New research published online in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition further adds to the evidence that counting calories may not be the most effective strategy for long-term weight management. Researchers at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University found that making small, consistent changes to the types of protein- and carbohydrate-rich foods a person eats can have a big impact on long-term weight gain.

Data from three long-term studies, which included more than 16 years of follow-up among 120,000 men and women, showed that diets with a high glycemic load (diets that include refined grains, starches, and sugars) were associated with more weight gain. But would reducing low-quality carbohydrates and increasing protein-rich foods in one’s diet lead to more efficient weight loss?

To answer this question, researchers first looked at the relationship between changes in protein foods and weight gain during every four-years of follow-up. What they found was that certain protein-rich foods were linked to weight loss while others to weight gain. Increasing intake of red meat and processed meat was most strongly associated with weight gain. Increasing intake of skinless chicken, seafood, nuts, and yogurt was most strongly associated with weight loss; the more people ate, the less they gained. Consuming full-fat cheese, whole milk, and low-fat milk did not significantly relate to either weight gain or weight loss. Further, researchers noted that people who consumed low-fat dairy products were more likely to increase carbohydrate consumption, which may promote weight gain.