TIME Diet/Nutrition

For Weight Loss, Low-Carb Diet Beats Low-Fat

How cutting carbs improves your waist and heart

If you’re trying to lose weight, fat might be your friend.

A new study published today in Annals of Internal Medicine found that when people followed either a low-fat or low-carb diet for a year, those who cut carbs lost significantly more weight and fat, while reducing their heart disease risk factors more than dieters who reduced the amount of fat they ate.

Researchers watched the waistlines of a diverse population of 148 obese but healthy men and women. Those on the low-fat diet consumed 30% of their daily calories in fat, and those in the low-carb group got 30% of their calories from carbs. A dietitian gave both groups the same nutritional counseling throughout the year and followed up with detailed interviews about what the participants ate.

Though both groups exercised at about the same rates and consumed similar amounts of calories, the low-carb group lost almost 8 pounds more over the course of the year—and more fat as a proportion of their weight. Both groups dropped their levels of LDL cholesterol, but the low-carb dieters had higher increases of the so-called “good” HDL cholesterol. They also had a lower risk of heart disease, measured by markers like glucose and lipid levels.

MORE: Ending The War On Fat

All of these admirable health measurements occurred despite the fact that the low-carb group ate more than 40% of their daily calories in fat, says study co-author Lydia Bazzano, professor of nutrition at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. People in the low-carb group ate more monounsaturated fat and even more saturated fat than they did before their diet, but still saw a drop in LDL cholesterol. And their good cholesterol levels improved a substantial amount more than the other group.

Why did the low-carb dieters benefit? “As a proportion of the carbs they were having, the low-carb group had a much higher proportion of fiber,” Bazzano says, which helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Eating more fat and protein also makes you feel fuller for longer, which may have curbed how many total calories the group ate. Plus, the diets also contained a good amount of healthy monounsaturated fats.

The data highlight how interactive diets really are, which supports the old-fashioned idea of eating everything in moderation to keep the balance of fat, fiber, protein and carbs in check. “The thought that [carbohydrates] are neutral and should be at the base of the food pyramid is not supported by a lot of evidence,” Bazzano says. She suggests restructuring with a foundation of vegetables and fruit — and not forgetting to add in a dose of healthy fats.

TIME health

5 Things That Make You Overeat

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Businessman working on a laptop at breakfast table Getty Images

We eat solo about half of the time, according to a recent report. We dine alone 60% of the time at breakfast, 55% of the time at lunch, and up to 70% of the time when eating snacks. The solitary dining trend is due in part to on-the-go lifestyles, as well as the fact that nearly one third of households consist of just one person.

Whether you live alone or with your significant other or family, you may find yourself eating in a different way when you dine by yourself. Specifically, if you’re like many of my clients, you’re probably falling into some unhealthy eating traps. Here are five common dine-alone conundrums, along with practical ways to thwart them.

Health.com: 10 Weight Loss Mistakes Everyone Makes

Relying on processed convenience food

I’ve had numerous clients tell me that they don’t make meals from scratch when they dine alone, because they think, ‘why bother going to the trouble just for one person?’ As a result, they find themselves relying on frozen dinners or packaged products, and that quality difference can negatively affect your waistline. One recent study found that we burn about 50% more calories metabolizing whole foods versus processed foods. In other words, it’s not just about the total calories you consume; some prep and cooking time is a worthy investment, even for a solo meal. To keep it fresh, simple, and relatively fast, consider whipping up breakfast for dinner. You can sauté fresh veggies like tomatoes, onion, spinach, and mushrooms in low sodium organic veggie broth with garlic and herbs, and then pair it with either scrambled organic eggs or mashed white beans. Serve this over a small portion of healthy starch, such as quinoa or brown rice, and top with sliced avocado for healthy fat.

Health.com: 14 Ways to Cut Portions Without Feeling Hungry

Making too much

One of the biggest challenges many of my clients face when dining solo is making more than they need, which results in eating extra portions. I know it’s really a pain, or sometimes impossible, to make just a half cup of quinoa, for example. So if you cook more than you need for a single meal, keep a BPA-free storage container at the ready to stash your surplus in the fridge. And to check yourself, consider pulling out your measuring cups and spoons. Eating just 20% more than you need meal after meal can keep you about 20 pounds heavier–so while quality food rules, managing quantity is still key for weight control.

