Herbs for weight loss, part 1

In your quest to lose weight you must always remember to eating organic whole foods, including a variety of fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes while minimizing your intake of unhealthy fats, sugars, meat and processed foods. Once you have a balanced diet and healthy exercise regime you may want to supplement with a few of the following herbs that have been shown to promote healthy weight loss.

Studies have shown that chickweed can break down fat in the body. Chickweed tea has the added benefit of curbing cravings and aiding in digestion, important factors in weight loss. Adding burdock root to the tea will efficiently flush away the fat molecules that have been broken down by the chickweed. Burdock has laxative properties in addition to being a diuretic. It also improves fat metabolism. Simmer burdock root in water for about 20 minutes to brew a tea to drink between meals.

Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, which improves digestion, metabolism, and the overall fat burning process. It is said to be a “thermogenic chemical” which will help speed your metabolism and decrease your appetite. Cayenne pepper is one of the healthiest herbs around and should be one of the first natural remedies you should go to for naturally healthy weight loss.

Dandelion is a gentle diuretic, laxative and digestive aid that enhances fat metabolism, removes fatty acids and cholesterol from the bloodstream before they are stored in fat cells and restores minerals lost (when taking diuretcs). Eat fresh dandelion greens in a soups and salads. Dandelion is considered the safest of herbal diuretics; however, long-term use of any diuretic may cause electrolyte imbalance.

Green tea is an excellent, effective, and safe weight loss ingredient that has the ability to oxidize fat in the body.  It also has a wealth of antioxidants that are good for your heart.  Green tea is readily available and either can be consumed in its rawest form as a drink, or taken as a supplement.  Either way, this is one of the best herbs to lose weight with.  Additionally, for some people, it has also proven to increase their energy levels. Further research shows green tea extract and flavonoids are compounds that can change the way the body uses norepinephrine, a hormone that monitors how calories are burned. When flavonoids interact with other content of green tea extract, more calories are burned thus contributing to weight loss. Other materials that actively contributes to the weight loss is the compound catechin polyphenols. These compounds interact with other content in green tea extract for weight loss by fat burning and thermogenesis (a process of losing energy by daytime heat).

Gymnema sylvestre is a plant used in India and parts of Asia as a natural treatment for diabetes. The herb’s active ingredient, gymnemic acid, is extracted from leaves and roots, and helps to lower and balance blood sugar levels. The unique shape of gymnemic acid molecules are similar to that of glucose, allowing it to fill cell receptors in the lining the intestines, thereby preventing uptake of sugar molecules. In healthy adults gymnema sylvestre is believed to help curb sweet cravings. Though not a magic bullet, when taken with a high-carb meal or a meal high in sugar, it can aid the body by passing through sugars and making carbs available for burning, rather than turning these into fat stores. In this way it helps to build lean muscle mass.

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Pineapple for weight loss

fresh Hawaiian pineapple

I’ve been snacking on fresh pineapple lately (they are ripening in the garden just beyond my front door) and have noticed what a great snack and even dessert they are. After some thought, I’ve concluded that fresh pineapple, accessibly cut into chunks and kept in the refrigerator are an easy snack that curbs my cravings for other sugar-laden sweets. In turn, I would have to say raw pineapple is a great food for weight-loss.

A slice of pineapple contains abut 40 calories and no fat and is rich in water (nearly 186%) that will certainly stimulate you to go to the bathroom. It contains the enzyme bromelain -a natural anti-inflammatory agent that is good for your skin and muscles.

Be sure to eat fresh pineapple. Not the pineapple you get in a can that is pre-cut, sliced and stuck in syrup. In this form, most of the good things in a pineapple have been flushed out.

Fun Facts:

  • Pineapple provides quick energy, is easily digested and encourages regularity.
  • Fresh pineapple juice is a great alternative to water when it comes to re-hydrating and flushing your system.
  • It is quickly assimilated and provides energy.
  • Low in calories and free of fat.
  • Bite-size chunks fit in glass containers and serve as an easy snack to satisfy the sweet tooth in a healthy way
  • Pineapples contain Vitamin B1 which is said to help metabolize carbohydrates.

fresh Hawaiian pineapple

eat less, live longer

The Okinawan islands in Japan are home to the world’s largest concentration of people over the age of 100. These centenarians follow an extremely healthy diet based on nutrient-dense foods such as green vegetables, sweet potatoes, fish, soy-based foods and whole grains. They eat very little, if any, meat, eggs or dairy products, and few sweets. Also notable is the fact that they eat 17 percent less food than the average Japanese and 40 percent fewer calories than the average American. While the type of food they eat certainly contributes to their longevity, the amount they eat is believed by many to be a central factor in their long life spans.

In the United States, the Okinawan diet has many followers, and now a small group of individuals has adopted a similar calorie-restrictive way of eating they believe is indeed the key to longer life. Sometimes referred to as followers of the CRON (Calorie Restriction for Optimal Nutrition) or CR diet, these dedicated souls eat 10–40 percent fewer calories than the national average. They eat a well-rounded, nutrient-rich diet, just less of it than most people. Their medical checkups are said to show that they are aging slower than an average American of the same age.

The CR diet developed from data compiled by bionaut Dr. Roy Walford during the scientific study Biosphere 2. The main objective is to create meals that combine nutrient-dense and calorie-lean foods in different ways, in the belief that the diet will activate a specific anti-aging gene. Calorie restriction is one of the few dietary disciplines that has been documented to increase both the median and maximum life span in a variety of animals, among them fish, rodents, dogs and non-human primates. Scientists who study calorie restriction and practitioners of the CR diet believe it may also be true for humans.

