30+ best foods for burning fat and losing weight
Losing weight is a goal that most people in the world will strive for at some point in their lives. In 2013, two out of three women in the UK began a diet, and 44% of men tried to slim down. There are many different techniques for losing weight, including a wide variety of diets and exercise techniques.
One of the most popular diets in recent years is the 5:2 diet, which involves eating 1/4 of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of calories two days a week, and eating normally for the other five days. In 2013 39% of people attempting to lose weight chose this dieting technique.
Despite the menagerie of techniques for weight-loss however, excess weight is becoming a more and more common and serious health problem. In 2013, the NHS released statistics about the state of obesity in the UK. The statistics come from 2011 data, and show that during that year the proportion of people with a healthy body mass index (BMI) was just 34%.
Over the past eighteen years, there has been a marked increase in obesity; in 1993 13% of men and 16% of women were obese, but in 2011 the figures rose sharply to 24% of men and 26% of women.
Obesity and being overweight is defined as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health”, and is a serious health problem which currently costs the NHS an estimated £9bn a year. Experts expect that in 2050 that figure will rise to £50bn a year, when half the UK population is expected to be overweight.
Not only does obesity cause a huge strain on the NHS, but it can cause serious health complications for individuals suffering from the condition.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity and being overweight contributes to more deaths worldwide than being underweight. These deaths occur through a variety of causes which all have routes in obesity; 44% of type 2 diabetes diagnoses worldwide are due to obesity, 23% of ischemic heart disease, and between 7 and 41% of cancers.
By changing ones diet, one can help to stave off the risk of developing obesity. Firstly, you should ensure that your calorie intake is less than the calories you are burning as energy. RDA of calorie intake is defined as 2000 calories for women, and 2500 for men, because this is how many calories on average each gender burns through normal bodily processes during the course of a day.
As well as paying attention to calorie intake, however, there are certain foods that you can add to your diet which have properties that can aid in weight-loss.
We have compiled a list of the best foods you can consume to help with weight loss, below.
Fruits and Vegetables
When people think of foods to help them lose weight, fruits and vegetables are probably the first to come to mind, and for good reason. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables out there which have some fantastic ingredients and nutrients which can aid in weight loss. Below we list out some of the most important ones:
Avocados are a fruit that many people avoid because they have a notoriously high fat content. What people don’t know, however, is that the fat found in avocados is good fat. Its scientific name is monounsaturated oleic acid, and it benefits the body because it is much more likely than saturated fat to be utilized effectively as a slow-burning energy, rather than simply being stored.
It has also been shown to provide significant improvements to insulin sensitivity and glycaemic control, which is a major factor in the correlation between weight gain and developing diabetes.
High Insulin sensitivity means that an individual will require smaller levels of insulin to lower blood glucose levels compared to somebody with low sensitivity. Low sensitivity is also referred to as insulin resistance, and it is a sign that the body is having difficulty metabolizing glucose.
This can lead to problems such as high blood pressure and higher cholesterol levels. Insulin resistance also places high demand on insulin-producing beta cells. This strain can eventually cause these cells to lose function, leading to type 2 diabetes. Being overweight can exacerbate this process further, and also increases the risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
By eating foods high in monounsaturated oleic acid, such as the avocado, the risk of type 2 diabetes is reduced, and fat is used to create energy rather than stored as excess weight. Avocados also have additional benefits as they are high in omega-9 fats. These can reduce levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, raise levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol, and they can aid in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and antioxidants.
Sometimes we overeat because the body is in need of specific nutrients, so by eating foods which help the body to absorb nutrients from food, the risk of overeating is reduced. Avocados also contain high levels of fibre and protein, and alongside the fat content, this combination can help to enhance feelings of satiety (fullness).
Blueberries have long been considered a ‘superfood’ because of their high anti-oxidant content, which allows the body to fight off free radicals that cause a variety of serious health problems including some cancers. Research has shown that they may also have the potential to help with weight-loss. Seymour et al (2009) found that blueberries may change the way we process fats and sugars in our diet.
The research was conducted on rats, but often in these situations the results are later replicated in humans. They gave obese rats diets rich in blueberries, and found that they lost significantly more abdominal fat than those on a normal diet. They also showed improved levels of cholesterol and insulin resistance.
The research showed that these results occurred regardless of what foods were found in rest of the diet, but that they worked significantly more effectively as part of a low-fat diet. They suggest that fat loss occurs as a result of the high level of phytochemicals (naturally occurring antioxidants) found in blueberries.
