Part of the The Fiftysomething Diet Special Report
Staying at a healthy weight during your fiftysomething years is a balancing act between calories consumed and burned. Chances are you already know that you need fewer calories as you age. So it’s trickier to prevent weight gain without making some efforts.
Exercise is one good strategy, especially aerobic activities, like brisk walking, swimming, dancing and biking. But it also pays to take advantage of any and all foods that can burn fat, curb appetite and tweak your metabolism into overdrive. Here’s a look at five foods and drinks that do just that:
1. Dried Beans
Foods rich in water-soluble fiber, like kidney beans, chickpeas and black beans, not only help you feel full at meals but they may even target your stubborn spare tire. In a 2011 study, researchers noticed that for every 10 grams of soluble fiber eaten over the course of a day there was a corresponding 3.7 percent decrease in abdominal fat over a five-year period.
“There is mounting evidence that eating more soluble fiber and increasing exercise reduces visceral or belly fat, although we still don’t know how it works,” said Dr. Kristen Hairston, assistant professor of internal medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina and lead author of the study. “Although the fiber-obesity relationship has been extensively studied, the relationship between fiber and specific fat deposits has not. Our study is valuable because it provides specific information on how dietary fiber, especially soluble fiber, may affect weight accumulation through abdominal fat deposits.”
For more details on various types of fiber and weight loss, check out this article from WebMD.
One of the biggest food helpers on the path to weight loss is protein — preferably lean protein, which is better for the heart and overall health. The simple explanation is that a good dose takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, keeping you satisfied and therefore making you less likely to overeat between meals. It doesn’t hurt that the body burns more calories digesting proteins than it does carbs. But the intriguing thing about fish as your protein source — salmon, in particular — is that preliminary reports suggest salmon plays a role in modulating insulin levels or insulin sensitivity.
The key word here is preliminary. Still, two reports bear mentioning. In one 2009 study, scientists fed three groups of volunteers low-calorie diets: no seafood (the control group), lean white fish or salmon. Everyone lost weight, but the salmon eaters had lower fasting insulin levels, which is far better for overall health. Weight loss is one partial explanation, researchers say, but the compounds in salmon (perhaps omega 3 fats like EPA and DHA) might also contribute to modulating insulin.
In an unrelated 2011 study with animals, Canadian researchers found that a group fed salmon protein had significantly lower weight gains than groups eating other varieties of fish. What’s happening here is still part mystery, yet it could be a win-win. Choosing salmon as your lean protein source might not only help you lose weight, but also help prevent the insulin resistance that can lead to type 2 diabetes in later years.
Wild salmon is leaner than farmed. It contains plenty of protein minus unhealthy fats. Three ounces of cooked wild salmon contains 155 calories, 22 grams of protein and just 7 grams of fat, most of it the heart-healthy omega 3 variety.
Most dieters shy away from nuts due to their high fat content, but research suggests almonds, peanuts and other nuts offer special weight loss benefits. It all started with a 2001 landmark study from Harvard that found that participants following a Mediterranean-style diet that included nuts and peanuts lost greater amounts of weight and stuck with the diet longer than those on a different low-fat diet. (Harvard researchers now call the Mediterranean plan the best diet for losing weight.)
Then a 2003 study in the International Journal of Obesity discovered that an almond-eating group of overweight volunteers (eating 85 grams per day or about 3 ounces) lost 62 percent more weight and 56 percent more body fat than a nut-free diet group eating the exact same number of calories but no nuts. Research also confirms that women who eat nuts have lower body mass indexes, or BMI, than women who eat little or no nuts. Speculation is that the fat and protein in nuts helps keep dieters full longer.
Whatever the reason, all researchers say the key watchword is moderation — say, a couple of small handfuls of nuts a day. Count on a handful being about one ounce of nuts: 157 pine nuts, 49 pistachios, 24 almonds, 20 walnut halves, 20 pecans, 20 hazelnuts, 18 cashews or 12 macadamia nuts. Keep in mind, you can nullify all health benefits if nuts are covered with chocolate, sugar or salt.
4. Green Tea
We’ve mentioned before that green tea contains antioxidants (called polyphenols) that may fight cancer and lower cholesterol levels. But studies suggest it might be time to add fat burner — or maybe we should say belly buster — to the list of health benefits.
Scientists seem to be zeroing in on a specific group of polyphenol compounds called catechins as the surprising force behind weight loss. A 2009 study from the Journal of Nutrition showed that a group of 132 overweight and obese adults doing moderate exercise for 180 minutes per week and drinking either a caffeinated beverage with green tea catechins or a control beverage with no catechins, had remarkably different weight-loss scenarios. At the end of 12 weeks, the exercisers drinking green tea with 625 milligrams of catechins lost more weight and more belly fat and had lower triglyceride levels than dieters drinking the catechin-free beverage.
It’s unclear how green tea promotes weight loss, but researchers suspect it may have something to do with revving up fat burning in the hours after a meal. A small 2013 Brazilian study confirms these findings. Researchers there found that overweight and obese women drinking green tea and following a program of resistance training lost more body fat, lowered their waist circumference and showed more significant increases in their resting metabolic rate than women who drank a placebo or green tea but didn’t exercise.
Bottom line: To net the fat-burning efforts of green tea it appears you need to pair your tea sipping with exercise.
Call it the forgotten weight loss aid, but studies continue to confirm that good old zero-calorie H2O is one of the cheapest and most effective weight-loss aids on the planet.
Will it work on a fiftysomething body? Definitely.
A 12-week 2010 Virginia Tech Study divided a group of overweight adults age 55-75 into two groups. All participants ate the same amount of calories, but half the group was asked to drink two cups of water before each meal; the other half drank no water. “We found that over the course of 12 weeks, dieters who drank water before meals, three times per day, lost about 5 pounds more than dieters who did not increase their water intake,” said Brenda Davy, an associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, senior author on the study.
Davy says the exact mechanism responsible for weight loss is uncertain. She speculates it could be as simple as the fact that water fills up the stomach and makes you feel like eating less. In an earlier study, she and colleagues noticed that middle-aged and older adults who drank two cups of water before a meal ended up eating about 75-90 fewer calories. Another plus of choosing water as your beverage of choice before meals: There’s less room for calorie-rich options like soda, sugary cocktails or fruit juice.