Debunking the White Food Myth
When it comes to blanket statements and nutrition “rules,” one of the most frequently touted is the “no white foods” guideline. Born out of good intention, the basic premise is to steer folks away from processed foods that have been stripped of beneficial nutrients (e.g., fiber, vitamins, minerals) and packed with heavily-refined, high-glycemic carbohydrates.
This list typically includes processed flours and the “foods” that are made with them: breads, breakfast cereals, bagels, noodles and pasta, baked goods, crackers, etc.
This also includes consumer goods made with refined sugars like table sugar and high fructose corn syrup, which are seemingly ubiquitous. In fact, it’s estimated that Americans drink 22% of their total calories, much of that from beverages sweetened with sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup.
It’s no secret that an increased consumption of these food items is closely related to obesity and various forms of chronic illness, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In fact, numerous studies have linked consumption of these high-glycemic carbohydrates to obesity.
What’s more, in a 2004 epidemiological study, researchers analyzed nearly 90 years worth of data, and they found, “Increasing intakes of refined carbohydrate concomitant with decreasing intakes of fiber paralleled the upward trend in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes observed in the United States during the 20th century.”
While dietary fat, particularly saturated fat, has long been the scapegoat for increasing rates of obesity and chronic disease, the tables are finally turning in the appropriate direction. Dr. Frank Hu, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard, set out to answer the question: “Are refined carbohydrates worse than saturated fat?”
Dr. Hu’s research led him to conclude that “refined carbohydrates are likely to cause even greater metabolic damage than saturated fat,” and “the time has come to shift the focus of the diet-heart paradigm away from restricted fat intake and toward reduced consumption of refined carbohydrates.”
With this in mind, the “no white foods” guideline is a good recommendation when applied appropriately. However, this “rule” can be taken too far, as not all white foods are created equally. Too often, folks end up avoiding many natural, unprocessed white foods that are loaded with health-promoting and fat-fighting nutrients. With that being said, we share with you our top 17 WHITE Foods for a Flat Stomach.
Cauliflower belongs to the family of cruciferous vegetables, which may have more fat-burning and health-boosting benefits than nearly any other. While broccoli is arguably the most well-known
in the family, research is showing that cauliflower is quickly moving to the “head” of the class due to its wide-ranging health benefits.
Cruciferous vegetables are high in fiber, and simply put, fiber is a nutrition all-star, as it promotes satiety, a healthy digestive tract, regularity, cardiovascular health, and many other health and body composition benefits. In fact, researchers have linked low fiber intakes to increased risk for diabetes and obesity.
What’s more, scientists continuously demonstrate that diets higher in fiber help with weight loss and weight management.
One unique benefit of cruciferous vegetables is their ability to fight off dietary and environmental estrogens—to which one may be exposed to through soy, plastics, and pesticides—via a special phytonutrient called indole-3-carbinol (I3C), which is produced by the enzymatic breakdown of the glucosinolates found in cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables.
Environmental estrogens have also been linked to high levels of belly fat; thus, by consuming more cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower one can fight off belly fat stores at the same time.
Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin K, which is considered to be a hallmark anti-inflammatory nutrient as it directly regulates the inflammatory response. This, combined with the anti-inflammatory glucosinolates, makes cauliflower an inflammation fighting powerhouse. In fact, research is currently being conducted to help shed light on the anti-inflammatory benefits of cruciferous vegetables in relation to inflammatory related conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome.
A recent study published in the renowned journal Nature Immunology discovered that specific proteins in cruciferous vegetables may play an essential role in gut health by boosting immune cell production and ultimately combating bacterial infections, chronic inflammation, and potentially even bowel cancer.
What’s more, these same immune cells may also help lower food sensitivities and control obesity.
Cruciferous vegetables have also been shown through research to boast antioxidant and anti-aging properties. In fact, one study funded by the National Cancer Institute showed that participants who consumed 1 – 2 cups of cruciferous vegetables a day reduced their oxidative stress by 22% in just 3 weeks.
With its mild, slightly nutty flavor, cauliflower can be enjoyed in a number of ways, as it can be eaten raw, roasted, steamed, sautéed, stir-fried, or boiled. It’s also increasingly common to see cauliflower being used as a replacement for pizza crusts, rice, and mashed potatoes. A great recipe idea is to add one teaspoon of turmeric to roasted, sautéed, or mashed cauliflower, as one study found that the combination of curcumin, an active ingredient in the spice turmeric, and the glucosinolates found in cauliflower may help prevent prostate cancer by inhibiting growth of cancerous cells.
