Let’s face it – no one food will magically prompt your body to drop those extra kilos. But research does show that some foods can give you an extra weight loss advantage when added to a balanced diet. Here, dietitian Bobbie Crothers takes a look at 11 fat-fighting foods for you to add to your war-on-weight-loss arsenal.
Great for: Boosting fat loss
We often cut down on cheese when we’re trying to slim down, but research suggests that consuming dairy foods like cheese may actually be of great benefit to meeting your weight loss goals.
One study, conducted in the US, had overweight participants follow a low-kilojoule diet for 24 weeks. They were randomly assigned to one of three groups: consuming 0–1 servings of dairy and a calcium supplement; consuming only a calcium supplement; or consuming 3–4 serves of dairy in their daily diet. The results found that those who included the 3–4 serves of dairy foods in their diets lost more overall body weight – and had greater fat loss. What’s more, the majority of their fat loss was from their mid-regions and stomachs!
So if you’re on a kilojoule-controlled diet, be sure to include a minimum three serves of dairy daily – just don’t forget to choose the lower-fat options, such as our HFG award winner, Bega So Extra Light Tasty cheese. And here’s a bonus – the additional dairy boosts your daily calcium intake!
One serve of dairy =
250ml (1 cup) skim milk
40g (2 slices) cheese
200g (1 tub) yoghurt
Great for: Beating mindless snacking
Most of us know that water is kilojoule-free – so it makes sense that foods with high water content, such as strawberries, don’t contain many kilojoules. In fact, strawberries contain more than 92 per cent water, which helps explain why an entire 250g punnet of strawberries contains only 250kJ and 7g of sugar. In fact, strawberries are so low in kilojoules that they’re listed as a ‘fill-up food’ in our HFG 2009 12-week Diet Plan – you can munch on them to your heart’s content! So enjoy a punnet for afternoon tea – you’ll satisfy your sweet tooth without sabotaging your good intentions.
3. Baked beans
Great for: Reducing the energy density of meals
Baked beans are an excellent source of fibre, which makes them such a great inclusion in your diet – especially when you’re trying to lose weight. Fibre contains only 8kJ per gram – less kilojoules than fats, proteins and carbohydrates – so eating high-fibre foods like baked beans and other legumes, instead of low-fibre foods, can mean you eat less kilojoules overall. Heat some up for brekkie, or add some legumes to soups, wraps, pasta sauces and patties.
Great for: Burning kilojoules as you eat
One egg contains approximately 6.4g of protein, but just 300kJ – so it’s a great snack to add to your diet. But it gets better: high-protein foods like eggs can actually boost your metabolism by up to 30 per cent, so you use up energy as you digest them. Eggs also contain a complex mix of beneficial nutrients, and research has shown that eating eggs increases your feelings of satiety – leaving you feeling fuller for longer.
Try a couple of hard-boiled eggs for brekkie, and not only will you be less likely to reach for a kilojoule-laden muffin at morning tea, but you could lose more fat too. An American study found that women on a kilojoule-controlled diet, who ate eggs for breakfast, lost nearly twice as much fat as women who ate a carbohydrate-rich breakfast.
5. Bran and oats
Great for: Those who eat too quickly
It has been shown that fibre-rich foods, like bran, tend to take more time to chew. While that might not sound like it would make a big difference to your weight loss, it actually can. One study, which looked at Japanese women and the textures of the foods they most commonly ate, found that those who ate ‘chewy’ foods more often tended to be slimmer. Why? Because when we eat too quickly without needing to chew, we don’t allow enough time for the brain to register fullness – so you can end up eating more than you need. Spending more time chewing on the other hand, gives your satiety hormones time to signal the brain that you are full and should stop eating.
Great for: Filling you up between meals
Nuts aren’t necessarily the first food that comes to mind when you think about weight loss. After all, they’re high in fat and energy. However, plenty of research has shown that adding nuts to your diet may help to lower body weight and fat mass. Why? Researchers suspect there are two reasons:
Nuts are high in fibre and protein, which both help to keep you fuller for longer, enabling better appetite control; and
Some of the fat contained in nuts is ‘trapped’ in the nut’s fibrous structure, so our bodies don’t actually digest and absorb all the kilojoules.