This research is important because abdominal fat is the most dangerous, as it is fat which lines all the abdominal organs and is associated with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and other health problems. Eating blueberries may be an excellent way to reduce abdominal fat and prevent both weight gain and other significant health problems.
As many people consume too much fat in their diets, as well as helping people to reduce fat intake, scientists are investigating how to stop the fats they do eat from having detrimental effects on the body. A recent study (Napoli et al, 2014) found that grapefruit, and in particular grapefruit juice, can reduce the amount of weight put on when eating fatty foods, by as much as a fifth.
It has also been shown to be as good at controlling insulin levels as some diabetes drugs. The mechanism by which these results occur is unknown, but what they did find was that weight loss only happened when fatty foods were eaten. This study was conducted in animals, but research conducted in human participants backs up this evidence.
For instance, Dow et al (2012) asked 74 overweight adults to consume a normal diet, but 50% were asked to add half a fresh grapefruit to each meal for six weeks. There were no differences in weight before the study began, but afterwards it was found that there was moderate weight loss and significant waistline circumference reductions for people who ate the grapefruit.
The best news is that the participants added the grapefruit to their existing diet; apart from this they ate completely normally. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels were also significantly reduced.
If you only want to make one change to your diet, it seems that adding grapefruit can have a significant and noticeable effect on weight.
Oranges are full of fibre which helps you to feel full, but they are also, as most people know, a great source of vitamin C. Not only is this a brilliant antioxidant to keep you healthy, but it also encourages the body to burn more fat. It promotes the production of carnitine in the body, which is an amino acid which breaks down fat and burns it to create energy. The most potent form of carnitine (that also promotes circulation and heart health) is propionyl l-carnitine, or something interchangeable called glycine propionyl l-carnitine (GPLC for short).
Fresh oranges are best because most orange juice has added sugar and you may also consume a much higher quantity of calories due to the volume of orange juice you would drink compared to the number of oranges you would eat.
Potatoes are often a food people avoid when trying to lose weight, but this behaviour may be misplaced. There are two reasons for this claim:
Firstly, research by Randolph et al (2014) assessed the effects of various dieting restrictions and potato consumption on weight loss in overweight individuals from a free-living population. Free-living refers to people who live by indulging happily in their everyday desires, wants and needs.
The participants were split into groups of three; one group reduced their calorie intake by 500 calories and consumed foods low in GI (glycaemic index), one group did the same but with foods high in GI, and one group had no dieting restrictions. Additionally, all groups were instructed to eat 5-7 servings of potatoes each week, cooked healthily (i.e. no fried or roasted with lots of oil).
The research found that all groups showed modest weight-loss and they lost inches in body size also. This evidence shows that potatoes do not significantly hamper weight loss, and some academics argue that they might actually be helpful.
As this study did not include a group who did not eat potatoes, this cannot be known for sure, but what this research does show is that there is no need to remove potatoes from a diet in order to lose weight (as long as they are cooked healthily).
The second reason that potatoes shouldn’t be removed from a diet comes from research by Kubow et al (2014) who investigated the effects of potato extract on mice who were given a high fat diet. All mice gained weight, but the study found that those who had added potato extract had weight gain reduced by as much as 63%.
The protective effects of potatoes for weight gain come from the high number of polyphenols found in the vegetable; the same nutrients found in blueberries which make them so good for weight loss.
These two studies combined provide evidence that not only are potatoes acceptable to eat when you are trying to lose weight, but that they may actually contain fat-fighting ingredients to help you slim down. What is important is to remember that they must be cooked as healthily as possible; boiled, with a little salt for flavour, or baked with no fat added is best.
Cabbage is an excellent food for weight loss for a couple of reasons; firstly, it’s full of flavour but not calorific, meaning that you can eat quite a lot of it without gaining too many calories. Secondly, research on animals has shown that it may be good for weight loss because it has a positive effect on blood sugar.
Sometimes we crave food because our blood sugar levels have dropped; as a result, we eat unhealthy food to get a quick fix. Cabbage has been shown to stabilise blood sugar and improve glucose tolerance in diabetic rats (Islam and Choi, 2009) As a result, it can prevent overeating and snacking.
Spinach is a food that most people don’t eat a lot of, but recent research has shown that it may be an excellent addition to the diet of people trying to lose weight. Spinach contains a green plant membrane called thylakoid, which reinforces the body’s production of ‘satiety hormones’ to encourage a feeling of satisfaction and fullness. This can lead to better portion and appetite control, and ultimately weight loss can occur.