A member of the Allium family of vegetables, onions are rich in sulfur-containing compounds called sulfides, flavonols, and quercetin, which combine to provide many of onions’ far-reaching health-promoting effects. While the Egyptians worshipped the onion’s many layers as a symbol of eternity, researchers are beginning to laud this member of the Allium family for its cardiovascular benefits, which include reducing blood pressure and lowering blood cholesterol levels.
As mentioned, onions are a standout source of the nutrient quercetin. In fact, researchers at Wageningen Agricultural University showed that the absorption of quercetin from onions is twice that from tea and more than three times that from apples.
Further research at the Agricultural University of Wageningen showed that daily consumption of onions may result in increased accumulation of quercetin in the blood. Of note, studies have shown that quercetin can reduce blood pressure in individuals with high blood pressure.
What’s more, researchers found that daily quercetin rich supplementation from onion peel extract resulted in improved blood cholesterol profiles (i.e., significantly reduced total and LDL cholesterol), blood pressure, and blood glucose levels, which suggests a beneficial role as “a preventative measure against cardiovascular risk.”
Significant research has also been conducted on the effects of onion consumption on blood sugar and insulin management. The sulfides in onions have been linked to improved weight loss and blood sugar regulation in mice.
Additional researchers have found similar improvements in blood sugar and blood cholesterol when administering onion powder to mice.
Onions store their carbohydrates in the form of fructans, which are an increasingly popular type of carbohydrates known for their prebiotic effects. Fructans serve as a substrate, or “food,” for the healthy bacteria that resides in the flora of the gut, increasing overall GI tract health. Thus, onions may offer useful probiotic effects, including the improvement of the intestinal flora, improved absorption of calcium and magnesium, and other health benefits.
Tip: Studies suggest that heating foods like onions and garlic may have a negative effect on their sulfides, which could potentially reduce their beneficial health properties.
However, allowing onions and garlic to sit for 10 minutes (after slicing, dicing, crushing, etc.) before cooking preserves the compounds and provides the most health benefits.
Like onions, garlic is also a member of the Allium family, and as a result, you can expect many of the very same health benefits. Affectionately referred to as the “stinking rose,” garlic is rich in
flavonols and sulfides, of which the best known is allicin.
Technically, allicin is not contained in fresh garlic. Rather, crushing or chopping garlic results in the release of an enzyme called allinase that catalyzes the formation of allicin, which has been touted by some scientists as the world’s most potent antioxidant. Because cooking inactivates the allinase enzyme, it’s recommended to let garlic sit for 10 minutes after chopping or crushing (see “Tip” above).
Research on garlic has demonstrated myriad cardiovascular benefits, including improved blood cholesterol (i.e., reduced total and LDL cholesterol) and blood pressure.
Additionally, research suggests that garlic may play a role in suppressing atherosclerosis (i.e., hardening of the arteries).
Also of note, garlic contains a sulfide called 1,2-vinyldithiin (1,2-DT), which has long been recognized for its anti-inflammatory properties. Recently, researchers have discovered that 1,2-DT can inhibit adipogenesis (i.e., the formation of new fat cells) and inflammation associated with fat accumulation. In fact, based on their experiment, the researchers concluded that 1,2-DT has “antiadipogenic and antiinflammatory actions” and may be “a novel, antiobesity nutraceutical.”
Often grouped with vegetables, mushrooms are fungi and belong to their own kingdom—separate from plants and animals. Like many vegetables, mushrooms are low in calories and packed with important nutrients, including:
• B vitamins, including pantothenic acid, niacin, and riboflavin, which help to provide energy for the body and play an important role in the nervous system
• Selenium, a trace mineral that acts as an antioxidant to protect the cells of the body from free radical damage. Studies have found a correlation between selenium levels and male fertility, and selenium supplementation has been implicated in the treatment of male infertility
• Ergothioneine, considered by researchers to be an “incredible antioxidant” that may help protect the body’s cells from oxidative stress
• Copper, which helps make red blood cells and helps keep nerves and bones healthy
• Potassium, an important mineral that plays a critical role in the maintenance of fluid and mineral balance and helps regulate blood pressure. Potassium is also an essential nutrient for proper nerve and muscle function.
What’s more, mushrooms are one of the few non-fortified food sources of vitamin D, a distinction that cannot be said for any other fruit or vegetable found in the produce aisle.
