TIME Diet/Nutrition

12 Mental Tricks to Beat Cravings and Lose Weight

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Try the 'apple trick'

Using pure willpower to overcome cravings doesn’t always work. (If it did, dieting would be easy and we’d all be at our own healthy, feel-great weights.) Guess what? You don’t have to tough out an unrelenting yen to house a box of Cheez-Its; you just need to fool yourself into thinking you didn’t actually want to eat the junk food in the first place. It’s easier than you think. Here are tips from experts and recent studies to help you stay on track.

Visualize an internal pause button

The next time you want to reach for a big bowl of Chunky Monkey, picture yourself hitting a pause button in your brain. “If someone were to ask to borrow a lot of money, most people can stop and say, ‘I’ll think about it,'” says Coral Arvon, PhD, director of behavioral health and wellness at Pritikin Longevity in Miami, FL. But when that chocolate cake or bottle of wine is in front of us at the end of day, the majority of us don’t hesitate to indulge. “Think ‘pause,’ and consider your decision for 10 minutes before making an actual decision,” Arvon suggests.

Watch the video: 6 Ways to Trick Yourself Into Eating Less

Substitute junk food with healthy foods that resemble junk food

Find a healthy alternative that shares some of the same qualities as the fatty food you’ve got a craving for, says Jonathan Alpert, a New York City-based psychotherapist and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. Craving the crunch and salt of potato chips? Make a batch of satisfyingly crispy kale chips. Eyeing the carton of ice cream in your freezer? Whip up a fruit-packed smoothie bowl instead. “Over time your taste buds and brain will adjust and learn to like these healthier options,” says Alpert.

Watch the video: 5 Healthy Baking Swaps

Imagine yourself eating

Thinking about eating a bag of candy makes it more likely you’ll eat less of it when you actually start eating it, according to a 2010 study by Carnegie Mellon University researchers. Study participants who visualized eating 30 M&Ms before indulging in a bowl of the candies ate fewer M&Ms than two other groups who imagined eating only three candies or no treats at all. Researchers say the key lies in thinking about eating the food versus merely thinking about or visualizing it.

Tell yourself you can have anything

When you think about going on a diet, hunger pangs, deprivation, and waving goodbye to your favorite foods probably come to mind. Problem is, denying yourself your favorite foods immediately sets you up for failure, says Amy Goodson, RD, sports dietitian for the Dallas Cowboys and co-author of Swim, Bike, Run, Eat: The Complete Guide to Fueling Your Triathlon. “You want to make changes you can do for the rest of your life. The key is to eat what you want, but not everything you want,” says Goodson. “You can still enjoy one to two splurges during the week as long as you stay on track the rest of the time.”

Read more: 10 Mistakes That Make Cravings Worse

Go back in time

Cut back on calories by learning to snack like a preschooler, says Goodson. “Many people get in trouble with snacking because they eat too much. So trick your mind into eating less by portioning your snacks in small baggies. This helps you feel as if you’re eating ‘all’ of something, which satisfies your brain.” Ideally, break out portion sizes of chips, snacks, and other goodies as soon as you bring them home from the store so you’re not tempted to dip your hand in the entire 10-serving container. To further avoid temptation, keep the portioned snacks out of sight hidden in a cupboard.

Read more: A Slacker’s Guide to Losing Weight Without Trying

Use the “apple trick”

The next time you’re standing in front of the refrigerator trying to figure out what you’re craving, maybe you’re not really hungry, says Goodson. Here’s how to figure out if you’re genuinely hungry or just trying to satisfy a craving. “When you crave a salty or sweet treat, ask yourself if you’d eat an apple,” says Goodson. “If the answer is yes, you’re hungry and it’s okay to have a small snack. If not, drink some water, because you’re not really hungry.” Since thirst often masquerades as hunger, drinking a glass of water should silence your craving.

