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Obesity Presumption #3: Eating More Fruit and Veggies Will Lower Your Weight

The 3rd Obesity Presumption in the New England Journal of Medicine on obesity myths, presumptions and facts paper states that,

“Eating more fruits and vegetables will result in weight loss or lessweight gain, regardless of whether one intentionally makes any other behavioral or environmental changes.”

The notion underlying this presumption is the common belief that,

“By eating more fruits and vegetables, a person presumably spontaneously eats less of other foods, and the resulting reduction in calories is greater than the increase in calories from the fruit and vegetables.”

While this may well be the case for some people, unless those fruits and vegetables are being eaten raw, chances are that they may well be contributing a significant amount of calories to your diet (think Indian vegetarian curry or a vegetable stir-fry).

It is therefore by no means surprising that simply going vegetarian (or even vegan) will do much for your weight even if it may take longer to eat the same amount of calories.

Thus, the studies quoted in this paper failed to find any impact on body weight by simply increasing fruit and vegetable intake without making any other adjustments to your diet – in the end what counts with regard to body weight are calories – irrespective of whether these are derived from vegetables, fruit, fats, oils, carbs, meats, dairy or alcohol.

If anything, this presumption should serve to remind us that eating healthier food is not the same as eating fewer calories.

Edmonton, AB


  1. I’m a vegetarian (mostly vegan – but I have a yogurt once or twice a week and a few ice cream cones in the Summer) and was overweight for a long time. Many of the cooking techniques add a lot of calories. It was very easy to eat far too much. It took me about a year to get to my present (normal) weight. I’ve maintained it for several years, but it is a struggle involving regular exercise and much more care about what I eat.

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  2. There is evidence for making switches from foods with a high calorie density to foods low in calories per volume and most fruits and vegetables are very low in calories. The high water content and fibre helps people to feel full. The divided plate is becoming a popular way to think about a healthy dinner – half is vegetables, 1/4 is protein and 1/4 starch. If you don’t load your vegetables with cheese or butter this way of eating makes it easier to eat a lower calorie amount while still having a full plate of food.

    If you simply add fruits and vegetables without making any substitutions of course that won’t help with weight loss.

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  3. “Eating more fruits and vegetables will result in weight loss or lessweight gain, regardless of whether one intentionally makes any other behavioral or environmental changes.”

    B simply choosing to eat more fruits and vegetables, you’ve already intentionally made a behavioural change. Unless, of course, you were strapped into a chair and force-fed the fruits and vegetables, in which case you’ve just had an intentional environmental change. Point is, all decisions we make are intentional.

    “… spontaneously eats less of other foods.”

    Wow! If only I could spontaneously stop craving fats and carbs by eating a raw carrot. How awesome that would be!

    It is my belief that we’re designed as omnivores. Blame whichever deity/energy/alien you’d like, who we deem to be responsible for our design, but, we’re ominvores. We need certain minerals, proteins, fats, etc, etc, etc in our diets in order to maintain a healthy glow and shiny fur, and “from the source” is the preferred method of accepting them into our bodies, rather than through supplements.

    Raw or steamed veggies are awesome, but boneless, skinless, oven-baked-on-a-rack chicken breast is pretty alright for you as well. It’s the additions we slather on our food, which makes weight gain the issue.

    I won’t say it’s simply all about calories. If that were the case, I could lose weight by eating 1500 calories worth of melted butter with a few water chasers every day. I wouldn’t be healthy, but I’d be losing weight!

    It’s about smart/healthy choices in the calories you choose, whether they are obtained from fruits and vegetables, or lean meats/low carbs, or a combination of heartbeat/no heartbeat sourced foods.

    The only “diet” (and I abhor that word), which will work for you, is the one which you can follow for the rest of your life. Myocardial infarction-promoting fad diets aren’t the answer. Healthy lifestyle changes and choices would probably be far more beneficial in losing and maintaining weight.

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  4. I think berries and fruit are excellent snacks in terms of weight management. They seem to protect from *waist circumference* gain in prospective cohorts and in long term (> 3 years) randomized studies (Fogelholm et al. 2012). This is in contrast to NEJM paper. Waist circumeference and kilos are not exactly the same, though.

    Does anyone know if NEJM myth busting paper only focuses on randomized studies? They tend to be short term (vs life long challenge in weight management).

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