When it comes to weight loss, a negative energy balance (i.e., expend more calories than you consume) is a foundational tenet, and some research suggests that mushrooms may be helpful. In a one-year randomized control trial that was published in the journal Appetite, researchers assessed the effects of
substituting mushrooms for red meat (i.e., mushroom diet).
At the end of the 1-year trial, compared to participants who did not replace red meat (i.e., standard diet), those subjects who were on the mushroom diet:
• Reported lower calorie (about 123 calories per day) and dietary fat (about 4 grams per day) intakes;
• Lost over 7 more pounds and 3.6% more body weight;
• Achieved lower body mass index (BMI);
• Lost over 2 ½ more inches from their waistlines; and perhaps most importantly,
• Maintained the weight loss.
Because of the calorie differential between beef and mushrooms, researchers set out to see if human subjects would compensate when the latter replaced the former. While food volume was held constant, subjects either received a 700-calorie beef-based lunch or 300-calorie mushroom-based lunch on eight separate occasions over the course of two weeks.
Despite the significant difference in calories and total fat intake, subjects reported similar ratings of palatability, appetite, satiety, and satiation with the mushroom-based lunch.
The researchers reported only insignificant compensations in energy intake in later meals, leading them to conclude, “Substituting low energy density foods for high energy density foods in otherwise similar recipes can be an effective method for reducing daily energy and fat intake.”
Recently, researchers at the University of Buffalo (UB) found that consumption of mushrooms may offer additional health and body composition benefits by improving blood sugar management. Specifically, the scientists found that consuming mushrooms alongside rapidly-digesting carbohydrates resulted in significantly improved blood sugar responses, insulin concentrations, and satiety.
According to co-author Peter Horvath, associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Science at UB, “The results indicate that the consumption of mushrooms could be useful in regulating glucose levels. This alone may benefit individuals attempting to lose weight and exercise longer.”
Turnips are considered root vegetables, which are plant roots that are consumed as vegetables. Other root vegetables include beets, rutabaga (i.e., yellow turnips), carrots, celeriac, daikon, parsnip, jicama, and radishes.
Turnips are a good source of fiber, providing over 2 grams (and only 5 total grams of carbohydrates and 22 total calories) in a 3 ½-ounce cooked serving. They are also an excellent source of vitamin C, which functions in the body as an antioxidant. Studies indicate that higher intakes of vitamin C from either diet or supplements are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), including coronary heart disease and stroke.
Like cauliflower, turnips belong to the family of cruciferous vegetables, and they contain numerous glucosinolates.
In fact, amongst commonly eaten cruciferous vegetables, turnips are behind only Brussels sprouts in their total glucosinolates content. Along with their glucosinolates, turnips bring fantastic health benefits. The glucosinolates in turnips are phytonutrients that can be converted into isothiocyanates (ITCs), which possess significant health-promoting properties.
Bonus: Turnip greens, which aren’t a “white food” per se, are the “tops” to the turnip root. Turnip greens belong to the cruciferous vegetable family also, and as a result, you can enjoy many of the same health benefits posited above vis-à-vis glucosinolates found in cauliflower. What’s more, turnip greens are loaded with vitamin K, and they also contain some omega-3 fatty acids, which means they provide two hallmark anti-inflammatory nutrients.
Like turnips, parsnips are root vegetables that belong to the cruciferous family. Parsnips, which are often thought of as a “white carrot,” are rich in a multitude of vitamins, as they are a good source of the following:
• Vitamin K
• Vitamin C
• Pantothenic acid
• Vitamin E
Parsnips contain healthy levels of the following minerals:
Parsnips are an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble fibers, providing 5 grams per 100-gram portion. Adequate dietary fiber is necessary to help control blood cholesterol levels, manage blood sugar and insulin concentrations, maintain regularity, increase satiety, and optimally manage body weight.
Parsnips contain numerous polyacetyline antioxidants, including falcarinol, falcarinodiol, panaxydiol and methyl-falcarindiol. Polyacetylines have been shown in numerous studies to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
Also of note, parsnips were highly regarded in ancient Roman times, and Pliny wrote about them extensively. In fact, parsnips were believed to be an aphrodisiac.
Typically you’ll see bananas on a list of foods not to eat when it comes to fat loss. However, if you banish this fruit, you may be missing out on some very important fat-burning nutrients.