Watch the video: 4 Tricks to Eat Healthier

Plan your junk food

Instead of waiting for a temptation to strike and only then trying to handle it, plan to have one indulgent or “junk” food a day, preferably after dinner, says Judith S. Beck, Ph.D., president of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy in Philadelphia and clinical associate professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s easier to resist cravings during the day if you know you are going to have your favorite food that night.” And when you finish a moderate portion of that food, remind yourself that if you want more, you can have more tomorrow night, and the next night, and the next night, and so on.

Create a top 10 list of distractions

Before a craving strikes, be ready to combat it by having a ready list of alternative activities to keep you on the straight and narrow. “Play a video game, call a friend, take a walk, read to your kids, groom your dog, polish your nails,” says Beck. “Watch how the craving has diminished when you firmly focus your mind on something else.” Other distractions include brushing your teeth, doing a set of crunches or push-ups, deep breathing, or meditation.

Read more: 20 Little Ways to Drop the Pounds and Keep Them Off

Fool your eye

Use smaller plates. A moderate portion on a large dinner plate looks small, says Beck. “Part of feeling satisfied is visual satisfaction. Another part of feeling satisfied is when hunger diminishes. So pledge to eat all your food sitting down, slowly, while enjoying every bite.” Keeping junk food out of sight and eating in only the kitchen or dining room—not in front of the TV—can also help you lose weight, according to a Cornell University study.

Read more: 10 Signs Your House Is Making You Fat

Train your resistance muscle

Every time you have a craving and you resist it, you build up your “resistance muscle,” which makes it more likely that the next time you have a craving you’ll resist it. On the other hand, each time you give in to a craving, you strengthen your “giving in muscle,” says Beck, “which makes it more likely that the next time you’ll give in and the time after that and the time after that.”

Set your phone to send you motivational messages

Spontaneous eating is what gets almost every dieter into trouble, says Beck. One way to counteract it is by turning your phone into your conscience. She suggests setting a reminder on your smartphone so every time it goes off, you read a message that encourages you to stick to your diet: “I could eat whatever I want, OR I can lose weight and be healthier,” or “If I eat food I haven’t planned to eat I’ll get momentary satisfaction but I’ll feel bad later.” You’ll want to have these ideas at the forefront of your mind every time you’re hit with a craving.

Read more: How the Pros Curb Food Cravings

Stay clear of TV while eating

Turn off The Walking Dead while eating dinner and you’ll eat fewer calories. Watching TV makes you overeat, according to a study published in the journal Appetite. Two groups of women were studied while they snacked with or without TV. One group was offered one type of snack, while the other group had the choice of four snacks. Everyone ate more while watching the tube. “Avoid this by never having the box or bag of snacks next to you while watching TV,” says Goodson. Get a serving on a napkin or small plate and take the serving to the TV room.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Eating Insects Isn’t as Eco-Friendly As People Say

Insects: Our Food Of The Future?
Sean Gallup—Getty Images Dried grasshoppers, mealworms and crickets seasoned with spices

Crickets aren't so green after all

Crickets are often trumpeted as the future of food, an edible, eco-friendly solution to a some-day protein shortage that livestock just can’t fix. Even the United Nations promotes insect-eating as a promising, protein-packed way to feed the 9 billion people that will live on earth in 2050. “A benefit of insects as an alternative animal protein source is that they can be reared sustainably on organic side streams (e.g. manure, pig slurry and compost),” their report reads.

Because insects emit far fewer greenhouse gases than livestock and consume way less water, they have a comparatively tiny ecological footprint, and they’re thought to thrive on basically anything, even organic waste. That last point sums up the main ecological appeal of eating insects; growing the grain used in animal feed takes up huge water and energy resources.

But do crickets really have the potential to be the new beef? Not yet, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE. When researchers raised crickets on several different diets and tried to see how much protein they could squeeze out of them, they got some disappointing results: just not a whole lot of protein.

