Saturday, May 30, 2009
Eat, Weigh, Love
Eating more to lose weight sounds as preposterous as it does tantalizing. But research now shows that consuming certain foods even some seemingly nondietetic ones—can help you shed pounds.
By Jenny Bailly
Minimalism has inspired such architects, painters, and writers as Mies van der Rohe, Ellsworth Kelly, and Ernest Hemingway. In the art of weight loss, however, minimalism isn?t such a brilliant approach. Conversely, in fact, nutritionists now believe that adding more of certain foods to your diet may help you weigh less. And we're not just talking about puffed wheat and dry salad. Of course, calories are still a key part of the picture. But reducing your diet to steamed broccoli and grilled fish can set you up for failure (if it doesn't bore you to death first). Women who give up specific foods or food groups often only fuel their cravings and end up overeating, as researchers from the University of Toronto at Mississauga, Ontario, demonstrated in a 2006 study. Shedding pounds, and keeping them off, is a much more realistic proposition when your focus shifts from what you don't eat to what you do—leaving the minimalism to the numbers on the scale.
Robert Atkins pushed protein with such fervor that he started to sound like a fanatic, but research has found that eating a reasonable amount of protein instead of carbohydrates can indeed encourage weight loss. Women who ate 120 grams of protein a day and exercised regularly lost an average of 21.5 pounds over four months—6.5 more pounds than did exercising women who consumed an equivalent number of calories on a high-carbohydrate diet. The protein group also lost more weight in the abdominal area (while retaining all muscle mass) than the carbohydrate group did, according to the study in The Journal of Nutrition.
"Your body has to work harder to digest proteins than it does with carbohydrates and fats, so protein actually burns more calories," says Joy Bauer, registered dietitian and coauthor of Joy Bauer's Food Cures (Rodale Books). "And because it takes a while to digest, it also makes you feel full longer." In other words, you'll be less likely to find yourself elbow-deep in the office candy jar after a chicken salad lunch than following a slice of cheese pizza. Eating protein may also signal your stomach to produce less ghrelin, an appetite-stimulating hormone, researchers reported in April in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
Consuming at least 50 percent of your body weight in grams of protein is a good daily goal—if you weigh 140 pounds, for example, shoot for 70 grams, Bauer suggests. That amount could be derived from six ounces of roast chicken plus one cup of low-fat cottage cheese; or one cup of kidney beans, four ounces of lean hamburger, and two cups of low-fat yogurt. Just make sure to spread the wealth. "Most of us eat about 60 percent of our daily protein after 6 P.M.," says Donald K. Layman, professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "But you should also have it early in the day so you're less likely to snack later." He recommends as many as 30 grams of protein at breakfast (during which the average American woman gets fewer than ten grams). An egg (six grams), a cup of low-fat yogurt (12 grams), and half a whole-grain English muffin with two tablespoons of peanut butter (12 grams) will get you there. In addition to chicken, fish, beef, and pork, make sure some of your regular protein sources are vegetable-based, such as beans, and calcium-rich, such as yogurt.
This particular type of protein may have special merit. Like a standing 6 A.M. date with your trainer, beginning the day with eggs can jump-start weight loss (without the painful predawn alarm). Volunteers who substantially cut calories from their diets while eating egg breakfasts lost an average of six pounds in eight weeks, versus three and a half pounds for a similarly dieting group who ate equivalent-calorie bagel breakfasts instead. The egg meal consisted of two eggs and two pieces of white toast with reduced-calorie fruit spread; the other breakfast was one bagel, one tablespoon of cream cheese, and less than one serving of fat-free yogurt. The egg eaters also reduced their waist measurements 83 percent more than the bagel group, according to the study at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center of Louisiana State University System. The investigators don't yet understand exactly why that is, but they have also found that people who eat eggs instead of a bagel in the morning go on to consume fewer calories over the next 24 hours.
Less fat on your plate doesn't necessarily translate to less on your body. Fat-slashing in recent decades hasn't done much to trim figures: Even though the fat content of the average American's diet has dropped over the years, the population has continued to get fatter, as Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, points out in Eat, Drink, and Weigh Less (Hyperion). In fact, fat has never actually been shown to cause more weight gain than protein or carbohydrates as long as overall calorie intake isn't excessive.
Like protein, fat increases satiety, that pleasantly full feeling that signals us to put the fork down. "It causes the release of certain hormones in the gut, such as cholesystokinin, that tell your brain you've eaten enough," says Christine L. Pelkman, assistant professor of nutrition at the State University of New York at Buffalo, who conducted a study in which subjects who consumed 33 percent of their calories from fat (many of them from nuts) lost the same amount of weight as those whose diets were only 18 percent fat. By slowing the absorption of carbohydrates in the blood, fat also stabilizes blood sugar and, along with it, mood swings that can contribute to cravings and overeating.
