To Lose Weight, Forget Quantity and Calories; Focus on Quality
Moneylife Digital Team 27 February 2018
The conventional solution for weight gain is to cut calories. It’s the ‘what you don’t put in, you don’t put on’ theory which has been questioned by many thoughtful researchers; but the mainstream doctors and dieticians have continued to hold on to it. Now, a brand new study, quite a large and expensive one, published in the Journal of American Medical Association, may finally demolish the calorie in, calorie out theory.
The study, led by Christopher D Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, found out that the real culprit behind obesity is not the amount of calories but the type of food. Those who cut back added sugar, refined grains and processed foods would lose a lot of weight a even if they ate a lot of calories through vegetables and whole foods.
It seems commonsensical that 50 calories of sugar or French fries would be different from 50 calories of broccoli; but this commonsense seemed to have got lost in the propaganda or sugar and grain lobbies of the US, the recipients of the bulk of farm subsidies. The study, based on a large and expensive trial, covering more than 600 people, found out that the weight loss was independent of whether the diets were mostly low in fat or mostly low in carbohydrates. On average, those in the low-carb group lost over 13 pounds, while those in the low-fat group lost about 11.7 pounds. Both groups enjoyed improvements in health markers, like reductions in their waist sizes, body fat and blood sugar and blood pressure levels. 
The conclusion strengthens the notion that diet quality, not quantity, is what helps people lose weight—a lesson for many doctors, dieticians and health authorities who seem to obsess over ‘portion control’ or reduced calorie intake. The researchers split adults into two diet groups which were called ‘healthy’ low-carb and ‘healthy’ low-fat. They attended classes where they were educated about eating nutrient-dense, minimally processed whole foods, cooked at home as far as possible. 
The low-fat group was told to avoid soft drinks, fruit juice, muffins, white rice and white bread which are technically low in fat. They were encouraged to eat brown rice, barley, steel-cut oats, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, fresh fruit and legumes. The low-carb group was encouraged to choose healthy foods like olive oil, salmon, avocados, hard cheeses, vegetables, nuts and seeds and grass-fed and pasture-raised meats.
There were no severe restrictions on carbohydrate, fat or caloric limits; the focus was on eating whole or ‘real’ foods to quell hunger. Interestingly, Dr Gardner said that the people who lost the most weight reported that the study had “changed their relationship with food.” As an example, they no longer ate in their cars or in front of their television screens, and they were cooking more at home and sitting down to eat dinner with their family.
Perhaps this study will change the false belief that counting calories is the main part of weight reduction effort. Health authorities tell those who are trying to lose weight to “write down the foods you eat and the beverages you drink, plus the calories they have, each day,” while trying to restrict the calories intake and burning it through physical activity. But the study showed that a better quality of diet, not lower calories, produced weight loss even if the calories came from fat. Indeed, it is now increasingly being felt that eating healthy fats can help prevent heart ailments, diabetes and other diseases. 
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