Study: Do You Want Fries With That? (Please Say No) | A Black Girl's Guide To Weight Loss

Study: Do You Want Fries With That? (Please Say No)

fries

Excerpted for discussion, most important sections (to me) highlighted by me:

Everyone knows that people who chow down on french fries, chug soda and go heavy on red meat tend to pile on more pounds than those who stick to salads, fruits and grains.

But is a serving of boiled potatoes really much worse than a helping of nuts? Is some white bread as bad as a candy bar? Could yogurt be a key to staying slim?


The answer to all those questions is yes, according to the provocative revelations produced by a big Harvard project that for the first time details how much weight individual foods make people put on or keep off.

The federally funded analysis of data collected over 20 years from more than 120,000 U.S. men and women in their 30s, 40s and 50s found striking differences in how various foods and drinks — as well as exercise, sleep patterns and other lifestyle choices — affect whether people gradually get fatter.

The findings add to the growing body of evidence that getting heavier is not just a matter of “calories in, calories out,” and that the mantra: “Eat less and exercise more” is far too simplistic. Although calories remain crucial, some foods clearly cause people to put on more weight than others, perhaps because of their chemical makeup and how our bodies process them. This understanding may help explain the dizzying, often seemingly contradictory nutritional advice from one dietary study to the next.

“The conventional wisdom is simply, ‘Eat everything in moderation and just reduce total calories’ without paying attention to what those calories are made of,” said Dariush Mozaffarian of the Harvard School of Public Health, who led the study published in Thursday’s edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. “All foods are not equal, and just eating in moderation is not enough.”

[...]

Among all the foods studied, potatoes stood out. Every additional serving of potatoes people added to their regular diet each day made them gain about a pound over four years. It was no surprise that french fries and potato chips are especially fattening. But the study found that even mashed, baked or boiled potatoes were unexpectedly plumping, perhaps because of their effect on the hormone insulin.

Similarly, while it was no shock that every added serving of fruits and vegetables prevented between a quarter- and a half-pound gain, other foods were strikingly good at helping people stay slim. Every extra serving of nuts, for example, prevented more than a half-pound of weight gain. And perhaps the biggest surprise was yogurt, every serving of which kept off nearly a pound over four years.

[...]

The findings could have significant political, economic and policy implications, supporting, for example, growing pressure to levy taxes and take other steps to discourage certain menu options, such as sugary soda for kids.

“I think it’s an important study,” said Kelly D. Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, who co-wrote an accompanying article. “It’s based on a large number of people followed over time, and it shows there are particular types of food that are contributing more than others to the obesity problem — and that some are protective against weight gain.”

For the study, Mozaffarian and his colleagues analyzed data collected from a total of 120,877 healthy American men and women. The volunteers detailed their eating, exercise and other habits for the Nurses Health Study, the Nurses Health Study II and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study— large, highly respected Harvard studies examining a host of health issues. The researchers followed the participants for four-year intervals to see how changes in what they ate, drank and did affected their weight.

Within each period, the subjects gained an average of 3.35 pounds. Every additional daily serving of potatoes pushed up the scale by more than a pound every four years. As expected, the type of potato, however, was important. Every order of french fries put on 3.35 pounds; a snack of potato chips added 1.69. But even each helping of boiled, baked or mashed potatoes contributed a little more than a half-pound.

Although the study did not evaluate why potatoes would be particularly fattening, other research shows that starches and refined carbohydrates such as potatoes cause blood sugar and insulin to surge, which makes people feel less satisfied and eat more as a result, Mozaffarian said.

Many people might also be surprised that every extra serving of refined grains, such as white bread, added 0.39 pounds — almost as much as indulging in some sweets.or desserts.

Researchers will surely scramble to try to explain why yogurt appears so helpful. It may be because of subtle shifts of microbes in the digestive tract, or perhaps because people who eat more yogurt also tend to do other healthy things, the researchers said.

Lifestyle factors were clearly important. Those who exercised more gained nearly two pounds less than those who increased their physical activity the least. People who slept less than six hours a night — or more than eight hours — were more likely to gain weight, possibly by unbalancing hunger hormones such as ghrelin. Every extra hour per day of television watching added about a third of a pound, perhaps by encouraging snacking.

But some researchers expressed caution.The precise “serving size” varied among foods, and relied on participants’ memory and honesty, for example.

“To attempt to isolate the effect of specific foods on weight changes is fraught with problems,” said Lawrence J. Cheskin, who heads the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center. “One is that people may conclude that if they simply stop eating X, they will reduce the chance of weight gain. This is unlikely, and a false conclusion.”Similarly, it is likely more a result of people who eat fruit being more health-conscious than fruit per se causing less weight gain.”

Nevertheless, the consistency across all three data sets made the researchers confident that the findings are generally accurate for sketching an outline of which food choices encourage overeating and which are associated with maintaining a healthier weight.