A recent US study also found that walnuts may promote feelings of fullness, with study participants reporting increased feelings of satiety just three days after adding walnuts to their diets. So include a handful of nuts in your diet at least five times a week – just remember to choose the raw, unsalted ones. They’re better for you, and less ‘moreish’ than the salted variety!
Great for: Feeling fuller for longer
Despite most people’s mixed feelings about pasta, it’s actually a surprisingly good choice when slimming down – and not just before 3pm! Almost every single variety of pasta is low-GI, which research shows can help to reduce your hunger levels between meals by keeping you fuller for longer. Wholemeal pasta is an even better choice, with the additional fibre contributing to keeping you feeling full. So by eating pasta, you’re less likely to succumb to 3:30-itis or reach for the family-sized chocolate block after dinner. Just remember that portion size is also key with weight loss, so watch your portion size when dishing up.
Great for: Feeling satisfied
How can a high-fat food like avocado help with fat loss?
It sounds a little contradictory, especially when we were told to avoid high-fat foods for so long. But the fats to avoid are saturated fats, and avocadoes are actually high in ‘good’ monounsaturated fat. Research shows that monounsaturated fat may actually help with your weight loss. In one study, participants who followed a diet higher in monounsaturated fat ended up with a lower body weight and fat mass at the end of the study, than those who followed a diet higher in saturated fat. Avocados are also high in fibre which, in combination with their fat content, can help to slow the digestion of other foods eaten at the same time, so you don’t find yourself ravenous a short while later. Try add a quarter of an avocado to salads instead of a creamy dressing, and use instead of butter on your daily sandwich – these swaps will help make a difference to your waistline and your heart.
Great for: Boosting fibre and minimising kilojoules
Consider a 30g wholegrain bread roll, containing 360 kilojoules, and 32g of marshmallows, also containing 360kJ. Which one will help you gain weight faster? While you might think that kilojoules are kilojoules, some foods actually require more effort to break down and digest, therefore using up kilojoules as we eat! The wholegrain roll requires more energy to digest than the marshmallows, which are made up mostly of sugars and practically dissolve in your mouth without any effort from your digestive system.
That’s not the only reason you should add wholegrain foods to your weight loss diet – there’s plenty of evidence demonstrating that those who consume wholegrains tend to weigh less. One study of 434 adults found that those who ate wholegrains had lower BMIs, lower total percent body fat and lower abdominal (‘trunk’) fat. In another study, US researchers found that subjects who consumed more wholegrains consistently weighed less than subjects who had lower consumption of wholegrains.
Why? There are many possible factors at play, but we do know that wholegrains are rich in fibre because they have not had the outer bran layer of the grain removed (that’s where the fibre component of the grain is found). As fibre cannot be digested by our bodies and passes through without being broken down and absorbed into the body, you’re less likely to ‘retain’ kilojoules. In one major study, those with the highest intake of dietary fibre lowered their risk of major weight gain by 49 per cent, compared with those in the lowest fibre intake group. So choose wholegrain varieties of bread, pasta and breakfast cereals whenever possible.
Great for: Kicking up your energy levels
While you’re probably aware of the pick-me-up you get from your morning caffeine hit, did you know that many professional-level athletes now also use caffeine to enhance their performance? In one study, eight trained athletes were given a caffeine supplement (3mg per kilogram of body weight) one hour prior to running an 8km race. Their times were then compared with those of athletes who did not take a pre-race supplement and researchers found that the athletes who had the caffeine hit had a race time that was, on average, 23 seconds faster!
Caffeine is also used in the later stages of endurance events for its stimulant properties, which allows athletes to continue competing with as minimal a drop in performance as possible. So if the thought of an early-morning gym session is keeping you in bed, a cup of coffee (which has 60–80mg caffeine) could give you the boost you need to get motivated, and increase the intensity of your workout, helping you lose weight!
11. Dark chocolate
Great for: Staying on track
Well ok… chocolate won’t help you burn fat but it can help keep you on track to achieve your goals! There is research to suggest that allowing yourself a small occasional treat can actually help reduce sweet cravings, so you can focus on eating right. Our suggestion is to try dark chocolate: it usually has less sugar and more cocoa, so you are less likely to eat piece after piece.