MORE: Why, On Second Thought, Maybe You Shouldn’t Start Eating Bugs

In the experiment, researchers raised crickets on one of five different diets. They replicated each diet three time and harvested the crickets after two weeks. One group ate corn-, soy- and grain-based feed, while others survived on food waste or crop residue. The researchers measured how big the crickets grew and how much edible protein they produced.

Diet made a huge difference, the study authors found. Those that ate a diet of processed food waste had a feed and protein conversion rates no more efficient than that of chickens. Nearly all those fed straight food waste died before they could be harvested. And the most successful crickets were those that ate a grain-based diet similar to what most poultry eat. They had a 35% protein conversion rate, which is only slightly better than chickens.

So even if the whole world took a page out of Mexico’s cookbook and developed an appetite for chapulines—crunchy fried crickets—the small protein payoffs may not even be worth it if we’re feeding them what chickens eat, the authors suggest.

“I think the sustainability claims on this topic have been overstated given the current state of knowledge,” wrote study author Dr. Mark Lundy of the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources in an e-mail.

Even if they can’t survive on as many organic sidestreams as we originally thought, Lundy doesn’t think that insects are out of the running as the future of food.

“I’m all for exploring alternatives, and I am impressed by the amount of innovation that has sprung up around insect cultivation and cuisine in the last few years,” he says. “However, I also think we need to be clear-eyed about what the sustainability gains are and aren’t, and focus our innovative efforts and limited resources to where they will have the most lasting impact.”

Swapping chickens for crickets–while feeding them the same thing—is unlikely to make a real difference. “Insect cultivation is more likely to contribute to human nutrition at a scale of economic and ecological significance if it does not rely on a diet that competes with conventional livestock,” he says, “but more innovation is needed for this to become a reality.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

4 Low-Sugar Food Swaps

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Try these trades to lower your blood sugar

Diabetes has become an epidemic, affecting 29 million Americans. But here’s the good news if you’re concerned about your blood glucose: “One of the best ways to stay healthy is to make better food choices,” says Mitchell L. Gaynor, MD, author of The Gene Therapy Plan. Try these trades to lower your blood sugar and pack more protective nutrients into every bite.

Read more: Diabetes-Friendly Desserts

Breakfast
Instead of: Fried egg + bacon + American cheese + bagel
Eat this: Scrambled egg whites + onion + tomato + spinach + black beans + sprouted whole-grain tortilla

The classic breakfast sandwich is packed with saturated fat and refined carbs. But wrapping an egg-white scramble in a 6-inch sprouted whole-grain tortilla cuts calories and cholesterol and boosts fiber content to balance your blood sugar. “Throw in some color for extra nutrients,” says Tami Ross, RD, a diabetes educator in Lexington, KY and author of What Do I Eat Now? Onions, tomatoes, spinach and black beans all contain minerals essential to glucose metabolism.

Read more: 10 Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Substitutes

Lunch
Instead of: Romaine lettuce + carrot + cucumber + Thousand Island dressing
Eat this: Kale + dandelion leaves + radishes + chicory + scoop of tuna + olive oil + vinegar

A basic green salad is OK, says Dr. Gaynor, who is clinical assistant professor of medicine at Weill-Cornell Medical College in New York City. “But you can make it a lot better if you’re worried about diabetes.” He tells his patients to add kale, dandelion leaves, radishes and chicory: “It’s amazing what they do to prevent blood sugar spikes. You won’t be hungry for hours.” A scoop of tuna offers a dose of protein and heart-healthy fat, while olive oil fights insulin-blocking inflammation.

Watch the video: Smart Swaps That Cut Hundreds of Calories

Dinner
Instead of: Breaded white fish fillet + corn + couscous
Eat this: Whole baked trout + collard greens + quinoa

Trout is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that protect against heart disease. Just skip the extra carbs in breaded fillets, suggests Amy Stephens, RD, a diabetes nutritionist in New York City. Pair your fish with collard greens, a good source of alpha lipoic acid, which lowers glucose levels and improves insulin sensitivity. For your grain, go with nutrient-dense quinoa over couscous. “People get these mixed up because they look alike, but couscous is essentially pasta,” Stephens says.