With no magic bullet weight-loss pills in sight, and study after study showing that dieting only helps a little, other researchers said the findings offer valuable clues to the only other option for fighting the obesity epidemic: preventing weight gain.

“What we now need are effective strategies and possibly public health policies to help people adopt lifestyle behaviors that will prevent them from becoming obese,” said Samuel Klein of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of fat when it comes to obesity.” [source]

While I have my own personal complaints about this study, there are two things that I hope come from it.

First, I hope that people realize that maybe it’s time to question the “everything in moderation” philosophy that we’ve been clinging to as an excuse to “eat whatever we want” and “still” lose weight… because, well, it doesn’t look like it’s working out too well.

Secondly, I’m totally looking forward to this opening up a discussion about what this means for people who live in areas where the only available offerings are, in fact, french fries. If it is not, in fact, a mere matter of “calories in, calories out” (as I’ve said again, and again, and again, and again…) and new studies will prove this, then will this be what can compel First Lady Obama to add a “incentivize adding grocery stores in inner city food deserts” arm to her Let’s Move campaign?

Oh, and one last thing: “All foods are not equal, and just eating in moderation is not enough.”

Finally.

Thoughts?

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes health, fitness, nutrition, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She now lives in New York with her family, and is working on her 4th, 5th and 6th certificates.

19 Comments

  1. Terra

    June 27, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    What does
    “incentivize adding grocery stores in inner city food deserts” arm.. Mean?

    • Erika Nicole Kendall

      June 27, 2011 at 11:53 AM

      I’m basically calling for our government to give some kind of incentive to investors to build grocery stores in areas that don’t have them.

    • Anthony J

      May 27, 2013 at 11:02 AM

      Hi Terra,
      The suggestion is to add an incentive/bonus to inner city stores for selling more healthy foods and less of unhealthy foods. Most of the stores in inner cities sell horrible foods because they are cheap to purchase and are then sold at a profit while foods that are healthy are scarce and more expensive. (:

  2. Biolobri

    June 27, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    I have a theory: potatoes cause weight gain because people tend to load them with butter, sour cream, milk/cream, etc. Also, as a clinical research assistant who surveys study participants on their dietary calcium intake, I can tell you people tend to just guess at these types of numbers. I’d love to read the original study.

    Oh, and somewhat related side note: cooking alters the chemical structure of food. Really. Heat breaks bonds, some stronger than others, so our bodies have to do less work to digest cooked food than raw food. Of course the temperature/pressure/cook time all factor in, but the point is this: Just talking about the WHAT we eat does not tell the whole story.

    • Erika Nicole Kendall

      June 27, 2011 at 1:52 PM

      YES! HUGE POINT! It’s not just WHAT you eat, but it’s also HOW it is prepared. Green beans are great. Deep frying them with batter in vegetable oil? Not so much.

  3. Kim

    June 27, 2011 at 1:44 PM

    An interesting study. I agree with you that eating in moderation is not enough; the “what” we eat matters because of how it affects our bodies. If we’re eating things that contribute to overly full feelings or sluggishness and not providing us with energy to move and exercise, that lack of movement is going to add to the propensity for weight gain as well. And, like those in the study, I am one for whom potatoes definitely cause weight gain. It is important to pay attention to the experts, but to know our own bodies as well. Some things that work for one may not work for another.

    • Erika Nicole Kendall

      June 27, 2011 at 1:53 PM

      Agreed. Because while lots of people work well with skimping on the carbs, those of us who are distance runners or who exercise for longer than an hour a day would STRUGGLE with energy if we skipped them. It’d just be a miserable life.

  4. icwatudid

    June 27, 2011 at 4:14 PM

    Here’s how “eating what you want” works: change what you want. Want veggies. Want fruits. Want whole grains. Once you stop seeing your diet as “Ooh, I hate veggies but I eat them JUST to lose weight,” things will get better.

    • J Wilson

      November 10, 2012 at 5:19 PM

      Love this!

  5. Shante

    June 27, 2011 at 6:43 PM

    Interesting post. I eat fries all the time. Baked sweet potato fries and I do not think they are causing me weight gain. What about the benefits of red, purple and orange potatoes?

  6. alicia

    June 27, 2011 at 8:51 PM

    i’m a little confused by this. supposedly it’s not just “calories in, calories out” but “starches and refined carbohydrates such as potatoes cause blood sugar and insulin to surge, which makes people feel less satisfied and eat more as a result”?

    “eat more as a result” – so, in the end, is it not still simply “calories in, calories out”, regardless of the reason behind the number of calories consumed?

    • Erika Nicole Kendall

      June 27, 2011 at 9:27 PM

      Not quite.

      It’s not merely an issue of “calories in, calories out” because WHERE the calories come from matters. If calories that come from certain sources stuff you and nourish you, and calories from other sources compel one to overeat a source that turns to sugar in the body (which then turns into fat within the body), then… then your ability to sustain, build muscle, maintain energy and your mood are altered. If different calorie sources do different things within the body, then weight loss and one’s ability to tone accordingly – in theory – would rely heavily on choosing your sources wisely.