Eating while distracted

Eating alone often involves eating while doing something else–watching TV, checking email, reading, or surfing the web. And distracted eating is a major setup for overeating. When you aren’t paying attention, it’s easy to become disconnected from how much you’re eating, or how full you feel. And when you’re out of touch with the eating experience–not noticing the aromas, flavors, and textures because you’re multitasking–you’re more likely to feel unsatisfied, which can lead to post-meal snacking. I know it may feel awkward, but when dining alone, try to sit at a table and just eat. You may be surprised at how much more you enjoy your meal, and how much more satisfied you feel. In fact, many people have told me that establishing this habit resulted in getting excited about cooking again, so they could experiment with new recipes or seasonings.

Health.com: 10 Types of Hunger and How to Control Them

Gobbling too fast

Since dining alone isn’t social, you may be tempted to rush through a meal, in order to get onto your next task. But in addition to potentially triggering bloating and acid reflux, speed eating is a recipe for weight gain. One study of 3,000 people found that fast eaters were 84% more likely to be overweight. Set a goal to simply slow down; put your utensil or food down between bites, take a few breaths between forkfuls, and chew more thoroughly.

Mindless nibbling

Another common pitfall associated with eating solo is mindlessly nibbling, especially on snacks. One of my clients who often worked from home found herself grabbing whatever was within reach throughout the day, an apple from the fruit bowl, one of her son’s granola bars or hubby’s energy bars, a handful of jarred nuts…. If you’re in the same boat, the best remedy is to keep food out of your sightline, and schedule your meals and snacks. When this client began working from a desk rather than a kitchen stool, and set her cell phone alarm for a designated lunch and afternoon snack time, the extra noshing went away, and so did the excess pounds.

Health.com: A Slacker’s Guide to Losing Weight Without Trying

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Obesity

This Is What Weight Loss Does To Your Brain

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New research shows weight loss surgery can reverse the negative effects body fat may have on the brain

Too much fat weighs down not just your body, but also your brain.

Obesity harms most organs in the body, and new research suggests the brain is no exception. What’s more, the researchers found that getting rid of excess fat actually improves brain function, reversing the ill effects of the extra weight. The new study, which focused on people who underwent bariatric surgery, found that the procedure had positive effects on the brain, but other research has shown that less invasive weight loss strategies, like exercise, can also reverse brain damage thought to be related to body fat.

Here’s why that matters: Obese men and women are estimated to be about 35% more likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared to people of a normal weight. Some research suggests that body fat ups the number of proteins in the brain that trigger a cascade of events that predispose someone to the disease, and other research in mice has suggested that fat cells release a substance called interleukin 1, which can cause severe inflammation and, in turn, gunk up the brain.

In a recent study, a team of researchers looked at 17 obese women prior to bariatric surgery and found that their brains metabolized sugars faster than the brains of a control group of women at a normal weight. The women underwent cognitive function tests before their surgery as well as after. The results show that after surgery, the obese women showed improvement in the troubling brain activity seen prior to going under the knife, and they performed better on their cognitive function tests—especially in the area of executive function, which is used during planning and organization. The findings suggest that the fat loss reversing its bad effects on the brain.

It is possible that the long-term “cerebral metabolic activity”—meaning the way the brains of obese people process sugars—leads to structural damage that can hasten or contribute to cognitive decline, the authors write in their paper.

Researchers are still trying to understand the exact effects of body fat on the brain, but one theory is that it’s a chain-of-events-type of scenario. For instance, insulin resistance has become linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s because insulin resistance is associated with an increase in fatty acids, inflammation and oxidative stress. Insulin resistance is a metabolic disorder, that can be brought on by obesity. Other theories have to do with the effects of certain kinds of fat. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) points out that visceral fat, the most damaging type of body fat, ups a person’s likelihood of developing insulin resistance, and on top of that, belly fat can produce stress hormones that can also hinder cognition. Other research has shown that the stress hormones are tied to hunger signaling, and those disruptions can alter a person’s sense of hunger and fullness and can contribute to obesity.

“The more we understand about [body fat], the clearer it becomes that belly fat is its own disease-generating organism,” said Dr. Lenore Launer, chief of NIA’s Neuroepidemiology Section of the Laboratory of Epidemiology, Demography, and Biometry in an NIH statement.

Inflammation continues to be fingered as a culprit in the link between body fat and a variety of disorders, which include brain-related diseases, and even depression. Body fat, also referred to as adipose tissue, is thought to create substances that cause inflammation, and that could be at least one of the primary ways it irritates the brain.

The bottom line is that excess body fat has a laundry list of effects on the body, and none of them are good. But on the bright side, getting rid of that fat should reverse some of the blips body fat is leaving on the brain. Though not everyone needs to go under the knife.

TIME health

The Surprising Food Flavor That Can Help You Shed Pounds

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You’re probably familiar with salty, sweet, bitter, and sour, but did you know there’s a fifth taste? It’s called umami, and a new study concludes that it has a unique effect on appetite.

