By Kelvin Tan, Editor for Men’s Health Singapore
Traditional advice for anyone losing weight has always been to reduce the number of calories you consume through dieting, but according to new studies by JAMA, that’s really not the best strategy. You might want to change your diet instead.
Some background- this was a very large and expensive trial, carried out on more than 600 people with $8 million in funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Nutrition Science Initiative and other groups. The new research was published in JAMA and led by Christopher D. Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.
Apparently, folks who cut back on sugar, refined grains and processed foods while eating more vegetables and whole foods lost far more weight over a year, compared to those following calorie-counting diets or limiting portion sizes.
“We really stressed to both groups again and again that we wanted them to eat high-quality foods,” Dr. Gardner said. “We told them all that we wanted them to minimize added sugar and refined grains and eat more vegetables and whole foods. We said, ‘Don’t go out and buy a low-fat brownie just because it says low fat. And those low-carb chips — don’t buy them, because they’re still chips and that’s gaming the system.’”
Dr. Gardner said many of the people in the study were surprised — and relieved — that they did not have to restrict or even think about calories.
“The unique thing is that we didn’t ever set a number for them to follow. A couple weeks into the study people were asking when we were going to tell them how many calories to cut back on, and months into the study they said, ‘Thank you! We’ve had to do that so many times in the past!’” Dr. Gardner adds.
The study also seemed to indicate that weight-loss success didn’t seem to be affected by genetics or insulin-response to carbohydrates, debunking an increasingly popular idea that different diets work for different folks based on DNA or carb/fat tolerance.
What does this mean on a national level though, given the Singapore government has been trying to fight rising obesity and diabetes numbers? Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, suggests in a report in the NYTimes that health authorities should shift away from telling the public to obsess over calories and instead encourage folks to avoid processed foods that are made with refined starches and added sugar, like bagels, white bread, refined flour and sugary snacks and beverages.
So in a nutshell, it’s really about the diet quality, not quantity, that helps you lose and manage your weight more easily in the long run!