Bauer recommends getting 25 to 35 percent of your calories from fat (for an 1,800-calorie diet, 50 to 70 grams a day). The majority of that fat should be unsaturated—olives and olive oil, nuts, legumes, and fatty fish like salmon—and could include a tablespoon of olive oil (14 grams), a quarter cup of almonds (18 grams), or half an avocado (15 grams). Keep saturated fats, found in red meat, butter, and whole-fat dairy products, to a minimum—no more than 14 grams a day in a 1,800-calorie diet; one tablespoon of butter (seven grams) and three ounces of lean beef (five grams) is plenty.
Like many so-called "diet" drinks, water has zero calories—this one, however, also helps burn them. When you don't drink enough water, your metabolism slows down, says E. Wayne Askew, director of the Division of Nutrition at the University of Utah. Eight to 12 eight-ounce glasses a day is optimal, but most Americans drink closer to five or six. Also, "you can confuse thirst with hunger," says Sharon R. Akabas, associate director of the Institute for Human Nutrition at Columbia University. "You'll often eat less if you have a glass or two of water before a meal."
Don't count on chicken soup to do much for your soul—but it might help improve your body. Much research has shown that a bowl of soup before a meal can keep your appetite in check. Rolls served study participants vegetable soup containing chicken broth, broccoli, potatoes, cauliflower, and carrots; women who began their lunch with a one-and-a-half-cup portion of it, for about 129 calories, reduced the calorie intake of their entire meal by 20 percent.
Diets like Atkins and South Beach dismiss fruit as a "food to avoid," but most experts beg to differ. Fruit consists mostly of water and fiber, so it fills you up without adding a lot of calories. In a six-year study at Laval Hospital Research Centre at Laval University in Quebec, people who increased their fruit intake—whole fruit only, not juice—put on less weight than those who ate little or no fruit. Scientists didn't find the same clear link between vegetables and weight loss, perhaps because they're more easily paired with butter or creamy sauces.
Grapefruit in particular has long been surrounded by weight-loss mystique, and now there's proof to back up the claims. Volunteers consumed either half a grapefruit or eight ounces of grapefruit juice three times a day, before every meal. After three months, the grapefruit eaters lost an average of 3.6 pounds and the juice drinkers an average of 3.3 pounds, whereas subjects who drank a placebo juice lost about half a pound. The researchers speculate that the effect may be attributable to certain chemical properties of grapefruit. If eating all that grapefruit doesn't seem practical, try simply toting an apple to work as a pre-lunch snack. People who ate about one and a half medium peeled, sliced apples (about 125 calories? worth) 15 minutes before being served a tortellini entrée consumed an average of 187 fewer calories from the meal than those who had applesauce, juice, or nothing.
"I'll just have the salad" is a popular script for dieters. "I'll start with the salad" might be a healthier (not to mention less sanctimonious) order. After eating three cups of a 100-calorie salad (romaine and iceberg lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, two tablespoons of low-fat cheese, and three tablespoons of fat-free dressing), women ate an average of 12 percent fewer calories at a pasta lunch, during a study at Pennsylvania State University. There is the potential for too much of a good thing, though. A salad of 400 calories, topped with full-fat dressing, led people to consume 17 percent more calories. "You have to stay under 150 calories in that first course to see the benefits," says Barbara J. Rolls, professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State and author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan (HarperCollins).
Even if Stephen Colbert is the only witness, several spoonfuls of Chunky Monkey can still undermine a day's worth of wise food choices. Instead of padlocking the kitchen after dinner, pour yourself a bowl of cereal. Night snackers in a study at Wayne State University in Detroit were asked to eat one cup of unsweetened cold cereal with two-thirds of a cup of low-fat milk at least 90 minutes after dinner. (The cereals had 100 to 135 calories, two to six grams of protein, and 23 to 32 grams of carbohydrates.) After a month, they had shed an average of two pounds—versus less than half a pound for others who continued with their regular snacking habits—and they consumed 100 fewer nighttime calories and 400 fewer calories per day. A bowl of cereal in the morning can be helpful, too. A study recently published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that subjects who ate a high-fiber cereal for breakfast had suppressed appetites, as well as improved glycemic response after consuming pizza 75 minutes later. High in fiber and low in sugar, Fiber One, Total, Wheaties, and Kashi Go Lean top nutritionists' lists of the best cereals to choose at any hour.
One of the easiest ways to lose a little weight is often overlooked. "We should be eating 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day, but most of us get about half that," says Miriam E. Nelson, director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University. People who were encouraged to increase fiber intake but were not told to cut calories achieved an average four pounds of weight loss over four months, according to analysis in Nutrition Review of more than 100 studies. "Adding fiber may lead to decreased food intake spontaneously, or to excretion of calories from the digestive system, or both," says study author Edward Saltzman, chief of clinical nutrition at Tufts Medical Center. Whole-grain breads, whole-wheat pasta, those nutritionist-approved cereals, brown rice, and unpeeled fruit are all good fiber sources.