TIME Exercise/Fitness

5 Ways to Gear Up for Weight Loss

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A study released last week made fewer headlines than I hoped it would. Conducted by University College London, it concluded that discrimination against overweight and obese people, or “fat shaming” as it’s often referred to, leads to weight gain, not weight loss. The lead researcher stated, and I agree, that there is no justification for discrimination against people because of their weight, which may include being treated disrespectfully, or being harassed.

Trouble is, many of my clients fat shame themselves, and talk to themselves silently in ways that they’re often too embarrassed to share with me out loud. If you find yourself doing this, I hope you can stop, because in my 15+ years of helping clients lose weight, I’ve seen this pattern only lead to discouragement, or depression, and abandonment of health and weight loss goals.

If you really want to motivate yourself to slim down and healthy up, especially in ways that will last, consider these five dos and don’ts.

Don’t: Beat Yourself Up

In my experience, one of the main triggers of throwing in the towel is negative self-talk. Coming down hard on yourself for small indiscretions, like sneaking an extra square of dark chocolate, or taking a bite off your partner’s plate, can have damaging consequences, including emotional eating, or engaging in risky purging behaviors (e.g. compensating by undereating, overexercising, taking laxatives or diet pills, vomiting…). One exercise I often carry out with my clients is to compare how they talk to themselves to what they would say to their best friend if he or she were in the same circumstances.

HEALTH.COM: 9 Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic

The comparisons are eye opening, and the objective is to consciously work on adopting the same kind of nurturing, caring, and encouraging dialogue you use with the people you respect and love with yourself. I’ve seen just this one change result in major shifts in motivation, as well as transitions from on again/off again yo-yoing to steady, sustainable strides. In other words, just committing to being nice to yourself has the power to transform your relationship with food, your body, and your health.

Do: Celebrate Every Success

Most of my clients want to reward themselves when they hit their weight goal, perhaps with new clothes, a trip, or a spa service. But I encourage them not to wait. When you’re working on changing your lifestyle, there are numerous victories along the way, and each one should be honored. One client recently told me that it dawned on her that she automatically reaches for water over diet soda, and no longer misses her former daily fix—that’s a huge win! Another shared that her kids are now asking for fruits and veggies. A third remarked that everyone’s been commenting on how radiant her skin looks.

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Even if you’re still pounds away from your weight goal, revel in these achievements, and commemorate them, even if just in small ways, like buying flowers for your office or home, doing a happy dance in your living room, or taking a silly selfie to share with a friend. Recognizing these moments will keep you going, and it’s important to recognize that they’re really the foundation of your long-term success.

Don’t: Focus Solely on Your Weight

One of the reasons the “do” above is so important is that it creates a shift in perspective. When I’ve worked with clients who remain laser focused on weight, they’re often willing to compromise health for the sake of weight loss. For example, I’ve had really smart clients tell me they took up smoking, fully knowing the risks, as a means of losing weight. As a health professional that makes me very sad, and it’s one of the reasons why I talk to clients about things like mood, sleep quality, energy, immunity, digestive health, strength, endurance, and help them monitor health indicators like blood pressure, cholesterol, and liver values. I generally find that over time, all of these factors that contribute to wellness, become much stronger motivators than weight or size, because they so strongly influence day to day quality of life. When this happens, you may even decide to banish the scale altogether, which is incredibly freeing, because you’ll have far better—and less fickle—ways of gauging your progress.

Do: Find Positive Support

I hate to say it, but most of my clients have at least one person in their lives who either consciously or unconsciously sabotages their healthy efforts. It may be a significant other who doesn’t want to lose his or her partner in crime, so in turn brings home a box of donuts or a piping hot pizza. Sometimes it’s a competitive co-worker who becomes critical, or a family member who says things like, “You don’t need to lose weight.” A lack of support, even from those you’re close to, is a common conundrum for most people who’ve adopted healthier habits.

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You may not be able to change this, but you can counterbalance it by finding positive support. Even if your cheerleader or confidant is online or long-distance, just having at least one person in your corner who really gets what you’re trying to do and is on the same page can help you stay on track. Spending a little time each day on social media can also help as long as it’s empowering, so find ways to connect that make you feel like you’re not in this alone.