Montelius et al (2014) asked 38 overweight women to consume either a thylakoids supplement or a placebo once a day before breakfast for 12 weeks. All participants were also instructed to follow a ‘three-meal’ plan with no snacking, and to increase physical activity.
Participants who consumed the thylakoids supplement lost significantly more body weight than those on the placebo (up to 43% more), and cholesterol levels were also reduced. What is even more exciting for people wanting to lose weight is that the participants on the supplement also reported up to 95% fewer food cravings.
Apples are a great choice for people on a calorie controlled diet because they are excellent at making you feel full for around just 60 calories each. Research by Condeze-Hoyos, Mohanty and Noratto (2014) points to another reason apples may help with weight loss.
They found that apples contain non-digestible compounds (fibre and polyphenols) which promote growth of good bacteria in the gut which aid in weight loss. The compounds become fermented in the colon where they act as nutrients for the good bacteria.
These good bacteria multiply and begin to outweigh the bad bacteria which thrive on junk food. This restored balance appears to reduce inflammation (a risk factor in the development of obesity), weight gain, and it also boosts feelings of fullness.
Goji berries are fruits which are not very well known in the UK, but they hold a surprising number of properties which make them beneficial for health. One of these is that they have the potential to aid in weight loss, as they have a very low glycaemic index (GI).
This means that they satisfy hunger quickly, and reduce cravings for sugary and unhealthy food. The way it works is fairly simple. When we eat sugary or starchy food, our blood sugar levels spike. This causes the pancreas to produce insulin, to lower blood sugar levels again. Following this dip in blood sugar, we crave sugar and starchy foods, and the cycle repeats.
Foods which are low in GI are slower at converting into blood sugar. As a result, the spikes and dips in blood sugar are less pronounced, and so cravings for sugary foods are reduced. Goji berries have one of the lowest GIs, of just 29 (apples have 38, oranges 42 and raisins 64), and so including them in your diet may help you to reduce snacking behaviours.
Research by the Al-Dujaili et al (2013) asked volunteers to consume a daily supplement of pomegranate, which contained pulp, skin and seeds of the fruit. Another set of volunteers were given a placebo. After three weeks, all participants sat down to eat a meal of pasta with tomato sauce.
Those who had consumed the pomegranate substitute ate on average 22% less than those on the placebo, and also thought that the meal was tastier. Furthermore, the pomegranate supplement group felt in general 12% less hungry, 21% less desire to eat, 16% fuller and 15% more satisfied.
The exact mechanism by which these results occur is not yet known, but it is suspected that the high levels of polyphenols found in pomegranates may be a possible cause; they are the same ingredients which make blueberries and potatoes good for weight loss (see above).
Chilies and Peppers
Hot chilies are a staple of many diets and are also used to make hot sauce, but some people find them difficult to eat, particularly if they aren’t used to eating spice. It may be worth getting used to spicy foods however, as chilies appear to be an excellent addition to your diet if you want to lose weight.
This is because chilies contain a chemical called capsaicin, which is responsible for their delicious spicy flavour. Not only does it give the vegetable a kick, but capsaicin also causes the body’s metabolic processes to speed up. Metabolism is necessary for a variety of bodily processes, all of which are vital for proper function. It keeps your organs functioning normally and helps the body with breathing and digestion.
Chiles cause the metabolism to speed up because the capsaicin causes pain receptors in the mouth to be triggered. This sends a message to the brain, and the brain signals the metabolism to speed up, in order to cool down the body through sweat.
This can help with weight loss because the greater the metabolism works, the more calories you burn. Basically, eating spicy foods can stimulate a similar experience to going to the gym (although to a much smaller extent, and without any muscle toning!)
Capsaicin isn’t just good for boosting the metabolism to burn calories; they also reduce cravings for salty, sweet and fatty foods. What’s more, only 1g of pepper is needed for this effect (Ludy and Mattes, 2011). This is great news for people who want to lose weight because often it is snacking and cravings for unhealthy foods which cause the most problematic and drastic weight gain.
By eating chilies, not only will the body improve its ability to burn calories, but it will also reduce you desire to consume more calories. Two birds with one stone.
