Thirty billion a year — that’s about how much Americans spend on slim-down products, many of which don’t even work. A better way to get real weight-loss results? Go grocery shopping. New research points to more than a dozen foods, from beans to beef, that can help you fight hunger, kick your candy addiction, boost your metabolism-and ultimately shed pounds. And some of these super foods deliver health bonuses too.
Want to curb your appetite and stop sugar cravings? Then put these on your grocery list.
- Eggs. Skip the bagel this morning. Eggs, which are full of protein, will help you feel fuller longer-a lot longer. A multi-center study of 30 overweight or obese women found that those who ate two scrambled eggs (with two slices of toast and a reduced-calorie fruit spread) consumed less for the next 36 hours than women who had a bagel breakfast of equal calories. Other research has shown that protein may also prevent spikes in blood sugar, which can lead to food cravings.
- Beans. You’ve probably never heard of cholecystokinin, but it’s one of your best weight-loss pals. This digestive hormone is a natural appetite suppressant. So how do you get more cholecystokinin? One way, report researchers at the University of California at Davis, is by eating beans: A study of eight men found that their levels of the hormone (which may work by keeping food in your stomach longer) were twice as high after a meal containing beans than after a low-fiber meal containing rice and dry milk. There’s also some evidence that beans keep blood sugar on an even keel, so you can stave off hunger longer. Heart-healthy bonus: High-fiber beans can lower your cholesterol.
- Salad. Do you tend to stuff yourself at meals? Control that calorie intake by starting with a large salad (but hold the creamy dressing). In a study of 42 women at Penn State University, those who ate a big, low-cal salad consumed 12 percent less pasta afterward-even though they were offered as much as they wanted. The secret, say researchers, is the sheer volume of a salad, which makes you feel too full to pig out. Health bonus: A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that people who ate one salad a day with dressing had higher levels of vitamins C and E, folic acid, lycopene, and carotenoids- all disease fighters-than those who didn’t add salad to their daily menu.
- Green tea. The slimming ingredient isn’t caffeine. Antioxidants called catechins are what help speed metabolism and fat burning. In a recent Japanese study, 35 men who drank a bottle of oolong tea mixed with green tea catechins lost weight, boosted their metabolism, and had a significant drop in their body mass index. Health bonus: The participants also lowered their (bad) LDL cholesterol.
- Pears. They’re now recognized as having more fiber, thanks to a corrected calculation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. At six grams (formerly four grams) per medium-size pear, they’re great at filling you up. Apples come in second, with about three grams per medium-size fruit. Both contain pectin fiber, which decreases blood-sugar levels, helping you avoid between-meal snacking. This may explain why, in a Brazilian study that lasted 12 weeks, overweight women who ate three small pears or apples a day lost more weight than women on the same diet who ate three oat cookies daily instead of the fruit.
- Soup. A cup of chicken soup is as appetite blunting as a piece of chicken: That was the finding of a Purdue University study with 18 women and 13 men. Why? Researchers speculate that even the simplest soup satisfies hunger because your brain perceives it as filling.
- Lean beef. It’s what’s for dinner-or should be, if you’re trying to shed pounds. The amino acid leucine, which is abundant in proteins like meat and fish as well as in dairy products, can help you pare down while maintaining calorie-burning muscle. That’s what it did for 24 overweight middle-aged women in a study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Eating anywhere from nine to 10 ounces of beef a day on a roughly 1,700-calorie diet helped the women lose more weight, more fat, and less muscle mass than a control group consuming the same number of calories, but less protein. The beef eaters also had fewer hunger pangs.
- Olive oil. Fight off middle-age pounds with extra virgin olive oil. A monounsaturated fat, it’ll help you burn calories. In an Australian study, 12 postmenopausal women (ages 57 to 73) were given a breakfast cereal dressed either with a mixture of cream and skim milk or half an ounce of olive oil and skim milk. The women who ate the oil-laced muesli boosted their metabolism. Don’t want to add olive oil to your oatmeal? That’s OK-it works just as well in salad dressings, as a bread dip, or for sautéing.
- Grapefruit. It’s back! A 2006 study of 91 obese people conducted at the Nutrition and Metabolic Research Center at Scripps Clinic found that eating half a grapefruit before each meal or drinking a serving of the juice three times a day helped people drop more than three pounds over 12 weeks. The fruit’s phytochemicals reduce insulin levels, a process that may force your body to convert calories into energy rather than flab.
- Cinnamon. Sprinkle it on microwave oatmeal or whole-grain toast to help cure those mid-afternoon sugar slumps. Research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that a little cinnamon can help control post-meal insulin spikes, which make you feel hungry. Health bonus: One USDA study showed that just a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon a day lowered the blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
- Vinegar. It’s a great filler-upper. In a Swedish study, researchers found that people who ate bread dipped in vinegar felt fuller than those who had their slices plain. The probable reason: Acetic acid in the vinegar may slow the passage of food from the stomach into the small intestine, so your tummy stays full longer. Vinegar can also short-circuit the swift blood-sugar rise that occurs after you eat refined carbs such as white bread, cookies, and crackers.
- Tofu. It seems too light to be filling, but a study at Louisiana State University showed that tofu does the job. Researchers tested it against chicken as a pre-meal appetizer for 42 overweight women-and the participants who had tofu ate less food during the meal. The secret: Tofu is an appetite-quashing protein.
- Nuts. Yes, they are fattening: A handful of peanuts is about 165 calories. But research shows that people who snack on nuts tend to be slimmer than those who don’t. A study from Purdue University found that when a group of 15 normal-weight people added about 500 calories worth of peanuts to their regular diet, they consumed less at subsequent meals. The participants also revved up their resting metabolism by 11 percent, which means they burned more calories even when relaxing. Health bonus: Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids. And researchers at Loma Linda University recently found that eating 10 to 20 whole pecans daily can reduce heart disease risks.
- High-fiber cereal. Studies show that you can curb your appetite by eating a bowl for breakfast. But how well does it really work? Researchers at the VA Medical Center and the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis tested the theory against the ultimate diet challenge: the buffet table. They gave 14 volunteers one of five cereals before sending them out to the smorgasbord. Those who’d had the highest-fiber cereal ate less than those who didn’t have as much fiber in the morning. Try General Mills Fiber One (14 grams per serving) or Kellogg’s All Bran with Extra Fiber (13 grams per serving).
- Hot red pepper. Eating a bowl of spicy chili regularly can help you lose weight. In a Japanese study, 13 women who ate breakfast foods with red pepper (think southwestern omelet) ate less than they normally did at lunch. The magic ingredient may be capsaicin, which helps suppress appetite.