Umami, which means “pleasant savory taste,” has been described as a mouth-watering, brothy, meaty sensation with a long-lasting aftertaste that balances the total flavor of a dish. Some chefs refer to umami as a flavor synergizer and, in the form of the food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG), it acts as a flavor enhancer.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the addition of MSG to soup stimulated appetite during eating, but also boosted post-meal satiety, which resulted in eating less later in the day. As an additive, MSG is something to avoid: research in the ’60s revealed that large amounts fed to mice destroyed nerve cells in the brain. And people who are sensitive to large amounts of MSG may experience side effects ranging from headaches to trouble breathing. However, umami flavor also occurs naturally in several healthy foods.

Here are five nutrient-rich umami options that may help you eat less, along with easy breezy ways to enjoy them.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms provide just 20 calories per cup, and they’re the only plant source of vitamin D, a key nutrient linked to lower rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and certain cancers. Studies also link low vitamin D intake to more total fat and belly fat, and recent research has found that adequate blood vitamin D levels improve muscle strength and help muscles work more efficiently by boosting energy from within cells.

Health.com: 12 Ways to Get Your Daily Vitamin D

Mushrooms also contain unique antioxidants that fight aging and heart disease, and natural substances in mushrooms have been shown to protect against breast cancer by preventing levels of estrogen in the body from becoming excessive. Shiitake, Japan’s most popular mushroom, is particularly rich in umami flavor. Simply sauté some ‘shrooms in organic, low-sodium vegetable broth with a bit of garlic, and add them to almost anything, including omelets, salads, soups, or open-faced sandwiches.

Truffles

Truffles, one of the world’s greatest delicacies, contain three types of natural umami substances. This fungus, which has been referred to as “the diamond in the kitchen,” is quite expensive because it’s difficult to cultivate, but a tiny amount goes a long way. Just a thinly sliced or shaved bit of truffle adds robust flavor to any dish, but you can also use truffle oil to make a simple vinaigrette along with extra virgin olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, and herbs. Or drizzle truffle oil over cooked veggies, spaghetti squash, or a lean protein like organic eggs or fish.

Health.com: 13 Comfort Foods That Burn Fat

Green tea

The list of green tea’s benefits is impressive. Regular consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of obesity, heart disease, blood pressure, cancer, and osteoporosis, as well as overall anti-aging benefits. In addition to using green tea as a beverage along with meals, I like to use both brewed tea and loose leaves in cooking. I whip loose tea leaves into smoothies or combine them with pepper and other herbs like thyme as a rub. Brewed tea makes a great base for a marinade or soup or a flavorful liquid for steaming veggies or whole grain rice.

Health.com: Get a Flat Belly in 4 Weeks

Seaweed

Seaweed’s benefits range from heart protection to weight loss. One recent research review concluded that some seaweed proteins work just like blood pressure meds, and in animal research, a component in brown seaweed was shown to help rats burn more body fat. In addition, seaweed’s star nutrient iodine helps regulate the thyroid, and its magnesium may help enhance mood and improve sleep. In addition to making a side of seaweed salad a staple in your sushi orders, you can add a dollop to many savory dishes, including scrambled eggs, stir frys, and soups.

Tomatoes

Levels of the umami provider glutamic acid increase as tomatoes ripen, and research shows that in the inner “guts” of a tomato are tied to a stronger umami aftertaste. To take advantage, add sliced ripe tomatoes to a garden salad, or roast or grill tomatoes to further intensify their flavor. Bonus: cooking tomatoes provide more lycopene (as much as a 164% boost!), an antioxidant linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, and cancer, as well as skin benefits, including preventing wrinkles. Mmmm, umami!

Health.com: Best Superfoods for Weight Loss

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 health

3 Reasons Why Your Relationship With Food is Crazy

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1) You ignore the importance of context

You ate more because you were hungry? Maybe, but you’re probably not giving nearly enough credit to how context affects you. I’ve posted many times about how context is far more influential than you think.
From Paul Bloom’s How Pleasure Works:

  1. Protein bars taste worse if they are described as “soy protein”
  2. Orange juice tastes better if it is bright orange.
  3. Yogurt and ice cream are more flavorful if described as “full fat” or “high fat.”
  4. Children think milk and apples taste better if they’re taken out from McDonald’s bags.
  5. Coke is rated higher when drunk from a cup with a brand logo.

How much you eat is strongly affected by how much those around you eat, but you rarely realize it. Dining with friends? You’ll probably eat twice as much.

