On any given day in America, half of the women and a quarter of the men are dieting. The percentages are probably higher this time of year, when many people vow to lose weight for their New Year’s resolution. It seems we would rather embrace a highly restrictive diet than adopt a long-term, healthy lifestyle. Though some programs like the Atkins Diet work for some people, 90 percent of most diets fail, either because they’re too hard to stick to or because people go right back to their poor eating habits when the diet is over. Wouldn’t it be more fun to lose weight by eating real foods that taste good and leave you feeling satisfied and energized? Below I’ve described some particular foods and eating strategies that have helped many people lose weight. None of these tips will likely result in rapid weight loss, but most are easy to do and may help you gradually lose weight and keep it off. Eat protein with every meal. Protein increases the hormone glucagon, which helps the body burn fat instead of storing it. If you don’t eat enough protein, your body will burn muscle, and your metabolism will slow down. Besides the obvious protein sources like meat, fish and dairy, think also nuts, eggs, beans, tofu, soymilk and edamame (soybeans). Don’t skip breakfast. A Harvard study found that people who ate breakfast every day dropped their risk of obesity by 35 to 50 percent, compared with people who ate breakfast only twice a week. Eating breakfast appears to raise your metabolism for the entire day. Got dairy? A 2002 study at the University of Tennessee found that subjects who ate three daily servings of dairy products lost fat and gained lean body mass, compared with a group who ate less than one serving per day. Neither group changed its normal calorie, protein or fat intake; nor did any of the subjects alter his or her exercise routine. Researchers believe that calcium and amino acids may be responsible for the weight loss. When calcium is lacking, the body goes into “starvation” mode, releasing hormones that pull calcium from the bones. Unfortunately, those same hormones stimulate the body to produce fat and suppress its breakdown. The result? You’ll gain fat quickly and hang onto it stubbornly, even if you’re on a low-calorie diet. Though several studies have illustrated the fat-burning effects of dairy, only one has been fully published. Still, the results are intriguing. If you want to try it, substitute three servings a day of dairy products for other foods. If possible, choose organic products to avoid bovine growth hormone and antibiotics. (Interestingly, supplements or vegetable sources of calcium and amino acids did not exhibit the same fat-burning effect as calcium from dairy.) Eat the right fats. Fats are calorie dense, but research has shown repeatedly that dieters who eat a moderate amount of healthy fats feel more satisfied and lose more weight than people on very low fat diets. Healthy omega-3 fats appear to boost metabolism, so add some of these oils in the form of flaxseed meal (found in the cereal aisle of health food stores and some grocery stores) and oily, cold-water fish such as Alaskan and Pacific salmon, sardines, trout and small species of mackerel. Incorporate healthy monounsaturates in your diet by eating nuts, olives and avocados, and cooking with canola and olive oil. At the University of Wisconsin, researchers discovered another great reason to eat these fats: When study participants exercised aerobically, the fats they burned off first were monounsaturates. Eventually they burned off saturated fat, but not as easily. Eliminate trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) from your diet. These fats don’t contain more calories than other oils, but if you remove them from your diet, you’ll automatically cut out lots of processed junk food, making it easier to eat foods that leave you feeling satisfied, energized and balanced. Drink water or tea instead of soda or juice. Research shows that soda and juice do not suppress appetite; apparently you need to chew your food for the body to register signs of fullness. In one study, subjects were given extra daily calories in the form of either candy or soda. The people given candy adjusted their food intake to compensate for the extra calories, but the people who drank soda simply ate as usual and ended up gaining weight (Journal of Obesity and Related Medical Disorders, 2000.) If you’re trying to drop pounds, forego caloric drinks in favor of water or tea. Green tea, in particular, has been shown to increase caloric burn, but there is a lack of human studies proving it an effective weight loss tool. Still, it’s a great antioxidant, so you’ve got nothing to lose by drinking it. Eat five to nine servings of fruits, veggies and legumes daily. Eating lots of plant-based foods doesn’t leave much room for bingeing on junk food. Plant foods are high in fiber as well as important vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that satisfy your body’s nutritional needs. The fruits described below are worth particular mention. Munch an apple or pear before every meal. The high fiber content of apples and pears will help you feel full, so you’ll eat less at your meal. This is what 346 people from a small town in Washington found. By exercising, eating balanced meals, and having an apple before each meal, citizens lost an average of 17 pounds over 12 weeks. Enjoy grapefruit often. A 2004 trial at the Scripps Clinic in San Diego found that eating half a grapefruit three times a day helped the 100 participants in the study lose an average of three pounds in three months. This is not earth-shattering weight loss by any means, but it occurred without any other dietary changes or exercise. One word of caution: grapefruit juice can raise blood levels and intensify the effects of many medications, including some cholesterol-lowering drugs, benzodiazepines (Valium), calcium channel antagonists and cyclosporine. Please consult with your physician before increasing your grapefruit intake significantly. Snack on nuts. Dieters in a study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that eating one to four teaspoons of almond or peanut butter daily helped them lose weight and keep it off for more than a year. A Harvard study found that eating a handful of nuts each day helped dieters keep their weight off more easily than people who avoided nuts. But all nuts are calorie dense, so don’t go overboard. Choose whole grains. Most white flour products, like bagels, pastries, rolls and white bread break down quickly in your bloodstream, causing a sharp insulin surge that can leave you feeling hungry and depleted. Whole grains, which contain more fiber, keep blood sugar levels steady and curb appetite, which translates into weight loss. Choose bread that lists whole grain as the first ingredient and contains at least two grams of fiber per slice. Beware, healthy sounding names like “multigrain” and “wheat bread” are often nothing more than white bread with caramel coloring and a few oats sprinkled on top.
Munching to Aid Metabolism