Raspberries contain an enzyme called ketones, which have been processed into a supplement found in many health food shops. They are proposed to work by breaking down the fat cells that accumulate in the body. Research is still in its early stages, but studies suggest that metabolism in fat cells can be increased by ketones, which can reduce the risk of obesity and fatty liver.
It can also decrease activity of a fat-digesting enzyme called pancreatic lipase. This decreased activity may result in less digestion and absorption of fat, and so fat consumed in food may pass through the body, rather than being stored as excess weight.
The bean we all know well is the baked bean, but there are many types which are a great way to bulk up a meal for few calories. As well as being a great substitute for more starchy and fatty foods, they also have other benefits for weight loss.
Kidney beans are usually found in chilies, but they are not very well known for their weight-loss properties. One role of insulin, aside from lowering blood glucose levels, is to promote fat storage. This is one of the reasons that insulin resistant people struggle to lose weight; they need greater levels of insulin to process their blood sugar, and greater insulin levels lead to greater fat storage.
Kidney beans contain fibre, protein and complex carbohydrates which help to stabilise blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels are stable, less insulin is produced, and so less fat storage is encouraged. The fibre they contain also helps the stomach to feel fuller after eating, which in turn will encourage less snacking and overeating.
Garbanzo beans, otherwise known as chickpeas, are ideal for people wanting to lose weight. Not only are they low in calories and sugar and high in fibre, but they have the ability to reduce your appetite so you desire food less. Participants in a study by Murty, Pittaway and Ball (2010) were given garbanzo beans as part of their diet for 12 weeks, preceded and followed by their normal diet for 4 weeks.
The participants reported more satisfaction with their diet during the garbanzo bean phase, and they also consumed fewer processed snacks and less food in general, compared to before and after the bean phase.
This shows that garbanzo beans can help with weight loss by increasing satisfaction with current foods, suggesting that you will be less likely to snack or submit to cravings. The reduction in snacking will lead to a reduction in calorie intake, which will allow the body to burn more calories than it consumes.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are often eaten as part of something else; cakes, biscuits, breads and so forth. They add texture and flavour to many meals, but they also have many health benefits.
Almonds are a flavoursome addition to many desserts and treats, but they also make a great healthy snacking choice. Research by Berryman et al (2014) compared participants who snacked on either 1.5oz almonds per day or a calorie-matched, high carbohydrate alternative for six weeks.
Body weight itself did not differ between the two groups, but abdominal mass and waist circumference was significantly lower in the almond group. Abdominal fat is particularly dangerous so snacking on almonds may be a great way to prevent the health risks that come with high levels of abdominal fat.
Another study by Henderson et al (2014) found that almonds may improve satiety, reduce appetite and promote healthy weight gain during pregnancy. Weight gain is inevitable during pregnancy, but healthy gain is important for nutrition and for improving the ability to lose weight after giving birth.
Pine nuts are not common in diets in the UK, but they contain a fatty acid called pinolenic acid which boosts the levels of ghrelin, the satiety hormone, in the brain. High levels of ghrelin mean that you do not feel hungry, and you are also less susceptible to cravings. Pinolenic acid is also thought to prevent the formation of abdominal fat. These two properties are excellent reasons to add pine nuts to your diet.
Hemp seeds have one property which makes them very good for weight loss. They contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help the body to burn excess fat. Not only this, but these acids also combat inflammation. Inflammation is often a cause of weight gain, especially in obesity so consuming anything which might combat this problem will be very beneficial.
Unfortunately there have been no scientific studies which have directly investigated whether hemp seeds can help with weight loss, but nutritional information about them implies that they may well be a very helpful addition to the diet.
Research by Kristensen et al (2012) investigated the effects of flax seeds on cholesterol levels and faecal fat excretion (more fat excretion means less is being absorbed by the body). They gave participants three different diets; a low fibre diet, a diet with flaxseed fibre drink, and a diet with flaxseed fibre bread.
Each of these diets was consumed over seven days, and each participant only took part in one of the diets. Both the drink diet and the bread diet led to a significant decrease in cholesterol, and increased faecal fat excretion. This shows that flax seeds are good at helping the body to reduce the amount of fat it absorbs, which in turn should reduce weight gain.
Quinoa, pronounced ‘keen-wah’, is a grain crop with edible seeds. It has many health benefits, including helping with weight loss. Quinoa has a medium GI. As such, it is good for ensuring that spikes and dips in blood sugar are kept to a minimum. This reduces the amount of insulin produced in the pancreas, which in turn reduces the negative influence of insulin on fat-storage.
