For Calories, It's All About Quality Over Quantity, Harvard Study Says

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"Remember the old food pyramid, with six to 11 servings per day of bread, pasta or rice at the base? In light of this article, it would seem to provide an efficient prescription for weight gain," said Dr. Jana Klauer, a doctor in private practice in New York.

Other studies have found results in favor of weight-loss diets based on the glycemic index, including one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2010 that found that the diet plan was the most effective in helping people maintain their weight loss.

Dr. Louis Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital, said the glycemic index has become a key part of his practice in helping obese patients lose weight.

"Many obesity specialists who treat patients all day long, as we do, favor low glycemic diets, those with less sugar and starch, because patients seem to do better," he said.

But not everyone favors the diet plan. Critics argue that the nutrition standards of the glycemic index are out of whack compared with what people know are healthier choices, giving foods like candy and soda healthier ratings than potatoes or rice. Dr. Xavier Pi-sunyer, director of the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center, said the concept is too confusing for most consumers to follow for the long-term.

"I think a message of eating more whole grains, fruits, vegetables and high-fiber foods is a much better and easier measure to give people," he said.

The study did not follow patients for the long term, and the authors note that it's difficult to say whether the dieters would have maintained their weight loss outside of the study's highly controlled setting.

Ultimately, doctors agree that balanced diets that cut out junk are the most healthful ones. Sarah Bleich, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the best weight loss advice boils down to a simple message: eat fewer calories than you burn through exercise.

"Even if the type of calorie matters for maintaining weight loss, it still boils down to simple arithmetic - eat less, exercise more," she said.

For a shopping list of healthy foods, click here.

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