Read more: Swap Your Way Slim at Every Meal

Snack
Instead of: A granola bar
Eat this: Cacao nibs + almonds

Avoid all the fillers (and empty calories) in a snack bar by noshing on cacao nibs and almonds. Both are loaded with magnesium, and a large Harvard University study found that high dietary intake of the mineral reduced women’s risk of developing diabetes by 34 percent. Happy bonus: “The tryptophan in cacao raises serotonin levels in your brain to help you feel full,” Dr. Gaynor says. “And you get your chocolate fix, too.”

Read more: 15 Diabetes-Friendly Vegetarian Recipes

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

What 5 Days of Junk Food Does to Your Metabolism

There's far more than weight gain to worry about

It takes surprisingly few days of a mac-and-cheese-rich diet to do some really bad things to your metabolism. Just five days on a diet full of processed food was enough to alter a body’s healthy response to food, finds a small new study published in the journal Obesity.

Researchers wanted to look at how skeletal muscles adapt when we pound our bodies with fatty processed foods, so they took 12 healthy college-aged men and put them on an eating regimen designed by the researchers, including an initial control diet. Those on the fatty diet ate 55% of their calories came from fat—and about 18% of their total calories came from saturated fat. That’s a lot more saturated fat than most Americans eat, no matter how bad their diet. The control diet was about 30% fat.

“When we were toying around with what diet we were going to use, we looked at things like gift certificates for McDonald’s,” says Matthew W. Hulver, PhD, department head of Human Nutrition, Food and Exercise at Virginia Tech. “But a McDonald’s diet isn’t even saturated enough compared to what we fed the people in our study.”

They settled on a Westernized diet topped with butter, featuring foods like macaroni and cheese, ham and cheese sandwiches with mayonnaise and butter, and fatty microwavable meals. The researchers took muscle biopsies from the men before and after the high-fat feeding. The researchers formulated the fatty diets to be identical in calories to the control.

When researchers looked at specific gene targets, the effects on metabolism were dramatic. “The normal response to a meal was essentially either blunted or just not there after five days of high-fat feeding,” Hulver says. Before going on a work-week’s worth of a fatty diet, when the men ate a normal meal they saw big increases in oxidative targets four hours after eating. That response was obliterated after the five-day fat infusion. And under normal eating conditions, the biopsied muscle used glucose as an energy source by oxidizing glucose. “That was essentially wiped out after,” he says. “We were surprised how robust the effects were just with five days.”

While their overall insulin sensitivity didn’t change in the short time frame, the findings suggest that longer exposure to a diet of this kind might lead to insulin resistance down the line.

If five days of fat is enough to mess with metabolism, the chronic effects raise interesting questions, Hulver says. “Our question is: does this prime the body? When you go into a period where you are overconsuming calories, would individuals who have a chronic high fat diet be predisposed to weight gain?”

Hulver says he doesn’t know the answer yet, but his lab’s future studies hope to find out.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

3 Ways to Tell If a ‘Natural’ Food Is Actually Good for You

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Because 'natural' doesn’t always mean healthy

As a nutritionist I loathe “diet” foods, meaning processed products with labels including terms like reduced fat and sugar free—and according to a recent report, consumers are with me. Shoppers are curbing their consumption of foods with “better for you” label terms like low sugar, low carb, and fortified. In fact, the data show that these kinds of products are in their sixth straight year of decline.

Part of the shift is a movement toward foods that are real, rather than altered. As a fan of natural foods and clean eating, I’m all for it. But “natural” doesn’t inherently mean healthy. Here are three key points to consider when evaluating natural products, and some pitfalls to avoid.

