When you bite into your lunch sandwich you aren’t the only one feasting on it. Our guts are teeming with trillions of bacteria that also rely on this nourishment. And emerging research suggests various types of bacteria in your digestive tract help your body absorb calories from food. That means if there is a robust population of the type of bacteria that breaks down food into energy, you may be soaking up more calories from the food you eat. So the makeup of your microbiome could play a vital role in the overall calorie cost of your diet and, in turn, weight management by making you more or less prone to absorbing and storing extra calories.
Take Action: Consider splurging for organic meats and dairy more often. It looks like the millions of pounds of antibiotics used in conventional livestock production each year can skew the population of bugs in your gut, nurturing those that are more efficient at pulling calories from food and transporting them into your system. Beyond eating antibiotic-free steak and milk and not taking antibiotics for every cough you have, load up on high-fiber vegetables, fruits and whole grains since fiber can help foster a population of microbes that are less efficient at extracting energy from food. And in terms of your waistline, that is a good thing. Academy of Sciences showed that cooking actually increases the amount of calories our bodies absorb from food. The study authors believe that cooking performs some of the digestive process for us such as denaturing proteins and gelatinizing starches, meaning that our bodies don’t expend as much energy dealing with digestion and thereby allowing more calories to be available. Further, larger quantities of raw food require more laborious chewing, which expends additional energy and also encourages satiety. So the total amount of calories we glean from raw carrots or raw fish (yum, sushi!) could very well be less than from the same portion of roasted carrots or fish sticks. And a medium-rare steak could very well deliver less energy to the body than a well-done piece of beef since its muscle fibers might be more tightly wound as a result of a shorter cooking time and, in turn, requiring extra work for your digestive system to untangle.
Take Action: Back in the day, putting meat to fire allowed our ancestors to obtain more energy to develop bigger brains, but now eating too many cooked processed foods are giving modern humans bigger guts. After all, punching computer keys all day requires less energy than that required to take down woolly mammoths. So tap into the fat-frying power of raw foods by working them into your daily menu. This can be accomplished by tossing a handful of raw sunflower seeds or nuts into breakfast oatmeal, snacking on raw baby carrots or raw fruits like pears, serving a raw salad at every dinner meal and even experimenting with recipes for ceviche, a raw seafood dish. Cooking root vegetables increases their levels of absorbable carbohydrates from the intestines, so why not try working shredded raw beets or turnips into salads instead of sending them to the fire. And if you eat pasta, enjoy it al dente to give your digestive tract more of a workout.
Take Action: While your postworkout protein shake won’t derail your diet, be careful not to become too chummy with your blender. Overall, you want most of your daily calories to come in the form of solid food. (Beverage intake accounts for up to 20 percent of calories in the typical American diet.) That means bidding adieu to orange juice in favor of a whole orange, opting for a kale salad instead of green juice and saying sayonara to sweetened drinks like soda for calorie-free options like water or tea. And when you do whip up smoothies, make them so they stick to a spoon. A Dutch study discovered that a thick milkshake lead to greater feelings of fullness than a thinner version despite containing only one-fifth of the calories. For this reason, a bowl of yogurt is likely to quell your hunger more than a glass of milk. When you consume your calories might matter as much as how many you take in. When Italian researchers looked at the eating habits of more than 1,200 adults they discovered that the risk of being obese was greatly increased for study participants who consumed half or more of their daily calories at dinner. Along the same lines, a study in the journal Obesity discovered that volunteers who consumed more calories at breakfast at the expense of calories later in the day (700 calories at breakfast, 500 at lunch, 200 at dinner) experienced greater fat loss around their waistlines than those who took in substantially more calories at dinner than breakfast (200 calories at breakfast, 500 at lunch, 700 at dinner). And Spanish scientists showed that when people ate lunch after 4:30 p.m., they burned fewer calories while resting and digesting their food than they did when they took in their meal at 1 p.m. — even though the calories eaten and level of activity was the same.
It could be that we burn more calories earlier in the day when our metabolisms are higher, while later noshes are more likely to go into fat storage. Insulin sensitivity may also fall as the day progress, so there is a greater chance that the carbohydrates consumed will get stocked away in fat stores. What all this means is that when it comes to fending off the flab monster a calorie consumed at daybreak may not be the same as a calorie eaten after sunset. Late-night calories are more prone to be stored as body fat.
Take Action: This research shows it might be a good idea to follow this sage advice: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” If you are struggling to keep your beach body, consider making your morning repast more substantial and then tapering down calorie intake as the day progresses. Besides, a substantial breakfast can also work to promote satiety early in the day and lessen the risk for mindless snacking later in the day.