Vegetables May Help Manage Weight

What They’re Saying

People who consume fruits and vegetables may be able to manage their weight better than individuals who consume high-calorie, non-nutrient dense foods.

What We Know

Obesity has become a serious problem in the United States. At least 35.9% of adults and 17% of adolescents’ ages 2-19 years are obese.1 Obesity is directly related to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and is one of the most preventable types of death. However, vegetable and fruit intake has proven to lower risk of the development of chronic diseases, and may even be beneficial for managing weight in some individuals. Fruits and veggies are considered to be nutrient-dense foods because they contain a lot of nutrients with very few calories compared to non-nutrient-dense foods that provide very little nutrition for the many calories they contain.2 Although little research is available on weight management with fruits and vegetables, a few studies suggest that nutrient-dense sources of food may offer a feeling of fullness more quickly, which leads to better weight control.

Water in fruits and vegetables increases the volume of the food without increasing calories, making them ideal for snacks and meals. Vegetables like celery and radishes, for example, are comprised of over 95% water.3 Foods like celery, radishes, leafy greens, citrus fruit, berries, melons and many other fruits and vegetables allow people to eat more, provide better nutrients, and help to satiate hunger because the high water content reduces total caloric intake during meals and snacks.

What Research Tells Us

A study in 2011 found that participants who increased their fruit and vegetable intake by one serving a day lost weight over a six month period.4 At the beginning of the study, participants were consuming about 2,000 calories a day. At the end of six months, participants had decreased their caloric intake almost 400 calories by increasing fruit and vegetable intake, using low-fat dairy and consuming less fat. Increasing fruit and vegetable intake alone led to an average loss of almost four pounds in participants over a six month period.

In a review of fruit and vegetable intake and weight management studies, it was determined that fruits and vegetables may help manage weight in several different ways.2 Fruits and vegetables are low in calories which allows a person to fill up on them and eat less calories than they may expend resulting in weight loss. Fruits and vegetables may also make a person feel fuller which makes her/him stop eating sooner during a meal or snack. This effect may be due to the water and fiber content in fruit and vegetables that increases the volume a person is eating without an increase in calories. The review determined that replacing high-calorie ‘junk foods’ with nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables may be beneficial to controlling weight.

An older research study followed-up on participants in the Nurse’s Health Study examining intake of fruits and vegetables and risk for obesity or weight gain over a 12-year period.5 A total of 74,063 healthy female nurses ages 38-63 years had diet and body weight information collected and reviewed. The researchers found that participants had a tendency to gain weight with age, but women who ate almost two servings of fruits and vegetables a day had a 25% decreased risk for becoming obese, and women who ate almost three servings a day had an even greater decreased chance of becoming obese. The authors determined that increasing fruit and vegetable intake may be beneficial for middle-aged women in reducing the chance of long-term obesity or weight gain.

Our Advice

More research is needed on the role of fruits and vegetables in weight management. However, consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables for optimal health is an ideal way to reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Try mixing in fruits and vegetables that have high water content such as celery, radishes, leafy greens, citrus or melons to satiate hunger with fewer calories consumed. Fruits and vegetables should always fill half your plate at meal and snack times to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.6

1 “Adult Obesity Facts.” Last modified September 9, 2014. See Facts
2 “Can Eating Fruits and Vegetables Help People to Manage Their Weight?” Research to Practice Series 1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. View Article
3 “USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Celery, Radish.” Site visited November 30, 2014. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. View
4 Catherine Champagne, et al. “Dietary intakes associated with successful weight loss and maintenance during the Weight Loss Maintenance Trial.” Journal of American Dietetic Association (2012) 111(12):1826-35. Accessed November 30, 2014, doi:10.1016/j.jada.2011.09.014 View Article
5 K He, et al. “Changes in intake of fruits and vegetables in relation to risk of obesity and weight gain among middle-aged women.” International Journal of Obesity (2004) 28:1569-74. Accessed November 30, 2014, doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0802795 View Article
6 “Dietary Guidelines for Americans: Key Highlights.” Site visited November 30, 2014. View Article

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