PhotoWhen consumers embrace a particular weight loss program, they may achieve results. But in other instances, try as they might, the pounds can be very slow to come off, if they come off at all.

In the latter case, it might not be a matter of how much a dieter is eating, but what the dieter is eating.

Changing those old eating habits – adding certain foods to the diet and avoiding others – can make it easier to win the battle of the bulge. At least that’s the conclusion of researchers at Tufts University.

At Tufts, the Friedman School Nutrition Science & Policy analyzed 3 previous studies that were based on more than 16 years of follow-up among 120,000 adults. That led researchers there to focus on the glycemic content, or load (GL) of particular foods.

The GL is determined by multiplying a food’s glycemic index, a measure of a food’s ability to create blood glucose, by the carbohydrate content. Foods with a high GL were more likely to make it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it.

Refined grains, starches and sugars

Food with a big GL include refined grains, starches and sugars. Researchers say these high GL foods can boost blood glucose and lead to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes. Until now, they say, the link to weight gain had not been firmly established.

“There is mounting scientific evidence that diets including less low-quality carbohydrates, such as white breads, potatoes, and sweets, and higher in protein-rich foods may be more efficient for weight loss,” said Jessica Smith, one of the authors. “We wanted to know how that might apply to preventing weight gain in the first place.”

If you are trying, without result, to lose weight you may be interested in the food Smith and her colleagues say you should eat and what you should avoid – or at least keep consumption to a minimum.

Less red meat, more yogurt

The study concluded that increasing the amount of red meat and processed meat are the food items most strongly associated with weight gain.

Conversely, increasing consumption of yogurt, seafood, skinless chicken and nuts are most strongly associated with weight loss. In fact, the more people ate these foods, the more weight they lost.

Interestingly, the researchers found that eating dairy products in general didn’t seem to have much effect one way or the other.

“The fat content of dairy products did not seem to be important for weight gain,” Smith said. “In fact, when people consumed more low-fat dairy products, they actually increased their consumption of carbs, which may promote weight gain. This suggests that people compensate, over years, for the lower calories in low-fat dairy by increasing their carb intake.”

What else is on your plate?

The combination of foods you consume also appears to be important. For example, avoiding foods with a high GL seemed to make fish, nuts and other food associated with weight loss even more effective.

Weight-neutral foods like eggs and cheese appear to contribute to weight gain when combined with high GL food but are associated with weight loss when eaten with low GL food.

The chief take-away from the study seems to be this: not all calories are created equal.

“Our study adds to growing new research that counting calories is not the most effective strategy for long-term weight management and prevention,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, the study’s senior author. “Some foods help prevent weight gain, others make it worse. Most interestingly, the combination of foods seems to make a big difference.”

The Tufts researchers advise those trying to shed a few pounds to not only emphasize specific protein-rich foods like fish, nuts, and yogurt to prevent weight gain, but also focus on avoiding refined grains, starches, and sugars in order to maximize the benefits of these healthful protein-rich foods.

To further help consumers identify foods to eat and avoid, the Harvard Medical School recently published this list of 100 foods and their GL.

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