Read more: 10 Easy Ways to Slash Sugar from Your Diet

Read the ingredient list

You may be surprised to learn that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t developed a legal definition for the term natural. They allow its use if a product doesn’t contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances, but there is definitely a lot of gray area regarding the interpretation of natural. For example, carrageenan is an ingredient that can be derived from seaweed, but I bet you’ve never seen it sold at your local farmer’s market or supermarket. And while it’s technically natural, its consumption has been tied to digestive problems and inflammation, a known trigger of premature aging and diseases, including obesity.

What to look for: Use the term natural as a starting point, then always read the ingredient list. It should read like a recipe you could craft in your own kitchen. In other words, you should think, “I could have gone to the market, bought all of these ingredients, and made this myself, but I didn’t have to, because someone else made it for me.” I call that “homemade for you” and to me, it’s the true mark of a clean product.

Read more: 12 Crazy Things That Happen to Your Food Before You Buy It

Check the sugar content

I recently attended the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California, where literally thousands of natural foods and goods are featured. As I sorted through the myriad energy bars, sports drinks, and snack foods, one thing was clear: many natural products are loaded with sugar! And while I would rather see someone consume a natural form of sugar over an artificial sweetener, the amount of sugar you consume still matters.

What to look for: The type of sugar you need to limit is called added sugar, the kind put into a food by the manufacturer—not what’s inserted by Mother Nature, like the naturally occurring sugar found in fruit. Unfortunately, the current Nutrition Facts label lumps these two together, which means if a food contains both naturally occurring sugar and added sugar (like yogurt with both real fruit and sugar added), there’s no way to tell how much comes from each type.

The only way to glean more info is to read the ingredients. If you see sugar grams listed on the Nutrition Facts panel, but no sweeteners appear in the ingredient list, you know that no sugar was added, so any grams listed are all naturally occurring. But if you see any terms like these, it means sugar was added: brown sugar, cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, brown rice syrup, agave, or date sugar. (And take note: some manufacturers use multiple types of sugar in the same product.) For added sugar, every 4 grams on the Nutrition Facts label represents one teaspoon, and the American Heart Association recommends that women and men limit their daily intake of added sugar to six and nine teaspoons, respectively.

Read more: 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda

Scope out refined grains

I’m all about eating real food, but it drives me bonkers when natural foods that contain refined grains are perceived as healthy. I was at a health food store with a client recently, and at least half a dozen foods he regularly buys contained refined starch, like gluten-free crackers made with white rice flour, and vegan cookies made with organic, but still refined, wheat flour.

What to look for: I’m not saying there isn’t a place for treats or splurges—there is. And I would absolutely rather see someone eat a cookie made with natural ingredients rather than manufactured ones, even if that cookie contained white flour and sugar. But I think it’s important to note that there are now plenty of natural and organic versions of processed foods are still, well, processed. To maximize the quality and nutritional value of your overall diet, you should limit these products and focus on whole food options, like hummus and veggies over chips, and fruit, nuts, and dark chocolate over sweet treats. Bottom line: quality is king.

Read more: 16 Most Misleading Food Labels

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Eating Eggs With Raw Veggies Boosts Nutritional Benefits, Study Says

Fern salad made from fern with quail eggs.
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Cooked eggs increase carotenoid absorption in salads

Next time you’re eating a raw-vegetable salad, consider adding cooked eggs to the mix. A new study suggests that mixing eggs with raw vegetables increases carotenoid absorption almost ninefold, entailing a range of benefits including a longer life span, fewer chronic illnesses and a reduced cancer risk.

Researchers at Purdue University in Indiana served 16 subjects three different varieties of the dish: an eggless salad, a salad with 1½ scrambled eggs and a salad with three scrambled eggs. There was a threefold to ninefold increase in carotenoid absorption from the salad containing the most eggs, according to Science Daily.

The salubrious ingredients — from beta-carotene to lycopene — serve as antioxidants protecting against cancer and heart disease.

“Americans underconsume vegetables, and here we have a way to increase the nutritive value of veggies while also receiving the nutritional benefits of egg yolks,” said the study’s researcher Wayne Campbell.

