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THE average adult gains one pound (0.45 kilos) a year.

Packing an additional 20 pounds (9 kilos) a year multiplies the health risks of every one of us.

The question is: Can we do anything to prevent this annual weight gain?

Harvard physicians have a strategy that goes beyond the popular advise that says “eat less, exercise more.”

The new discovery was confirmed by a study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, that involves “120,000 participants in three studies, the Nurses’ Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study II, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study,” reported WebMD.

The research found that there are five specific food items that are linked to the greatest weight gain, and five food items associated with the lowest average weight gain.

Quality and quantity count

Therefore, it is not only the amount (quantity) but the type of food (quality) that matters in what we eat.

We can eat 2 ounces of meat and gain weight but eat 20 ounces of vegetables, nuts, or yogurt and gain much less weight.

This knowledge gives us the ability (the choice!) NOT to gain that one-pound-a-year weight as we grow older.

So, it is possible to break that usual annual weight gain of one pound a year as we grow older, and reduce our health risks for metabolic diseases, like diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), other cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer.

Unless we do something about it now, that added poundage every year will continue and wreak subtle havoc on our body physiology and ability to ward off diseases and their complications.

Changing our lifestyle to a healthier one, including choosing the foods that do not induce us to gain the greatest weight, will help assure us that we do not gain that annual extra pound as we celebrate our birthday each year.

Gainers and losers

When the Harvard researchers scrutinize their findings more closely, the found the following five food items linked to the greatest weight gain: Potato chips, other potatoes, soft drinks, fresh meats and processed meats.

The five foods that are associated with less gain, and, believe it or not, even weight LOSS, were: Vegetables, whole grains, yogurt, nuts and fruits.

Why and how yogurt controls weight gain is a puzzle to the researchers.

Other studies suspect the changes in the bacterial flora in the gut may have something to do with it.

Of course, people who eat yogurt may also be living a healthier lifestyle to begin with.

Sleep helps control weight

While the diet had the most impressive link to weight gain, the study also found that those who had 6-8 hours of sleep each night gained much less weight than those who had LESS THAN 6 hours or MORE THAN 8 hours.

Also, more TV watching (with or without munching) and lack of physical exercise were linked to increase weight gain.

“Reducing your intake of specific foods, sleeping 6 to 8 hours nightly, getting some exercise, and turning off the TV all predicted less weight gain with time,” quoted WebMD.

One most interesting findings in many studies shows that the lower intake (alone and in itself) of vegetables, yogurt, whole gains, nuts and fruits, leads to more increase in weight gain, even without factoring in the 5 (meat and carbo) items that tend to increase weight the greatest.

Could it be the quantity eaten of each of the two groups?

If so, the obvious “trick” would be to eat 3 portions (75% or 3/4) of the “meatless and low-carbohydrates” five items listed above and only 1 portion (25% or 1/4) of any meat and carbo.

The lesser the meat and the carbo, the healthier the diet is.

Also, an adjustment of merely 50 to 100 calories a day could be all it takes to maintain (gain or lose) the desired weight.

Exercise is still key to health

The new USDA Food Plate introduced on June 2, 2011 to replace the Food Pyramid of 1992, basically increased the emphasis and “portions” for vegetables, yogurt, whole grains, nuts and fruits, and much less on meats, other sources of fats and carbohydrates.

We wish to underscore the most significant role of physical exercise in weight control, overall health, and prevention of diseases.

Daily physical exercise need not be more than 30 minutes, 5 to 7 days a week.

Studies have shown that doing daily exercise more than an hour does not increase the cardio-benefit it confers to the body.

Walking at home or around the block at your own pace, or briskly, if you can, swimming, tai bo, bicycling, walking on treadmill, or doing aerobics, dancing, jogging, etc., are activities that do wonders not only to tone our muscles or control our weight but to boost the immune system and lower our risk for the development of a host of debilitating illnesses, including cancer.

Dieting alone, without daily exercise, is only a third effective in maintaining good health.

The other requisites for a healthy lifestyle are abstinence from smoking, moderation in alcohol intake, and adequate rest and relaxation for de-stressing.

Protect our children

All this information on healthier lifestyle, especially for children which should start even before they are conceived, and then in the crib, are all in our book, entitled “Let’s Stop Killing Our Children,” which is coming out in July 2011 in paperback and hard bound editions.

Putting the onus squarely on parents and guardians of children, this book aims to fuel a debate on responsible parenting.

As we have alluded to before, almost all diseases known to man today are self-induced or self-inflicted, and are, therefore, preventable. Including most forms of cancer.

Think about it.

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