The warmer months are upon us, which means less clothing and more skin-bearing! It is a time where people undoubtedly want to look their best, yet may be ruminating regretfully over the undisciplined Winter of comfort eating. Well, if you fall into this majority of people that accumulates a bit of extra baggage over the Winter months and are seeking to lean up a bit coming into ‘Beach Season’, this article should be of interest to you!
Rather than just regurgitate run-of-the-mill, bland health foods that circulate the fitness discussion forums, I will outline 10 foods/supplements that I personally consume on a regular basis AND believe will greatly assist you in improving your body composition. These are items that, I believe, fly under the radar given their health & fat loss-inducing potential.
For the last year or so, cinnamon powder has been a staple of mine not only because it tastes amazing but because of its inherent blood-glucose stabilising ability. In other words, cinnamon improves our insulin sensitivity to the extent that it significantly aids our body in metabolising glucose. This property has been exhibited in both pre-diabetic and type-2 diabetic populations, and is associated with a decreased likelihood of acquiring type 2 diabetes. Quite impressively, insulin has also shown to offset the harmful effects of a high fat/high fructose diet by virtue of increased brain insulin signalling and a neuroprotective function. Other recent studies have demonstrated liver fat reduction and total body weight loss.
This unassumingly healthy brown powder is a MUST for fat loss goals, and it is prudent to pair it with any carbohydrate-rich meal. I buy this cinnamon powder, in bulk from iHerb.
2.Beetroot (NOT tinned beetroot*)
When a food exudes such a rich colour, and houses a juice so strong that it stains everything, your intuition tells you it is powerful. Beetroot, in reference to the root vegetable, has consistently proven to lower blood pressure by 3-10mm/hg over an extended time period. This is due to the large amount of nitrates contained within it; this compound elevates nitric oxide (NO) in humans, which acts as a dilator of blood vessels. Thus, beetroot helps with peripheral blood circulation, and can attenuate endothelial impairment after a high-fat meal.
For the runners reading this, you will be excited to know that increasing evidence is indicative of beetroot being a performance-enhancer. Once again, this is due to its nitrates, and they elicited a 5% improvement in 5km running times while decreasing perceived exertion…How cool is that? I personally consumed 500ml of beetroot juice prior to a 5km race earlier this year, and performed better than I anticipated!
Beetroots also have a lot of water-soluble fibre, and so have a gentle laxative-effect. If you have tried cooked whole beetroot before, you will identify with this 😉
While technically not a food, creatine is one supplement that EVERYONE can benefit from. Creatine is an organic acid that the human body stores in small amounts, and it regenerates the energy molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP) after creating phosphocreatine (PC).
Yes, creatine is associated with bodybuilding (lean mass gains) and strength training, but this inexpensive white substance is also a cognitive enhancer! This is of particular importance to vegetarians, as red meat is the primary dietary source from which we can obtain creatine. This study demonstrated superior cognitive function in vegetarians who supplemented with creatine, when compared to the control group.
Creatine also seems to enhance our work capacity, so is associated with greater muscular endurance.
All in all, this is ‘The Boss’ of supplements that ticks all criteria. I buy this creatine monohydrate – consume 1 teaspoon daily.
It saddens me to periodically see articles that demonise the humble white potato. Yes, a boiled white potato contains a glycaemic index (GI) of ~100, which is considerably high and indicates that it may spike blood glucose if consumed alone. This one fact that nutritionists use to denigrate the potato, however, is made redundant, when we consider what we eat alongside it – who doesn’t eat their potatoes with a meat or healthy fat source? Exactly. The GI of a food is significantly lowered when we simultaneously consume protein and/or fat. While I personally prefer the taste of sweet potato, I consume a tonne of white potatoes because I view them as equivalent overall in terms of health and the latter is generally cheaper. If you were wanting to know the macronutrient differences; the white potato contains less calories, higher protein, and less carbohydrates per 100g.
