One of your most basic health principles is to eat a diet of whole, nutritious foods rather than processed “diet” fare. Focusing on so-called “superfoods” might change the way you look at weight loss—and could even turn your struggles with weight into an issue of the past.
Feeding your body the right nutrients rather than stuffing it with “empty” calories will not only help you lose unwanted pounds, it’s also a key ingredient for living a long and healthy life. Believe it or not, many people who are overweight are actually malnourished.
Recent research also indicates that optimizing your vitamin D may help you lose weight if you’re deficient, and this is another basic that shouldn’t be overlooked if you’re struggling with weight issues.
What’s So ‘Super’ About Superfoods?
The term “superfood” was coined in 2004 by Dr. Steven Pratt, author of Superfoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life. He points out that this kind of eating goes beyond the idea of dieting. It’s really a way of life. “It’s the non-diet diet. It’s food you can eat for a lifetime,” he told CNN a few years ago.
More recently, Health magazine listed dozens of slimming superfoods. While the majority are excellent options, I disagree with some of them, particularly the recommendation to switch to low-fat dairy.
The only types of fats you should really be limiting are man-made varieties like trans fats, processed vegetable oils, and virtually any oil heated to high temperatures as toxic byproducts like cyclic aldehydes will form.
Full fat dairy—and in particular raw, unpasteurized dairy—is far preferable to low-fat varieties, both for overall health and weight loss. In one study, women who consumed at least one serving of full-fat dairy a day gained 30 percent less weight over a nine-year period than women who ate only low-fat (or no) dairy products.
Saturated fats provide the building blocks for your cell membranes and a large number of hormones and hormone-like substances that are essential to your health.
Healthy fats from animal and vegetable sources (such as meat, dairy, and tropical plant oils like coconut and avocado) also provide a concentrated source of energy in your diet—an important consideration when you’re cutting out carbs.
When you eat fats as part of your meal, they slow down absorption so that you can go longer without feeling hungry.
In addition, they act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Dietary fats are also needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption, and for a host of other biological processes.
One of the cornerstones of successful weight loss is in fact consuming higher amounts of healthy saturated fats, so don’t fall into the low-fat trap. That said, below I will review seven of my superfood favorites which, if eaten more of, can help you achieve your weight loss goals with greater ease.
I just mentioned the importance of healthy fat for weight loss, and avocados are an excellent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat that is easily burned for energy, while also being low in fructose—a double-win. I typically eat one or two nearly every day.
Not surprisingly, improved weight management is indeed one of the documented health benefits of avocado consumption, and its high-fat, low-sugar content is likely a key factor contributing to this effect.
Research has also found that avocados are helpful for regulating your blood sugar levels. This is an important benefit for most people, considering that one in four American are either diabetic or pre-diabetic.
Studies have also shown that avocados help improve lipid profiles by naturally lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while raising beneficial HDL cholesterol. And, due to their high potassium content, avocados will also help balance your potassium to sodium ratio, which is really important for optimal health.
When peeling the avocado, keep in mind that the greatest concentration of beneficial carotenoids is located in the dark green fruit closest to the inside of the peel, so to get the most out of your avocado, be sure to peel it as you would a banana.
First, cut the avocado length-wise, around the seed; holding each half, twist them in the opposite directions to separate them from the seed. Discard the seed, and cut each half, lengthwise. Next, using your thumb and index finger, simply peel the skin off each piece.
All in all, avocado may be one of the most beneficial superfoods out there, and may be particularly valuable if you’re struggling with insulin and leptin resistance, which are precursors to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and many other chronic health problems, including obesity.
#2: Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon
Another high-fat food to eat more of is salmon. It’s an excellent source of essential animal-based omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA), astaxanthin, and other antioxidants, along with high-quality protein. It also scores well in terms of mercury contamination, which is a concern when adding more fish to your diet.
Just be sure to avoid farmed salmon, as their nutritional composition is inferior to wild caught varieties. For example, omega-3 fats have been reduced by about 50 percent in farmed salmon, compared to wild salmon, due to increasing amounts of grain feed.
Farmed salmon is also fed synthetic astaxanthin, which is not approved for human consumption and does not confer the outstanding health benefits of natural astaxanthin found in wild salmon.
