Water makes you shrink
Want to lose an extra 6.6 pounds a year? Down two glasses of water before a meal.
People who did this in a study at Virginia Tech consumed an average of 75 fewer calories at breakfast than those who didn't.
"The water acted as a calorie-free appetizer," says Brenda M. Davy, a dietician and author of the study. "It filled participants' stomachs, so they reported less hunger just prior to eating."
Other research suggests that water boosts metabolism because your body has to work to bring the ingested liquid to your core temperature. In one study, people who drank eight to 12 glasses of water a day had higher metabolic rates than those who just consumed four.
Chocolate helps boost your metabolism, but it's not the only food that aids in melting away inches.
The latest research shows the sweet treat isn't the only food that can curb your cravings without padding your curves. While calories are the key to dieting success or failure, certain ingredients can assist in speeding up your slim-down.
"Foods stimulate the body to produce hormones," says Jonny Bowden, author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. "Some of those hormones coax your metabolism into fat-burning mode, and others make it sluggish and more apt to store fat."
Here are six super foods to stoke your fat-burning engine.
Dark chocolate — A particularly sweet study found that daily consumption of about 1 ounce of dark chocolate reduced the stress hormone cortisol. (Stress has been linked to a sluggish metabolism.) Researchers suspect that compounds in chocolate, such as caffeine and theobromine (an alkaloid from the cacao plant), may be responsible. Another study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that adults who eat chocolate regularly are thinner than those who do not, even though the thinner people consumed more calories and exercised the same amount.
Look for chocolate that contains at least 70 percent cocoa — the darker the better. Pair a square of dark chocolate with a cup of cappuccino for a mid-morning pick-me-up, or stir some dark chocolate chunks into homemade trail mix.
Eggs — According to Bowden, eggs are the best protein source on the planet. They contain all nine essential amino acids, which your body needs to build muscle tissue, and if you eat two for breakfast before your workout, building muscle will be a snap. Start your day with scrambled eggs instead of whole-grain waffles or cereal, or get creative and cook an egg in an avocado for a dose of healthy fats. Slice the avocado in half, remove the pit and carve out some space in the center. Crack an egg inside the hole, and bake in a 425-degree oven for a few minutes.
Peanuts — These nuts are filling and naturally curb your hunger.
"Peanuts induce a strong thermic response, which means the process of digesting them actually burns calories," says dietician Carol Johnston, professor and associate director at the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion at Arizona State University. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that when people consumed 500 calories of peanuts daily for 19 weeks, their resting metabolic rate increased by 11 percent — without added exercise.
Peanuts are calorie-dense, so don't go overboard. Keep a stash around for a quick snack (aim for 1 ounce or about two tablespoons daily), return to your childhood days with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or make pad thai with ground peanuts for a delicious fat-burning dinner.
Sesame seeds — Research conducted on animals shows that plant chemicals in sesame seeds called lignans enhance fat burning by increasing liver enzymes that break down fat.
"Many studies have found that essential fatty acids and protein increase metabolic rate, and sesame seeds are loaded with both," says Dr. Christine Gerbstadt, a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They're also a rich source of minerals and fiber, she says.
To roast sesame seeds, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread the seeds evenly on a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes until they're golden brown and fragrant. Sprinkle the roasted seeds on salads, in soups, stir-fried vegetables, chicken and fish. Spread tahini (sesame paste) on celery or bread, and opt for sesame seed buns and bagels over plain ones.
Yellow bell peppers— About one-third of Americans are deficient in vitamin C, and one yellow bell pepper supplies 341 milligrams — nearly three-and-a-half times the amount in a large orange.
"The body needs vitamin C to produce a molecule called carnitine, which shuttles fat into the muscles where it can be used for energy, boosting metabolism," Johnston says. Her point was borne out in a study in the Journal of Nutrition, which showed that people with higher levels of vitamin C in their blood had lower body mass index (figured on weight and height) and less body fat.
Raw strips of bell pepper make a satisfying snack with a little hummus, and they add crunch to fish tacos. Or hollow out a pepper and fill it with tuna salad made with low-fat Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise.
Smoothies —Sipping one can stoke your fat-burning fires — as long as it contains whey protein powder. New research suggests that this substance triggers satiety hormones, including an important one called cholecystokinin that sends your brain a "Hey, I'm full" signal. Plus, whey, a protein found in milk, contains the muscle-building amino acid leucine.
"When you're losing weight, eating whey protein can help reduce the loss of lean muscle mass, which keeps your metabolism revved," Gerbstadt says.
Mix whey protein powder into smoothies, yogurt and pudding. Add it to the dry ingredients when you're baking muffins or cookies or stir it into oatmeal before cooking.
— Amy Paturel is a health writer in California and a blogger for SELF.com. She holds masters degrees in nutrition and public health from Tufts University in Boston.