1. Focus on microbe-friendly foods
Try “microbiome enhancing meals.”
- Add fiber-rich foods, like oats, beans, lentils, chickpeas, brown rice, quinoa as well as nuts, fruits and vegetables to your meals.
- Fiber-rich diets feed your intestinal microbes, which, new research shows, effectively reduces calorie intake.
The body reacts differently to calories ingested from high-fiber whole foods vs. ultra-processed ones. Overly processed foods are more quickly absorbed in your upper gastrointestinal tract, which means more calories for your body and fewer for your gut microbiome – located near the end of your digestive tract.
High-fiber foods aren’t easily absorbed, so they travel down your digestive tract to your large intestine, where they “feed” the trillions of bacteria in your gut microbiome.
2. Reduce packaged foods
Industrial processing changes the structure of food. Experts say it can affect how much you eat and absorb from food, your weight and chronic disease risk.
- Select foods with just a few ingredients (5 or less is a good rule of thumb) — like a bag of flash-frozen vegetables vs. those with multiple ingredients, additives and chemicals.
- Look for descriptors like “minimally processed,” “seasonal,” “grass-fed,” and “pasture-raised.
- One study found that when people ate an ultra-processed diet, they consumed about 500 more calories a day compared to when they ate a mostly unprocessed diet.
Many ultra-processed foods are engineered to overcome our satiety mechanisms, which drives us to overeat and gain weight.
3. Choose healthy carbs
Instead of cutting carbs, focus on carb quality.
- Start by eating more vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils.
- Next, add healthy fats and proteins, like nuts, seeds, avocado, eggs, poultry, grass-fed meats and seafood.
- Then, skip the highly-processed carbs, like cereal, pastries, bread and white pasta, and replace with whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, legumes, quinoa, fruits, vegetables and other unrefined carbs.
These changes may lower your risk of cancer and Type 2 diabetes, reduce your likelihood of heart disease or stroke and help you shed pounds without having to count calories.
4. Eat smaller dinners
Due to the way our internal clocks operate, our bodies digest and metabolize food consumed earlier in the day more efficiently. Studies show that a meal consumed at 9 a.m. can have vastly different metabolic effects than the same meal consumed at 9 p.m.
- For optimal health, it’s best to consume most of your calories earlier in the day rather than later.
- Focus on eating a large breakfast, a modest lunch, and a small dinner.
In a recent study, people who followed diets where they consumed most of their calories earlier in the day lost more weight than people who did the reverse. They also had greater improvements in their blood sugar, cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity.
5. Add more spices, nuts, plants and fermented foods to your diet
Your gut microbes love variety, and eating a variety of fiber-rich plants and nutrient-dense foods seems to be especially beneficial to gut health.
- Set a goal to eat around 30 different plant foods a week. It’s not nearly as hard as it sounds. You’re probably already eating a lot of these foods already.
- A fast-way to increase variety is to use more herbs and spices.
- Choose a mix of leafy greens rather than one type of lettuce for your salads.
- Add a variety of fruits to your breakfast or add several different vegetables to your stir fry.
- Try eating more fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir.
- Add more nuts, seeds, beans and grains.
6. Eat your bread last
A strategy called ‘meal sequencing’ runs counter to the way many people often eat. It’s relatively simple to follow and doesn’t require radically changing the foods that you eat, but it can improve blood sugar control and leave you feeling full for longer.
- Eat your vegetables and/or protein first.
- Starting meals with protein, fat or fiber-rich vegetables slows the digestive process.
- Save the basket of bread or chips for the end of a meal – or skip altogether.
Eating this way makes you feel full longer because it reduces the speed at which food leaves your stomach. Researchers have found that starting each meal with vegetables or protein can be particularly helpful for improving blood sugar control.
This one swap could help you lower your risk of cancer and Type 2 diabetes, reduce your likelihood of dying from heart disease or a stroke and help you shed pounds without counting calories.