If you are interested in following a CR diet, it is very important to note that calorie restriction does not simply mean eating less, which can lead to malnutrition. It means getting the most out of what you put into your body. Lisa Walford, co-author of The Longevity Diet (Marlowe & Company, 2005) encourages us to “begin slowly; replace fatty and unhealthy foods with healthy ones, lots of vegetables and good sources of protein. Anyone practicing CR intelligently will recognize that every bite either nourishes and replenishes the body, or congests particular physiological systems and forces the body to work hard to overcome unhealthy fare.”

The Okinawan diet and the CR diet plan are not so different from one another. The concept of the Okinawan diet is limiting calorie intake by emphasizing high volume, high-nutrient foods with a low caloric density. Both diets emphasize eating green vegetables which are low in calories but high in nutrients, along with carbohydrates having a low glycemic index such as tofu, sweet potatoes, fruits, vegetables and whole grains like quinoa and barley. Low glycemic carbohydrates have numerous health benefits. They increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin, improve blood cholesterol levels and sustain energy while keeping dieters feeling full until the next meal.

The Okinawan diet advises eating miso soup before each meal so as to reduce the tendency to overeat. Many CR practitioners eat a “tease meal” before a regular meal to keep glucose levels low and to discourage overeating. The CR tease meal may consist of a small handful of walnuts, almonds, blueberries and cranberries, or half of a boiled sweet potato. Sweet potatoes are staples in both the Okinawan diet and the CR diet plan due to their high level of antioxidants.

Both diets advocate eating very small amounts of fish in order to benefit from omega-3 fatty acids. The CR diet plan suggests that your dietary fat should come from monosaturated fats found in olive oil, avocadoes and nuts. Nuts are also staples among Okinawans. Both diets advocate the elimination of simple sugars and flours because they provide very little nutritive value for the amount of calories they contain. They also have a high glycemic index which should be avoided whenever possible.

Ali Ronan, a fair-weather CR practitioner says, “The best advice I can give is to get some software that allows you to track what you are eating. This will give you information that you probably never knew about regarding what is going into your body. I would also recommend researching as much as you can about CR, dieting, healthy eating, exercise and other related topics. Having this information will be key in developing your own way of practicing CR. CR is not like Weight Watchers. The plan isn’t laid out for you, so you really have to step up and take an active approach to planning what you are eating, not just your calories, but your nutrients too.”

Before jumping headfirst into CR, you should consult your physician. Talk with your doctor about the plan and have some basic tests done to see where your body stands. Tests such as blood pressure, body weight, body temperature, complete blood cell count (CBC), a lipids panel, liver function panel and basic metabolic panel should be taken first to see whether your body is ready. If you are practicing CR to lose weight, it is absolutely necessary that you lose weight slowly. Losing weight rapidly can release toxins into the bloodstream, causing more harm than good. Your goal should be to lose one pound every two months until you reach your goal. For further information, visit www.crsociety.org.

(I wrote this article for Seattle Woman magazine’s Jan. 2010 issue.)

Lose weight by eating foods that suppress appetite

According to Mayo Clinic research, foods with a low energy density can help control hunger. The energy density of a particular food refers to the number of calories contained within a given volume. For example, a small piece of cake or a pastry may contain a large amount of calories. It is said to have a high energy density. Celery, conversely, has few calories for a large amount, so it has a low energy density. These are the kinds of foods to include in the diet to suppress hunger. Psyllium is a soluble fiber that adds bulk to the diet and provides a sense of fullness. Including more fiber can help weight loss. Add a serving of psyllium powder, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and a couple of drops of stevia to a large glass of cold water. Mix thoroughly and enjoy.

Lentils have a large amount of fiber, which helps dieters with satiety. Lentils boast 8 grams of fiber per serving. Much of this fiber is soluble and aids in the stabilization of blood sugar. This helps prevent spikes in blood sugar, as well as subsequent fat accumulation. The nutritional content of lentils is remarkable. In addition to the fiber, they also have a large of amount of protein, folic acid, iron, and magnesium. Protein can suppress hunger by its slower rate of travel through the digestive system. Nine grams of healthy proteins are in every half cup serving of lentils.  A cup of zucchini has a mere 20 calories. One interesting way to use zucchini is to prepare it as a pasta substitute. It can be processed through a spiral slicer to resemble thin spaghetti noodles. Add low-calorie tomato sauce or salad dressing for flavor. This quick meal also provides protein and fiber, and is very low in cholesterol, making it a highly beneficial food that can help healthy weight loss efforts.

If you want to lose weight, get off your bum

There is emerging evidence that to lose weight, strenuous exercise is not necessary. This is true for a variety of reasons but namely because after a strenuous workout we tend to eat more calories than we burn during our exercise routine. This is especially true for women. Weight loss and exercise research are gradually favoring more moderate movement pursuits.   According to an article published in the NY Times on Sunday, one of the best things we can do to lose weight (aside from consuming fewer calories) is simply to stand up.  This taken from the last paragraph of the article: Standing, for both men and women, burned multiple calories but did not ignite hunger. One thing is going to become clear in the coming years, Braun says: if you want to lose weight, you don’t necessarily have to go for a long run. “Just get rid of your chair. To read the article in its entirety visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/18/magazine/18exercise-t.html?pagewanted=1&th&emc=th

For those of us who spend long days working at a desk in front of a computer, this news is discouraging. If you are able, take short breaks throughout the day to stand and stretch, or when spending time in front of a computer at home, try working while standing-in front of your kitchen counter. I’ve started doing this and I have to say I like it. I can stretch, sway from side to side while listening to music and putter around in the kitchen at the same time!