Don’t: Set Unrealistic Expectations

One of the biggest pitfalls I see is setting unrealistic expectations, either results-wise (e.g. I’m going to lose 30 pounds in 30 days), or behavior wise, such as vowing to work out seven days a week, or cut out all carbs. On the flip side, the lasting transformations I see—that is, people who lose weight healthfully and keep it off for good—come from focusing on progress and consistency, not strictness or perfection. You know yourself better than anyone else. If you can’t realistically see yourself maintaining a goal you’ve set for yourself one, three, or six months from now, modify it. When I ask my clients about their weight history, most tell me they’ve lost and gained back the same 20 or so pounds over and over again. And what finally allows them to shed it for good is ditching any approach they know that can’t stick with!

HEALTH.COM: 11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

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

5 Reasons to Eat Healthier That Have Nothing to Do With Your Weight

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While many clients come to me to slim down, in the long run, nearly all find themselves feeling far more motivated by the numerous benefits of healthy eating outside of shedding pounds and inches.

For example, a new study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that young adults who eat more fruits and veggies experience greater “flourishing,” meaning they’re happier, more positive, creative, and curious. I absolutely see these effects among the people I counsel, regardless of age, and it’s this overall enhanced sense of well being that keeps most of them going strong.

Here are five more meaningful benefits of eating well that have absolutely nothing to do with your size or shape.

Better mood

Like the study I referenced above, another from New Zealand has tied a higher produce intake to mood. In the study, nearly 300 young adults completed daily food diaries for three consecutive weeks, along with psychological and mood-related ratings. Scientists found that a higher intake of fruits and veggies resulted in more energy, calm, and greater feelings of overall happiness. They also noted that the effects were seen not only on the days more produce was consumed, but also throughout the following day.

Another study, published in the journal Social Indicators Research, which tracked the eating habits of 80,000 adults, found that downing more servings of fruits and veggies boosted mental well being, with the magic number for happiness being seven daily servings (think half of each meal).

Sounder sleep

Numerous studies have tied better sleep to improvements in overall wellness, and more and more research indicates that eating the right foods can help. Scientists from Taiwan found that when men and women who struggled with sleep disturbances ate two kiwis one hour before bed over a four-week period they fell asleep 35% faster, slept more soundly, and snoozed 13% longer.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and University of Rochester have also found tart cherry juice to be an effective elixir for sleep. In their study, volunteers sipped either one ounce of tart cherry juice or a placebo daily for a week. The cherry drinkers experienced a 25-minute increase in sleep quantity, and a 5-6% boost in sleep efficiency, a measure of overall sleep quality. Not surprisingly, other foods that have been tied to better sleep are all of the good-for-you variety, including fish, whole grains, nuts, and dark leafy greens. In other words, better diet, better slumber.

Better workouts

As a sports nutritionist, I’m always on the lookout for research about foods that enhance athletic performance, and in recent years several healthy foods have been shown to either build muscle, boost recovery, or improve endurance. For example, a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that gulping 16 ounces of organic beetroot juice daily for six days helped male athletes cycle for up to 16% longer compared to a placebo, an effect the researchers say isn’t achievable through training.

Glowing skin

Healthy eating really does give you a natural glow. At least that’s what University of Nottingham scientists found when their study concluded that photographs of people who ate more produce were rated as more attractive than those with suntans. Another from the University of St. Andrews found that people who upped their intake of fruits and veggies by roughly three more daily portions for six weeks were rated as more attractive than those with lower produce intakes. The lesson: you really are what you eat—both inside and out!

Improved brain function

For some time the Mediterranean diet has been considered the gold standard for optimal health. Cornerstones of this eating plan include a eating lots of veggies and fruits, along with fish, beans, whole grains, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, a moderate amount of wine—and a low intake of fatty meats, dairy products, refined grains, and sugar. A recent study from the National Institutes found that people who consistently adhere to a Mediterranean-like diet were less likely to have brain infarcts, small areas of dead tissue in the brain linked to cognitive problems.

Researchers also found that over 6 years, Mediterranean diet eaters were 36% less likely to have brain damage than those who least closely followed this eating pattern. This backs other research supported by the National Institute on Aging, which found that close adherence to a Mediterranean diet resulted in a 28% lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment with aging, and a 48% lower risk of progressing from cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease.

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.

