Munching more unprocessed plant foods may help keep the middle-aged bulge away (AKA muffin top) , a new study suggests. On the other hand, meat, french fries and sugar-sweetened drinks can help pack on the pounds. The findings suggest that the types of food you choose, not just calories, are important for avoiding age-related weight gain.

Weight gain results from an imbalance between how much energy you take in and how much you expend. Even small amounts of excess weight can increase your risk for disorders such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and cancer.

A research team at the Harvard School of Public Health, led by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian and Dr. Frank Hu, sought to gain insights into the changes in people’s lifestyles that lead to gradual, long-term weight gain.

The team followed the lifestyle and dietary habits of 3 large groups of health professionals, totaling over 120,000 people, for 12 to 20 years.

The researchers found several general lifestyle changes linked to weight gain over a 4-year period. Participants who increased their physical activity gained less weight than those who didn't. However, only increases in activity during the period studied produced this result; absolute levels of physical activity (across the lifespan) weren't associated with weight change. People who slept for less than 6 hours a day or more than 8 hours gained more weight. Increases in TV-watching led to an average gain of about a third of a pound for every hour of TV watching per day.

Food choices also affected weight. Potato chips, sugar-sweetened drinks, processed meats and unprocessed red meat were each linked to weight gain of about a pound or more. Eating more french fries led to an average gain of over 3 pounds. Eating more refined grains and sweets or desserts led to about half a pound of weight gain. By contrast, eating more vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts and yogurt was linked to reductions in weight over a 4-year period. Yogurt led the pack, with an average of 0.82 pounds of weight lost.

The researchers suggest that highly processed foods may not satisfy hunger as well as less processed, higher fiber foods, causing a higher total intake of calories. “The idea that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods is a myth that needs to be debunked,” Hu says.

This was an observational study, in which people were asked to recall the foods they ate. While the findings are compelling, future controlled studies will be needed to confirm whether eating particular foods can affect long-term weight gain more than simply counting calories.  The study appeared in the June 23, 2011, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.



This is a very interesting study. When I apply some of the perimeters of your study to my lifestyle I can easily understand how I have had some slow steady weight gain over the past year. Probably my age of 49 does not help any based on a slowing of my metabolism. I have definitely noticed a correlation of increased TV watching coupled with increased intake of artificial sweeteners as contributing to weight gain. Once again thank you for this information. Maybe I can apply some of this information to reduce my weight.

In this post you teach the basics that apparently many do not understand, if you eat many calories and do not burn them they will be stored in your body

If people would just eat with more awareness, they would help themselves tremendously. Getting sugar foods and starchy processed foods out of their current diets will go a long ways in establishing better lifelong eating habits.

Its always enjoyable to read posts that provide information regarding issues that affect our health. It seems as though the overuse of artificial sweeteners have overtaken our society. I know a lot of research shows a correlation between obesity and use of artificial sweeteners. What is your opinion regarding this? Thanks

Great post! I always enjoy reading about the latest nutrition research and findings. With so much misinformation being spread by supplement companies and promoters of fad diets, it is important to get the facts out to the general population. So many people believe that it is only the number of calories you eat that is important. If people would realize that the quality of food that you eat is just as important as the amount, I think there would be more people losing weight and getting healthy.

This is a good post. This post gives truly quality information. I’m definitely going to look into it. Really very useful tips are provided here. Thank you so much. Keep up the good works.

Totally agree! The way I see it, is what all of us already know, but which seems so not easy to do… It’s not just how much we eat, it's more about what we eat. We all know French frites, hamburgers, alcoholic drinks, sugar-sweetened drinks and so make us fat. And we all know we have to get out of the couch at least one or two times a week to stay in shape, or at least not to gain (more) weight. If we ignore those simple wisdoms (which is totally ok by the way, because we all do from time to time), we know there will come a time we’ll see ourselves as too fat.

The study sort of validates the saying "You are what you eat". Nuts such as walnuts, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts and cashew nuts are great healthy foods. They contain heart healthy fats fiber and other nutrients. The fats take longer to digest and the fiber makes you fuller for longer thus less snacking with "bad foods" hence weight loss.

One thing I want to ask, and hope there is someone would respond. It was said that sleep less than 6 hours a day can increase the weight. Is there some more detail explanations about this? I usually have 5 to 6 hours sleep a day, I eat vegetable everyday, less fruits, no workouts. i don't see any weight gain on me. just curious, and i don't want to weight gain at all. i am 160 cm, 49 kg.

Good post. What you have written makes total sense. Just wish more people would read it in a world where obesity seems to be ever increasing. A few changes in diet and nutrition can make a big change in a healthier lifestyle.