Now, when boiled in its jacket, the white potato has topped an extensive list of foods to claim the highest satiety ranking. Satiety of foods is perhaps the most important consideration when formulating a diet aimed to lose fat/weight. We become full with less food, so are more likely to be in an energy deficit by the end of the day, and subsequently lose fat.
White potatoes contain nearly every vitamin and mineral, in generous quantities, boasting a wider spectrum of micronutrients than its orange counterpart. But… you MUST consume them with their skin on as this houses most of the nutrients.
If you want to make your potato even more healthy, cooling it after it has been cooked materialises a few grams of resistant starch. This is an indigestible starch which is converted into short-chain fatty acids in the intestinal bacteria and promotes healthy gut flora. Resistant starch has gathered tremendous momentum in the nutrition research realm in recent years, and is now deemed unequivocally beneficial.
We hear endlessly how great almonds and walnuts are for us, but neither of these foods contain adequate amounts of a nutrient many of us are unknowingly deficient in: selenium. Just 2-3 Brazil nuts boasts 400% of our daily quota for selenium, and alleviates deficiency of this vital mineral.
Why is selenium so important? It is required to produce the thyroid hormone T4 which, once converted to its bioactive T3 form, regulates our metabolism. If we are low in selenium, a sluggish metabolism is inevitable and so fat accumulation is heightened. Moreover, one big dose (obtained from brazil nuts) significantly reduced inflammatory markers. This is mostly due to selenium’s function in synthesising glutathione, the most potent antioxidant in the human body. We want to mitigate chronic inflammation because it is a pre-cursor to many diseases.
Brazil nut consumption has also been shown to restore cognitive function in older adults, which is quite exciting.
6.Lamb’s Fry/Liver (and organ meats)
Most people claim that they “do not enjoy the taste of organ meats”, but it is undeniably the thought of consuming such parts of animals that is aversive. I initially had this mentality towards lamb’s fry until I discovered that it is literally nature’s multivitamin, so convinced myself to trial it. Because the liver’s function is that of detoxification, it hosts a plethora of important nutrients (vitamins A, K, C, B12) that aid in fulfilling this function. Most notably, however, is that 100g of lamb liver contains a whopping 1500% of our daily vitamin B12 requirement. The B12 vitamin is crucial for our nerve cell health, and blood formation.
Macronutrient-wise, liver is akin to beef rump steak which is also 10 times more expensive and less nutrient-dense. If you are looking to be healthy or gain muscle on a budget, this is top of the tree.
I still find it hard to believe that I can purchase ~1.2kg of grass-fed lamb liver for $2 at my local butcher. I tend to fry it with garlic, onion and coconut oil, and believe me when I say it tastes incredible! One needs to dissociate the ‘organ meat’ label though to truly enjoy this acquired taste.
All in all, lamb liver is unbelievably cheap; unparalleled in nutrient-density; and highly-satisfying when cooking it as described above. Get adventurous and explore the wonderful world of organ meats!
7.Hot Chilli Sauce
Just to spice things up (heh), I thought I would throw in a condiment that can easily transform a meal and melt fat for several hours thereafter. Although it is not for everyone, and we each tolerate spice to different extents, I want you to at least understand how effective a bit of chilli can be in fat loss.
Capsaicin, the spicy compound in chilli which gives it its red pigment, invariably boosts one’s metabolism and carbohydrate oxidation. This cool effect is maintained for ~3 hours after consuming a spicy meal.
Similar to white potatoes, chilli increases the satiety index of a meal which diminishes appetite. That poses as a potent fat-loss combination: increased metabolism & suppressed appetite.
One very interesting article, for the male audience particularly, positively correlated testosterone levels with spice tolerance! Start training gentlemen, and endeavour to work up to the ‘ghost pepper’ from India (401.5 X more hot than tabasco) 😉
Personally, I buy the Byron Bay Chilli Co.’s Extra Hot sauce, but am currently looking for something with more heat.