In addition to being a rich source of potassium, bananas are also a very good source of the following essential nutrients:
• Vitamin B6
• Vitamin C
Of particular note, bananas are one of the best dietary sources of resistant starch, which is a special type of carbohydrate that is not digested by the human body.
Resistant starch is not technically classified as a fiber, although many researchers now believe that it should be. Thus, with nearly 5 grams of resistant starch per banana, the net (i.e., usable) carbohydrate content is actually considerably lower than one may think.
Multiple studies have shown that naturally-occurring resistant starch intake increases satiety and reduces food intake both acutely and in the long-term.
Research has also shown that consumption of resistant starch increases fat oxidation (i.e., fat
burning). Resistant starch has also been shown to decrease fat storage in adipocytes (i.e., fat cells) and improve insulin sensitivity.
Furthermore, researchers speculate that resistant starch may also increase the thermic effect of feeding, which means that it boosts the metabolism, as well as promote weight loss and preserve fat free mass.
Thus, despite a bad rap, bananas clearly have some fat-burning potential.
Like bananas, white potatoes seem to get a bad rap. Pertinent to the conversation, however, is to distinguish whole, unprocessed potatoes from potato-based “foods,” like potato chips, French fries, and restaurant preparations of mashed potatoes and loaded baked potatoes, which are typically a far cry from the humble spud.
Like bananas, potatoes contain resistant starch; in fact, raw potato starch, which contains 8 grams of resistant starch per tablespoon, can be found at your local health food store. As mentioned above, researchers found that supplementing the diet with 30 grams per day of resistant starch (like that from potato starch) significantly improves insulin sensitivity.
Additional research has found that adding as little as 5 grams of resistant starch to a mixed meal significantly increases fat oxidation (i.e., fat burning) and “could decrease fat accumulation in the long term.”
Beyond resistant starch, potatoes are a nutrient-dense food, as a single medium potato contains 4 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, a variety of different phytonutrients that have antioxidant activity, and 10 different vitamins and minerals, including the following:
• Vitamin B6
• Vitamin C
• Pantothenic acid
When it comes to the battle of the bulge, one of the more important factors to consider is satiety, which refers to the feeling or state of being sated, or satisfied. Thus, when trying to control calories (i.e., negative energy balance), it’s important to choose foods that satisfy the appetite (i.e., high satiety). No one likes to be hungry, which is all too common when trying to eat less, and certainly, no one likes to be around a “hangry” individual. [Note: Hangry is a slang term that is used to describe the state of being angry as a result of hunger.]
Some authors refer to satiety as the “new diet weapon.” Knowing the importance of feeling full, Dr. Susanna Holt and her team of researchers at the University of Sydney set out to establish a satiety index of common foods.
In the study, the researchers fed human subjects fixed-calorie portions of thirty-eight different foods, and subsequently recorded the subjects’ perceived hunger following each feeding.
The results of the study, like many similar studies, indicate that satiety is most strongly related to the weight of the food consumed. In other words, the foods that weigh the most satisfy hunger best, regardless of the number of calories they contain.
Of pertinence to this conversation, boiled potatoes scored highest on Holt’s satiety index, over 40% higher than any other food tested. In addition, Holt and her colleagues found that higher amounts of certain nutrients, such as protein, dietary fiber, and water content, also correlated positively with satiety scores.
When purchasing potatoes, it may be a good idea to opt for organic when possible. Each year, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) produces the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in an effort to reduce consumers’ exposures to pesticides as much as possible. The EWG releases a list called the Dirty Dozen™, which contains the fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues. Potatoes fall on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list, as they contain more pesticides by weight than any other food.
If one only looks at the nutrition facts of an apple, s/he may be underwhelmed. While apples are a very good source of fiber, including both soluble and insoluble pectin, and vitamin C, they do not contain significant amounts of other vitamins and minerals.
However—and that’s a big however—what the apple lacks in those nutrients, it more than makes up for in its polyphenol content, including the following:
• Flavonols, including quercetin (please see section on “Onions”)
• Catechins, including epicatechin
• Anthocyanins (in red-skinned apples)
• Chlorogenic acid
• Phloridizin and more
Research on the polyphenols in apples has demonstrated some serious benefits in terms of blood sugar management and carbohydrate metabolism:
• Quercetin has been shown to inhibit enzymes like alpha-amylase and alphaglucosidase, which are responsible for breaking down carbohydrates into absorbable sugars. In essence, quercetin is a natural “carb blocker,” and it has been shown to effectively suppress blood sugar after a meal
• The polyphenols, phenolic acids, and tannins in apples have been shown to inhibit glucose absorption in the small intestine
• Apple polyphenols have also been shown to stimulate the beta cells of the pancreas to secrete insulin and increase glucose uptake from the blood via stimulation of insulin receptors.