It also discourages future snacking due to very low blood sugar levels. Quinoa also has extremely high levels of protein; in fact, it has almost twice as much as rice, and three times as much as couscous. Protein-rich foods help you to feel fuller quicker, and remain so for longer, which will deter later snacking and over-eating. It is particularly good as a replacement for gluten and cholesterol heavy foods, as quinoa is completely gluten and cholesterol free.
Fish and Meat
Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, along with other fish. As mentioned previously, omega-3 fatty acids encourage the body to burn excess fats, so you lose weight more easily. Fish oil like that found in salmon has also been shown to reduce leptin levels.
Leptin is a hormone which has been linked to slower metabolisms and weight gain. By lowering leptin levels through eating fish, the body will be better able to burn the calories you consume when eating, and it will improve weight-loss.
Sardines have two qualities which make them excellent for people wanting to lose weight. First of all, along with salmon they are also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids to encourage the body to burn off excess fat. Secondly they are full of protein which helps to stabilise blood sugar and encourage feelings of fullness.
This will stop over-eating and snacking on high calorie foods. Finally, again like salmon, they contain high levels of fish oil which burn leptin, the hormone which slows the metabolism and encourages weight gain.
There is a myth surrounding red meat which says that it is awful when dieting, and it causes all sorts of health complications including heart problems. This myth is fundamentally untrue. The problem comes when people choose the fattiest cuts of meat such as rib-eye steak which contains high levels of saturated fat.
This is the bad fat, which can cause cholesterol levels to increase. High cholesterol is a strong risk factor for heart problems, as it causes a thickening of mucus lining the walls of the arteries. This puts pressure on the arteries as there is less space for them to push blood through. As a result, the heart is under more strain and is susceptible to damage, including heart attacks.
By choosing lean cuts of meat however, such as sirloin steak, levels of saturated fat are very much reduced. At the same time, extremely high levels of protein are consumed, which as mentioned above are good for encouraging feelings of fullness for long periods of time. Steak also contains vitamins such as B12 and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which aid with weight loss.
Dairy seems to be one of the biggest no-go areas for people trying to lose weight, but what is poorly understood is that there are many nutrients found in dairy products which can actually encourage weight loss.
Eggs are a great food to choose when trying to lose weight, as evidenced in research by Vader Wal et al (2005). 30 overweight or obese women were asked to eat either two eggs in the morning for breakfast, or a bagel (both breakfasts had the same amount of calories and identical levels of protein).
Eating habits were then recorded throughout the day, and it was found that the women who had eaten two eggs felt less hungry and ate less food at lunchtime as a result. Furthermore, over the next 36 hours, the group who began the day with eggs consumed on average 417 calories fewer than those on the bagel breakfast.
This study has been replicated a number of times, including one by Ratliff et al (2010). In this study, the same participants (all male) ate the egg breakfast one day, and the bagel breakfast another day. Eating behaviour was compared across the two test days, and it was found that when they ate the egg breakfast they ate roughly 112 calories less at a buffet lunch, and 400 calories fewer in the following 24 hour period. It was also found that the hormone ghrelin, which promotes hunger, was more elevated after the bagel breakfast.
Exactly why eggs are so good at reducing future calorie intake isn’t clear, but it is likely that it is due to the very high amounts of protein found in them.
Cheese and Milk
Cheese and milk are notoriously high in fat, but they are both also full of calcium and protein, which both actually helps the body to break down fat. A study in Australia by Chan She Ping-Delfos (2009) asked 40 participants to undertake a calorie-reduced diet, but half of the participants were asked to eat 3 servings of cheese, yogurt and low-fat milk, and the other half ate 5 portions.
The participants who ate five portions lost the most weight of all participants, had lower blood pressure, the least stomach fat, and a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.
What this study shows is that as long as your calorie intake is less than your expenditure, it doesn’t really matter what type of food you eat. Furthermore, because dairy products like cheese and milk have high levels of protein and calcium, they are actually beneficial to the weight-loss programme.
As with cheese and milk, yogurt is thought to be a fairly high-calorie snack, but it has a very good ability to help with weight loss. Research by Zemel et al (2005) found that people who ate 18oz yogurt whilst undertaking a calorie-controlled diet lost 22% more weight and 81% more belly fat than participants who didn’t include yogurt in their diet.
