Everyone is searching for that magic bullet when it comes to weight loss, but adding an exotic ingredient to your pasta carbonara won’t miraculously melt away the fat. That said, there are certain foods and eating strategies that, when used together, can naturally help dial down your appetite. Take a look at what works—and why.
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Eat an Apple a Day- If you do one thing to regulate your appetite, eat a high-fiber diet, notes Judy Caplan, R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Fiber-rich foods break down slowly and turn off your brain’s response to food,” she explains. Plus, fiber stabilizes blood sugar levels, which determines how hungry you get. Adding 14 extra grams of fiber to your daily menu can reduce calorie intake by 10 percent. The fiber in apples and citrus are especially effective in helping the stomach feel full. For a snack that will tide you over until dinnertime, Keri Glassman, R.D., nutrition expert and author of “The New You and Improved Diet: 8 Rules to Lose Weight and Change Your Life Forever,” recommends apple slices with all-natural peanut butter.
Choose the Right Carbs- What do beans, lentils, green bananas and cold potatoes have in common? They’re rich in resistant starch, a carbohydrate that skips through the stomach undigested and gets fermented in the large intestine. This process releases an acid that makes the body use stored fat (i.e., love handles) for fuel. What’s more, resistant starch deals a debilitating, temporary blow to the appetite, keeping you full for about an hour afterwards. By the way, if you’re curious as to why cold potatoes are the way to go, that’s because when they’re chilled, potatoes form tight crystals of resistant starch, but if you heat them up, those crystals get broken up. Other good sources of resistant starch include yams, peas, chickpeas and barley.
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Add a Splash of Vinegar- To thwart between-meal hunger pangs, add a couple of tablespoons of vinegar to a carbohydrate-rich meal. Acetic acid lowers the glycemic index of carbs, which will keep them from spiking your blood sugar levels. “This will reduce the urge to snack in between meals and prevent cravings,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, R.D., author of “The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear—With Fiber!” One study found that dieters who drank one and a half tablespoons of apple cider vinegar at their morning meal ate about 250 fewer calories.
Indulge in Dark Chocolate- Seeking solace in comfort food? Choose dark chocolate. According to Zuckerbrot, dark chocolate tones down emotional food cravings because it floods the brain with endorphins, a chemical that elicits feelings of happiness and calm. In one study, women who ate or even smelled the confection reported less hunger. Eating chocolate also lowered levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, which boosts the mouthwatering appeal of high-calorie foods. Just don’t use this as an excuse to go to town on dark chocolate. A one-ounce square has 170 calories and 12 grams of fat, so popping a piece every time you feel a craving can turn into hundreds of extra calories, warns Zuckerbrot.
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Pick Red Hot Chili Peppers- Spicing up your daily diet with chili pepper can help you eat less, but it’s no panacea, notes Glassman. Research shows that red pepper dampens the appetite in relation to how uncomfortably hot you think your food is. If you regularly eat spicy food and are immune to its fiery properties, it won’t help. It’s the burn on your tongue that makes it effective, so forget popping pills. As for the claim that dousing your food with cayenne will magically melt away fat? Don’t count on it, says Glassman. The active ingredient, capsaicin, may boost the metabolism slightly, but only to the tune of 20 extra calories a day.
Bulk Up (Your Plate, That Is)- The secret to feeling full while eating less: tricking your brain into thinking you ate a big meal. According to Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., one of the preeminent experts on satiety and author of “The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet: Smart, Simple, Science-Based Strategies for Losing Weight and Keeping It Off,” size matters. Instead of shrinking your portion sizes, eat foods that take up a lot of room on your plate but have fewer calories per bite. These are foods with a high water content, such as broth-based soups, salads, fruit and vegetables. Eat these foods first, before your main meal, notes Rolls. Because they take a long time to eat and occupy up a lot of space in your belly, your brain will register that it’s full before you’ve eaten many calories. Sound too easy? Rolls’s research shows that people who follow these principles end up eating 800 fewer calories per day—without missing them.
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Go Nuts for Pine Nuts-Dial down your appetite with a sprinkle of pine nuts. According to Zuckerbrot, their heart-healthy oil, pinolenic acid, packs a one-two punch for weight loss: It stimulates the release of a hormone that suppresses the appetite and slows down how quickly food leaves your stomach, keeping you full for longer. One study found that pine nut oil decreased hunger by 36 percent over a four hour period. Pine nuts are high in fat and calories, so eat no more than a handful a day.