Harvard Study: Consumption of processed, starchy food leads to weight gain. Sky still blue, water still wet.

The Washington Post has a story today about the results of a long-term Harvard study on health and nutrition.  The findings showed that those who consumed more fried or heavily processed foods like french fries, potato chips, or sugary drinks gained weight (not that this should come as a shock to anyone).  However, the Post did seem surprised by the inclusion of refined grains and all types of potatoes on the list.  This really isn’t surprising at all, considering the body metabolizes refined grains and starchy potatoes in about the same manner as sugar (i.e. spiking insulin levels, storing energy as fat, etc.)

The accompanying graphic (shown below) is interesting; of the foods that led to significant weight gain, I would only consider unprocessed red meats and butter as foods that could be considered clean and/or real.  Do those consuming unprocessed red meats and butter with greater frequency gain weight because of the consumption of those two items?  I suspect this is not the case.  Butter and red meat have been vilified (unjustly, in my opinion) by the nutritional community for going on four decades now.  I would guess the typical eater looking to eat in a healthy manner eschews both of those food categories, while the less health conscious eater likely indulges in both while also consuming greater quantities of heavily processed and refined foods (since they’re already throwing caution to the wind by consuming the dreaded red meat and/or butter).  I suspect unprocessed red meats and butter find themselves on the weight gain list in part due to their higher caloric density, but also in part due to guilt by association; those who enjoy butter and red meat likely aren’t as health conscious overall.  I say this not because I believe consumption of red meat and butter are in and of themselves unhealthy, but due to the anti-butter and red meat bias in modern nutritional advice, it seems only those choosing to ignore the tenets of modern nutrition would consume larger quantities of either of these foods.

The least surprising aspect of this study is that of the 11 foods that led to weight reduction or minimal weight gain, I would consider 10 to be clean and/or real foods.  Only diet soda jumps out as the outlier, but I suspect its inclusion in the weight reduction group is similar to the inclusion of butter and unprocessed red meats in the weight gain group; people who consume diet soda over sugary drinks are likely more health or weight conscious, so they are likely making healthier eating decisions overall.  The fact that they are excluding hundreds of calories of sugar from their diets can’t hurt either, but I am not convinced that drinking diet soda in lieu of regular soda contributes that much to weight loss.  And I am absolutely convinced that diet sodas are neither clean nor real food.  But that’s a post for another day…


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