Scientists Share 50 Food Facts to Help You (and Lose Weight Too)

50 food facts to help you lose weight

By Michelle Crouch With Gagan Dhillon Updated: Dec 27, 2018 10:53:49 IST
Scientists Share 50 Food Facts to Help You (and Lose Weight Too)

Nutritional all-stars

1. Turmeric: "The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, known for its anti-inflammatory properties that protect against many ailments ranging from heart disease to cancer. Turmeric is rich in antioxidants and is a recognized preservative. Kokum is another fruit that's rich in antioxidants, fibre and has anti-allergy properties. You can substitute it with tamarind when cooking."

Dharini Krishnan, Chennai-based dietician

2. Sprouts: "Sprouts are little food factories because they create vitamins and enzymes within themselves. The enzymes help with digestion as they help break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates. One serving of sprouts is enough to meet an average adult's recommended daily need of 40 mg of vitamin C. Sprouts increase the levels of vitamin B in the body phenomenally, almost by 20-30 per cent, particularly with regard to vitamin B1, folic acid and biotin."

Ishi Khosla, Delhi-based clinical nutritionist in The Diet Doctor

3. Fish: "In one large study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, having at least one fish meal a week was associated with a 60 per cent reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease." Other studies have found that eating fish slashes your chance of dying from heart disease by about a third.

Martha Clare Morris, ScD, director of the Section of Nutrition and Nutritional Epidemiology at Rush University Medical Center, Chicago

4. Dark chocolate (85 per cent cacao): "Chocolate is a major source of nitric oxide. It keeps your blood pressure under control, and scores over red wine [and] green tea in phenols and flavonoids [which act as antioxidants]." It also stimulates endorphins, which put you in a positive state of mind, enhancing pleasure, as it contains serotonin (a good mood hormone).

Shonali Sabherwal, Mumbai-based macrobiotic nutritionist in The Love Diet

5. Yogurt: "When naturally fermented and refrigerated (not pasteurized), yogurt, sauerkraut [fermented cabbage], kimchi, and kefir [a fermented dairy beverage like lassi] contain natural probiotics and help populate your gut with healthy bacteria that can protect you from colds and the flu."

Justin Sonnenburg, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University, California, and author of The Good Gut 

6. Leafy Green vegetables: "One study found that seniors who ate at least one serving of leafy greens a day had the cognitive ability of someone 11 years younger." These salad staples also benefit heart and bone health and prevent cancer.

Martha Clare Morris, ScD

7. Beans: "They slow [down] the absorption of glucose in the bloodstream, curbing your appetite longer. They're full of fibre, contain phytoestrogens, are a low-fat source of protein and are rich in calcium, folic acid and vitamin B6."

Dr Rishma Dhillon Pai, Mumbai-based obstetrician and gynaecologist in Fit At 40

8. Berries: "Berries have high levels of antioxidants that may lower your risk of heart disease, some types of cancer, diabetes and cognitive decline. Look for blueberries, cranberries and black currants." You can get similar benefits from vitamin C-rich Cape gooseberry and amla, also known as Indian gooseberry.

David C. Nieman, DRPH, FACSM, director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University, North Carolina 

9. Purple cabbage: "It has the same eyesight- and brain-protecting antioxidants as berries do, at a fraction of the cost. Use as a healthy, colourful garnish."

Michael Greger, MD, general physician and author of How Not to Die

10. Nuts: "Five or more 140-gram servings of nuts throughout the week may cut your risk of heart disease by up to half. It doesn't matter what kind of nuts: walnuts, almonds or pecans. Sprinkle them on cereal each morning."

Gary Fraser, MD, PhD, cardiologist at Loma Linda University, California

11. Tomatoes: Foods like tomatoes, plums, prunes, apples, pears, beetroots and bell peppers are rich in boron and phytoestrogens. These help ease menopause symptoms. Boron increases the body's ability to hold on to oestrogen. It also helps keep our bones strong by reducing the amount of calcium we excrete each day.

Dr Rishma Dhillon Pai in Fit At 40

12. Ground flaxseeds: "Filled with fibre and omega-3s, flaxseeds may help protect against heart disease, cancer, diabetes and cognitive decline and treat the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Grind them up and add to oats, yogurt, pancakes, salads, soups, sandwich spreads and more."

Angie Eakin, MD, MS, a member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Washington DC

13. Wine: "One or two drinks a day -- wine, and perhaps other alcoholic beverages -- may help to lower cholesterol and improve heart and brain health. Don't hold off all week, then live it up on the weekend. [But] more than two and you likely start to do harm."

Kenneth S. Kosik, MD, neuroscientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Outsmarting Alzheimer's


Proceed with caution

14. Cold Cuts: "Processed meats like bacon, ham, hot dog and sausage were designated by the World Health Organization as carcinogens in 2015. That means they can cause cancer and are in the same category as smoking" (though their risk is not as high).

