You know the saying: you are what you eat. The Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University is adding to that principle, saying small changes to the types of food we eat will have the most influential long-term impact on our bodies. Basically, they’re saying that smart food pairings are more important than counting calories when it comes to getting (and staying) shredded.

Researchers in the study assessed 120,000 adults over the course of 16 years. Participants in the study ate low-fat or high fat dairy products, yet those who ate the low-fat products packed on the weight compared to those who ate the high-fat products. The reason: participants who consumed low-fat dairy products, loaded up on carbs to compensate for the lack of calories in the dairy products. Lesson so far: sometimes choosing the healthier food option, like something that’s labeled low-fat can lead to risky diet behavior, which can ultimately destory your macros. 

The Evidence

Calories nutrition facts

To further prove the findings, researchers focused on the glycemic index (GI) of food. High GI foods like simple sugars will lead to weight gain, whereas low GI foods won’t. Participants, who ate red meat paired with a white starch, had high glucose levels — making them gain weight. As for those who had red meat with vegetables, lost weight due to having low glucose levels.

It’s about eating the right combination of foods. Dariush Mozaffarian, a researcher said, “Our findings suggest we should not only emphasize specific protein-rich foods like fish, nuts, and yogurt to prevent weight gain, but also focus on avoiding refined grains, starches, and sugars in order to maximize the benefits of these healthful protein-rich foods, create new benefits for other foods like eggs and cheese, and reduce the weight gain associated with meats.”

The takeaway message from this study is to just be smarter with your food pairings — you can still count your calories and have your cake too.