The reason for this reduction in fat is that belly fat produces the hormone cortisol. As well as being a stress hormone, cortisol triggers more fat to be gathered and stored in the abdominal area. This is because the production of cortisol is part of an evolutionary ‘fight or flight’ response which ensures the body gathers as many resources as possible in response to a stressor.
Yogurt can counteract this response because it is full of calcium which tells fat cells to produce less cortisol, making it easier to lose weight. Yogurt also contains amino acids which are good at burning fat.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are not something people think of when looking for foods to eat during a weight-loss regime. They are, however, an excellent source of nutrients which can help to reduce weight.
Cumin is a spice with a nutty, peppery flavour and is often used in Mediterranean and Indian cooking. It also has properties which make it excellent for those wishing to lose weight. A study by Zare (2014) has shown that it can jumpstart weight loss, decrease body fat and improve cholesterol levels. 88 overweight and obese women were split into two groups, both of which were asked to reduce their calorie intake by 500 calories.
One group was also asked to consume 3g of cumin powder daily, swirled into 5 oz. yogurt. The control group also consumed the yogurt, minus the cumin. They found that those who had cumin in their diet lost 3lb extra (on average) compared to the control group, and they also showed a decrease of 14.69%, triple that of the control group. Cholesterol levels were also significantly lower.
The mechanism by which these changes occurred are thought to be due to the phytosterols found in cumin. These are plant chemicals which inhibit the absorption of cholesterol into the body. It is also thought that cumin works similarly to chili, by increasing the metabolism in the body to burn more calories.
Cinnamon has a variety of mechanisms by which it can aid weight loss. Firstly, it can supress the appetite by slowing down the digestive process. This ensures that the body is provided with nutrients from the food more steadily, and it takes longer before the body requires more nutrients. Therefore, it is longer until you will feel hungry.
Secondly, it contains substances which help to reduce belly fat, which, as previously mentioned is particularly dangerous and unsightly fat.
Thirdly, it speeds up the metabolism like cumin and chili, helping you to burn more calories through normal bodily processes. Finally, cinnamon is excellent at decreasing the glycaemic index of your meals; one study showed that it can reduce a meal’s GI by 18-29%.
This is important as lower GI meals lead to less risk of blood sugar spikes and dips, which encourage insulin production and snacking.
Drinks are not something often considered when on a quest to lose weight, but they can drastically hamper dieting success. Alcohol is one of the worst culprits because most alcoholic drinks contain a huge amount of calories in sugars.
Fortunately, you do not have to completely cut out alcohol in order to lose weight. Red wine is filled with antioxidants which can help to maintain the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Too much bad bacteria can lead to all sorts of health problems including inflammation and weight gain.
The polyphenols found in red wine (which give it its distinctive colour) are not absorbed very well by the body, but those that don’t get absorbed remain in the gut and feed the good bacteria. This allows them to fight off the bad bacteria and maintain a healthy balance. A high level of good bacteria means that the negative effects of bad bacteria, including weight loss, are minimised.
The effect of wine on bacteria was confirmed in a study by Queipo-Ortuno et al (2012), who studied the effect of wine intake on gut bacteria. They found that after 20 days of drinking a glass of red wine a night, there were significant increases in a large number of good bacteria in the gut, and blood pressure and cholesterol levels were also decreased.
Other research (Kee-Hong Kim, 2012) found that red wine also contains a compound called piceatannol which may help block the growth of new fat cells in the body. It was suggested that in the long term this could help reduce obesity levels.
Despite this evidence showing that red wine may be good for weight loss, this will only occur if drunk in moderation. A small glass of wine a night is fine, but much more than that can lead to more negative than positive effects.
There is good news! Chocolate can help you lose weight – as long as it is in small amounts, and it is dark chocolate. There are in fact a variety of positive effects dark chocolate can have on the body. It can prevent blood sugar spikes because it contains flavonoids which reduce insulin resistance. This can stop cravings of sugary and starchy foods.
It can also speed up the metabolism according to research by Farhat et al (2014). It has a positive impact on the way the body synthesizes fatty acids, and in doing so reduces the digestion and absorption of both fats and carbohydrates. This can lead to a feeling of fullness, which will reduce overeating and future snacking. What is important to note is that the chocolate should be at least 70% cocoa to get this effect.
Fats are the thing everybody who is losing weight wants to avoid the most. Unfortunately, there is limited understanding as to the different types of fat in food, and the health benefits they can contain. Saturated fat is ‘bad’ fat which leads to weight gain and poor health, but there are other types of fat (some have previously been mentioned) which are very healthy and can even encourage weight loss.