In addition to the potential improvements in insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation, the polyphenols in apples appear to confer significant health benefits on the gut microbiota.
In lab animals, scientists have found that consumption of polyphenolrich apples resulted in positive changes in the gut microbiota and reductions in multiple markers of inflammation.
Apples share a number of things in common with potatoes, as you’ll find them both on the aforementioned satiety index and Dirty Dozen lists. In fact, apples ranked in the top five foods tested by Dr. Holt, and according to the EWG, conventional apples top the list of most pesticide-contaminated produce. With that in mind, apples can indeed be a healthy component of a satiating nutrition plan, but because many of the health promoting nutrients are located in the skin of the apple, it may be wise to opt for organic when possible.
Garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, are a nutrient-dense superstar as they are jam-packed with the following nutrients:
Further, garbanzo beans are rich in a variety of phytonutrients, including quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin, ferulic acid, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and vanillic acid, which all serve to function as antioxidants and may have anti-inflammatory properties. What’s more, garbanzo beans are a good plant-based source of protein, and they provide 12 ½ grams of fiber per 1-cup serving.
The majority of the fiber is insoluble, which can be fermented by the beneficial bacteria in the gut to produce short-chain fatty acids (SFCAs). SFCAs go on to be metabolized by other cells in the body (e.g., intestinal, liver), and SFCAs may reduce the risk of developing gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and blood cholesterol.
As mentioned previously, dietary fiber and protein are two nutrients that researchers have found to be positively associated with satiety, or feelings of fullness. Not surprisingly, researchers found that when human subjects supplemented their regular diet with chickpeas daily, they reported significant improvements in satiety, appetite, meal satisfaction, and bowel function. Participants were also found to decrease consumption of snack foods and overall calorie intake.
Garbanzo beans belong to a family of plant-based foods called pulses, which are part of the legume family. Several studies have demonstrated significant decreases in body weight when pulses are added to a reduced-calorie diet. As a matter of fact, researchers from Purdue University found that subjects who added just 3 cups per week of pulses to their reduced-calorie diet lost over twice as much weight as the control group, who consumed the same number of calories.
After 6 weeks, the legume-eating group had lost over three times as much weight as the control group.
What’s more, an increase in the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK), a hormone secreted in the gut in response to protein and fat intake that helps to slow gastric emptying and increase satiety, has been reported following bean consumption. Thus, in addition to their high protein and fiber content, dietary pulses may positively influence appetite by stimulating satiety centers in the brain.
Plain Organic Greek Yogurt
When it comes to fighting the battle of the bulge, there is likely not a more important nutrient than protein. As a matter of fact, researchers suggest that an increased protein intake may be one of the single most important dietary and lifestyle changes that one can make as part of an effective weight loss strategy.
Specifically, there are multiple potential beneficial outcomes associated with an increased protein intake:
1. Increased satiety: Protein-rich foods induce a greater sense of satisfaction than fat- or carbohydrate-rich foods, and they may even decrease energy intake in subsequent meals;
2. Increased thermogenesis: Dietary protein exerts a significantly higher “thermic effect” than fats or
carbohydrates, and high-protein diets have continuously been shown to boost the metabolism (i.e., increase energy expenditure); and
3. Maintenance or building of fat free mass (FFM) and preservation of metabolic rate: High-protein diets have continuously been shown to preserve FFM when dieting for fat loss, and they have also been shown to be necessary for the preservation of metabolic rate, which is frequently compromised as a result of dieting.
Clearly then, one of the single most important dietary factors that you can do to support your fat loss goals is boost your protein intake, and for those reasons, plain Greek yogurt makes the list of fat-fighting foods. Greek yogurt contains more than double the protein of regular yogurt and only about one-third the amount of sugar.
What’s more, authentic strained Greek yogurt is rich in multiple sources of probiotics. Research indicates that the gut flora (i.e., the bacterial ecosystem) of obese folks differs significantly from that of thin people.
Along these lines, recent research published in the British Journal of Nutrition suggests that certain probiotics from the Lactobacillus family of bacteria, which are prominent in Greek yogurt, may help folks lose weight and keep it off.