To ensure your salmon is wild caught, look for “Alaskan salmon” or “sockeye,” as neither of these two are allowed to be farmed. An affordable option is to buy canned wild Alaskan salmon. Sources like Vital Choice are sustainable harvested and regularly tested and found to be free of any Fukushima radiation.
Virtually all salmon labeled “Atlantic Salmon” currently comes from fish farms. In restaurants, mislabeled salmon will typically be described as “wild” but not “wild Alaskan,” as authentic wild Alaskan is easier to trace.
#3: Sunflower Sprouts
Sprouts are an authentic “super” food that many overlook or have long stopped using. In addition to their superior nutritional profile, sprouts are really easy to grow if you’re an apartment dweller, as they don’t require an outdoor garden.
A powerhouse of nutrition, sprouts can contain up to 30 times the nutrition of organic vegetables grown in your own garden, and allow your body to extract more vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fats from the foods you eat. During sprouting, minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, bind to protein, making them more bioavailable.
Furthermore, both the quality of the protein and the fiber content of beans, nuts, seeds, and grains improve when sprouted. The content of vitamins and essential fatty acids also increase dramatically during the sprouting process.
Sunflower seed and pea sprouts tend to top the list of all the seeds that you can sprout and are typically about 30 times more nutrient dense than organic vegetables. Sprouts in general also support cell regeneration, and are rich in antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and enzymes that protect against free radical damage.
They also have an alkalinizing effect on your body, which is thought to help protect against disease, including cancer (as many tumors are acidic), and are abundantly rich in oxygen, which can also help protect against abnormal cell growth, viruses, and bacteria—none of which can survive in an oxygen-rich environment. Last but not least, sunflower sprouts are an excellent source of high-quality fiber, which is an important yet frequently overlooked weight loss aid.
#4: Broccoli and Broccoli Sprouts
Broccoli has a solid scientific foundation showing it’s one of the most valuable health-promoting foods around. For example, a compound in broccoli, glucosinolate glucoraphanin, produces a metabolite called sulforaphane that can significantly improve your blood pressure, kidney function, and gut health by normalizing a process called DNA methylation. It also has anti-diabetic and antimicrobial properties, and kills cancer stem cells as well.
In simple terms, DNA methylation is the process by which a methyl group (one carbon atom attached to three hydrogen atoms) is added to part of a DNA molecule. This is a crucial part of normal cell function as it allows cells to “remember who they are and where they have been.” DNA methylation also suppresses viral- and other disease-related gene expression.
Broccoli sprouts may be an even better option, as they pack a greater punch in terms of nutrition, delivered in a much smaller package. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, a mere five grams (0.17 ounces) of broccoli sprouts contain concentrations of the compound glucoraphanin equal to that found in 150 grams (5.2 ounces) of mature broccoli.
Sprouts can also contain up to 100 times more enzymes than raw fruits and vegetables, allowing your body to extract more vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fats from the foods you eat. Another major benefit of broccoli sprouts relates to its ability to detox pollutants, as demonstrated in recent research. Best of all, you can easily and inexpensively grow broccoli sprouts at home, and you don’t have to cook them. They are eaten raw, usually as an addition to salad or juice.
In terms of weight loss, one of the “secrets” behind broccoli’s ability to help you lose weight is the fact that they’re high in fiber that nourish beneficial bacteria in your gut. Ideally, you’ll want to get around 30 grams of fiber per day. In one recent study, prediabetics who ate 30 grams of fiber per day lost nearly the same amount of weight as those who cut calories and limited their fat intake; they also improved their cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar.
#5: Organic Pastured Eggs
Eggs are an important part of a healthy diet, for a number of reasons. Not only do they contain high-quality protein and fat—nutrients that many are deficient in—they also contain valuable antioxidants, including lutein and zeaxanthin, which can help prevent age-related macular degeneration; the most common cause of blindness.
To get the most from your eggs, choose true free-range eggs, now increasingly referred to as “pasture-raised.” These eggs come from hens that roam freely outdoors on a pasture where they can forage for their natural diet, which includes seeds, green plants, insects, and worms. You may also want to look for certified organic eggs, as, unless you personally know the farmer, this is your only guarantee that the chickens are raised without antibiotics.
