5 “Bad” Foods You Should Eat on a Diet

Thanks for reading my new blog, “Losing It with Liz.” I’ve been studying and writing about weight loss, nutrition, and exercise as a journalist for more than 20 years. I served as editor in chief of Prevention magazine, where I co-wrote the New York Times bestseller the Flat Belly Diet! series, and worked as executive editor of Fitness magazine for eight years.

So when I became editor in chief at Reader’s Digest, the most trusted magazine brand in America, I asked my staff and myself to comb through all the latest weight loss science—to cut through the gimmicks and the fads to find out what really helps people lose weight and keep it off.

What we learned became my new book, The Digest Diet, and what we found, essentially, is that there are surprising foods and habits that make you gain weight (I call them fat increasers) and just as shocking foods and habits that help you lose weight (I call them fat releasers).

And one of the simplest, quickest changes you can make has to do with rethinking how you think about food.

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Here’s some not-so-great news for people trying to lose weight: Your body loves to cling on to fat. You know the feeling—you look down and out of nowhere, there’s a muffin top rolling over your pants, or back fat bulging out of your bra. Or at your annual physical, that big chunky slide on the scale moved over a whole notch. How did that happen?

The answer: It’s usually a series of little things—walking a little less, eating a little more, gaining a pound here or there that never goes away. Whatever the scenario, inch by inch, this gradual fat creep snuck up on you. And the world we live in—the foods we’re exposed to, the way we exercise, how we sleep, and where we work—is making it harder than ever to let go of that fat.

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Now for the good news: Many of the habits we follow to fight creep are actually making it worse—and this means that simply reversing or rethinking them can make it easier than ever to lose that stubborn, elusive weight gain.

It turns out that many of the “fattening” foods you avoid while trying to slim down actually have unique fat releasing properties that—in moderation, of course—can help you lose weight more quickly. And I love that you don’t need to deprive yourself: these are foods we all love to eat, and now there’s no reason to avoid them!

1. Red Wine

So many people have asked me if it’s OK to have a drink when you’re trying to lose weight. Listen up—this glass is for you! Many studies show that a small glass of wine a day is good for your heart, and cutting-edge research suggests that resveratrol, a potent anti-aging chemical found in red wine, is a fat releaser too.

In one study of more than 19,000 women of normal weight, light to moderate drinkers had less weight gain and less risk of becoming overweight than those who drank no alcohol. An animal study found that resveratrol improved exercise endurance and protected against obesity and insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.

2. Chocolate

If you’re like me, you welcome any new excuse to add more chocolate to your life. You probably know that cocoa is packed with antioxidants, but recent research reveals that they may also help you release fat. A 2011 study in the Journal of Nutrition found that obese, diabetic mice that consumed a diet high in epicatechins, the antioxidants found in cocoa lived longer. The cocoa reduced degeneration of the arteries in their heart and it blunted fat deposition.

3. Cheese

Raise your hand if dairy is one of the first things to go when you start a diet.  How can you lose weight and eat pizza?! The fantastic news here is that this couldn’t be further from the truth. One University of Tennessee study showed that eating three servings of dairy a day significantly reduced body fat in obese subjects. And dairy is one of the best sources of calcium, another fat releaser. Research shows that people who don’t consume enough of this bone builder have greater fat mass and less control of their appetite.

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4. Coconut Oil

Saturated fats are usually considered no-nos for dieters, but you shouldn’t shun this sweet, rich oil. It was shown to do some nifty things for abdominally obese women in a 2009 study out of Brazil, including decreasing waist circumference and improving the ratio of their good “HDL” cholesterol to bad “LDL.” In populations where coconut oil is commonly eaten, high cholesterol levels and heart disease are uncommon.

5. Nuts

I’ve known about the power of MUFAs—monounsaturated fatty acids—to help reduce belly fat since 2006. They’re found in certain nuts and seeds (as well as olives, avocados, and dark chocolate). But after diving into the most current research, I also discovered the power of PUFAs—polyunsaturated fatty acids, found in fish as well as in many nuts and seeds—to boost metabolism and calorie burn.

Basically, when it comes to a healthy, filling snack, you can’t go wrong with nuts—they’re packed with fat releasing unsaturated fats, filling fiber (another fat releaser), and a host of other healthy nutrients. Although the benefits of nuts are becoming increasingly well known, I’m surprised that people still avoid them because of their fattening reputation. I’m here to tell you that you’re far better off munching on nuts than pretzels or any fat-free packaged, processed food.

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