60 pounds after one year of following the diet assigned.

Besides, the investigators found that the participants’ genetic variants that could possibly affect carb and fat metabolism did not seem to influence the dieting outcome. Also, contrary to the researchers’ expectations, those with higher insulin levels after carbohydrate consumption did not appear to benefit more from the low-carb diet.

The message is that people should stop counting calories and focus on food quality: avoid processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy snacks, and choose nutrient-rich unprocessed foods instead. According to the team from Stanford, this approach can help lose weight without blaming yourself for eating one extra cucumber.

It must also be noted that calorie intake was reduced, but it was done in a natural way: eating whole grains and vegetables helped the participants feel full longer, so they did not need to consume unnecessary calories.

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