So you want to lose weight? It’s not rocket science. Just add more fruits and vegetables to your diet, right?
It’s not so simple, according to researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). They say simply increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables does not aid in weight loss if other eating habits remain the same.
The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Researchers conducted a meta-analysis, a review of data collected in earlier clinical trials, of seven previous studies. In total, they analyzed data about over 1,200 individuals who participated in randomized, controlled trials to explore the weight loss effects of increasing fruit and vegetable intake.
“Unfortunately, it seems that if we just get people to eat more fruits and vegetables without also taking explicit steps to reduce total food intake, lower weights are not achieved.”
The included trials were categorized two ways: studies in which fruits and vegetables were provided, and studies in which participants were encouraged to eat more fruits and vegetables.
Because body fat measurements were not included in all the studies, the focus of the analysis remained on weight change. In analyzing the data, researchers found that none of the seven studies reviewed indicated that eating more fruits and vegetables led to weight loss.
However, they did find that eating more fruit did not increase the risk of weight gain, either, good news for those looking to get more vitamins and fiber in their diet.
Study author Kathryn Kaiser, Ph.D., an instructor in the UAB School of Public Health, stated, “…I don’t think eating more [fruits and vegetables] alone is necessarily an effective approach for weight loss because just adding them on top of whatever foods a person may be eating is not likely to cause weight change.”
Researchers concluded that simply recommending increased fruit and vegetable consumption to treat or prevent obesity, without clearly recommending that one reduce their intake of other foods, is baseless.
“In public health, we want to send positive and encouraging messages and telling people to eat more fruits and vegetables seems far more positive and encouraging than just saying ‘eat less.’ Unfortunately, it seems that if we just get people to eat more fruits and vegetables without also taking explicit steps to reduce total food intake, lower weights are not achieved,” noted senior author David B. Allison, Ph.D., associate dean for science in the UAB School of Public Health.
“I think working on more multimodal healthy lifestyle interventions would be a better use of time and money,” added Kaiser. “Overly simplified messages don’t seem to be very effective.”
The Bottom Line
The results of this study come down to semantics. By changing “to lose weight, eat more fruits and vegetables” to “to lose weight, eat more fruits and vegetables instead of junk,” the age-old advice becomes accurate!
If you’re looking to lose weight, a great way to do it is by displacing some of the unhealthy foods on your plate with in-season, fresh produce – from ripe heirloom tomatoes and crunchy cucumbers to cool watermelon, sweet & tart berries and juicy peaches.
Our bodies were designed to eat plenty of vegetables. In fact, a recent study suggests that primitive man consumed many more vegetables than scientists once thought. While these Neanderthals certainly ate a lot of meat, we now know they consumed lots of veggies, too.
In case you need another reason to up your fruit and vegetable intake, new research indicates that consuming a plant-based diet results in a more sustainable environment and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, while also improving longevity. Basically, by eating green, you’re being green, too.
Finally, science shows that if you want your kids to eat more veggies right along with you, you need start exposing them “early and often” to these nutritious foods. Like you, they might be reluctant to try these new foods, but they’ll eat a little more each time and may eventually grow to love broccoli and peas!
In the end, eating more fruits and vegetables can help you lose weight, if you do it right by replacing, not just adding!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.