Chili peppers do a lot more than spice up your food—in fact, here are six health benefit to peppers. They contain a component called capsaicin, which has been linked to increased energy expenditure and fat oxidization. “Capsinoid consumption has been found to have the ability to ‘turn on’ certain processes in the body that cause our body to work harder (increase energy expenditure) and use fat for energy (oxidizing fat),” explains Meg Hagar, MS, RD. “Chili peppers can be added to salsa and then eaten with eggs, eaten with hummus and even added to soups for a spicy kick.”
Plain Greek yogurt
Start the day with a fat-burning food by adding plain Greek yogurt to your breakfast. It’s a fermented product, meaning it has the ability to alter gut microbiome and restore it to a more beneficial balance of bacteria. “Since an undesirable ratio of good to bad bacteria in the gut have been linked to obesity and metabolic disorders, the connection between consuming fermented foods and weight loss may lie in that when they shift the microbiome to a more beneficial balance, the consumer may then decrease their risk of remaining overweight and for metabolic disorders,” says Hagar. “Many of the flavored yogurts are packed with added sugars which counteract promoting beneficial gut bacteria, so choose a yogurt that has over 10 billion active cultures and at least 5 different strains including lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.”
Kimchi, a red, fermented Korean cabbage dish, is another great product for your gut. Because it is fermented, it contains “healthy bacteria” called lactobacilli that aid in the body’s digestion process. (Another by-product of its fermentation process are the probiotics that fight off various infections; read about six other probiotic foods.) Kimchi is made with a mixture of salt, vinegar, garlic, chili peppers and other spices, and served in Korea with rice, noodles or soups. Hagar suggests adding it to scrambled eggs, toast with avocado, on top of salads or even in coleslaw.
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Kombucha, a fermented, sweet, black or green tea made with cultures from yeast and bacteria, can be enjoyed with any of your meals. It does contain a small amount of alcohol as a by-product of the fermentation process (and even has a reputation as a hangover helper), but usually no more than 1 percent, so unless you drink several glasses back to back, you shouldn’t feel any effects. Kombucha is available in liquid or tea bag form from health food stores, or you can brew your own at home, following this recipe from Kitchn.
Your daily cup of coffee may help you lose weight—caffeine increases your heart rate and increases your energy expenditure. “While I’m not recommending downing energy drinks and coffee, I can support choosing to have your daily cup of coffee before your workout,” says Hagar. Make your caffeine boost as healthy is possible by opting for green tea, which has many reported health benefits. If you have a sweet tooth, have a small serving of bitter dark chocolate—just don’t go overboard so as to not over-consume calories and counteract exercising.
Apple cider vinegar
Rebecca Lee, a registered nurse from New York City and founder of the natural health resource remediesforme.com, recommends a daily dose of apple cider vinegar to help you lose weight. (FYI, here’s how many calories are in a pound.) A 2009 study published in the journal Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry showed that subjects who drank apple cider vinegar every day for 12 weeks lost weight. Body weight, body-mass index (a combination of your weight and height), body fat, waist circumference, and serum triglyceride levels were significantly lower in two vinegar intake groups than in the third placebo group. Lee recommends mixing apple cider vinegar with raw organic honey, ceylon cinnamon, a dash of cayenne pepper and 12 ounces of water and drinking two teaspoons every morning.
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Sourdough bread is made by the fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast, and it gets its name from the slightly sour taste not present in most breads made with baker’s yeast. It’s a great swap for regular bread (and here are seven more smart-carb swaps). Beth Warren, RDN, founder of Beth Warren Nutrition and author of Living a Real Life with Real Food, suggests using sourdough bread as a base for avocado toast. “By using the fermented foods in conjunction with overall whole foods, you’re more likely to truly feel the benefits,” she adds.
A popular side dish or condiment in many cultures, sauerkraut is basically fermented cabbage. Its fermentation process is similar to that of kimchi or pickles, meaning that heat is not applied during the process, as this will kill the bacteria that makes the fermentation process possible. It’s the beneficial probiotics produced during fermentation that are thought to improve digestive function. Warren recommends adding raw sauerkraut and pickles to a large salad filled with various vegetables.
We don’t naturally think of oils being foods that help us lose weight, but some oils contain healthy fats that are actually good for your metabolism. Coconut oil is made up of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are metabolized differently in the body than most fats. MCTs quickly skip the digestive tract, going straight to the liver and converted into an immediate source of energy. “The more energy you have, the more calories you burn throughout the day,” says Lee. “Coconut oil also curbs your appetite due to the way MCTs are metabolized in your body. One study, published in the journal ISRN Pharmacology in 2011, showed that a daily intake of coconut oil can get rid of stubborn belly fat in just 12 weeks.” There are many ways to make coconut oil part of your meals. “It can be used in place of vegetable oils for frying or roasting and substituted for butter or margarine in baking. You can even melt it and drizzle it over vegetables or seafood for added flavor,” suggests Lee.
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Another healthy fat that seems to help with weight loss is avocado oil, which is also packed with healthy carbohydrates, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. “It’s one of the healthiest natural foods in the world,” says Lee. “Avocado oil curbs the appetite and helps you to feel full longer, which leads to weight loss.” Like coconut oil, avocado oil can be used instead of vegetable oils for frying or roasting, and instead of butter or margarine in baking.
According to Lee, probiotics are most beneficial from natural food sources, such as raw cheeses. There are plenty of food sources of probiotics, but raw cheese—made from cow, goat or sheep milk—is a particularly rich source of bacteria because it has not been pasteurized to kill off potentially harmful bacteria such as salmonella, escherichia coli and listeria. While the Food and Drug Administration disapproves the use of raw milk and its products due to the risk of serious infectious diseases, many people vouch for its health benefits. Popular raw cheeses include Brie, Gruyere, Beaufort and Parmesan. For a simple way to add the benefits of raw cheese to your meals, sprinkle Parmesan over your salad, pasta or soup.
To help speed up your metabolism, add plenty of foods that help support liver function and aid digestion, such as bitter, leafy greens, says Lisa Cohn, registered dietitian consultant for miVIP Surgery Centers. Use arugula or endive as the base of your salad, add dandelion greens to your smoothies, pop slices of fennel on your avocado toast, and mix watercress into your soups and dressings. To get the benefits of bitter greens in liquid form, go for green tea. A 1999 study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that green tea-extract increases the metabolism by 4 percent over a 24-hour period.
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