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Do You Want Fries With That?!

Potato chips and French fries (and generally any potato products) contribute to the biggest weight gain over time, according to a new Harvard study, which researchers say is the first to look at long-term weight gain pegged to specific foods. It seems the fastest way to undo all of your hard-earned Arc and weight training results is to eat over-processed potato products.

The study, conducted over 20 years and published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that among more than 100,000 men and women whose weight was evaluated at four-year intervals, the average weight gain over each period was 3.35 pounds. This corresponded with an average weight gain of almost 17 pounds over 20 years!

The researchers also tracked how much weight specific foods led people to gain over each four-year period. Potato chips were the worst culprit, associated with a weight gain of 1.69 pounds, followed by potatoes in general at 1.28 pounds. (French fries were worse than boiled or mashed potatoes.) This, explained Dr. Dariush Mozzafarian, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and the study's lead author, could be because starches and refined carbohydrates produce bursts in blood glucose and insulin which increase hunger and thus increase the total amount of food people eat at their next meal.  Essentially, greasy potato products provide empty calories and little satiety.

There were plenty of non-potato culprits, as well. Sugary beverages accounted for a 1-pound weight gain, while alcohol was linked with an average gain of 0.41 pounds over four years. Unprocessed meats accounted for a 0.95-pound increase in weight, while processed meats were right behind at 0.93 pounds.

"Our findings indicate that small dietary and other lifestyle changes can together make a big difference, for bad or good," Mozzafarian wrote in an email, adding, "For diet ... eat fewer starches and refined foods like potatoes, white bread, low-fiber breakfast cereals, processed meats, sweets and soda." Instead, the study suggests, opt for healthier options if you want to lose weight.

People who added a daily serving of vegetables lost an average of 0.22 pounds over four years, the researchers found. Those who added whole grains lost 0.37 pounds, and others who ate fruits shed almost half a pound. Nuts and yogurt also resulted in weight loss -- all under one pound, but those numbers can add up over time.

This latest credible scientific study reinforces commonsense wisdom that we are what we eat, and an impeccable exercise program alone will not keep our bodies fit and healthy.  If you are disciplined enough to engage in a rigorous Arc workout and regular weight training, don’t undo it with a pile of factory-rendered potatoes!

Holly Aglialoro
Guest Blogger and Fitness Enthusiast