Health experts agree that many foods can play multiple roles in weight loss.
Starting in the 1970s, natural foods advocate and journalist Kathleen Barnes, of Brevard, North Carolina, avidly practiced vegetarianism, yet through the years she still gained weight. Searching for answers, she shared her findings in an array of books that include 8 Weeks to Vibrant Health: A Take Charge Plan for Women (co-authored with Dr. Hyla Cass) and Rx from the Garden: 101 Food Cures You Can Easily Grow.
“When I at last learned which key foods to add to my diet, I lost 100 pounds—and kept them off,” says Barnes.
Burn fat. Foods with thermogenic properties help heat up the body and may help burn fat. “You feel a flush when you eat or drink them,” Barnes notes. Chili peppers, curry powder, horseradish, mustard, garlic, onion, wasabi, ginger, black pepper and radishes are especially good choices in cold weather, when we want to feel warm anyway.
The intense flavors delivered by such foods help us to practice the principle of portion control, Chester Ku-Lea, a health and nutrition consultant in Vancouver, British Columbia, says, “Adding these foods to dishes generates a higher rate of caloric burn, and their powerful flavors prompt people to eat far less than they normally would. Plus, red, cayenne and jalapeño peppers, hot sauces and any other spicy foods are all very low in calories.”
Enhance mood. We don’t want to feel hungry or deprived when trying to lose weight. The protein in turkey, chicken and cold-water fish like salmon and mackerel help us feel more satisfied and on top of things. Barnes also suggests eating low-fat cottage cheese, avocado, wheat germ, whole-grain crackers and bananas to help increase serotonin levels and feelings of well-being. “When you crave something sweet or feel like you’re crashing mid-afternoon, that’s the time to eat a small amount of these foods to get you back on track,” she advises.
Julia Ross, author of The Mood Cure and The Diet Cure, agrees. This Mill Valley, California, nutritional psychotherapist recommends complex carbohydrates such as whole grains to keep us on an even keel during weight loss. “This means pushing away the leftover cake and eating sensible carbs to stimulate serotonin,” she says.
Promote digestion. The fiber in fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains helps move things along in the digestive system, making our bodies work more efficiently. Barnes favors drinking peppermint and other herbal teas and incorporating sage, dill, oregano and other herbs in savory dishes to aid digestion.
According to a recent University of Illinois study, soluble fiber found in oat bran, fruits, vegetables and nuts not only facilitates digestion, but also supports the immune system. Professor Gregory Freund, who teaches at the university’s medical school in Champaign, explains, “Soluble fiber changes the personality of immune cells—they go from being pro-inflammatory, angry cells to anti-inflammatory, healing cells that help us recover faster from infection.”
Feel full. Hunger pangs can derail anyone’s best efforts to eat better. Barnes learned that liquids, including up to two quarts of water a day, help retain a satisfied feeling. In cooler months, she makes soups that incorporate leafy green vegetables, onion, garlic, chili peppers and herbs.
An apple a day might keep the doctor away—and help in other ways, as well. “Apples have a high water content and are packed with fiber, two factors that leave you satiated,” says Keren Gilbert, a registered dietitian and founder of Decision Nutrition, in Great Neck, New York. “For a tasty protein-packed snack, top apple slices with natural almond butter.”
Accept treats. Leaving room for a treat, like a piece of fine chocolate, can leave us feeling satisfied rather than stuffed, says Katherine Harvey, a registered dietitian in Kansas City, Missouri.
Indulging in a little sweet treat from time to time reinforces the perception that eating right can be simple and pleasurable, says Barnes. In cold months, she likes to bake apples sweetened with Stevia and cinnamon, or poach pears in fruit juice and spices. She might break open a pomegranate and slowly munch each ruby-colored seed, or stop at a coffee shop to sip a latte made with low-fat milk.
Barnes’ evolved natural foods strategy has helped her maintain a desirable weight for many years now. “Sustainable weight loss involves sustainable eating,” she says, “finding healthy foods that we can enjoy for the rest of our lives.”
Award-winning cookbook author Judith Fertig blogs at AlfrescoFoodAndLifestyle.blogspot.com.
Bonus Diet Tips
Be mindful. Hunger may be more mental or emotional, rather than physical, says nutritionist Katherine Harvey. “Becoming more aware of where in our bodies we’re feeling hungry—our heads, chests or stomachs—can help us discern if we’re eating out of boredom, emotional distress or true physical need.”
Celebrate each meal. If we can focus on each bite and do nothing else—no reading, watching TV or working at our desk—we’ll eat less, says health writer Kathleen Barnes. “It helps our focus to bless our food, the people who grew it, where it came from and the good work it is doing in our bodies.”
Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated is important. To keep track of her allotted two quarts of water a day, Barnes drinks it from a two-quart canning jar.