8.Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC)
Yes, another supplement, but WPC is as convenient as it is effective in fat loss & muscle protein synthesis.
I would first like to allay people’s fear of ‘consuming too much protein’, as to impair kidney function. A series of recent peer-reviewed studies, emerging from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN), concluded that protein consumption up to even 3.4grams/kg of bodyweight had null effect on the kidneys in both men and women. Compounding this positive outcome was the statistically significant improvement in body composition in the high-protein group, when compared to a normal-protein group. Excessive protein intake only poses a threat to individuals with pre-existing kidney conditions, so be liberal with your protein intake folks! Protein is the most satiating macronutrient of all, far-surpassing fat and carbohydrate in this regard.
Now, in an ideal world we would consume all of our protein through whole foods, but I am an advocate for protein supplementation via powder as it is:
-Convenient in today’s fast-paced society
-Tasty, especially in a smoothie (which I enjoy most mornings)
-Easily portable, if on the road
-Good value, when buying in bulk
I have also selected WPC rather than Whey Protein Isolate (WPI), even though people tend to esteem WPI higher for its more rapid assimilation. I don’t believe this is important though, as Aragon & Schoenfeld (2013) recently published a systematic review that is suggestive of extending the ‘post-workout anabolic window’ to ~5-6 hours. WPC is considerably cheaper than WPI, and is slightly less processed.
As such, I purchase this WPC from NZ grass-fed cows. I choose ‘Professional Whey’ because they endorse stevia, a natural sweetener which has healthy properties, as opposed to the more prevalent sucralose which has been linked to neuro-toxic effects in rats.
9.Low-fat Cheddar Cheese
I am a big advocate for cheese because it is inherently tasty, contains dairy fat, and large doses of calcium. However, if you eat large quantities of cheese like I do, it is wise to choose the light cheddar so that fat intake is not disproportionately high. I opt for Bega’s 50%-reduced fat cheese (which contains 4g fat & 8.6g protein per 20g serving). 8.6 grams of protein derived from a small 20g serving is impressive, and we should all now be cognisant of the fat loss elixir that is protein.
The myth that full-fat dairy causes heart disease has been debunked in recent years, and in fact reversed to now scrutinise low-fat dairy as an unhealthy food. Conjugated-linoleic-acid (CLA) and phytanic acid, natural trans fats in dairy, have been inversely associated with obesity risk, and elicit lowered triglycerides, blood glucose, and risk of many diseases.
Calcium increases fat excretion, and is a mineral that is non-toxic in even huge amounts. Similarly, extra dietary calcium has been linked to elevated testosterone levels in males, and this anabolic hormone is indisputably powerful in positive body re-composition (fat loss, lean mass gain).
I believe much of Australia’s obesity endemic is due to sugary drinks which are nutrient-void and promote further consumption. Drinking empty calories, as such, is a toxic habit that has observably become ingrained in Australian families.
Soda water is a very cheap drink that is versatile and highly-satiating. This 0-calorie beverage is fantastic to simultaneously suppress hunger and hydrate you. It should be a fixture in your fridge, and if weight loss is your goal this should be your first choice of drink. Add some ice, and squeeze a lemon slice in there, and you have a darn refreshing, absolutely healthy filler. Soda water is a must when mixing with liquors too; you don’t want to be combining sugar-laden juices with straight liquor…that is a recipe for fat gain. I find a few glasses of soda/lemon water in the morning goes down beautifully, and I find standard water somewhat unpalatable upon waking.
Stock up on carbonated water!
Well, what was initially meant to be a very brief post turned into a 2100-word article – if you read it all, I commend you, and hope you learnt something new. I hope that these foods can assist you with attaining your physique goals this Summer!
Ironically, I write this piece just prior to my travels in freezing-cold Japan, where I will definitely not be bearing much skin! 😀