Different food groups and weight management

A US survey was published this week (23rd June 2011) in the New England Journal of Medicine reporting associations between different groups of foods and changes in body weight over a 4 year period. Eating extra fries was associated with the largest weight gain; 0.8lb (0.4kg) per year. However, many other foods such as meat, fruit juice, dairy products, refined cereals, desserts, boiled potatoes and soft drinks, were associated with smaller gains in weight.

Commenting on the study, Dr Carrie Ruxton of the Meat Advisory Panel, said: “This study doesn’t add anything new to our knowledge on weight management. It remains the case that eating more calories than you burn off, whatever the source, leads to gradual weight gain in middle age. As foods are not eaten in isolation, it is more helpful for dieters to be physically active and to focus on healthy dietary patterns, which can include lean red meat, fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy products and cereal products. Even treats, such as desserts and alcoholic drinks, can be included if consumed in small amounts occasionally. Banning individual foods may create diet imbalances and lead to cravings. 

Note to health professionals:
This study was observational and, therefore, cannot tell us anything about cause and effect. Foods are eaten as part of dietary patterns, not in isolation, which makes it impossible to separate out the effect of individual food types on weight. Also, the statistical methods used in the study threw up anomalies, such as whole milk being associated with weight loss, while skimmed milk was associated with weight gain. Clearly, there is no common sense in this finding! It is likely that some foods were markers for other behaviours that impact on weight, e.g. associations between meat eating and consumption of fried foods have been seen in UK surveys. While observational studies are interesting, they should not be used to inform patient advice. For that, we need properly controlled clinical studies.

For more information and advice on the role of red meat in the diet please click here.

The Meat Advisory Panel (MAP) is supported by an unrestricted educational grant from EBLEX and BPEX.