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Research shows diets that emphasize adding low-calorie foods, like fruit and vegetables, instead of focusing on “bad” foods can promote healthy weight loss.

A recent study found that overweight adults who were instructed to focus on eating specific healthy, lower-calorie foods lost more weight than their peers who were simply told to cut calories.

Jenny H. Ledikwe, of Pennsylvania State University, and her colleagues believe that the key of their findings is that foods such as fruits and vegetables have low "energy density". Because fruits and vegetables have high water contents, they are heavy in weight and while remaining low in calories and rich in nutrients.

Ledikwe’s team studied 658 men and women with borderline-high blood pressure found that the adults who made the greatest reductions in the energy density of their diets lost an average of 13 pounds over 6 months.

The participants were divided randomly into three groups. In one group, one-on-one counseling sessions were given. Adults in this group received diet and lifestyle advice intended to lower their blood pressure.

Adults in the other groups attended 18 group meetings and counseling sessions where they set goals for lifestyle changes and weight loss.

One of the two groups was told to follow the "DASH" diet, which encouraged getting 9 to 12 daily servings of fruits and vegetables, and 2 to 3 servings of low-fat dairy products. The other group was told to reduce their calorie intake, but was not given goals for fruit, vegetable and dairy intake.

Because the DASH group ate more fruits and vegetables, they ate more food by weight but cut down the most on calorie density. The adults in the group who cut their calorie density the most lost the most weight.

Diets that emphasize low-calorie foods may be easier as well as more healthful. The researchers found that the adults who cut the calorie density of their diets generally increased their intake of fiber, vitamins and minerals.

"Whereas a decrease in body weight is a primary goal of a weight-loss diet," Ledikwe explains, "consideration of nutritional quality is equally important."

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2007.

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