“Next time you visit a salad bar, consider adding the cooked egg to your raw veggies,” added Campbell. “Not only are lutein and zeaxanthin available through whole eggs, but now the value of the vegetables is enhanced.”

[Science Daily]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

There Might Be More Nutritious Chocolate On the Horizon

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Researchers create a new process to make chocolate richer in antioxidants

Scientists are looking to make chocolate a not-so-guilty pleasure.

Emmanuel Ohene Afoakwa, a professor of food science and technology at the University of Ghana, and his team have figured out a new process for making chocolate that’s healthier and contains more antioxidants. Chocolate’s antioxidants are thought to be responsible for some of its health perks related to cardiovascular health and memory support. Capitalizing on those antioxidants could not only provide better nutrition, but could be of interest to the candy industry. The researchers presented their process at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting in Denver on Tuesday.

Afoakwa and his team showed that tweaks to the storage and roasting processes can result in chocolate with more healthy compounds, but still the same sweet flavor.

The trick is to intervene in one of the many steps before cocoa turns into the chocolate. In typical chocolate-making, pods are first taken from cocoa trees and the cocoa beans are extracted, fermented and roasted. But during the roasting process many of the polyphenols, or antioxidants, in cocoa beans are lost. To protect them, the researchers decided to add a storage step to the process. They split 3oo pods into four different storage groups: no storage, three-day storage, seven-day storage and 10-day storage. The researchers found that seven days of storage resulted in the highest antioxidant levels after roasting.

Next, the researchers experimented with the roasting process, since that’s when most antioxidant content is lost. Normally beans are roasted for 10 to 20 minutes at 248-266 degrees Fahrenheit, the researchers say, but they decided to slow the process down and instead roast the beans at 242 degrees for 45 minutes. The lower temperature and longer roasting process also resulted in higher antioxidant activity compared to the beans that went through the usual roasting.

“I have been working on cocoa for some time, and my interest is on creating techniques that can enhance the flavor and the quality of the beans,” says Afoakwa. “We’re trying to find out how some of these practices can be enhanced to help farmers produce beans of higher quality.”

Afoakwa says his team recommends consumers choose dark chocolate over milk or white chocolate since dark chocolate typically has more antioxidants and less sugar. The researchers are continuing to identify changes to the chocolate-making process that could increase the candy’s nutritional content. The researchers are currently receiving funding from the Belgium government.

“We believe there will be a high benefit for confectionary industry,” Afoakwa says.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Cooking Trick May Cut Rice Calories in Half

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Strangely enough, it involves adding fat

A cup of white rice has about 200 calories—not insignificant considering it’s most often used as a small part of a larger dish. But there’s an easy, natural way to make rice less caloric: add a little fat, then let it cool. According to research presented at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting, using coconut oil and a refrigerator can slash calories by as much as 60%.

MORE 20 Filling Foods That Help You Lose Weight

Rice is made up of both digestible and resistant starch. Humans don’t have the enzymes to digest that second type, so resistant starch isn’t transformed into sugar and absorbed in the bloodstream like digestible starch. The more resistant starch a food has, the fewer calories from that starch our bodies will absorb.

Researchers from the College of Chemical Sciences in Sri Lanka wanted to figure out if they could convert some of rice’s digestible starch into the non-digestible type, and thereby make it less caloric. By testing out 38 different kinds of rice and simulating human digestion in a test tube, they devised a recipe for the least caloric way to cook rice: drop a teaspoon of coconut oil into boiling water, then add half a cup of non-fortified white rice and cook it for about 40 minutes. After cooking, stick it in the fridge for 12 hours.

MORE 6 ‘Bad’ Carbs That Are Actually Good For You

Rice cooked this way had at least 10 times the resistant starch as normally prepared rice and 10-15% fewer calories. But researchers think that with certain kinds of rice, the method could cut calories by 50-60%.