When choosing a Greek yogurt, it’s best to opt for plain versions, as fruit-flavored varieties have over three times as much added sugar. Instead, adding some fresh fruit (e.g., berries) will provide a nutrient-dense source of fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and polyphenols.
In addition, it may be best to opt for organic sources of Greek yogurt and other forms of dairy whenever possible, as organic dairy has a significantly different fatty acid profile when compared to conventional dairy. Specifically, studies comparing organic to conventional dairy have reported that organic contains:
• 25% fewer omega-6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory;
• 62% more omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory;
• 2.5 times lower omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio, which is much closer to optimal;
• 32% more EPA and 19% more DHA, which are two omega-3 fatty acids crucial for nervous system function, cardiovascular health, pain management, hormonal regulation, body composition, feelings of well being, and more; and
• 18% more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has been shown to reduce body fat, increase lean body mass, and improve body composition.
Cottage cheese goes hand-in-hand with the discussion of Greek yogurt. Cottage cheese packs a whopping 28 grams of protein per single cup, and it is also a good source of calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B12, selenium, and phosphorus.
Cottage cheese is rich in casein protein, which is known as a slow-digesting protein. In essence, casein forms a gel-like substance in the stomach, which makes it a very efficient supplier of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. In fact, studies show that levels of amino acids remain elevated upwards of 5 hours after ingestion of casein protein.
While whey, a fast-digesting protein, is often thought of as the “gold standard” of protein supplements, some studies suggest that casein—or a combination of whey and casein—may provide greater muscle building and recovery benefits. In animal studies, scientists have found that, compared to whey, casein protein provides a more sustained anabolic effect.
Recent research in humans demonstrated that a blend of whey and casein is superior to whey protein alone after resistance training to promote muscle protein synthesis and recovery.
Furthermore, scientists recently demonstrated that casein protein provides muscle recovery benefits during sleep when consumed before bed.
One cup of cottage cheese also packs a healthy punch of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), including over 2 ½ grams of leucine, which is essential to muscle health.
BCAAs are crucial to exercise performance, muscle recovery, and maintaining blood sugar levels, and the amino acid leucine is considered to be the “anabolic trigger” for muscle recovery and growth following exercise.
Chicken is best known for its high protein content, and at 35 grams of protein per 4-ounce (cooked) portion, it is indeed an excellent source. As a result, it helps boost the metabolism, increase satiety, and support the maintenance of calorie-burning lean body mass. Lean body mass is more “metabolically active” than body fat, and generally speaking, metabolic rate is proportionate to lean body mass.
In addition to its rich protein content, chicken is also a very good source of numerous other vitamins and minerals that are critical to overall health and metabolism, including:
• Vitamin B3
• Vitamin B6
• Vitamin B12
• Pantothenic acid
Clearly, chicken provides broad nutrient support. Like cottage cheese, chicken is also an excellent source of the amino acid leucine. A cooked 4-ounce portion of chicken breast provides over 2 ½ grams of leucine, which is the threshold at which protein synthesis is restored, according to researchers at the University of Illinois.
In fact, high-leucine diets (a minimum of 2 ½ grams of leucine per meal) led to greater weight loss, greater fat loss, and better preservation of lean body mass. What’s more, the researchers found that the high-leucine diets also resulted in better blood sugar control.
There are many varieties of white fish, and according to Cooking Light magazine, they can be separated into three different categories based on their color, texture, and fat content:
• White, lean, and firm: Alaska pollock, catfish, grouper, haddock, Pacific cod, Pacific halibut, Pacific rockfish, Pacific sole, striped bass, swordfish;
• White, lean, and flaky: Atlantic croaker, black sea bass, branzino, flounder, rainbow smelt, red snapper, tilapia, rainbow trout, whiting; and
• White, firm, and oil-rich: Atlantic shad, albacore tuna, California white sea bass, Chilean sea bass, cobia, lake trout, lake whitefish, Pacific escolar, Pacific sablefish, white sturgeon.
As noted, the majority of white fish are very lean sources of metabolism-boosting, appetite-satiating protein. In fact, one of the benefits of consuming these very lean sources of protein is that they tend to be very low in environmental chemicals and toxins. Many of the pollutants that are in rivers and oceans are oil-soluble, which means that they accumulate in or on anything oily. As a result, lean white fish contain relatively lower traces of certain toxic residues than oily fish types.
