When your pants feel snug or you don't like how your arms look in that tank top, chances are you immediately figure out how to cut back: leave the cheese off your salad, skip dessert, lay off the cocktails.
While I applaud the effort to be savvy about calories, here's the catch: This deprivation mentality may actually sabotage your weight loss.
That's one of many surprising facts I learned while combing through reams of studies to write my new weight-loss book The Digest Diet. Once you "can't" have something -- especially a food you love -- you're more likely to crave it and binge on it later. However, research also revealed a happy discovery: Many of the "fattening" foods you avoid have unique fat releasing properties that can help you lose weight more quickly.
So, contrary to popular belief, don't ditch the following "bad" foods when you're trying to slim down. Eaten in moderation, these delicious fat-releasers are healthy, happy weight-loss helpers.
1. Red Wine
One of the most common questions I get: "Can I drink while dieting and still lose weight? The answer is yes. Many studies show that a small glass of wine a day is good for your heart, and cutting-edge research suggests that resveratrol, a potent anti-aging chemical found in red wine, is a fat releaser too.
In one study of more than 19,000 women of normal weight, light to moderate drinkers had less weight gain and less risk of becoming overweight than those who drank no alcohol. An animal study found that resveratrol improved exercise endurance and protected against obesity and insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.
If you're like me, you welcome any new excuse to add more chocolate to your life. Well, turn your attention to cocoa. Recent research reveals that this rich, chocolately powder is packed with antioxidants that may help you release fat. A 2011 study in the Journal of Nutrition found that obese, diabetic mice that consumed a diet high in epicatechins, the antioxidants found in cocoa, lived longer. The cocoa reduced degeneration of the arteries in their heart and blunted fat deposition.
How is it possible to lose weight and eat pizza?! Well, one University of Tennessee study showed that eating three servings of dairy a day significantly reduced body fat in obese subjects. And dairy foods like cheese is one of the best sources of calcium, another fat releaser. Research shows that people who don't consume enough of this bone builder have greater fat mass and less control of their appetite.
4. Coconut Oil
Saturated fats are usually considered no-nos for dieters, but you shouldn't shun this sweet, rich oil. It was shown to do some nifty things for abdominally obese women in a 2009 study out of Brazil, including decreasing waist circumference and improving the ratio of their good "HDL" cholesterol to bad "LDL." In populations where coconut oil is commonly eaten, high cholesterol levels and heart disease are uncommon.
I've known for years about the power of MUFAs -- monounsaturated fatty acids -- to help reduce belly fat. They're found in certain nuts and seeds (as well as olives, avocados, and dark chocolate). But after diving into the most current research, I also discovered the power of PUFAs -- polyunsaturated fatty acids, found in fish as well as in many nuts and seeds -- to boost metabolism and calorie burn.
When it comes to a healthy, filling snack, you can't go wrong with nuts -- they're packed with fat releasing unsaturated fats, filling fiber (another fat releaser), and a host of other healthy nutrients. Although the benefits of nuts are becoming increasingly well known, I'm surprised that people still avoid them because of their fattening reputation. You're far better off munching on nuts than pretzels or any fat-free packaged, processed food.
Got any guilty pleasures you eat that actually make you feel better?
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