Here’s how it works: the glucose units in hot cooked rice have a loose structure, but when it cools down, the molecules rearrange themselves into very tight bonds that are more resistant to digestion, says Pushaparaja Thavarajah, PhD, who supervised the study. Scientists already know that it works in potatoes, but in the new study, researchers thought that adding a fat like coconut oil could add extra protection. It seemed to. The fat molecule wedges its way into the rice, Thavarajah says, and provides a barrier against quick digestion.

Making rice starch more resistant has other perks besides cutting calories. It’ll also feed your good bacteria. “The resistant starch is a very good substrate, or energy source, for the bacteria inside the human gut,” says Thavarajah.

Best of all, the researchers found that reheating the rice didn’t change the levels of resistant starch—so the calorie hack is safe for leftovers, too.

Read next: 4 Ways to Eat More and Still Lose Weight

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TIME Exercise/Fitness

10 Reasons Your Belly Fat Isn’t Going Away

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The choices you make every day can supercharge your ability to burn belly fat

A little bit of belly fat is actually good for you: it protects your stomach, intestines, and other delicate organs. But too much fat is anything but healthy. Extra fat cells deep in your abdomen (aka visceral fat) generate adipose hormones and adipokines—chemical troublemakers that travel to your blood vessels and organs, where they cause inflammation that can contribute to problems like heart disease and diabetes. The good news? Every pound you shed can help reduce your girth. “Once women start losing weight, they typically lose 30% more abdominal fat compared with total fat,” says Rasa Kazlauskaite, MD, an endocrinologist at the Rush University Prevention Center in Chicago. Even better, the choices you make every day can supercharge your ability to burn belly fat. Here are 10 common pitfalls—and ways to undo each one.

Read more: 20 Best Superfoods for Weight Loss

You’re on a low-fat diet

To shed belly fat, it’s good to eat fat—specifically monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). When researchers in one study asked women to switch to a 1,600-calorie, high-MUFA diet, they lost a third of their belly fat in a month. “MUFAs are satiating, so they help you eat fewer poor-quality foods,” says David Katz, MD, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center.

Belly blaster: Have a serving of MUFAs—like a handful of nuts, a tablespoon of olive oil, or a quarter of an avocado—with every meal and snack.

Read more: 9 Low-Fat foods You Should Never Eat

You’ve been feeling blue for a while

Women with depressive symptoms were far more likely to have extra belly fat, found a recent Rush University Medical Center study. That may be because depression is linked to reduced physical activity and poor eating habits.

Belly blaster: Exercise! “It improves levels of brain chemicals that regulate metabolism of fat, as well as your mood,” Dr. Kazlauskaite says. This enhances your motivation to do other things that help ward off depression, like seeing friends. But if you’re so bummed out that you don’t want to do things you used to enjoy, it’s time to seek the help of a therapist.

Your food comes from a box

Simple carbs (like chips) and added sugar (in items like sweetened drinks) cause your blood sugar to spike, which triggers a flood of insulin—a hormone that encourages your liver to store fat in your middle.

Belly blaster: Instead of focusing on cutting out junk, center your efforts on adding in healthy fare (think extra servings of vegetables at each meal). As Dr. Katz says, “Filling your tank with high-quality fuel thwarts hunger.”

You’re skimping on the miracle mineral

Magnesium regulates more than 300 functions in the body. No surprise, then, that a 2013 study found that people who consumed more of it had lower blood sugar and insulin levels.

Belly blaster: At least twice a day, reach for magnesium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, bananas, and soybeans.

You’re hooked on diet soda

A study in Obesity found that diet soda drinkers were more likely to have a high percentage of fat in their bellies. The researchers think that diet drinkers may overestimate the calories they’re “saving,” and then overeat.

Belly blaster: If you’re not ready to kick your habit, the researchers suggest reducing the number of food calories in your diet.

