Certain foods are packed with massive amounts of nutrients that help you achieve a lean and muscular physique. Eating these superior foods won’t save you from a poor diet or regular over eating, but they can give that extra boost when trying to get lean, while feeling energized throughout the day.
Did you know that there are numerous plants and nutrients that can have a dramatic effect on fat loss? This list only includes the most promising nutrients that support fat loss in multiple ways. I favor nutrients that can be simply added to your diet rather than supplemented, although in certain cases it's worth it to use a more concentrated extract or supplement form.
These fantastic nutrients can help you tighten up your efforts to get lean via the following mechanisms:
Decreased fat absorption
The fat you eat is not directly absorbed into the body unless it interacts with an enzyme called pancreatic lipase. A number of nutrients inhibit pancreatic lipase, making the fat calories you've eaten irrelevant.
Suppressed food intake
Certain foods raise levels of the chemical transmitters and hormones that help you avoid sensations of hunger, while enhancing energy and motivation. Distinct nutrients such as green tea control levels of serotonin, 5-HTP, ghrelin, and dopamine to lead people to eat less.
Enhanced energy expenditure
Your body is capable of regulating the amount of calories burned for optimal body composition, assuming you're not assaulting it with excess calories, chemicals, and processed foods. Fish oil, for example, is extremely effective at increasing energy expenditure through something called uncoupling proteins.
Stimulating fat burning and "turning off" fat storage
Certain nutrients can inhibit the storage of fat. These tend to be antioxidant-rich nutrients that simply stop the body from storing fat, while decreasing inflammation.
All of these processes depend on those tried and true habits for fat loss: High-protein eatin', regular activity, stress reduction, and the restriction of foods that stop fat loss in its tracks (fructose, refined grains, trans-fats). Throw in high-intensity exercise and you have a formula for success.
#1: Fish Oil and CLA
The omega-3 fats from fish and conjugated linoleic acid from dairy and meat are superior fat loss nutrients. They improve insulin sensitivity by building the outside layer of cells, which makes them more receptive to insulin. They decrease inflammation—CLA is a potent cancer fighting nutrient—and have a stress reducing effect, lowering cortisol.
Most compelling, fish oil and CLA stimulate thermogenesis, or the burning of calories, by enhancing the activity of the uncoupling protein genes 1 and 3. Simply, the uncoupling proteins lead to excess calories to be burned by raising body temperature. This is why "healthy" fats don't make you fat, but can make you lose fat.
Take Away: Get fish oil and CLA from cold water fish, wild meat, pastured meat, and whole fat dairy. Eat a serving at each meal, supplementing with fish oil when necessary.
#2: Yerba Mate/Green Tea
If you're going to take one new habit from this list, let it be that you start getting some green tea in your diet. Green tea and yerba mate come from different plants, but they both contain extremely high levels of the catechin antioxidants that promote fat loss.
The catechins inhibit lipase, decreasing fat absorption, and can suppress food intake. They also enhance energy expenditure via greater thermogenesis, improve liver function, promote the use of fat for fuel rather than carbs, and lead to the death of fat cells (apoptosis).
An example of green tea at work is a study that had overweight women go on a diet for 4 weeks to lose weight. Then for 8 weeks they strength trained and took 10 grams of green tea powder twice a day, losing nearly 10 kg of body fat compared to a placebo group that lost only 3.2 kg of fat, indicating the benefit of green tea for sustaining metabolism as body weight is reduced.
Take Away: Drink tea daily—avoid adding sweeteners or milk. Watch out for bleached tea bags. Quality green tea supplements are pricey, but can provide a profound metabolic boost, making them worth the investment.
#3: Hot Peppers
Hot red peppers have been rumored to have fat loss properties for years due to the bioactive compound capsaicin. Simply cooking with whole hot pepper or adding hot pepper extract or spice to food may decrease hunger and reduce energy intake, while stimulating fat burning and overall calorie burning in the body.
For example, in one study that had 24 individuals drink tomato juice containing 0.9 g of red pepper before a meal led them to eat less, while feeling more satisfied with the meal.
Take Away: Add hot peppers to salad dressing, veggie or meat dishes, or eggs—peppers are a hot thing in Paleo cooking. If spicy food is not your thing, capsaicin is available in supplement form.
