July-August 2016: Easy-to-follow Nutrition & Weight Management Tips

We are neck-deep in opinions about the best ways of eating for health and weight management. There is no end to the internet chatter and quick-fix advice on how to win the healthy eating and living "battle of the bulge". You must have heard about the gluten-free craze to lose weight, the juice cleanses that flush toxins out and help you lose excess body-fat weight, or coconut oil as a miracle food that boosts metabolism and helps you lose weight. But are these tips going to be sustainable and help you in the long term? I doubt it! 

With all this dubious and often conflicting advice, you have a right to know about simple and effective ways to healthier eating and managing weight, that don't involve anything as draconian as ruling out chocolate (albeit sticking to raw chocolate or to dark chocolate that is more than 70% cocoa is advisable). So if you are aching for some basic, pretty reliable, researched advice, this is what I am offering below.

1. Drink water before dining: sugary drinks do nothing for ones diet or weight management, but kicking off a meal with a glass of water could play a role in healthy weight management. The benefits of water can likely be chalked up to the fact that it increases a feeling of fullness, making it easier to regulate food intake at mealtime (1).

Action point: consider the midnight bathroom break a minor inconvenience and start each meal with plain water or a mug of plain tea to encourage better portion control.

2. Eat more beans and lentils:  The United Nations calls 2016 International Year of the Pulses - a food group that includes beans, lentils, and peas. More than an inexpensive source of nutrition (especially plant-based protein and fiber that have lots of nutrients but relatively fewer calories, hence, they are nutrient dense and keep you full longer), they can help you get a legume up on weight management (2, 3).

Action points: make pulses an integral part of any eating plan. For example, take a lentil based salad to work; replace one meat-based dinner each weak with a bean-heavy dish such as bean chili; rely on legume-based dips and spreads like hummus for healthier snacking.

3. Resist clever branding: We have all fallen for slick food marketing (e.g, foods marketed as healthy and low-fat that are full of chemical additives and preservatives; foods advertised as "healthy" whole grain cookies and crackers that have minimal 'whole' grain ingredients; "organic" cake mixes that are marketed as being healthier than conventional cake mixes, but are packed with sugar and refined carbohydrates). In addition, psychologically, just the thought that one is eating healthier food could lead you to overeat (4) that particular food. Action Point: get into the habit of reading not just the nutrition label but more importantly, the ingredient list - which tells you where the fats, proteins, carbohydrates and sugars are coming from that on the nutrition label. The devil is always in the detail!   

4. Lighten up at night: Most people eat their biggest meal at dinner or they eat just an hour or so before bedtime. Research is showing that eating earlier may be better for weight management and weight loss (5). One study showed that those who ate more calories at breakfast and at lunch than at dinner had greater fat loss around their waistlines (6), which may be related to the fact that we burn more calories earlier in the day when our metabolism is higher, while later intake is more likely to go into fat storage.

Action point: a substantial breakfast can promote satiety and reduce risk of mindless snacking and overeating as the day progresses. Try and pack in your proteins and whole grains early on in the day and scale back on meals later in the day. 

5. Plan ahead: this is a big one, especially when eating out. Pre-ordering lunch online can encourage you to make wiser choices than just walking into a restaurant and ordering off the menu (7). In addition, selecting your order online than with a live server reduces the temptation of sensory cues (that smell of freshly baked bread or french fries) or the chances of being up-sold to say 'yes' when asked if you want fries or that chocolate molten lava cake.

Action point: while always better to prepare food at home,  using online menus can reduce risk of making unwise meal choices. Even if a restaurant does not deliver or take orders in advance, check out the menu online and make time to decide on the healthiest choices. And stick to your guns when you walk through that door. 

REFERENCES

1. Parretti, H. M., et al, 2015. Efficacy of water pre-loading before main meals as a strategy for weight loss in primary care patients with obesity. RCT, Obesity, 23 (9), 1,785-91.

2. McCrory, M.A., et al, 2010. Pulse consumption, satiety, and weight management. Advances in Nutrition, 1 (1), 17-30.

3. Tonstad, S. M., 2014. A high-fiber bean-rich diet versus a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 27 (Supplement 2), 109-16.

4. Suher, J et al, 2015. Eating healthy or feeling empty? Hw the "healthy = less filling" intuition influences satiety. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. 1 (1). 

5. Bo, S., et al, 2014. Consuming more of daily calorie intake at dinner predisposes to obesity. A 6-year population-based prospective cohort study. PLOS One, 9 (9), e108467.

6. Jakubowicz, D., et al. 2013. High caloric intake at breakfast vs dinner differentially influences weight loss of over-weight and obese women. Obesity, 21 (12), 2,504-12.