With that being said, oil-rich white fish (e.g., shad, tuna, sea bass, cobia, etc.) are fantastic sources of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These essential fatty acids, which must be derived from dietary sources, play a significant role in metabolism and body weight management.
For instance, researchers at the Kronos Longevity Research Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, found that when subjects consumed four servings of fatty fish each week along with fish oil daily, they significantly improved insulin sensitivity and markers of inflammation, including C-reactive protein.
Obesity and insulin resistance are closely related; in fact, a paper written by Kahn et al on the topic has been cited over 2,000 times in peer-reviewed journals.
Researchers from Gettysburg College found that supplementation with fish oils, which supply the same types of omega-3 fatty acids found in the oil-rich white fish, for 6 weeks significantly increased fat free mass and decreased fat mass.
What’s more, the subjects also experienced increased metabolic rate and significantly decreased levels of
cortisol, a stress hormone associated with increased abdominal fat storage.
In addition to being an excellent source of protein, white fish are also rich in a number of vitamins and minerals, including a number of B vitamins such as niacin, which is needed to promote healthy cells and to help eliminate toxins from the body, and vitamin B6, which keeps the skin, nervous system, and red blood cells healthy. White fish also contains several essential minerals such as iron, phosphorous, selenium, and iodine.
White Chia Seeds
Cha, cha, cha, cha, chia! It’s hard to avoid mentioning the ol’ Chia Pet® when discussing this nutrient-dense seed. One ounce of this super seed of the ancient Aztecs contains nearly 5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids in an inflammation-fighting 3:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.
What’s more, that same serving size will also yield 11 grams of gut-friendly fiber and 4 grams of protein, a combination of nutrients known to satiate the appetite and help regulate blood sugar. To say that these seeds are chockfull of nutrients would be an understatement.
In addition to their fiber and protein, chia seeds are also a healthy source of:
Chia seeds also provide several B vitamins (e.g., B1, Thiamine, Niacin), zinc, and potassium. Chia seeds are also loaded antioxidants, which help to protect the healthy fats packed inside of them.
Amongst the polyphenols in chia seeds is rosmarinic acid, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive (i.e., inhibits the sensation of pain) properties.
There is some research to suggest that grinding the seeds may offer more nutritive value than consuming the seeds whole. Scientists from Appalachian State University compared milled (i.e., ground) chia seed to whole chia seed supplementation in overweight women. The scientists found that milled chia seeds increased blood levels of ALA and EPA—two important omega-3 fatty acids—significantly more so than whole chia seeds, which the authors interpreted as a sign that milled chia seeds are more “bioavailable.”
While these delicious and nutritious seeds are green in color, pumpkin seeds—also known as pepitas—are encased in a white husk (i.e., shell). In fact, if you’ve ever carved a Halloween pumpkin, you’ve likely had some hands-on experience. Pumpkin seeds are packed with nutrition, as they are a very good source of the following vitamins and minerals:
Pumpkin seeds are also high in both fiber and protein, as a single ¼-cup serving provides 5 grams of each. What’s more, pumpkin seeds contain a host of antioxidant phytonutrients, ligans, and phytosterols. For all of these reasons, they are a nutrientdense all-star.
Magnesium and zinc, two nutrients in which pumpkin seeds are quite rich, are relatively common nutrient deficiencies. In fact, according to a 2009 report from the United States Department of Agriculture, nearly 70% of the population did not meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium and over 40% of the population did not meet the RDA for zinc.
Magnesium plays an essential role in nearly 300 metabolic reactions, including the pumping of the heart, proper bone and tooth formation, relaxation of blood vessels, and proper bowel function. Chronic insomnia is one of the primary symptoms of magnesium deficiency, and in many cases, sleep is often agitated with frequent nighttime awakenings.
Along these lines, a high-magnesium, low-aluminum diet has been found to be associated with deeper, less interrupted sleep. As a matter of fact, researchers at the Human Nutrition Research Center in North Dakota proved precisely that in a study titled “Effects of trace element nutrition on sleep patterns in adult women,” which appeared in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal.
What’s more, magnesium assists in carbohydrate and fat metabolism; as a matter of fact, low levels of magnesium are associated with insulin resistance and increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Studies conducted on animals have shown that pumpkin seeds may help improve insulin regulation and help relieve oxidative stress.
Meanwhile, zinc assists in growth, development, neurological function, reproduction, and immune function. Like magnesium, zinc plays a crucial role in a variety of bodily functions, as it is important for immunity, cell growth and division, sleep, mood, senses of taste and smell, eye and skin health, insulin regulation, and male sexual function.
