Carbs are good; carbs are bad. Salt is a killer; salt is harmless. Alcohol increases your risk of breast cancer; a drink a day does wonders for your heart. Fat-free snacks help you shed pounds, except you’ll probably eat way too many of them, and then they add pounds. Every time you turn around, there’s a new-and often contradictory-piece of nutritional wisdom to absorb.
Even the most “tried-and-true” diet advice can sometimes prove wrong, says Marcia Orchard of PureJoyLivingFoods.com. It’s not that nutritional experts don’t know what they’re doing. New studies on weight loss and food’s disease-fighting powers are always coming out. Sometimes they confirm what researchers already believed, but sometimes they come with surprises, turning a nutritional “do” into a “don’t.”
To help you lose the pounds and stay healthy, take note of the latest groundbreaking research.
Perceived wisdom Eating slowly makes you eat less.
Get real How many times have you heard you should take smaller bites, chew many times, and pause between nibbles? But according to a recent British study, these standard weight-control techniques don’t work. The Laboratory of Experimental Psychology at the University of Sussex in Brighton found that subjects who were instructed to pause between bites actually ate more than those who ate without halting. Even in programs where slower eating seemed to help at first, the effect didn’t last after several months.
Do it smarter Don’t worry about putting down your fork between bites; just eat at a pace that allows you to enjoy your food. If you’re someone who inhales meals, try to resist going for seconds until your stomach’s satiety, signals have registered in your brain, letting it know whether you’ve had enough to eat. It takes only 15 or 20 minutes for your brain to figure this out; most times, you’ll no longer be hungry at the end of the wait.
Perceived wisdom A wide variety of foods ensures the most nutritious diet.
Get real Variety may be the spice of life, but a spicier life can put more fat on your body. After collecting data on 71 healthy women and men, researchers at Tufts University concluded that those who ate the greatest variety, in certain food groups also consumed the most calories-and had more body fat. Call it the Buffet Table Syndrome: When faced with an array of alluring foods, chances are you’ll keep eating long after hunger has disappeared.
Do it smarter Next time you’re grazing that buffet, forget having “a little of each” when it comes to some food groups. Breads and grains are an important part of everyone’s diet, but you don’t need to gobble a roll, a slice of bread, pasta salad, and rice at the same meal. Ditto with sweets, snacks, and heavy condiments such as butter, mayonnaise, and gravy. Instead, go hog wild for vegetables, which are packed with nutrients and disease-fighting phytochemicals but not calories. The same Tufts study found that people who ate the greatest variety of vegetables were the leanest.
Perceived wisdom For a heart-healthy diet, concentrate on chicken and fish and ignore red meat.
Get real Beef, pork, and veal aren’t the enemy. Researchers from the Chicago Center for Clinical Research, the Johns Hopkins University Lipid Clinic, and the University of Minnesota Medical School randomly assigned two different diets to 191 men and women with elevated blood-cholesterol levels. One included six ounces of lean red meat per day, five to seven days per week; the other featured white meat. Fat intake was capped at 30 percent of total calories for both groups. After nine months, both sets of dieters showed nearly identical improvements in their cholesterol levels. What’s more, those participants who consumed lean red meat found it easier to stick to their diet than those who ate only white meat.
Do it smarter This study doesn’t mean that a regimen of burgers and ribs is as good for your heart as one of flounder and skinless chicken, but if you enjoy red meat, don’t eliminate it. What’s important is to focus on the leanest cuts: Look for those with the word loin or round in their names, such as sirloin, tenderloin, and eye of round. Also, keep the portions small (less than six ounces per day), and cook them with as little fat as possible.
Perceived wisdom Always use fat-free dressings on your salads; regular ones pile on pounds.
Get real For your heart’s sake, never say never to oil-based dressings. Researchers from Harvard University who studied the eating habits of more than 76,000 women for ten years found those who used vinegar-and-oil salad dressings five to six times per week were only about half as likely to die from heart disease as women who rarely consumed those foods. The key factor: The oily dressings were rich in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that protects against heart disease.
Do it smarter You don’t need a lot of oil to reap heart-healthy benefits, so try drizzling instead of drenching. Use dressings made with canola or soybean oil for the maximum alpha-linolenic benefit. Steer clear of blue cheese, which packs a lot of calories on top of artery-clogging saturated fat. Another great oil to work into your diet: flaxseed.
Perceived wisdom The easiest way to lose weight is to cut all of your regular portions in half.
Get real When rigidly followed, this diet adage is so hard to live by it can backfire. An increasing amount of evidence suggests that people need to eat a satisfying weight of food every day; otherwise, they become so hungry that temptations posed by “bad” foods overwhelm them. Before they know it, they’re bingeing-and much worse off than before they started cutting everything in half.
Do it smarter Reducing portions is a great idea if you’re realistic about it and you know where the most important battles are. First on the firing line: high-fat targets like meat, nuts, cheese, butter, and rich desserts. Next, watch out for those deceptively “light” foods such as croissants, crackers, chips, and fat-free cookies and cakes: Ounce for ounce, they contain a whole lot of calories. To add weight to your meals without adding caloric bulk, eat more fruits and vegetables.