Coconut oil is not a standard choice when cooking, but it has some of the most extreme benefits for losing weight of all oils.
It is very high in medium chain fatty acids which help to speed up the metabolism. Medium chain fats are metabolised differently than long chain fats, and some animal studies have suggested they are stored less efficiently than long chain fats, meaning they are less likely to be stored as excess weight (e.g. Geliebter et al, 1983).
Coconut oil is also “thermogenic”, meaning it tends to increase energy expenditure compared to the same amount of calories in other fats. Again, this is due to the fact that it contains medium chain fatty acids as opposed to long chain fatty acids (St-Onge and Jones, 2003). One study by Dulloo et al (1996) even showed that 1 to 2 tablespoons of medium chain fatty acids a day can increase energy consumption by about 120 calories per day.
Furthermore, coconut oil has appetite suppressive properties, yet again because it contains medium-chain fatty acids. They have been shown to increase fullness and lead to a subconscious and automatic reduction in calorie intake (St-Once and Jones, 2003).
Coconut oil can be consumed in a few different ways; it can be added to hot and cold drinks, can be used just like ordinary cooking oil, and it can be used in baking. The good news for people who don’t like the taste of coconut is that refined coconut oil doesn’t taste like coconuts! Refined oil doesn’t have as many benefits as virgin coconut oils, but it is still better for you than sunflower oil so don’t be afraid to try it.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
For a long time olive oil has been thought of as one of the healthier oils, but research by Flynn and Reinert (2010) suggests it may actually be beneficial for weight loss. This may seem odd because oil is extremely fatty, but extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest fats on earth. It actually contains 73% monounsaturated fats, 9.7% Omega-6 and 0.76% omega-3. This means that just 13.8% of extra virgin olive oil is unhealthy saturated fat.
In the study, 44 women who’d become overweight during breast cancer treatment took part. Each woman trialled two eight-week diets; one was an olive-oil based diet, and one was a low-fat food plan. Both diets contained 1500 calories per day.
The researchers found that the women lost twice as much weight during the olive oil diet compared to the low-fat food plan, and 43 of the 44 women said that they preferred the diet as well. Furthermore, most of the women chose to continue the diet after the study and were still doing so at 6-month follow up.
The assignment of which diet came first was completely random, so there were no order-effects to account for the weight loss, and because each woman took part in both diets, there are no individual differences between participants to take into account.
This is a rigorously controlled study which shows that losing weight is not simply about ‘calories in vs. calories out’, and that the specific foods you consume can have a really big impact on the success of weight loss endeavours. Extra virgin olive oil is one of these foods, and is a great addition to a weight-loss diet.
You may have noticed that although there are many foods which can help you to lose weight, there are just a few basic facts which, if you are aware of, can be really helpful for designing a diet that keeps you healthy, satisfied, and slim.
- Fats are not always bad, and some can be very beneficial to health and weight loss. Don’t be scared of them!
- A lot of the time overeating and snacking is due to spikes and dips in blood sugar, so eating foods which regulate these spikes can be extremely beneficial to calorie consumption.
- Eating foods containing polyphenols (usually brightly coloured foods contain these) can have many positive effects on the body.
- What you eat (or don’t eat) in the morning will affect your calorie consumption for the rest of the day. This is why skipping breakfast is very bad for weight loss – you will more often than not consume many more calories in later meals, even if you don’t realise you’re doing it.
- Foods rich in protein and fibre are really good for making you feel full so you don’t overeat. Devouring that lean sirloin steak may not be such a bad idea after all!
- Spicy foods can speed up the metabolism to help you burn more calories. This effect happens mostly to people who don’t eat a lot of spicy food, so use sparingly.
- Abdominal fat is the most dangerous because it means your vital organs are also surrounded in fat. Any foods that combat this area are particularly good to eat.
- What you drink can have as much of an effect on your weight as food; be careful what you drink.
- You are allowed treats, and some can actually be helpful to your weight loss. Don’t be mean to yourself; you may not actually be helping!
- Never cut out a food group completely; each group contains vital nutrients that you can’t get anywhere else. By cutting out, say, carbohydrates, your body craves them more and more, and you will have greater urges to snack and overeat to give your body what it is looking for.
- Eat in moderation, listen to what your body is saying to you, and make sure your diet is balanced with both traditionally ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ foods – you need that fat and sugar, just don’t over-do it!