These seven once-forbidden foods can actually help you lose weight
You want to shed some kilos, and immediately your personal list of no-no’s grows. No bread or potatoes – too many carbs. No chocolate – too fattening. Sound familiar? Diets don’t have to be so strict, says dietician Milton Stokes. In fact, forbidding certain foods can backfire. “Thanks to fad diets that aren’t based in solid science, I often see clients avoiding foods that would help them control overeating or fight belly fat and ultimately lose weight,” he says. “Worse still, having an off-limits list is like stuffing your cravings into a plastic bag. Eventually it’s going to burst open, unleashing all your urges at once, which leads to bingeing.” The real key to weight loss? “Mind your P’s and Q’s – watch portions and choose quality, nutrient-rich foods,” says Sari Greaves, a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Here’s how the top foods typically dismissed by dieters can help you happily slim down.
GREAT SOURCE OF CALCIUM, WHICH BURNS KILOJOULES
At about 418 kilojoules and five out of every 28 grams being fat, cheese usually tops the no-no list, but its calcium improves your ability to burn kilojoules and fat, according to a recent research review. Not getting enough of this mineral may trigger the release of calcitriol, a hormone that causes the body to store fat. Scientists at the University of Tennessee found that people on a reduced-kilojoule diet who included an extra 300 to 400 milligrams of calcium a day lost significantly more weight than those who ate the same number of kilojoules but with less calcium. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but eating calcium-rich foods is more effective than taking calcium supplements – and cheese has about 7 milligrams to every gram. Just stick to 55g portions, and choose light varieties to get the same health benefits for half the kilojoules.
CONTAINS CARBOHYDRATES, WHICH BOOST BRAIN CHEMICALS THAT CURB OVEREATING
Bread is an excellent source of carbs, which your brain needs to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of comfort and satisfaction, says Dr Nina T. Frusztajer, a physician who specialises in nutrition and is co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet. “As your body digests carbohydrates, it releases insulin, which helps channel tryptophan – an amino acid – into the brain. Tryptophan then gets converted to serotonin,” she explains. When serotonin levels are optimal, you feel calm and happy and have fewer cravings; when they’re low, you feel depressed and irritable, making you more likely to overeat. Breads containing whole grains are healthiest, and one serving equals one slice of bread, half an English muffin or a small roll.
RICH IN HEALTHY FATS THAT HELP BANISH BELLY FLAB
Studies show that diets high in monounsaturated fatty acids (abundant in peanut butter and nuts) prevent accumulation of fat around the midsection, boost kilojoule burn, and promote weight loss. In fact, people who eat one serving of nuts or peanut butter two or more times a week gain fewer kilograms than those who rarely eat them, according to recent research from the Harvard School of Public Health. One reason: ` snack that includes peanut butter helps you stay full for up to 2½ hours, compared with 30 minutes for a carb-only snack such as a rice cake, finds research from Purdue University. (Carbohydrates satisfy a craving, while nuts keep you feeling full.) Peanut butter and nuts are high in kilojoules, so stick with a 2-tablespoon portion – about the size of a golf ball.
A HIGH FLUID CONTENT KEEPS YOU SATISFIED LONGER
Cooked pasta and rice are about 70% water – and eating fluid-rich foods keeps you fuller longer, compared with dry foods, according to research from the British Nutrition Foundation. Like bread, the carbs in pasta boost serotonin to help curb overeating. The proper
portion of pasta is ½ cup cooked, or about the size of an ice cream scoop. Choose whole grain varieties for filling fibre, and add grilled chicken and lots of veggies to bulk up your dish even more.
PROVIDE A FORM OF RESISTANT STARCH, A FIBRE THAT BURNS FAT
These veggies may be one of our most misunderstood foods. Fried or doused in sour cream, they’re not going to help you lose weight. But when boiled or baked, a potato’s starch absorbs water and swells. Once chilled, portions of the starch crystallize into a form that resists digestion-resistant starch. Unlike other types of fibre, resistant starch gets fermented in the large intestine, creating fatty acids that may block the body’s ability to burn carbohydrates. In their place, you burn fat. A healthy potato serving is about the size of a fist.
SOOTHES A SWEET TOOTH NATURALLY FOR FEW KILOJOULES
Some dieters skip this low-kilojoule fare when they start watching the scale, thanks to once-popular diets that eliminated fruit in their most restrictive phases. But new research published in the journal Obesity Reviews looked at 16 different studies and found overwhelmingly that eating fruit is associated with weighing less. In one study from Brazil, participants who added three small apples to their regular meals and snacks lost 5kg in 10 weeks without dieting. Although fruit does contain the natural sugar fructose, it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels like table sugar does; plus, it’s high in water and filling fibre and low in kilojoules. Aim to add three servings of fresh fruit to your daily menu – but skip the high-kilojoule juice. Great picks (with average kilojoules per cup): fresh melon (209), grapes (251), berries (293) and citrus fruits (314).
SATISFIES A COMMON CRAVING TO PREVENT BINGEING
Up to 97% of people experience cravings, and chocolate is the most common and “intensely” craved food, according to a recent study. Having an occasional small serving of a favourite treat is better than depriving yourself, which may lead to a binge, says Greaves. In fact, people who tried to not think about chocolate ate two-thirds more of it than people who were told to talk about it freely, according to British research. Dark varieties are more satisfying than milk chocolate, say scientists at the University of Copenhagen, but measure your portion, and be mindful when you eat. Slowly savouring one or two squares of a high-quality dark chocolate bar will satisfy a craving more than wolfing down a box of Smarties in front of the TV.
YES, YOU CAN HAVE PASTA AND LOSE WEIGHT