Via The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement:

At restaurants, people eat more depending on how many people they are dining with. People eating alone eat least. People eating with one other person eat 35 percent more than they do at home. People dining in a party of four eat 75 percent more, and people dining with seven or more eat 96 percent more.

Eating with overweight friends? You’ll eat more. Is your waitress overweight? You’ll eat more. Are you a woman eating with a man? You’ll eat less. Wide variety of food? You’ll eat more.

Smaller serving sizes make you eat less overall. The order of items on a menuaffects what you eat. The color of plates can affect how sweet dessert tastes.

Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, instructs us to tell the guests that wine is from California, not North Dakota:

It was all the same $2 cabernet. And we found that if people thought it was from California, they rated the wine as better, they rated the food as better, they stayed at the restaurant about 10 minutes longer, and many of them made reservations to come back.

When we served them the North Dakota wine, it poisoned the entire meal. They didn’t rate the food as good, they left 10 minutes earlier, and they didn’t make reservations to come back.

When you serve dessert, put it on some fancy china, not a napkin:

If they ate it on the napkin, they’d say, “Wow, this is really good.” On a paper plate, they said, “This is really, really good.” If they ate it off of Wedgwood china, they would say, “This is the greatest brownie I’ve eaten in my entire life.” And the amount they were willing to pay for it tripled.

And give them silverware, not plasticware:

Consumers’ quality and liking judgments concerning identical yoghurt samples differed significantly when tasted either with a metallic plastic spoon or else with a stainless steel spoon, the latter resulting in significantly higher scores.

Don’t feel guilty – even dieticians are inaccurate about how much they eat. (And only 7% of shoppers obey the “10 items or less” rule at the supermarket.)

2) You forget that so much of what makes food good or bad is in your head

Comfort food really does comfort you. Grandmom’s cookies do taste better than other cookies. You can’t tell pate from dog food. Coffee junkie? When you haven’t had your joe anything with caffeine tastes better. Dieting actually makes food look bigger.

Eating organic food might turn you into a jerk. Anything that affirms your feelings about your own morality (“I eat organic, therefore I’m a good person.”) your brain may subconsciously use to justify doing something immoral. (“I’m generally a very good person so it’s okay if every now and then I…”)

Why do people order a cheeseburger, fries, dessert and a *Diet* Coke?

It’s called a “health halo effect.” As long as we have the feeling we’re doing something healthy, we extend it to everything during that meal. Due to this, most people surveyed estimated that a cheeseburger with a salad had fewer calories than the cheeseburger alone.

Via The Willpower Instinct:

We feel so good about ordering something healthy, our next indulgence doesn’t feel sinful at all. We also see virtuous choices as negating indulgences— literally, in some cases. Researchers have found that if you pair a cheeseburger with a green salad, diners estimate that the meal has fewer calories than the same cheeseburger served by itself. This makes no sense, unless you believe that putting lettuce on a plate can magically make calories disappear.

(And, no, those fortune cookies aren’t very Chinese.)

3) Food and hunger affect your judgment whether you realize it or not

Hungry judges give harsher sentences. Lemonade can reduce racism. Eating something disgusting can make you feel morally disgusted. Hungry men prefer heavier women and Playboy playmates are thicker during economic recessions.

Kids who skip breakfast misbehave more than kids who eat their Wheaties. After given a snack, all the children are little angels again.

Via Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength

All the children in a class were told to skip breakfast one morning, and then, by random assignment, half of the children were given a good breakfast at school. The others got nothing. During the first part of the morning, the children who got breakfast learned more and misbehaved less (as judged by monitors who didn’t know which children had eaten). Then, after all the students were given a healthy snack in the middle of the morning, the differences disappeared as if by magic.

People who have low blood sugar are far more prone to criminal and violent behavior:

…hypoglycemics were more likely than the average person to have trouble concentrating and controlling their negative emotions when provoked. Overall, they tended to be more anxious and less happy than average. Hypoglycemia was also reported to be unusually prevalent among criminals and other violent persons, and some creative defense attorneys brought the low-blood-sugar research into court.

Across the board, yeah, food puts you in a better mood. To be more exact, research has shown that 2 cheeseburgers = one orgasm. Smiling gives the brain as much pleasure as 2000 bars of chocolate.

Via Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act (TED Books):

They discovered that smiling stimulates our brain’s reward mechanisms in very powerful and surprising ways. How did the power of a smile stack up against other “well-regarded” pleasure-inducing sensations? Depending on whose smile you see, the researchers found that one smile can be as pleasurable and stimulating as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate!

(Health-wise, a little starvation can be good for you, actually.)

So what can you do?

