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?

Join 25K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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.

TIME beauty

How The Media Makes Men Hate Their Bodies Too

Man lifting weights at Kent and Sussex Crossfit.
Man lifting weights at Kent and Sussex Crossfit. Andrew Errington—Getty Images

Celebrity body envy isn't just for women any more.

The grocery store checkout seems specifically designed to make you hate yourself. So many magazines on the shelves, so much focus on fixing our flaws.

If you’re female, you’re too fat, and for the fellas, we’re not nearly buff enough. Have you noticed that for men it’s about adding, and for women subtracting?

Magazines targeted at women want them to “lose” or “trim” or “tighten,” whereas for the men’s magazines it’s “adding inches” or “bulking” or “building.” Even when it comes to weight loss, males are sold on how to “get” ripped abs. Interesting side note: this bigger vs. smaller mentality also applies to genitalia. Men are marketed to being bigger, and for women it’s is all about trimming away “excess” in even the most intimate areas. Geez.

The weight loss claims are all in the realm of science fiction, promising more than a pound of fat lost per day, often adorned with a celebrity doctor’s visage to lend credence to a proclamation that defies the first law of thermodynamics (unless you weigh more than a NFL lineman and are chained to a treadmill while fed only small amounts of broccoli and boiled chicken breasts). By comparison, your perfectly reasonable dropping of one pound per week makes you a total failure.

Then you compare yourself to the Photoshopped actors and feel even worse, until you see the “celebrity body disasters” issue of a gossip rag. In it you’ll see paparazzi-snapped photos of a “Sunken stomach!” and “Man Boobs!” and “Skin disease!” as well as a “Freaky facelift!” and a “Belly nightmare!”

It’s worth noting that those “worst beach body” issues now include male celebrities too. Yes, men are starting to get their fair share of fat shaming. No longer can our culture’s leading entertainers put on a few extra pounds over the top of their board shorts and escape the media’s cruel “beach body” eye. Chris Brown was recently called out by TMZ for his post-prison belly, and the gossip site also called out celebrities like Jack Nicholson and Simon Cowell for their “man boobs.”

Disgusted, you turn away … and are faced with row upon row of chocolate bars and potato chips. You just can’t win.

But it’s not just the tabloids at your local market. The Internet wants to make you feel bad about the way you look as well, often so they can sell you a solution. Surely you’ve seen the poorly drawn cartoon ad of the woman grabbing her belly fat in disgust, and don’t forget the guy selling a “shortcut” to seeing your abs who shames you for being “weak and puny.” The solution usually involves “one weird trick,” and that trick is recurring charges to your credit card.

Turn on the TV and you’ll see fitness star Jillian Michaels berate obese participants on the train wreck game show The Biggest Loser. And instead of being vilified for her fat shaming, she nets fame and riches, earning the moniker “America’s Toughest Trainer” while promoting bias against the overweight.

But maybe those fatties just need a bit of shaming to get off their expanding butt cheeks to get in shape? After all, don’t we live in a nation where more than half the population is obese or unhealthily heavy?

Uh, no. In reality, facing stigma over one’s weight actually increases stress and is detrimental to mental health. What’s more, discriminating against people for being obese doesn’t lead to weight loss, but the opposite: it causes them to gain weight.

And it’s not just fat that’s shamed. Now people are targeted for being “too thin,” and some say bodybuilders “look gross” and “must be on steroids.” Perhaps they are chemically enhanced, but why all the hate?

Hate sells. It’s the marketing strategy of “You are broken, but I can fix you. Buy my product.” In order to get you to fork over mega bucks for some miracle weight loss aid, wrinkle remover, muscle maximizer or genitalia grower, marketers must first make you feel bad enough about yourself that you’ll reach for that credit card to solve a problem you didn’t know you had.

A desire for self-improvement is admirable, but be careful where you look for it, whether you’re male or female. And don’t start from a place of self-loathing and celebrity envy; start from one of aspiration. You can aspire to be your own version of awesome, without having to listen to any advertiser whose shtick is all about heaping criticism.

James Fell is a syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. He blogs at www.SixPackAbs.com. You can follow him @BodyForWife.

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