Barring organic certification, which is cost-prohibitive for many small farmers, you could just make sure the farmer raises his chickens according to organic, free-range standards, allowing his flock to forage freely for their natural diet, and aren’t fed antibiotics, corn or soy. Cornucopia.org offers a helpful organic egg scorecard that rates egg manufacturers based on 22 criteria that are important for organic consumers.
The reason for these recommendations is because organic pasture-raised eggs tend to be far more nutritious than their factory farmed counterparts, and you can tell the difference by the color of the yolk. A healthy organic free-range egg will have a very deep orange yolk, whereas your average egg from the supermarket is a light, pale yellow. Also bear in mind that cooking will alter or damage many of these nutrients, so the closer to raw you eat your eggs, the better.
One important caveat is that when you eat eggs raw or very lightly cooked, it becomes really important to make sure they’re truly organic and pasture-raised, as eggs harvested in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are far more prone to be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria like salmonella. As long as you’re getting fresh pastured eggs, your risk of getting ill from a raw egg is quite slim.
That said, an interesting 2009 study discovered that the proteins in cooked eggs are converted by gastrointestinal enzymes, producing peptides that act as ACE inhibitors (common prescription medications for lowering blood pressure), so soft-boiled may be an ideal middle of the road solution if you don’t like raw eggs. I typically eat at one to dozen eggs a week.
#6: Raw Nuts
Many shun raw nuts thinking their fat content contributes to weight gain, but research tells us differently. Not only can nuts help you curb your appetite and boost weight loss, they’ve also been linked to a boost in longevity. My favorite nuts are macadamia and pecans, as they provide the highest amount of healthy fat while being on the lower end in terms of carbs and protein. Pine nuts are also close contenders, and their small size, mild flavor, and soft almost buttery consistency lend themselves well to be added to salads.
The following list shows the nutrition facts in grams per one ounce for your most common tree nuts. One caveat to consider is how the nuts are processed. While almonds often receive top billing when health benefits of nuts are mentioned, all almonds sold in the US today are pasteurized—a mandatory requirement implemented in 2007.
Despite that, they can still be labeled as “raw.” It is possible to purchase truly raw, unpasteurized almonds in the US but it has to be done very carefully from vendors selling small quantities that have a waiver from the pasteurization requirement. In light of that, there are better nut options, as almonds are also higher in protein and carbs, while being lower in healthy fat, compared to macadamias, pecans, and pine nuts.
#7: Green Tea
Green tea is arguably one of the healthiest beverages you can drink. It’s packed with vitamins A, D, E, C, B, B5, H, and K, manganese and other beneficial minerals such as zinc, chromium, and selenium, and has been shown to benefit your brain and heart, boost metabolism, and has anti-cancer properties to boot. Research suggests this brew can be of particular benefit for those who are insulin resistant and/or overweight.
In one study, people who consumed six or more cups of green tea daily were found to have a 33 percent lower risk for type 2 diabetes than those who consumed less than one cup per week. In terms of weight loss, the positive effects of green tea appear to be related to the catechins it contains. A type of antioxidant, catechins promote weight loss by augmenting thermogenesis and lipolysis. In one study, unsweetened, brewed green tea was found to increase calorie burn by about 100 calories a day.
Buyer beware, however, as green tea can be contaminated with a variety of toxins, including fluoride and lead, both of which are readily absorbed from the soil. Areas with excessive industrial pollution, such as China (where nearly 90 percent of the world’s green tea is produced), may therefore contain substantial amounts of lead.
Japanese teas tend to be less contaminated and are generally preferred for that reason. If you’re consuming Matcha green tea, one of my favorites, it’s especially important that it comes from Japan instead of China, as Matcha contains the whole leaf, ground to a fine powder. The best Matcha green tea comes from Japan and is steamed, rather than roasted or pan-fried.
To Lose Weight, Eat Right
A key principle of successful and lasting weight loss is to teach your body to burn fat instead of sugar and to do that, you need to replace non-vegetable carbohydrates with healthy fats. Avocados, salmon, and raw nuts are good sources, as is coconut oil and raw organic dairy. Also consider intermittent fasting, as this is one of the most effective ways to shed excess weight. Research has even shown that intermittent fasting is more effective for weight loss and improving insulin resistance than daily calorie restriction.