April 24, 2009

Q. I've kept the weight off by eating grilled chicken, brown rice, and broccoli, but I'm sick of these foods. Any creative suggestions?

A. No wonder! While these are certainly healthy choices, as a daily staple, they're pretty bland. "Eating a limited diet gets boring, and worse, it can eventually lead to bingeing," says Karen Collins, R.D., nutrition advisor for the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) in Washington, D.C. Fortunately, low-calorie doesn't have to mean low variety. In fact, there's a smorgasbord of great-tasting lean protein, whole grains, and vegetables out there.

Instead of chicken, try baked or steamed fish, pork tenderloin, grilled sirloin, or other cuts of lean red meat. Whole-wheat pasta mixed with black beans and canned tomatoes is a healthy vegetarian option; and one cup of beans has 15 grams of protein, minimal fat, and 15 grams of filling fiber.

Roasted vegetables are a tasty way to fulfill your veggie quota, says Collins. "This method brings out their sweetness." To make, simply cut up a variety of vegetables--red peppers, mushrooms, onions, eggplant, zucchini, winter squash--toss with a little olive oil, and bake at 350*F for 30 minutes. Salads can also be punched up by adding sliced pears, apples, oranges, a sprinkle of chopped nuts, or even a pungent cheese, such as pecorino or Gorgonzola.

Replace brown rice with whole-wheat couscous, quinoa, or bulgur (they all cook quickly), or kick the flavor up a notch by throwing in diced dried apricots, cherries, or savory seasonings like garlic, scallions, and chives. For more menu ideas, check out the AICR cookbook, The New American Plate.

Q.My friend says she takes CLA supplements to help her drop pounds. What are they, and do they really work?

A.Conjugated linoleic acid, also known as CLA, is a type of fat found in beef and dairy products. Although research shows that consuming CLA supplements reduces body fat and increases muscle mass in mice and other animals--probably by limiting the amount of fat stored in fat cells--they haven't been proven to work any better than placebo pills in the majority of human studies, says David A. Levitsky, Ph.D., a nutrition professor and obesity expert at Cornell University. And while the supplements aren't dangerous, Levitsky believes they're a waste of money. "There's no getting around the basic rules of weight loss," he says. "You need to reduce your calorie intake and get more exercise."