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

10 Mistakes That Make Cravings Worse

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Cravings—such a dirty word when you’re trying to lose weight or keep it off. No matter what your “I-want-it-now” food is—pizza, burgers, ice cream, cupcakes—you probably wrestle with what you want to do (eat it now!) with what you “should” do (go eat veggies). Unfortunately, it’s true that many of our daily habits actually make cravings more intense and frequent, making healthy decisions harder. That doesn’t mean you can’t do something about it. Learn the 10 biggest mistakes that make cravings even worse to get yours under control.

You skimp on breakfast

Maybe you’re not hungry in the a.m., but eating some calories now can keep cravings at bay later. In one study in the Nutrition Journal, overweight girls who ate a 350-calorie breakfast with at least 13 grams of protein had reduced cravings for sweet and savory foods compared to breakfast skippers. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why, but protein may help stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurochemical involved in the brain’s reward centers that can help manage cravings. A half-cup of cottage cheese, 2 hard-boiled eggs, or a cup of cooked oatmeal with two tablespoons of peanut butter will do the trick.

Your serving is too big

You’ve got a craving for brownies, you’re going to have some, and you’re okay with that. So you take three. Thing is, you probably only needed half, suggests a 2013 study from Cornell University. Research on 104 students found that people who were given small snack-sized portions of chocolate, apple pie, or potato chips reported feeling as satisfied as those presented with larger servings—and they ate 76.8% fewer calories. So take a small serving, eat it and enjoy, and then wait 15 minutes until the yearning for more subsides.

You don’t eat anything

Craving candy? Try eating a bowl of super-sweet sliced strawberries. What about chips? Crunch on salted, in-shell pistachios. Substituting what you’re jonesing for with a similar-tasting healthy equivalent should be enough to satisfy you, says Marisa Moore, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Cravings are short-lived and soon you’ll forget about it but will have helped your health with a good snack. It’s a win-win,” she says. However, if chips—and only chips—will do, count out one serving, eat them slowly, and be done.

You don’t know why you’re craving something

You can’t get your hand out of the bag of cheesy crackers. If you don’t understand why, you can’t do anything about it, says Christine Palumbo, RD, a faculty member of Benedictine University in Lisle, IL. She recommends keeping a cravings journal. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy—just jot down a few notes on your phone. When a craving hits, log your emotions: you’re tired, anxious, stressed, bored. Eventually, you’ll pick out common patterns, and you can deal with the causes head on, rather than trying to eat as a solution.

You don’t pair the food you crave with something healthy

Cravings aren’t all or nothing. You can satisfy your yearning while still eating healthy by pairing a larger portion of healthy foods with a small amount of what you think you want. It works because it makes meals more fun and tasty, but still gives your body the nutrition it needs to function at its best, suggests a Vanderbilt University study. The researchers call it a “vice-virtue bundle.” So here’s how to do it: order the salad with grilled salmon with a side of fries or get a piece of grilled chicken and veggies with a small bowl of mac and cheese. Fill up on the good stuff, and eat a quarter to half a portion of the splurge.

You pile on the guilt

It’s your friend’s birthday and there is cake. If you eat a slice, will you feel joyous or wracked with guilt? Delighting in delicious food rather than feeling shame about eating it may be key. People who said they associated chocolate cake with celebration had more control over their eating habits and had less trouble maintaining and losing weight, reported a 2014 study in the journal Appetite. One reason? Feeling guilty may make you try to ignore your thoughts, a strategy that actually backfires, causing you to obsess over the cake even more.

You try willpower

Straight-up willpower doesn’t always work. “It leads people to feeling like failures when they give in,” says Moore. A winning strategy: distraction. One study found that three minutes spent playing the game Tetris reduced the strength of food cravings better than a control condition where people spent the same amount of time waiting around. A 15-minute walk can also help reduce chocolate cravings, reports a 2013 UK study. Since cravings usually don’t stick around long, you just need to stick it out momentarily.

You keep temptation around

The mental battle between you and the box of cookies in the pantry does not have to be fought every day. “Out of sight, out of mind,” says Moore. “If it’s 10 p.m. and you want a cookie, you’re probably not going to go out and get some,” she says. On the other hand, if they’re staring you in the face every time you open the pantry, it’s all too easy to grab one. If your family insists you keep foods like cookies in the house, at least move them to the back of the pantry. Hide them behind the box of fruit-and-nut bars, so you see those first. And avoid buying crave-worthy snack foods in bulk from warehouse stores, adds Palumbo, since the more you have around, the more you’ll eat.

