If you’re like most people, you’ve done the diet routine at one point or another in your life. Unfortunately, dieting is not as simple as it sounds, and it often seems like the more you think about it, the more difficult it becomes. Luckily, a new study shows that simply cutting down on the fat content in foods – without actually trying to eat less – may be a very effective tool in battling the bulge.

In a new review, commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO), researchers looked back at previous studies that included data from over 75,000 participants who had been asked to reduce their fat intake, but not actually to diet or cut calories. Weight loss was not even the anticipated result in the studies. But the team found that people who were asked to cut down on fat lost an average of about three pounds after about six months, compared to people who stuck to their normal diets.

If you do decide to limit your fat intake, make sure you are still getting enough healthy fats, like the omega-3s DHA and EPA.

An added benefit was that people experienced a small, but statistically significant, decrease in their cholesterol levels and in blood pressure. They also enjoyed a reduction in their waist size.

"The effect isn't dramatic, like going on a diet,” said lead author Lee Hooper in a news release. “The research specifically looked at people who were cutting down on fat, but didn't aim to lose weight – so they were continuing to consume a normal amount of food. What surprised us was that they did lose weight, their BMI decreased and their waists became slimmer. On top of this, they kept their weight down over at least seven years.” The fact that the participants were able to keep the weight off for this long is encouraging, since this is often the most difficult part of the process.

Hooper added that the study did not discriminate as to different types of fat, but, he says, “cutting down on saturated fat reduces our risk of heart disease and strokes, so the healthiest way to cut down on fat is to cut down on saturated fats. This means having low fat milk and yogurt, cutting down on butter and cheese, and cutting the fat off meat. Most importantly have fruit instead of fatty snacks like biscuits, cake and crisps.” The little data from children included in the studies also hinted at the same benefits of reducing the amount of fat in their diets.

If you do decide to limit your fat intake, make sure you are still getting enough healthy fats, like the omega-3s DHA and EPA, which come primarily from seafood and seaweed. These healthy fats are particularly important for kids, as they are an integral part of brain and nervous system development. Of course, eating well is a central part of living healthy, but it is just one part. Exercising, not smoking, getting enough sleep, and drinking alcohol only in moderation are other essential ingredients. But reducing fat content in the foods we eat is a simple change that is easy to follow over the long term, and it may even help you lose a few pounds without even trying.

The study was carried out by a team at the University of East Anglia and published in BMJ.