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Eating More Meat Means More Weight Gain Over Time

July 21, 2010

A study on thousands of Europeans suggests that eating less meat may in fact help you keep slim and trim.

Dr. Anne-Claire Vergnaud of Imperial College London and colleagues found that people who ate more meat gained more weight over five years than those who ate less meat, but had the same amount of calories.

The team wrote in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that the “results suggest that a decrease in meat consumption may improve weight management.”

The study included more than 370,000 men and women from 10 different European countries.

Vergnaud and her team found that Danes, Germans, Spaniards and Swedes were the biggest meat-eaters, with men eating about 300 calories of meat and women consuming about 200 calories. Among all meat-eaters in the countries included in the study, Greeks ate the least: 200 calories for men and 140 for women.

In a 5-year follow-up, both men and women gained about one pound per year, on average. The study showed that women gained a little less than men, however. They also found that the more meat a person ate, the more they gained. For every half-pound of meat consumed daily, the 5-year weight gain would be 4.4 pounds greater, the team calculated.

When the researchers viewed different types of meat separately, they discovered the strongest association with weight gain came with consumption of poultry, followed by processed meats and then red meat.

Vergnaud and her team wrote that heavy meat-eating could be part of an overall unhealthy lifestyle.

Because meat is “energy-dense” (meaning it packs more calories by weight than other foods), it could influence appetite control, they added. The researchers attempted to take overall dietary patterns into account, as well as education, physical activity levels, smoking, and total calorie intake.

Based on the team’s findings, a person who cut meat consumption by a half-pound daily could conceivably reduce their 5-year weight gain by around 4 pounds. Though this may be a relatively small amount of weight from an individual’s point of view, researchers say gaining 4 pounds of weight in 5 years “could have an important effect from a population perspective.”

The researchers add that the “results do not support that a high-protein diet prevents obesity or promotes long-term weight loss, contrary to what has been advocated.”

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