Seductive foods seem to lurk at every turn, especially when you're trying to lose weight. But many foods that have gotten a bad rap aren't so terrible after all. Learn which tempting treats can actually help you lose weight and keep it off.
When it comes to healthy eating, few foods have sparked as much debate as eggs. The latest research suggests an egg a day is safe and nutritious for most adults -- and if you eat that egg for breakfast, you'll boost your odds of losing weight. The reason: Eggs are packed with protein, which takes time to digest. Eating protein in the morning keeps your stomach full, so you eat less during the rest of the day.
For years, health experts have been admonishing us to eat less red meat. But steak is not always bad for the waistline. In fact, a lean cut of beef has barely more saturated fat than a similar-sized skinless chicken breast. Like eggs, steak is loaded with protein and can keep you feeling full longer. To get plenty of protein with less fat, choose tenderloin, sirloin, or other extra-lean cuts -- and limit portions to the size of your palm.
Talk about a bad reputation -- the term "pork" is used to describe all kinds of excess, so it's no wonder dieters often steer clear. Here's a case where the meat itself is not what it used to be. Today's cuts of pork tenderloin are 31% leaner than 20 years ago. That makes this white meat a lean source of protein with benefits similar to those of lean beef.
Rather than avoiding pasta when you're dieting, make the switch to whole grain and keep your portions small. Research suggests people who eat several servings of whole-grain foods per day are more likely to slim down and maintain healthy weights. According to one study, eating whole grains rather than refined grains can also help burn belly fat.
Nuts may be high in fat, but it's the good kind. And they are also rich in nutrients, protein, and fiber, which can help stabilize blood sugar. Sure, you'll get a few extra grams of fat from munching on a handful of nuts, but it's worth it if it helps you avoid reaching for cookies or other sweets. Even peanut butter can be a dieter's friend. In one study people who ate a handful of nuts a day were slimmer and even lived longer.
Dieters often try to cut calories by nixing calcium-rich dairy foods, but some studies suggest this is a mistake. One theory is that the body burns more fat when it gets enough calcium, so eating low-fat cheese, yogurt, and milk may actually contribute to weight loss. Calcium supplements don't seem to yield the same benefits, so a diet rich in dairy may have other factors at work as well. Dairy foods are also rich in protein, which helps keep you feeling full.
Coffee only falls in the "bad" category when you drink too much of it (more than 4 cups a day) or mix in cream, sugar, or flavored syrups. Drink it black without added fat and calories. Drink it skinny: Stir in skim milk for added calcium and vitamin D, and artificial sweetener or one teaspoon of sugar.
Just about any "bad" food can be part of your weight loss plan if you stick to small enough portions. In fact, dietitians advise against banning your favorite treats. Depriving yourself of the foods you crave could set you up for failure. A better strategy is to set limits on quantity -- for example, one chocolate truffle a day -- and stick to them.
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- American Dietetic Association: "Eggs-cellent!
- American Dietetic Association: "Cut Out the Fat.”
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food & Nutrition Service: "What's in a Serving Size?"
- ”WebMD Expert Column: "Don't Ditch These 'Fattening' Foods When You're on a Diet."
- WebMD Medical Reference: "The Good Protein Chart."
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- WebMD Health News: "Whole Grains Fight Belly Fat."
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- WebMD Feature from "Shape" Magazine: "8 Things You Always Wanted to Know About Dieting (But Never Knew Who to Ask)."