If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably know that I don’t recommend counting calories. In fact, I believe it’s a strategy that can actually backfire (check out my previous post about the biggest calorie mistakes).
Instead, my focus is on reaching for delicious foods that naturally help you manage weight; choices that boost satiety, rev up metabolism, build calorie-burning muscle, or provide key nutrients involved with weight control. High up on that list of naturally slimming foods is produce.
According to the latest data, 75 percent of Americans fall short of the minimum recommended five daily servings, but a recent study published in The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that filling that gap can help you trim down. Over a four-year period, women who added just two servings of fruits and vegetables to their daily diets lost three pounds. This may not sound like much, but that’s without “dieting.” And shedding three pounds of body fat can be very significant, both for your health and how your clothes fit (think three 16-ounce tubs of shortening).
While the produce-weight loss connection isn’t a hard sell and there are many other benefits (such as a glowing complexion), many of my clients still struggle to consistently hit the daily goal. If you tend to fall short, put these two rules into action:
1. Build each breakfast and snack meal around fruit.
The trick: Select the fruit first, then think about what to pair it with.
- Use frozen berries or cherries to whip up a fruit smoothie: I combine them with organic skim milk or a non-dairy alternative, all-natural nut butter, rolled oats, and natural seasonings such as cinnamon.
- Build a parfait or muesli by combining in-season fruit with nonfat, organic Greek yogurt; whole-grain cereal; nuts or seeds; and spices.
- At snack time, pair fruit with whole-grain crackers, cubed cheese or organic tofu, and herbed olives.
RELATED: Love a morning shake? Then you have to try these top 11 fruit-filled smoothies!
2. Make veggies the main attraction in each lunch and dinner meal.
The trick: Rather than starting with protein, think vegetables first, and build the meal around them.
- Stir-fry a variety of veggies, place over a small bed of wild rice, and top with a lean protein, such as shrimp or edamame, and sliced almonds or black sesame seeds.
- Create a variety of entrée salads by tossing organic greens with balsamic vinegar and topping with a scoop of cooked, chilled whole grain (try quinoa or roasted corn); a protein (perhaps chicken or lentils); and a healthy fat such as avocado.
- Sauté veggies in extra-virgin olive oil with garlic and toss with a small scoop of whole-grain penne, then top with a lean protein of your choice.
- Roast or grill in-season vegetables with garlic-infused olive oil, along with skin-on cubed potatoes and fish seasoned with lemon and herbs.
Starting with produce first may take some getting used to, but this strategy can soon become second nature. And this one small change may be powerful enough to transform both your health and your waistline.
What’s your take on this topic? Do you fit in five servings of produce every single day? What are your favorite ways to enjoy fruits and veggies? Please tweet your thoughts to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.