Ever since Alice wandered into Wonderland and partook of the cake that made her grow bigger and the elixir that made her shrink, we’ve given food and drink almost magical status. Thousands of grandmothers have promised their balky offspring that eating carrots would ensure good eyesight and fish, being brain food, would make them smart.
A good deal of research has actually gone into looking for food magic, as well. More specifically, it’s investigated whether different micronutrients can help us take control of our weight, Type 2 diabetes, or metabolic syndrome.
Many different vitamins, antioxidants, polyphenols, minerals, and anti-inflammatories do have a relationship to weight control that is much stronger than mere coincidence. Sometimes it seems that obesity itself leads to a vitamin or nutritional deficit. Other times, the order appears to be reversed, where it’s the deficit that may lead to obesity.
Before going down the list of what works, however, we’d like to put guilt and shame behind us. Almost everyone who is overweight is well aware of it. Most people who decide to do something about it make that decision many times. Even research on the matter has shown that trying a score of different exercise plans and eating patterns is the norm. So is finding out that (a) most diets don’t work, or (b) they worked but only while doing something so difficult or restrictive it’s impossible to maintain it as a lifestyle, (c) you can’t exercise pounds away without changing your diet, too, and (d) the weight usually comes back, anyway.
Failure doesn’t have to happen though. There are a lot of success stories and yours might start with a little vitamin support.
Here’s a rundown on what science has to say:
Vitamin C—is a powerful antioxidant. That’s important because if you are overweight, you are also very likely to have or to develop high cholesterol, which antioxidants help manage. Also, a diet that is strong in antioxidant-rich foods can help speed up metabolism and decrease inflammation. Both of those actions support your weight loss goals.
So Vitamin C doesn’t cause you to lose weight, but it helps manage the side effects of being overweight and supports the things that do help you lose. For instance, people with adequate levels of vitamin C oxidize 30% more fat during exercise than people with low levels.
Vitamin C also decreases the risk of diabetes and helps in controlling blood pressure. It’s best to get Vitamin C from your food rather than from supplementation if possible. In addition to citrus fruit, guava, bell peppers, broccoli, kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes and kale are rich in vitamin C.
Vitamin E—Another antioxidant, vitamin E works in tandem with vitamin C. Everything above applies. It’s useful for controlling blood pressure…and it’s also better to acquire it from the diet if possible. Get it from sunflower seeds, spinach, avocados, almonds, butternut squash, kiwi, trout and shrimp.
Coenzyme Q10—Alas, despite claims, the proof that CoQ10 controls weight is not good. It has shown benefits for blood pressure and glycemic control, though. It’s also good for the heart among many other benefits. It just won’t make you skinny. This nutrient will probably need to come from a supplement if you are older since it’s hard to eat enough oil, seeds, and cold-water fish to bring levels up if they are seriously depleted. And even though it may not make you shed pounds, this micronutrient is getting a serious study for potential benefits in slowing Alzheimer’s, reducing migraines, and easing muscle pains.
Zinc—Taken as supplements or with adequate food zinc can improve blood lipid profiles—in other words, cholesterol and triglycerides. It seems to be especially beneficial for people who are obese or diabetic.
Cinnamon—Natural cinnamon varies widely in chemistry, which makes studies on its effects hard to compare. The region where it was grown, the amount of rain it got, the specific variety can all affect its strength. That said, it has been shown to improve fasting blood glucose levels, counter oxidative stress and may reduce fat. Cinnamon is a polyphenol. Other foods in this class include apples, cranberries, red beans, almonds and peanuts, but they have not been as widely studied for weight control yet.
Green tea—This may be the winner on the list. Green tea has shown that it can increase thermogenesis and fat oxidation. Thermogenesis is heat production and when it happens it burns calories.
Green coffee & chlorogenic acid—Though it doesn’t sound savory, chlorogenic acid is a component of green coffee, plums, peaches and dates. More studies are needed, but this shows promise for helping to lose weight. The fruits also contain ferulic acid, which is an antioxidant. Beware, however, that dates are high in sugar and thus a high-calorie snack.
Green coffee may be a champ, but studies so far have been small or lacked control groups. This looks very promising, so we will continue to monitor this situation and let you know if any new studies shed further light.
Lycopene—No help with weight loss, but it does help with glucose tolerance. Lycopene is found in guava, papaya, watermelon, tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes. But we already knew potatoes were not a weight loss food, didn’t we?
Antioxidants—Antioxidants do play a supporting role in weight loss. They help control low-grade inflammation which is associated with obesity and diabetes.
 C.S. Johnston, Strategies for healthy weight loss: from vitamin C to the glycemic response. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2005 Jun 24(3), pages 158-65
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