Michael Greger, MD

15. Grilled meat: "A growing body of evidence shows that barbecued meats cooked at high temperatures or over an open flame may increase your risk of cancer. Lower your risk by marinating your meat and minimizing charring."

Bruce Lee, MD, executive director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Maryland

16. Flavoured yogurt: "Plain yogurt that you add whole fruit to is very healthy; it typically has about seven grams of natural sugar. Guess how many grams of sugar in a strawberry yogurt? Depending on the brand, you could have up to 23 grams. That's not a health food; that's dessert."

Robert Lustig, MD, paediatric endocrinologist at the University of California and author of Fat Chance

17. Foods out of boxes and bags: "The more packaging you have to go through to get to food, the worse it probably is for you."

Bruce Lee, MD

18. Sugar and any other food with added sugar: "Sugar alters our hormones so we don't register hunger normally; it spikes our dopamine [pleasure hormone], requiring us to eat more sugar for the same effect; it affects the liver in the same way that alcohol does."

Robert Lustig, MD

19. Also, artificial sweeteners: "In one study, fruit flies that had been accustomed to eating the artificial sweetener sucralose ate 30 per cent more calories than those that ate sugar. We believe that because the sweetness in sucralose doesn't correspond to the calories, the brain compensates by making the animal feel [hungrier]. This may also happen in humans."

Greg Neely, PhD, associate professor at the University of Sydney

20. Bread: "It doesn't taste like it, but most bread is filled with salt … If you have high blood pressure, be careful."

Marc Gillinov, MD, cardiac surgeon, Ohio, and co-author of Heart 411:The Only Guide to Heart Health You'll Ever Need


Food swaps, easy hacks

21. Coconut oil, instead of refined oil: "It contains lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid, which is easily digested and absorbed. This natural saturated fat promotes good cholesterol (HDL) and lowers bad cholesterol (LDL). It keep your heart healthy."

Sheela Krishnaswamy, national president, Indian Dietetic Association

22. DIY popcorn: "Place kernels inside a paper bag. Fold the top, then microwave for two to three minutes. Voilà. Microwave popcorn without the chemicals and trans fat." And as snacks go, this one is a real bargain.

Kenneth S. Kosik, MD

23. Brown rice not white: (Whole) grains provide sustained serotonin, as they give sustained sugars (energy). Brown rice has all the B vitamins and zinc, magnesium, chromium and calcium.

Shonali Sabherwal in The Love Diet 

24. 'Fry' onions sans oil: Heat a non-stick pan, add onions and stir. They cook in the water they release. If they start to stick, sprinkle water or vegetable stock and stir. Cook them like this until they are translucent or deep brown.

Anuradha Sawhney, founder of Pune-based vegan food service Back to the Basics, in The Vegan Kitchen: Bollywood Style!

25. Presoak potatoes: "Potatoes contain an amino acid that changes into a toxin called acrylamide when exposed to high heat during frying or roasting. Acrylamide makes it tougher for brain cells to communicate with one another. When possible, boil, steam or microwave potatoes. If you roast, soak slices in water for 15 to 30 minutes first."

Kenneth S. Kosik, MD

26. Easy carb counter: "For every 10 grams of carbohydrates in a food, there should be at least one gram of fibre."

Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DRPH,  cardiologist, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University 

27. Fish like hilsa or pomfret, not salmon: These Indian varieties match the protein content of salmon and are rich in vitamins D and B12, magnesium and calcium.

Sheela Krishnaswamy, RD

28. Fruits are always a good choice: "Fruits, especially the sweeter ones like mangoes and bananas are rich in fructose [a type of sugar]. The liver processes fructose, storing it when its reserves are low (like in the morning). Excess fructose can form uric acid (elevations of which lead to gout) and triglycerides. This can increase your risk of heart disease and obesity. Eat fruits either with your first meal or no later than the second meal of the day."

Shweta Bhatia, clinical and sports nutritionist, Mumbai

29. Try 'overnight' oats: "Combine oats with milk in a Mason jar. Leave it in the fridge overnight, and [let] the oats soak up the milk. The next morning, add mix-ins like fruit, seeds, nuts, honey or peanut butter. One serving has 40 grams of whole grains and four grams of fibre, plus the milk has protein."

Rebecca Scritchfield, RD, in Body Kindness

30. Eat at home: "Every time you go out, you eat about 300 more calories than you would have at home. And restaurant food has much higher levels of sodium, sugar and saturated fat."

Dan Buettner, National Geographic Fellow and author of The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World's Healthiest People

31. Ditch the mayo: "Try hummus, tahini or olive tapenade in place of mayonnaise on sandwiches and salad. All four provide creamy texture and lots of flavour while adding bonus nutrients and heart-healthy fat. They also make great dips for fresh-cut veggies."