You’re dieting

You’ve got good intentions: in an effort to eat well, you tell yourself that the doughnut is off limits or the burger is sinful or a “bad” food. But your perception matters. Dieters have more intense and harder-to-resist cravings than non-dieters or people who are just trying to maintain their weight, particularly for their off-limits foods, according to a study published in Appetite. “When you deny yourself foods you love all the time, it will build up and explode, making you more likely to binge,” says Palumbo. Allowing yourself a little something every day, whether you’re looking to lose weight or not, can help take the power away from your cravings

You use Instagram or Pinterest

Gooey grilled cheese. A fudge-topped sundae. Pizza. Food porn is fun to look at, but don’t be shocked when suddenly you’re struck with a desire to run to the nearest Mexican restaurant or gelato store. In a small preliminary study from the University of Southern California, researchers found that images of high-calorie foods spark more activity in the reward areas of the brain than photos of low-cal fare.

There are plenty of health bloggers out there who create delicious-looking-but-nutritious food, so if you can’t resist food porn, at least follow people who post pics of healthy eats. Maybe you’ll be inspired to cook something new tonight.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

Low-Carb Diet Beats Low-Fat for Weight Loss

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

Breakfast Might Not Help You Lose Weight

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Breakfast can be a solid nutritional dividing line. Cross into the realm of whole grains and eggs, and you feel great about embracing what we’ve come to know as “the most important meal of the day.” Abstain, and you’re in for some skipped-breakfast shame.

But researchers are questioning the merits of the morning meal, according to two rigorous trials in which people were randomly assigned to eat breakfast or not, appearing in the August issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The two studies explored the main claims made about the benefits of breakfast — that it helps with weight loss and boosts metabolism. James Betts, one of the study’s authors and a senior lecturer in nutrition and metabolism at the University of Bath in the U.K., decided to look into the research more closely after a colleague criticized his habit of skipping breakfast. He found very little. As a scientist, I was quite shocked actually at how sparse the evidence base was,” he says.

In one study from the University of Bath, researchers instructed 33 lean adults to either eat nothing in the morning or a 700-calorie breakfast of their choice. After six weeks of the intervention, researchers found that eating breakfast didn’t rev metabolism — instead, the participants’ resting metabolic rates remained the same. Skipping breakfast didn’t prompt the volunteers to gorge at lunchtime either, another common claim. So in these people, having a smaller appetite wasn’t a byproduct of breakfast.

But breakfast eaters didn’t lose more weight. That’s perhaps not surprising, given that the study lasted only a few weeks, but the other larger, longer study in the same issue came to a similar conclusion. Researchers from several institutions assigned about 300 overweight and obese people to one of three groups for 16 weeks: those instructed to eat breakfast, those told to skip it, and a control group vaguely told to have a healthy diet. “What we found was absolutely no difference in the change of weight among the three groups, severely calling into question the idea — at least among ordinary adults — that it’s important to eat a good breakfast every day for the purposes of weight control,” says David Allison, one of the study authors and distinguished professor and director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Still, there were some distinct perks to taking the time to eat breakfast. Breakfast eaters moved more, burning away 442 calories more than the nonbreakfast group. “That’s equivalent to running on the treadmill for an hour or so for many people,” Betts says, “and that was just accumulated from being generally more active throughout the day.” Breakfast eaters also maintained steadier blood sugar levels and Betts is studying what breakfast foods are most likely to promote these healthy effects.

So is it better to eat breakfast or skip it? More trials are needed — especially longer ones, and those studying the type of breakfast consumed — but a morning meal doesn’t appear to be a weight-loss silver bullet, even though it may help you move more.

Betts says the new research can be helpful no matter where you fall on the breakfast spectrum. “If you’re like me and you skip breakfast, you can just use this information to be aware that you may not be as active as you otherwise would be,” he says. “So you should consciously think, don’t be lazy today.” And if you are a fan of the morning meal, then you can be satisfied that you’re more likely to be physically active during the day — something that most doctors agree is a good thing.

TIME health

3 Reasons Why Your Relationship With Food is Crazy

mom's cookies
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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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 Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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.

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