By Dr. Maria Alice
THE SUN is shining, temperatures are high. Summer is the time to shed layers of clothes … and some kilograms. There is always the choice of opting for a stringent diet regime, but what about simply enjoying all the wonderful foods the season brings? You will still slim down, and do wonders for your health.
It is naturally easy to eat lighter during the summer, and you can do so without feeling deprived. With four-and-a-half cups of fruits and vegetables and three servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy products each day, you will be getting plenty of naturally low-cal foods that are high in fibre, calcium and important nutrients.
“Fibre helps in weight control because it promotes a feeling of satisfaction or satiety,” explains Cheryl Orlansky, a well known dietician. “High-fibre foods, eaten consistently, prevent that rebound effect of feeling full one minute and looking for something else to eat the next. It also helps modulate blood sugars by slowing down the digestion of sugars to prevent a quick surge into the bloodstream.”
Fruit and vegetables have extra nutritional benefits you may not be aware of; they contain antioxidants and other phytonutrients that may slow aging, protect against cancer and stroke, improve blood pressure, and keep your heart healthy. And just about all are low-calorie, so the waistline stays in check, another big health benefit.
So, ready to slim down with summer foods? Start your summer diet with these.
Tomatoes and peppers for vitamin A, vitamin C and lycopene
These powerhouses of nutrition are members of the fruit family, though they are considered mostly as vegetables. Tomatoes and bell peppers of all colours deliver large amounts of vitamins A and C. A medium tomato, for example, is low in carbohydrates and has only 35 calories, but gives you 40 per cent of the vitamin C and 20 per cent of the vitamin A you need for the day.
Tomatoes have other benefits, too. A diet rich in tomatoes has been shown to decrease the risk of prostate and digestive tract cancer because tomatoes and processed tomato products have high levels of a nutrient called lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that gives some fruits and vegetables their colour.
Lycopene may prevent, as well as treat, several types of cancer. Research suggests it also may help prevent the LDL “bad” cholesterol in the bloodstream from being converted to oxidised LDL, which can form plaques in arteries and increase the risk of heart attacks.
Peppers have antioxidants too, such as beta carotene, which can help boost the immune stem and prevent the cell damage that comes from free radicals, a natural by-product of the body’s normal functioning. Studies show damaged cells can lead to a number of diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.
Peppers also have plenty of vitamin C, even more than tomatoes. Just a half cup of the green, yellow or red varieties have more than 230 per cent of your daily vitamin C requirement. Keep some pepper strips on hand for a tasty calorie-controlled snack. A half cup of fresh peppers has only 20 calories.
The antioxidant power of berries
Nothing means summer like the colourful array of berries that start showing up at the supermarket. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries satisfy your sweet tooth and are rich in nutritional bonuses, such as vitamin C. Strawberries have the most vitamin C of any member of the berry family.
Berries are rich in a substance called ellagic acid, which acts as an antioxidant, helps the body deactivate specific carcinogens and slows the reproduction of cancer cells. Berries may also help prevent urinary tract infections and are a good source of fibre, helping to lower cholesterol. Some studies carried out with blueberries show they can help improve memory.
Berries, in general, are convenient to eat, tasty, and can easily be eaten alone or mixed with yoghurt for smoothies. Their per-serving calorie count can be as low as 45 calories. They can be cooked too, though that tends to break down the antioxidants. The “cool” way to preserve them is to pop them into the freezer and then eat them frozen for a refreshing snack.
Yoghurt for calcium and protein
Not so long ago, yoghurt was considered something only for health food junkies to eat, but now it is a dietary staple for many who appreciate the taste, convenience, low calories and the bonus of its health benefits.
Yoghurt can even help you slim down, as it has been shown that a low-calorie diet including three servings of dairy a day can help promote weight loss. Yoghurt is very appealing to those wanting to lose weight because the protein/carbohydrate combination it offers can help stave off hunger. Yoghurt contains around 30 per cent of the recommended daily value in calcium and should be added to the diet since most adults do not drink milk.
As yoghurt is made by curdling milk with purified cultures, it means that it is also high in live active organisms called probiotics; these can boost immunity, prevent yeast infections and keep the gastrointestinal tract healthy.
Flavoured, plain or low fat, you can eat yoghurt as a snack or as the protein source at a meal. They make a great dip for fruit and vegetables and a delicious dessert topping instead of ice cream. Low-fat yoghurt and fresh berries provide the best smart and tasty summer eating.
Protein and fibre-packed beans
The benefits of beans or legumes are as wide as the varieties available. Peas, lentils, black beans, butter beans, lima beans, garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas), to mention just a few, are all nutrient-rich and great sources of fibre, iron and protein.
These small, tasty treasures can help you feel full longer, have little or no fat and are usually inexpensive. Substituting animal protein for beans in a meal can lower calories, saturated fat and provide zero cholesterol. They are particularly high in soluble fibre, which helps blood cholesterol levels.
Most beans are an excellent source of folate, a very important substance, as adequate amounts of folate may help keep the heart strong and are fundamental for expectant mothers, since studies show folate helps reduce the risk of certain birth defects being developed in a growing baby.
Time to tango with the mango
Mangoes have been a staple of people’s diets in Southeast Asia and India for more than 4,000 years. They have some big advantages over other fruits, containing more fibre than most, which helps to curb the appetite. They are low in calories (around 95 for a medium fruit), fat and sodium, contain no cholesterol and have more carotenoid (like beta carotene) and bioflavanoids than any other fruit. These powerful antioxidants are good for a healthy immune system and help repair the cell damage that can lead to disease, such as cancer.
It is a nice alternative to oranges, as it is a source of one quarter of the daily needs of vitamin A and it also provides around 76 per cent of the daily vitamin C needs in just one cup.
Mangoes are loaded with potassium, a very important mineral needed to help regulate blood pressure and heartbeat.
Last but not least, wonderful water
Probably the most important ‘food’ of any diet is water. It is essential. It may have no nutritional value, but it is a catalyst for the majority of bodily functions, including digestion, metabolism and cell function.
Water is also the key for helping those trying to lose weight. It controls hunger, especially when it’s included in foods such as fresh vegetables and fruit.
“Research has shown that water-containing foods like fruit, vegetables and soups are encouraged for weight control because of the water,” Orlansky says. “The water increases the volume of the food and lowers the amount of calories.” Another reason why water helps with weight loss is that if you don’t get enough water, your body will try to hold on to what it has so it can continue to operate. This will leave you bloated and the only way to get rid of the excess water is to take in more water.
The adult human body is 60 per cent water and, on average, a typical daily diet includes around four cups of water in the food you digest, but nutritionists advise drinking another eight glasses of water daily to keep your body functioning like a well-oiled … sorry … a well-hydrated machine.
Best health wishes,
Dr. Maria Alice