To Knock off the Pounds, Pack on the Produce

3 years ago

I’ve been helping women lose weight and keep it off for over two decades. One of the cornerstones of my weight loss and wellness program, The Self-Compassion Solution is: Eat more fruits and vegetables. So when a study titled: “Increased Fruit and Vegetable Intake Has No Discernible Effect On Weight Loss,” is published in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition I take notice.

This research worries me for numerous reasons. First, the evidence is clear that eating more fruits and veggies is key for weight management and optimizing health, wellness, longevity and reducing your risk of disease.  Another study published in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that eating less than five servings of fruits and vegetables per day is associated with a shorter life and higher mortality rates.  I’m concerned that many of the 54% of Americans who currently want to lose weight, will misinterpret this study and cut out the health giving nutrients and powerful weight loss attributes that fruits and vegetables bring to the table.

Increasing the consumption of plant foods is a key element of any healthy diet. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends we should: “Focus on fruits,” “Vary our veggies” and “Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.” In general, adults should consume about 3 cups of vegetables per day and 2 cups of fruit. Unfortunately, most of us fall far short of these recommendations.  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), adults in the United States only consume fruit about 1.1 times per day and vegetables about 1.6 times per day.

The study is dead wrong about the connection between weight loss and produce consumption. The researchers examined only seven short-term, randomized controlled trials that focused on increasing fruit and vegetable intake for weight loss. They completely ignored the line of research on energy density — the number of calories a food has by weight — that clearly shows eating low energy dense foods like fruits and veggies leads to weight loss.

The energy density research pioneered by Dr. Barbara Rolls, Nutritional Science professor at Penn State and author of over 250 scientific articles and six books, has shown that people are satisfied not just by how many calories they eat, but also by the volume or weight of the food they consume. While people are often clueless about how many calories they’ve eaten or need to eat to feel full, we do notice portion size. We know that if we eat a full plate of food we’ll feel full, while if we eat only half a plate we won’t feel content.

Rolls found that by incorporating low calorie fruits and vegetables into meals you can eat a large volume of food so you feel content, while cutting calories, resulting in weight loss. For example, Rolls showed that when you give a person who normally eats a ½ pound burger a ¼ pounder that’s been beefed up by adding lettuce, tomato and onions so it looks like a ½ pounder people report feeling full… while actually consuming less calories. In another experiment, Rolls found that decreasing the caloric density of meals by increasing fruits and vegetables resulted in subjects consuming 308 less calories per day. The bottom line: Food volume trumps calories, and fruits and veggies pump up the volume.

It’s common sense that snacking on fruit instead of a Snickers bar or eating a large salad at lunch instead of fries will reduce the total number of calories you eat and help you lose weight. In fact, one study foundthat overweight women who were instructed to supplement their meals by eating three apples or three pears a day for 12 weeks lost significantly more weight than women who were told to supplement their meals with an oat cookie.  Not only did the women lose more weight than those who didn’t eat fruit, they also had significantly lower levels of blood glucose. Lowering your blood glucose level helps you avert diabetes, heart disease and may even sharpen your brainpower. No kidding!

Finally, this misguided study will throw people right back into the unhealthful world of calorie counting, body image shame, diet-doc charlatans and soul crushing workout regimes that medical research clearlyshows does not work. In fact, dieting leads to weight gain, not loss.

Please ignore this so-called “research” and instead pump up the volume of your meals and snacks with produce. Fruits and vegetables are great tasting calorie bargains that will improve your health and fill you up while shrinking your butt. Eat a peach!

Dr. Ellen Albertson is a psychologist, registered dietitian, licensed wellness coach and founder of, the website for women who want to achieve health and happiness without destructive diets.  Dr. A is at @eralbertson on twitter and at SmashYourScale on Facebook.

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