      Remember, it’s not that the caloric value doesn’t matter, it’s that it’s not JUST “calories in, calories out.” There are lots of outside mitigating factors that determine what those numbers are, and what our bodies do with them. To simplify it down to 4 words ignores a lot of that, IMO.

  7. Daphne

    June 28, 2011 at 2:59 PM

    My affection for potatoes might be clouding my judgment here, but so be it. I have some issues with the original source article:

    1) An extra, daily serving of non-fried potatoes contributing to a little more than a half-pound of weight gain over 4 years? A little over a half-pound (> 0.5 lbs)? Really? I’m not understanding the significance. Even french fries contributed a whopping 3.35 pounds over 4 years. I’m no advocate for french fries as healthy, but…..come on, now.

    2) This is one study. And I’m no scientist, but after reading some of Glenn Gaesser’s works on the demonization of fat (in our food and our bodies) in our culture, I’m usually on alert for the “correlation = causation” implications of some studies. Like this one.

    3) The participants are volunteers – so basically, the study was based on a set of self-reported eating habits? From the article:

    For the study, Mozaffarian and his colleagues analyzed data collected from a total of 120,877 healthy American men and women. The volunteers (emphasis mine) detailed their eating, exercise and other habits for the Nurses Health Study, the Nurses Health Study II and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.

    And if I recall correctly, there have been some pointed criticisms of some of the conclusions drawn from the aforementioned studies in the past. I don’t remember the specifics, but reading “Nurses Health Study” as part of the collected data gave me pause.

    I have no issues with taking the “moderation in everything” precept with a grain of salt. No issues with cutting back or eliminating certain foods. I just don’t think THIS study is an effective buttress of that perspective.

    In a conversation about areas with little fresh produce, I’m also not convinced this study is germane. Because according to what is implied by the original source, potatoes, no matter HOW prepared, is cause for concern. Since according to the article, potatoes, as a food source, implicitly “are contributing more than others to the obesity problem.”

    Extrapolating a little over a half-pound to ~ 3.5 pounds of weight gain over 4 years to mean that certain foods – in this instance, potatoes – contribute more to the obesity problem is a rather large leap in logic to make. Contributing to overall weight gain? Maybe. Contributing to obesity, which is an entirely different issue? I disagree.

    • Erika Nicole Kendall

      June 28, 2011 at 3:08 PM

      In a conversation about areas with little fresh produce, I’m also not convinced this study is germane. Because according to what is implied by the original source, potatoes, no matter HOW prepared, is cause for concern. Since according to the article, potatoes, as a food source, implicitly “are contributing more than others to the obesity problem.”

      In regards to how I brought it up, it’s germane – at least, in my eyes – because if “potatoes, no matter HOW prepared” are the only thing available in a food desert, they’re DOUBLY screwed – not only are potatoes one of the FEW options available, but they’re coming in as FRIED. Two-hand hitter.

    • icwatudid

      June 28, 2011 at 4:05 PM

      Maybe the volunteers were sloths. I’m trying hard to lose weight, but I’ve never had a problem maintaining my weight (of course, this is after I became an adult and my weight became relevant to me). Then again, I don’t do potatoes on a regular basis. I just assume that a person who works on their feet all day or lives in a city like New York can easily offset a 1/2 lb a year, just by having a lifestyle that requires you do slightly more that nothing all day.

      Weren’t the Irish completely dependent on potatoes due to its cheapness and nutritional value?

      • Erika Nicole Kendall

        March 20, 2012 at 12:11 PM

        “Maybe the volunteers were sloths.” ROFL Okay.

        “Weren’t the Irish completely dependent on potatoes due to its cheapness and nutritional value?”

        Sure. But remember, you can’t take the history of the food out of the context of its existence. What was the full scope of their eating habits like? What were their activity levels like? It’s disingenuous to not mention those things as well.

  8. Davis Mauldin

    August 30, 2013 at 8:35 PM

    First, let me applaud your success to date… it’s a big “GO GIRL!” Secondly, may I refer you to Dr William Davis’ book Wheat Belly. In it he says one slice of white bread spikes your blood sugar levels as much as 6 teaspoons of sugar. He maintains that obesity and many illnesses could be overcome by COMPLETELY eliminating wheat from our diet. There are several good lectures by Davis on youtube (search dr william davis wheat belly). I hope this helps even though eliminating wheat from most people’s diet is TOUGH… wheat is contained in EVERYTHING!

  9. Dimples

    October 29, 2013 at 7:23 AM

    I see where it says that yogurt helps with weigh-loss. Does it matter what kind of yogurt…can be yogurt with fruit in it or does it have to be plain yogurt(thinking about the sugar)?

    • Erika Nicole Kendall

      November 1, 2013 at 8:17 AM

      The amount of sugar in the yogurt is usually the cause for concern.

      Greek yogurt is best, because it has the highest amount of protein in it. Anything beyond that, is all about you and what you can stand.

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