The pomegranate is impressively high in rare antioxidants, ellagic and tannic acids, that have multiple fat loss effects. These antioxidants inhibit fat absorption and suppress energy intake. The pomegranate has also been shown to improve cardiovascular health when on a high fat diet and it may have anti-tumor properties for cancer fighting.
Take Away: Eat and cook with pomegranates whenever they are available. People with heart disease or metabolic problems could benefit from a pomegranate extract or pure, organic pomegranate juice that is not sweetened or blended with other juices.
#5: The Meat Nutrients: Glycine, Glutamine, Carnitine
Meat, eggs, and some dairy foods, such as whey protein, provide superior nutrients to aid fat loss, prevent food cravings, and maintain brain concentration. Carnitine is a potent fat burner because it is responsible for the transport of fats into the cells to be used for energy in the body. It works best when ingested with the omega-3 fats to ensure that it loads in the muscles.
Glutamine and glycine are both amino acids that raise your natural antioxidant levels, promote tissue repair and muscle building, thereby raising metabolism, while eliminating food cravings—good stuff!
Take Away: Get these three from pastured or wild meat. Strategically boosting intake can help, depending on training phase, the strength of your immune system, or cravings: Use carnitine capsules during high-intensity training phases such as with sprint intervals; go for glutamine if you are suffering cravings or difficulty sticking with your eating plan; use glycine powder in your post-workout shake to improve tissue repair and raise immunity if you feel burnt out.
#6: Seeds: Sesame, Cumin, Chia, Pumpkin, Flax, Watermelon
Seeds are jam packed with an array of nutrients that support leanness and energy, but the irresistible thing about seeds is how the improve hormone levels. Seeds tend to be high in zinc, boosting testosterone production. They also contain compounds that promote the elimination of estrogens from the body. Supplementation with flax seeds, for example, has even been shown to decrease belly fat gain on a high-fat, high fructose diet.
Use seeds mashed into tahini, ground into a protein shake, or mixed into a buttery paste--they make any meal more delicious, especially this Flank Steak recipe
#7: The Spice Bundle: Cinnamon, Black Pepper & Turmeric
All three of these are anti-inflammatory and there's promising, if peripheral, evidence that cinnamon, black pepper, turmeric, and various other spices support fat loss.
For example, curcumin improves enzyme activity involved in fat burning and supports the death of fat cells, even when on a high-fat diet. Black pepper raises metabolism by stimulating central nervous system and hormone activity. Cinnamon improves insulin sensitivity and makes just about any dish or protein drink more delicious.
Take Away: You can get extra antioxidant benefits from these spices by supplementing, and make it a habit to use a few sprinkles of cinnamon, black pepper, or turmeric at every meal.
Fenugreek is a spice that deserves special attention because it is so effective at improving insulin health and energy use, while increasing free testosterone when combined with strength training. A study of young men showed that supplementing with 500 mg a day while training for 8 weeks led to significantly greater improvements in strength, fat loss, muscle gain, and free testosterone over a placebo group.
Take Away: Fenugreek can be used in place of carbs when you need an insulin boost, such as when loading creatine or carnitine into the muscle. It also helps "grab" sugar from your blood to burn for fuel or store as glycogen so it doesn't get stored as fat. Get this benefit in supplement form, but you can also bake with it too: One study showed that bread baked with fenugreek produced better insulin response and glucose tolerance compared to regular bread.
Ginger improves thermogenesis just like hot peppers, and studies report that cooking with ginger can decrease appetite.
Take Away: Ginger is antioxidant-rich, easy to find in the grocery store, and can make a delicious difference when cooked with collards, kale, organic tempeh, or pureed with post-workout protein drinks.
Garlic has been found to increase calorie use in the body by raising the ratio of brown fat to white fat (brown fat is considered good, white is very bad).
Animal studies show garlic is particularly effective in reducing fat gain from a high-fat diet that is intended to cause obesity. Along with being called an anti-obesity food by scientists, garlic improves blood flow, decreasing risk of heart disease by lowering triglycerides, cholesterol, and reducing plaque in the arteries.
Take Away: Use fresh garlic with all meals. Consider trying raw garlic to get a larger dose of active compounds during fat loss.