Use this info to help you:

  1. If you need to concentrate or something is going to require good judgment, make sure to eat something.
  2. Use your knowledge of the way certain foods make you feel to control and improve your mood.
  3. Use context to control your eating.

You probably utilize the first two points from time to time but maybe not often enough. The third is very powerful but you probably don’t put it into action.

From Mindless Eating author Brian Wansink:

The good news is that for every external cue that messes people up in our studies, you can solve the problem by doing the opposite. If going from a 10-inch to a 12-inch plate causes you to eat 22 percent more, use a 10-inch or 91/2-inch plate.

Use smaller bowls. Don’t rely on your willpower or the power of education. Don’t say, “Now I know that I’m three times more likely to eat the first thing I see in my cupboard than the fifth thing I see in my cupboard … but I won’t let that influence me.” It absolutely will!

The solution is to make sure that the first thing you see–the thing that’s front and center–is healthier than that chocolate-covered foie gras.

People eat food that’s on the table much more frequently than food that’s off the table, so just put the salad and vegetables on the table. Leave everything else on the counter or stove.

 

Related posts:

5 things you need to know about alcohol

5 things you need to know about that wonder-beverage, coffee

Will eating healthier make you sexier?

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Culture

Summer Confessions: Weight Loss, Finding Love and 11 Other Stories of Change

Summer is the time for transformation, even if you don’t have a first day of school in your future. We’re not sure why, but for some reason the summer months are when people tend to find love, lose weight and discover new things about themselves. Maybe it’s a leftover impulse from the school year, when everybody wanted to come back in September without braces.

Here are some of the best transformations we found when we asked Whisper users to describe how they’ve changed this summer in just three words.

For more summer transformations and stories, you can find Whisper here.

TIME

6 Happy Ways to Lose Belly Fat

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Let’s face it: Trying to eat healthier and move more can sometimes feel like a drag. Change your mindset with these six tricks.

Set the table

A beautifully dressed table allows you to really cherish what you’re eating. So use the nice silverware, buy flowers, light candles, and bust out your place mats and cloth napkins. Even if you’re reheating leftovers or having a healthy frozen entree, take it out of the container, put it on a nice plate and savor each bite by candlelight as you listen to your favorite music. Using a knife and fork to cut each bite in to small pieces also makes you slow down and eat less. It takes 20 minutes for our bellies to register that we are full, so the slower, the better.

Eat outside

Dining al fresco can be so much fun. As you enjoy the fresh air and the people-watching, notice how you slow down, stay present, and really taste each yummy morsel of food you eat. When my husband and I went on our honeymoon in Italy we ate outside for many meals and I always took my time and enjoyed the scenery just as much as the food I was eating. Yes, vacations are special occasions but you can easily appreciate your patio or back yard—even a park bench.

Brighten your plate

Add splashes of colors and shapes and use a variety of healthy vegetables, plus lean protein and a small portion of carbohydrates. I notice my 1-year-old son gets such a kick out of all of his different sized mixed vegetables. He’ll pick up a pea and roll it around a few times before eating it, then he grabs a little carrot, next a green bean, then a piece of corn. He is visually stimulated and interested in the textures, tastes, and colors of his food. Following that cue as adults can help us savor our meals.

Go out for a fancy lunch

Not only will you save calories—lunch portions are generally smaller and you’re less likely to drink alcohol mid-day—but you’ll also save money! One of my favorite things to do is go out to lunch during restaurant week in NYC with friends. We have a little salad, a nice meal, and a small but tasty dessert. I’m usually satisfied until dinner and often only want something light for my last meal of the day.

Share your creation

Show off your pretty meal by snapping a photo for Instagram before you eat. You might just appreciate it more if you treat it like an Insta-artwork. You can also share by saving a bite or two on your plate for your partner, friend, or child to try. I give my son Timothy a taste of everything I am eating at each meal. I automatically save a few calories by letting him sample a bit of my salmon and veggies or PB&J.

Hold a competition

with your office colleagues, group of friends, fellow moms or even your spouse. When you have others to share in a goal with you, it makes slimming down more fun…and who doesn’t love a friendly competition? If you are too shy to involve others, buy a tracking device and have a competition with yourself and the online community. Every day you can add more steps to your log or shave off a few unwanted calories.

More from Health.com

20 Ways to Stick to Your Workout

11 Reasons You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

15 Ways to Lose Weight Without Trying

This article originally appeared on Health.com

Kristin McGee leading yoga and Pilates instructor in New York City. ACE certified personal trainer who regularly trains celebrity clients in New York and Los Angeles. Contributing fitness editor at Health.

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