Zinc intake is closely related to testosterone levels, and even minor deficiencies are associated with significant decreases in testosterone in men. In aging males, decreases in testosterone are closely correlated to increases in body fat and decreases in lean body mass.
Cold-Pressed Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
While extra virgin olive oil has always been (and will continue to be) a staple, nutritious, go-to oil for healthy cooking, there’s a new kid on the block that’s getting all the attention as of late, and for good reason. Coconut oil, which is actually 90% saturated fat, is the new superstar, but it hasn’t always been viewed as healthy.
Perhaps some of the negative light that has previously been shined on coconut oil is somewhat deserved. According to Alexandra Bernardin:
“For years, coconut oil was portrayed as a destroyer of cardiovascular health. Its artery-clogging, heart attack-causing, cholesterol-raising side effects were flaunted in the media, and the public responded by shunning this useful and natural oil. However, researchers made one big mistake, which they conveniently did not publicize: In their studies, they used hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated coconut oil. By doing so, they changed everything good about coconut oil.”
For sake of reference, hydrogenation essentially refers to the fact that these were trans fats that were used, and of course, coconut oil is going to get a bad rap if it’s being chemically warped into this health-derailing nightmare (i.e., trans fats). But, what happens when we use fresh, cold-pressed, extra-virgin coconut oil? We get an allnatural food that is chockfull of health-building saturated fats.
According to Bernardin, here are some of the top reasons you should include coconut oil in your diet:
1. It’s composed of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which your body can quickly and efficiently use for energy and are not stored in the body as fat.
2. Like breast milk, coconut oil is high in the fatty acid lauric acid, which plays a critical role in immune system function.
3. It is antiviral, antifungal, antiparasite, and antiprotozoa.
4. Coconut oil is high in capric acid and caprylic acid, which are antioxidants.
5. It is cardioprotective. Populations that consume 30-60 percent of their daily caloric intake from coconuts are virtually free from cardiovascular disease, and it helps to lower cholesterol.
6. Unlike unsaturated vegetable oils like soybean and corn oil, coconut oil does not block the secretion of thyroid hormone.
7. Coconut oil is easily digested and can support healthy digestive function.
8. Coconut oil helps with zinc and magnesium absorption, two very important minerals vital for a multitude of functions in the body including bone health.
In addition, several studies have linked the consumption of extra virgin coconut oil to smaller waist sizes. For example, researchers found that subjects who consumed two tablespoons of coconut oil per day for 12 weeks while following a reduced-calorie diet and including daily exercise (i.e., walking) lost a significant amount of abdominal fat compared to the control group that followed the same diet and exercise program without coconut oil.
In addition, the coconut oil group also experienced an increase in HDL cholesterol and a decrease in their LDL:HDL cholesterol ratio.
The researchers concluded, “Supplementation with coconut oil does not cause dyslipidemia and seems to promote a reduction in abdominal obesity.” What’s more, research also suggests that the MCTs found in coconut oil have a significant thermogenic (i.e., metabolism-boosting) effect. In one study, rats were
overfed with either long-chain fatty acids (LCTs), which are the common form of fat found in foods, or MCTs. The rats fed the MCTS gained 20% less weight and 23% less body fat despite consuming the same overall amount of energy.
In another study, researchers found that consuming MCTs increased metabolism more than eating LCTs from other foods. As a matter of fact, the subjects that consumed MCTs lost significantly more weight and burned more fat than the group consuming LCTs. (73) Researchers have also found that consuming just 1 – 2 tablespoons daily of MCTs can elevate the metabolism (i.e., thermic effect of feeding) by as much as 5%, which may mean burning an additional 150 calories or more just by swapping your oils.
No White (Processed) Foods
While the “no white foods” commandment has a sound basis and was born out of good intention, it is a good example of a nutrition “rule” that may have been taken too far. Yes, you’ll be doing your health and your body composition a service by reducing— better yet, completely eliminating—your consumption of heavily-processed, high-glycemic white carbohydrates (e.g., processed flours, breads, breakfast cereals, bagels, noodles and pasta, baked goods, crackers, refined sugars, table sugar, high fructose
corn syrup, etc.).
However, as you can see from the list above, you’ll equally be doing your well being and your waistline good by increasing your intake of many natural, unprocessed white foods, which can fully support your health and body composition goals.