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A closer look at flavorful candidates for weight loss and control
Seems like every other Internet ad seeks to sell you a magic weight loss potion.
Obviously, no such magic bullet exists — but food choices can help control weight, without the kind of sharp calorie-cutting that’s very hard to keep up.
And certain foods may be especially helpful. Let’s focus on seven with significant evidence of efficacy or scientifically plausible potential.
Avocado (and olives)
Avocados are high in fat, and until relatively recently, public officials and health pundits claimed that “fat makes you fat”.
That warning seemed logical, because fat has more than twice as many calories (9 per gram), compared with carbs or protein (4 per gram).
But there’s fast-growing evidence that the real fat-related risk for weight gain is the average American’s extremely high intake of omega-6 fats from cheap vegetable oils.
Again, it’s certainly not true for moderate intake of the monounsaturated fats that predominate in certain whole foods, like olives and avocados.
In fact, the “mono” fats in avocados and olives help control hunger, their abundant antioxidants exert beneficial effects on metabolic health, while the fiber in these delicious delights — and most other fruits and vegetables — help keep you full and satisfied.
Avocados have produced myriad beneficial metabolic effects in rat studies — ones associated with resistance to weight gain.
And a South African clinical trial that tested the weight control and metabolic impacts of substituting avocados for other dietary fats found — as in the rodent studies — only metabolic effects generally linked to better weight control.
Chili peppers get their heat from a compound called capsaicin, normally concentrated in the seeds and ribs.
Capsaicin exerts thermogenic (heat-creating) effects, meaning that it prompts the body to burn fat, which revs up your metabolism and produces heat.
Thanks to capsaicin’s thermogenic effect, your body continues to burn calories for up to 20 minutes after eating peppers. and it’s also been discovered that capsaicin helps forestall the buildup of hard-to-lose body fat. For more on that, see Hot Factor in Chilies May Hinder Fat Build Up
While chilies aren’t proven to cause people to shed weight, it’s increasingly clear that they’re allies in the fight against excess body fat … see Can Peppers Aid Weight Control?.
Fish and other seafood There’s evidence that diets high in fish can aid weight control for two distinctly different reasons.
First, a series of studies indicate that the long-chain omega-3s abundant only in fish (EPA and DHA) aid weight control efforts in at least seven ways:
- Stimulate secretion of leptin, a hormone that decreases appetite and promotes the burning of body fat.
- Enable burning of dietary fats by helping move fatty acids into body cells for burning as fuel.
- Encourage the body to store dietary carbohydrates in the form of glycogen, rather than as hard-to-lose body fat.
- Dampen inflammation, which is known to promote weight gain.
- Enhance blood-sugar control by increasing our insulin-producing cells’ sensitivity to sugar.
- Flip off genetic switches (nuclear transcription factors) that promote inflammation and storage of food as body fat.
- Help the body transport glucose from the blood to cells by increasing the fluidity of cell membranes.
And, of the three macronutrients required to sustain life—protein, carbohydrates, and fats—protein appears to be the most satiating.
That is, protein quenches hunger faster than carbohydrates or fats, and fish are very rich in it.
Flaxseed does double duty when it comes to fat busting.
First, it’s rich in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and alkaline minerals — which aid weight control in myriad ways.
In fact, the uncommon kinds of fiber in flax — which may exert anti-cancer effects — is proven to help prevent overeating and food cravings, support weight loss, promote regular bowel movements and maintain normal blood sugar and insulin levels.
Talk about a secret weapon … one whose nutty taste makes a good addition to salads, baked goods, or veggie burgers, as a topping for unsweetened yogurt and addition to whole-grain cereals.
Remember the old “grapefruit diet” from eons ago? Turns out, the hype may be true!
Studies show that eating half a grapefruit before each meal may help you lose up to a pound a week.
In a study from the Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, California, researchers studying the effect of grapefruit on weight loss found that while taking grapefruit capsules, drinking grapefruit juice, and eating grapefruit all helped people lose weight, those who ate the whole fruit got the best results. Now that’s a simple solution!
High-protein (Greek) yogurt
Eating three meals a day is sensible advice, but let’s face it… we get hungry in the afternoon!
Enter Greek yogurt, heralded by Zorba-style dances played on bouzouki strings!
Greek yogurt tends to have more protein — and usually but not always less added sugar — than “regular” yogurt, which helps fill you up faster.
Plus, yogurt, in general, is loaded with probiotics, those beneficial strains of microorganisms that not only benefit the digestive system but have been shown to support a healthy body weight.
It’s best to choose organic, plain, high-protein (e.g., Greek) yogurt … obviously, varieties with added fruit and/or sugars can seriously undermine your weight-control goals.
While this colorful gourd attracts the most attention in autumn, it should be one of your diet go-to’s year round.
The reason? Fiber!
A half-cup serving of plain canned pumpkin contains a whopping 8 grams of fiber, and with only 40 calories in the same half-cup serving, it’s safe to say that pumpkin gets a green light on the diet front.
Best of all, it’s a breeze to make and deliciously different!
Simply mix with cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg, and almond milk, and heat for 1-2 minutes in the microwave.
And for a tasty snack that’s significantly more satiating than pumpkin alone try this.
Puree some cooked pumpkin, and blend in some vanilla protein powder or high-protein yogurt, unsweetened coconut milk, and cinnamon (and/or allspice and nutmeg) — blend up a substantial batch for several days of sensational, appetite-satisfying snacking!
Surprised to see chocolate on the list?
There’s good evidence that it belongs here, at least with regard to moderate amounts of extra-dark chocolate.
Chocolate contains uncommon, unusually potent antioxidants called flavanols, which support cardiovascular and brain health — while apparently helping keep your weight down.
In one clinical study, overweight women who ate 100 grams (3.5 oz) of dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa) daily for seven days experienced drops in the circumference and volume of their bellies.
And similar trial found that people who ate 100 grams of dark chocolate daily had less desire to eat something fatty, savory, or sweet for the remainder of the day.
Just keep in mind that these trials tested dark chocolate consisting of 75-80 percent cocoa, which will deliver much less fat and sugar then lighter bars — as well as far higher levels of antioxidants.
Again, moderation is key. Think choc-a-little, not choc-a-lot!