(NaturalNews) Although most Americans find their waistlines expanding with each year, a few manage to stay slender and trim throughout their lives. These are the ones who capture attention and never seem to look their ages. How they do it was the subject of a recent Consumer Reports investigation that sought to determine if these people were genetically gifted, or whether they were in possession of a magic secret resembling the fountain of youth. The study found that getting a large part of nutrition from fruits and vegetables played a big part in keeping these people trim and youthful.
Eat more fruits and vegetables to reach and maintain ideal weight
Consumer Reports National Research Center asked subscribers to their magazine about their lifetime weight history and their eating, dieting, and exercising habits. A total of 21,632 readers completed the survey which identified three key groups: people who were never overweight during their lives, people who were once overweight but have kept themselves at least ten percent lighter for the last three years, and people who were overweight and would like to lose but are still close to their heaviest weight. The always thin people made up 16% of the sample, and the successful losers were 15% of the sample. Failed dieters made up 42%, with the rest not fitting into any category.
The group that had always been thin included a tiny 3% who said they never exercised and ate whatever they wanted. The rest of the always thin group was a lot like those in the successful losers group. This statistic belies the notion that people who have always been thin have some sort of hereditary advantage.
An analysis of the data revealed six key behaviors shared by the always thin and successful losers groups. These behaviors were defined by Consumer Reports as correlating highly with a healthy body mass index (BMI). Leading the list was the eating of fruits and vegetables. 49% of the always thin and successful losers groups said they ate five or more servings a day of fruits and vegetables for at least five days out of a week.
What about fruits and vegetables allows people to achieve a healthy BMI? Fruits and vegetables are low in calories, high in volume, and high in critically important nutrients. They provide the feeling of satiety that goes with fullness. When the stomach is filled with high volume foods that are not high in calories, there is less room to pack in more calorie dense foods.
Fruits and vegetables help weight loss by reducing energy density
A recent study from the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Pennsylvania State University studied the relationship of energy density to dietary outcome. They found that lowering the energy density by increasing the volume without changing nutrient content can enhance satiety and reduce energy intake at a meal. Satiation was shown to be influenced by energy density when the portions of macronutrients were constant. Since people tend to eat a consistent weight of food, when the energy density of the food is reduced, energy intake is also reduced. The effects of considering energy density have been seen across broad ranges of adults as well as in children. Both population based studies and long term clinical trials have shown that reducing the energy density of the diet by the addition of fruits and vegetables was associated with substantial weight loss even when people were not told to restrict calories. This study is from the March 19 edition of Physiology and Behavior.
Substituting beans and lentils for meat is a great way to lower the energy density of a meal. The calories are about the same, but beans and lentils are high in fiber. Beans and lentils are more filling than meat because a quarter pound of beans has a greater volume than a quarter pound of meat.
Fruits and vegetables are nutrient packed
Eating fruits and vegetables can turn off cravings for other types of foods and short circuit the food addiction cycle, helping to provide a boost to weight loss efforts. Nature has built into each of us the desire to eat because eating provides the body with the nutrition to function and maintain itself. If people choose to eat foods that do not contain the nutrients needed, the body will continue to send the signal that more eating is needed. Fruits and vegetables are nutrition powerhouses containing the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fiber, antioxidants and protein needed for good health and avoidance of disease. When they are eaten, the body is satisfied and the signal to continue eating is extinguished.
The average person in American eats a diet containing only 8% fruits and vegetables. This does not provide nearly enough nutrition to extinguish the signal to eat more. If the other 92% of food eaten consists of nutrient poor processed foods or anything claiming to be low carb or low fat, the signal to keep on eating remains strong. To get real impact on weight and health, intake of fruits and vegetables must be drastically increased. Fruits and vegetables should make up the largest single block of food in the diet, with other foods added in small amounts. People increasing their fruit and vegetable intake while lowering the intake of foods deficient in nutrients will begin to see a difference in their weight and their energy levels.
Choose fruits and vegetables by their color
To gain full spectrum nutrition, eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables at every meal. Here are the superstars of nutrition in each color group:
Super greens: These vegetables should make up the foundation of your daily vegetable intake. Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, chard, turnip greens, mustard and collard greens, and deep green lettuces, are high in folate, a B vitamin that shows promising results in preventing heart disease. They are treasure chests of detoxifying chlorophyll. Broccoli and Brussels sprouts contain sulforaphane, a potent phytochemical found in all cruciferous vegetables that has been found able to detoxify carcinogens before they do damage to the body. Sulforaphane is also a potent antioxidant with a life in the body of up to three days, vastly surpassing many other antioxidants in staying power. Broccoli sprouts are the best source of supforaphane.
Super reds: Red fruits and vegetables are chocked full of lycopene, the carotenoid that offers high levels of protection against prostate cancer. Find lycopene in red bell peppers, watermelon, pink or red grapefruit, and tomatoes. Cooked tomatoes contain much greater levels of lycopene than tomatoes eaten raw. Red cabbage is full of vitamins and minerals. It is rich in Vitamins C and K, and has all the anti-cancer benefits of other cruciferous vegetables. And don't forget to include red beans. They are one of the best sources of molybdenum and are loaded with protein.
Super oranges: Orange fruits and vegetables are high in beta carotene, notable for its ability to prevent cancers of the lung, esophagus and stomach. They lower risk of heart disease and boost the immune system to keep infections away and make sure cancers don't get started. Carrots, sweet potatoes, mangos, pumpkins and oranges are the main representatives in this group. Each offers a unique profile of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Sweet potatoes are extremely rich in carotenoids and can be eaten by people allergic to nightshade alkaloids.
Super purples: Grapes, blueberries, prunes, and eggplant are the main representatives of the purples. They are known cancer fighters. The anthocyanins providing their distinctive color also give these foods the ability to ward off heart disease by preventing clot formation. Lutein, a carotenoid found in blueberries, reduces the risk of heart disease and stoke and guards against age-related macular degeneration. Prunes are packed with antioxidants. Antioxidants lead the fight against aging.
Super whites: Potatoes, white beans, cauliflower, mushrooms, bananas, onions and garlic are each unique in what they have to offer. Potatoes offer more potassium than just about any other food. Bananas provide energy boosting natural sugars along with Vitamins B6 and C. White beans offer lots of fiber and high quality protein along with a broad spectrum of minerals. Mushrooms are good vegetable source of Vitamin D. Onions and garlic are legendary for their ability to fight cancer, heart disease, and increase the overall antioxidant level of the body.
Super browns: This category is all about beans and lentils. These are foods with some of the highest levels of protein in the vegetable kingdom. Add some rice or corn and this protein is perfect for humans. Pintos and lentils are great sources of manganese, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, potassium, and Vitamin B1. Their high fiber content keeps cholesterol levels right where they should be.
Upping the amount of fruits and vegetables in the diet is easy
Look at the list of super fruits and vegetables and pick out the ones you really like. Phase in your favorites at first and slowly phase out the processed foods and meat. You don't have to give them up entirely, because your goal is simply to make fruits and vegetables a greater part of your diet. Once you begin eating more of them, you will find that you no longer have cravings. Even the craving for sugar and other sweets will be stilled by the delicious sweet taste of the fruits you choose. Try visiting a salad bar for lunch or dinner and filling your plate with a multitude of colors. As you add more and more fruits and vegetables you will build up your nutrient reserves and start to feel really great. The extra energy you have may even increase your interest in exercise. Replacing many meat and dairy products with fruits and vegetables will help you quickly lose any unwanted pounds. After awhile it will be you who looks young and captures attention.
Barbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.