Dr. Birdie's Take on the 'Potato Chips Will Make You Fat' Study
You may have heard about yet another study that is trying to tell us that we have really bad habits that are making us fat. It seems like just about every day, there is a new study about Americans and weight gain--some of which contradict each other!
This recent study was published by the New England Journal of Medicine last month, and I have seen and heard discussed in just about every news outlet and journal.
One of the headlines that caught my attention was something like “Potato chips make you fat!” Many of the stories just list the particular foods that were singled out by the study as potential weight-gain culprits--without any explanation of the behaviors associated with those foods. What most stories have failed to point out is that this study was not intended to be used as a guideline for weight loss.
This study was an analysis of more than 100,000 adults who were not obese and who were otherwise healthy. The analysis revealed that these adults gained an average of 0.8 pounds per year. Lifestyle habits and weights were tracked every 4 years for 12 to 20 years. Because they were not obese when the study began, the study was able to detect some lifestyle factors that were associated with greater weight gain. Some particular food items were identified, which is what makes this study noteworthy.
Remember that these patients were not obese when the study began so this study is better suited for discussing weight gain prevention rather than weight loss. Seasoned SparkPeople members will find that they are already practicing the majority of these healthy habits and limiting (or eliminating) these foods.
Here are some of the dietary choices that the study concluded are associated with weight gain over time:
1. Potato chips. Regular consumption of potato chips was found to have an association with weight gain over time--no surprise there.
There's a reason (plenty of reasons, actually) why potato chips are a quintessential American snack:
They are easy to munch on while watching TV and are perfect for mindless eating.
They're sold everywhere! Grabbing a bag from the gas station is easy when you are hungry. We eat them at birthday parties, office parties, during holidays. We take them just about anywhere.
They're cheap! Grocery stores frequently sell giant bags at buy one get one free.
They also come in little bags that you can pack in your child’s lunch.
They also come in multiple flavors.
For every reason why potato chips are easy to eat, there's a reason why we should limit how often we eat them. (Potato chips are, without a doubt, not a food we should eat regularly!)
Too much fat and the wrong kind of fats (we should never eat trans fats, which are artery-clogging and no good for you!).
Too much sodium.
Almost no protein or fiber.
It is easy to understand why regular consumption of potato chips will lead you to gain weight over time. So, stop buying them. It’s so hard to pass up buy one get one free, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch (or snack!). You will pay with larger clothes and clogged arteries.
3. Sugar-sweetened beverages. Calories in the form of liquids should be limited. One can of non-diet soda contains about 140 calories and over 30 grams of sugar with zero protein or fiber. These drinks are on a fast track to laying down fat on your body. Many people who are carbohydrate-sensitive may experience a spike in insulin followed by a drop in glucose levels making them crave even more sugar which can cascade them into a vicious cycle of hunger. They should be eliminated altogether or limited to a very occasional indulgence. A good rule of thumb: Consider a soda to be a treat, not a beverage used for hydration. Remember that one 20-ounce soda daily will add up to an extra 26 pounds a year.
4. Unprocessed red meats (beef, lamb, or pork that have not been cured or treated with chemicals). The problems arise when you eat what's served to you--half pound burger or 20-ounce strip steak, anyone?--instead of a proper portion (2-3 ounces). Also, take a look at the types of meals you're preparing with red meat: Cheeseburgers and fries, T-bone steak and mashed potatoes, prime rib au jus... Visit SparkRecipes for healthier red-meat recipes, and choose leaner cuts of meat, along with smaller portions, as part of a sensible meal plan..
5. Processed meats. This category includes more sources of meat, all of which contain loads of salt and chemicals to preserve them. The reasons they lead to weight gain are pretty easy to figure out. First, it's a question of portion control again. Think: Footlong hotdogs, submarine sandwiches bigger than your head, heaping servings of bacon. Reason #2: Don’t forget what we usually do with processed meats. Have you ever had fried bologna on white bread with mayo and cheese? I have! Chili hot dogs? Bacon-wrapped anything? You get the picture. These, like sodas, should be a treat--not a regular part of your meal plan.
6. Refined grains. Refined grains are grain products that have been modified and stripped of fiber and most nutrients. The removal of the fiber makes it especially easy for your body to process and store the food as fat, and the absence of fiber means we're hungrier sooner than if we had chosen complex carbs. I’m sure you have heard that the “white stuff” is bad. This study shows us that people who consume fewer refined grains weigh less over time.
Believe it! At SparkPeople, we stress the importance of avoiding processed grains and the benefits of incorporating whole grains in your daily food consumption. Leave the white flour, white pasta, and white rice for special occasions. Choose whole wheat pasta, bread, and cereals, and brown rice.
Other factors that were associated weight gain according to the study included excessive TV watching, smoking, less than 6 hours of sleep or greater than 8 hours sleep and alcohol use.
Factors associated with less weight gain over time include increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and yogurt.
I believe that the best healthy lifestyle plan for you is the one that you can stick with forever. (Sound familiar?)
But, as the study shows, the types of foods that you consume matter as well. This latest basically confirmed what we already knew and is already stressed in "The Spark."
Learning to change unhealthy habits takes time. Sometimes years! I’m almost 4 years into my lifestyle change and I’m still struggling with getting ahold on some habits that need to be changed or improved. But, through my journey I have found that sticking with the plan is much easier when you follow many of the principles presented. Never give up and keep sparking, everyone!
Are any of these foods a regular part of your diet? What changes have you made to improve your diet?
From the dailySpark Editor:
Birdie's appearance on the final "Oprah" weight-loss episode will air again on Monday, July 25. Be sure to tune in!
Birdie was recently interviewed by a Florida magazine. Check out the mention of SparkPeople!
Dr. Birdie Varnedore, M.D., is happy to offer her expertise to the SparkPeople community; however, she cannot offer specific medical advice to dailySpark readers. Please do not share confidential medical information here. If you have a personal question or a concern about your health, please contact your health-care provider.
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