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, author of Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food Real Fast


Burn more calories

32. Don't be afraid of fat: "In one study, we put overweight young adults on a low-calorie diet. After they had lost 10 to 15 per cent of their weight, we gave some of them a low-fat diet and the others a low-carbohydrate diet with lots of healthy fats, like olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado. On the low-fat diet, their metabolism crashed. On the low-carb, high-fat diet, their metabolism didn't slow at all."

David Ludwig, MD, PhD, professor of nutrition at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Massachusetts, and author of Always Hungry

33. Drink more water: Small studies show that water has the potential to boost metabolism. "It takes calories to process water, because everything we do takes calories. The more water, the more calories you need to expend. I suggest aiming for around two litres a day."

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of

34. … And a cup of coffee or green tea. In a study of eight men, caffeine increased energy expenditure by 13 per cent. Even better, "brewed tea also raises metabolism rates. Be careful not to cancel out the health benefits: If you like sugar in your tea, use one teaspoon or less."

Lisa Stollman, MA, RDN, CDE, CDN, author of The Trim Traveler

35. Spread your protein throughout the day: Most people "can absorb only about 25 to 35 grams of protein at a time for muscle building and repair". The rest will turn to fat. As a guide, 30 grams of protein is equivalent to five eggs and roughly 570 grams of low-fat yogurt. 

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN


Don't buy these lines!

36. Practise moderation: Say no to trans fat. "The high intake of trans fats [found in processed foods] is linked to insulin resistance and weight gain around the abdomen. Indians, have a tendency to accumulate girth around the abdomen, possibly due to diminished tolerance to trans fats."

Ishi Khosla in The Diet Doctor

37. 'Whole grain' labels: "Just because a package says 'made with whole grains', it doesn't mean it's 100 per cent whole grain. In fact, it could be only 1 per cent whole grain."

Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways, a US-based food education non-profit

38. Eggs cause high cholesterol: "We now know cholesterol levels are determined largely by the mix of fats you eat. So it's OK to have eggs."

Marc Gillinov, MD

39. Eat small meals In some clinical trials, people who are told to eat five or six small meals a day overeat the wrong things. "Weight gain is inevitable if you don't opt for healthy snacks like fruits or nuts."

Dharini Krishnan, dietician

40. Pasta is bad: "Because pasta is extruded to make shapes, it takes longer to digest, so even though it has the same ingredients as white bread, it doesn't cause a rapid sugar spike." Overcooking or overeating pasta, though, will still raise blood sugar.

Sara Baer-Sinnott

41. Organic is healthier:  "You may have environmental reasons to look for organic, but there's little science to show that these relate to health." (Eating organic food may reduce your exposure to pesticides and other toxins.)

Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DRPH

42. Avoid ghee altogether: Unlike refined oils, ghee is rich in [healthy] saturated fats and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA). These are anti-inflammatory in nature and have a favourable ratio of heart-healthy, omega-3 and- 6 fatty acids. Ghee also has antioxidants, like beta carotene and vitamin A, that help maintain cellular integrity and prevent cell damage." (Eat it in moderation.)

Ishi Khosla, clinical nutritionist

43. Cut most salt: It may be less of a risk than scientists thought. "But hypertension patients should still follow their doctors' sodium advice."

Marc Gillinov, MD

44. You have to give up carbs: "The cornerstone of every longevity diet is complex carbohydrates: whole grains, brown rice, sweet potatoes and beans."

Dan Buettner

45. Smoothies are a healthy treat: "Many smoothie places use mixes with added sugar, other additives and no real fruit. Ask what they put in their smoothies. Or make one at home."

Bruce Lee, MD


5 More golden rules

46. Shrink your last meal: "Your first meal of the day should be big, lunch should be middle-size and dinner, small. A big breakfast fuels your muscles and brain. A small dinner allows digestion to rest overnight and won't saturate your system with calories your body is more likely to store."

Dan Buettner

47.  ... and fast for 12 hours at least twice a week. "If you eat at 7 a.m., make sure you are done eating for the day by 7 p.m. That puts your body into a fasting mode, which could slow ageing in the brain, help you sleep better and keep you from gaining weight."     

Valter Longo, PhD, director of Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California

48. Don't eat based on one study: "Remember that one study doesn't make a truth. It takes years and a whole body of evidence before scientists can make a solid nutritional recommendation."

Sara Baer-Sinnott

49. It's never too late to make a change: "We put 20 African Americans on a high-fibre African diet and 20 rural Africans on a low-fibre Western diet. After just two weeks, the biomarkers for cancer risk in the Americans dropped, while those in the Africans jumped significantly."

Stephen O'Keefe, MD, gastroenterologist at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

50.  ... even a small one. "The data shows that some improvement is better than none. Even if you make only one change -- drink fizzy drinks twice a week instead of every day -- it will make a difference."

Teresa Fung, ScD, RD, professor of nutrition at Simmons College, Massachusetts


Additional reporting by Kim Bussing

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