Read more: 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda

You love burgers

When Swedish researchers gave one group of adults 750 extra daily calories, mainly from saturated fat, and another group the same amount of calories but mostly from polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) for seven weeks, the saturated fat group accumulated two times as much visceral fat.

Belly blaster: Dine on fatty fish like salmon or trout once a week to get a good dose of PUFAs. The rest of the time, reduce your intake of red meat and opt instead for protein low in saturated fat, such as legumes and chicken.

You think girls don’t get beer guts

According to a 2013 Danish study, beer may indeed be linked with abdominal obesity. And though beer appears to have the greatest impact, wine won’t save you from a spare tire: One study found that the amount of alcohol of any type that women drank contributed to weight gain.

Belly blaster: Stick with seven or fewer alcoholic beverages a week. Light to moderate drinkers are the least likely to carry excess weight anywhere, shows a recent Archives of Internal Medicine study.

You can’t recall when you last said “om”

Menopause-related hormonal changes (which typically begin in your 40s) make it harder to shed stomach pudge—but vigorous yoga can help offset the effects. A 2012 study found that postmenopausal women who did an hour-long yoga session three times a week for 16 weeks lost more than 1/2 inch around their waists.

Belly blaster: Not a fan of Sun Salutations? “Take an hour to do something nice for yourself,” which could help control your stress hormones, advises Sheila Dugan, MD, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist in Chicago.

Read more: Try This Flat-Belly Yoga Pose

Your meals are beige

Brightly colored fruits and veggies are loaded with vitamin C, which reduces cortisol. What’s more, a recent study in The Journal of Nutrition showed that people who ate more of the nutrients in red, orange, and yellow produce had smaller waists as a result.

Belly blaster: Add color to your plate by topping fish with a mango salsa, or throw diced red pepper into your turkey meatballs.

Your sweat sessions don’t involve sweat

Research has shown that high-intensity interval training, or HIIT—bursts of vigorous activity followed by short periods of gentle activity or rest—boasts belly-shrinking benefits. “High-intensity exercise seems to be more effective at reducing insulin, triglycerides, and cortisol, and it burns more calories in less time, too,” notes Shawn Talbot, PhD, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Belly blaster: If you enjoy biking or running, for example, accelerate to a pace that makes it hard to talk for two minutes; then slow down for a minute, and repeat until you’re done. Like resistance training? Try a series of moves like squats or push-ups for two minutes each with a 60-second break between them.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

Can Watching Cooking Shows Lead to Weight Gain?

Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village Featuring MasterCard Grand Tasting Tents & KitchenAid® Culinary Demonstrations - 2015 Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival
Larry Marano—2015 Larry Marano Paula Deen attends the Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village during the 2015 Food Network and Cooking Channel South Beach Wine and Food Festival on February 22, 2015 in Miami Beach, Florida.

Cooking is always healthier than not cooking—right? Not according to a new study published in the journal Appetite, which found that the more a woman prepared food she saw on a cooking show, the higher her BMI.

The researchers surveyed about 500 women, with an average age of 27, about their weight, height and cooking habits. Getting information from cooking shows and social media were both associated with a higher BMI.

MORE: The Truth About Home Cooking

Other studies have shown that merely watching someone else eat influences the way you eat—which is “the exact situation that may occur when people watch cooking shows on television,” the authors write. The study didn’t look at what foods the women actually consumed, mind you.

Other research suggests that the foods featured on TV aren’t always healthier than eating out. One study found that recipes by TV chefs in the U.K. had worse nutritional stats—more calories, more saturated fat and less fiber—than prepared food from supermarkets, which in and of itself is a pretty low bar for nutrition.

MORE: The Case Against Cooking

Scroll through your feed of Instagram dinner pics, and you’ll realize your friends aren’t helping, either. The authors speculate that social media was linked to BMI “because people may post their most indulgent “picture-perfect” recipes,” they write.

Need help deciding what to make for dinner? Check out the 50 healthiest foods of all time—nothing bacon-wrapped here, promise. Your BMI will thank you.

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