Eating lots of fruits and vegetables doesn’t only boost your health, it can cut your risk of packing on extra pounds by almost half, researchers report.
“Our study suggests that plant-based diets are associated with substantially lower risk of developing obesity. This supports current recommendations to shift to diets rich in plant foods, with lower intake of animal foods,” wrote the authors from the University of Navarra and the Carlos III Institute of Health, both in Spain.
Their study included more than 16,000 healthy, non-obese Spanish adults who were followed for an average of 10 years after university graduation. During that time, almost 600 of the participants became obese.
The study participants provided information on their diet at the start of the study. Points were given for eating plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, olive oil, legumes (such as peas, beans and lentils) and potatoes.
Points were taken away for eating animal-based foods such as animal fats, dairy, eggs, meats, fish and other seafood.
Based on these scores, study participants were placed into one of five groups. The higher the score, the more likely someone was to eat a pro-vegetarian diet, according to the researchers led by Julen Sanz, a student at the University of Navarra.
Compared to those who ate the fewest fruits and vegetables, those who ate the most fruits and vegetables had a 43 percent lower risk of obesity.
For the group that ate the next highest amount of fruits and vegetables, the risk of obesity was reduced by 17 percent compared to the lowest fruit and vegetable consumers.
People who consumed the second and third-highest amounts of fruits and vegetables also had a lower risk of obesity, the study showed.
The findings were independent of other factors such as sex, age, alcohol consumption, family history of obesity, snacking, smoking, sleep duration and physical activity.
The authors noted that only an association was seen between consuming plant-based foods and developing obesity, rather than cause and effect.
The study was to be presented Thursday at the European Congress on Obesity, in Porto, Portugal. Findings presented at meetings are typically viewed as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more on obesity prevention.