Until very recently, you couldn’t find much vitamin D in the foods you consumed on a regular basis. Most of the natural sources of D—such as liver, kidney, and other organ meats—are foods that few people consume on a regular basis. And many other foods only house scant amounts of D. As a result, it was nearly impossible to consume all the D you needed through diet alone. You needed the sun and supplements just to keep your D levels up to the minimum requirements. In recent years, thankfully, this has all changed for the better. As the importance of D has emerged, more and more fortified products have been hitting the market. D is now found in much more than just the milk you drink. It’s in some OJs, breads, cereals, and even SpaghettiOs. At the same time, agricultural experts have found ways to add huge doses of D to certain types of foods—especially eggs and mushrooms. By feeding hens a special diet, they’ve been able to, for example, create eggs with double the usual amount of D. And by harvesting mushrooms in sunlight rather than darkness, they’ve been able to actually quintuple their D content. It’s easier and easier to meet your D requirements through diet. This is a good thing, too, because food provides powerful weight-loss benefits that supplements cannot. Unlike supplements, foods are housed in a complete package where several nutrients work synergistically to affect hunger, metabolism, mood, and much more. Consume the right combination of nutrients and you can more easily melt fat. Consume the wrong combination and you are faced with intense hunger, cravings, and a sluggish metabolism.
The decision is pretty clear to me. And that is: I’d rather eat my way to a smaller waistline. While it’s becoming more possible to eat large quantities of D, it’s not quite a nutritionally sound plan. To meet your D requirement through food alone, you would have to consume a lot of one food in particular: salmon. You might be able to eat and enjoy salmon at the start of a diet, but every day for the rest of your life? I doubt it. And that’s precisely why this food plan recommends that you take a supplement. A daily D supplement of 1,000 to 2,000 IU during the winter months reduces your need to stay 100 percent true to the plan and allows you to occasionally have lower D days in your diet. All of that said, you will see eight foods in this article. They are all powerful slimming packages that contain several nutrients that work together to boost metabolism and reduce hunger. Let’s take a closer look at how these nutrients work. Vitamin D is relatively stable in food—storage and cooking have little effect on it, even when it’s heated to boiling temperatures of 212°F. This means you’ll get all the nutritional benefits of these fat-blasting foods no matter how you prepare them!
In a study done many years ago in Australia, overweight patients who ate fish daily as part of a weight-loss regimen lost more weight than others who were dieting but not consuming fish. Fish houses a trifecta of slimming nutrients. VITAMIN D: Many types of fish are among the foods richest in D, with some varieties providing nearly 1,000 IU of D per serving. PROTEIN: Fish is high in protein, which helps to satisfy and suppress appetite. Protein also helps to balance blood sugar levels and may help turn up your metabolism after meals. OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS: Fatty fish are one of the few food sources of this ultraimportant fat (nuts and flaxseeds are the other sources). Omega-3 fatty acids are known as essential fats because our bodies can’t make them. Various studies show that many people are not getting enough, which can lead to an array of health problems. Studies show that high doses of this fat can speed metabolism by as much as 400 calories a day. Omega-3s have been shown to prevent dangerous blood clots, improve blood cholesterol levels, and help manage chronic diseases such as psoriasis, migraine headaches, and arthritis. These fats might help to lift depression, too.
Certain types of fish—especially small, bony fish like anchovies—are also a rich source of calcium, a slimmer I’ve already told you about. These nutrients and more make fish and shellfish two of your most potent fat-melting allies. People who consume fish-rich diets have healthier insulin and blood sugar levels than people who consume diets low in fish. In one study done in Iceland, people who consumed fish three times a week had more beneficial insulin levels during weight loss than dieters who didn’t consume fish. Insulin levels are important. When insulin levels are stable, hunger is low and fat burning is high. A diet high in fish might also help to block the formation of new fat cells as well as trigger the body to waste calories as heat. The mood-boosting effect of omega-3 fatty acids alone can go a long way toward keeping a lid on cravings. Fish and shellfish are low-calorie foods. Lobster adds only 83 calories per 3 ounces and shrimp just 60 calories per 12 large shrimp. Even fatty fish like salmon is relatively low in calories when you compare it to steak and other types of meat. This allows you to consume larger portions, which makes you feel more satisfied. Finally, some types of fish and shellfish—especially shrimp, crab, and oysters—slow eating because you must remove them from the shell. This allows more time for the fullness signal to reach the brain. PICK FATTY FISH, NOT LEAN FISH: Not all fish are created equal. As I’ve mentioned, vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. That means it prefers to hang out in fat. Vitamin D is concentrated in the fatty parts of fish. It’s for this reason that fatty fish contain more D than leaner varieties do. Lean varieties of fish like flounder contain about 118 IU per 3-ounce serving. Fatty fish like salmon offer four times that amount. Fatty fish are also a richer source of omega-3 fatty acids. How much D a fish contains depends on other factors as well, ranging from the natural diet of the fish to where the fish was harvested.
PICK WILD SALMON, NOT FARM-RAISED: A Boston University study found that farmed salmon only contained 25 percent of the D that its wild cousins had. Wild salmon get D from eating D-rich plankton and have approximately 800 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D in 3.5 ounces. Farmed salmon, which eat feed pellets low in D, have only 10 to 25 percent of this amount. LEARN EASY WAYS TO MAKE FISH. For instance, it doesn’t get any easier than grilled wild salmon. Take 3.5 ounces of it, lightly brush the fish with olive oil, then sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Grill the fish, skin side down, for about 5 minutes, flip and grill until the fish flakes when prodded with a fork—just 3 to 5 minutes more. Or you can bake or broil it. Finally, for tender fish, consider boiling it in vegetable or fish broth. Don’t fry fish if you can help it—it’s the least healthy method of cooking and adds unnecessary calories. THINK FISH WHEN EATING OUT. Sushi is a great source of fish that is high in D. And many high-end restaurants serve oysters or shrimp as appetizers. Salmon is available on most menus, too. If you’d rather not cook fish yourself, ordering it when you dine out is a great way to enjoy this key D food and make it a regular part of your diet.
Most of the D experts who have been interviewed over the years have told us that they prefer to get their D through milk. Most of them have a glass with every meal. And they do this for good reason. Dairy is one of many D-fortified foods, but it may very well rank as the most slimming of all your D-fortified options. Most types of dairy will net you about 100 IU of D per serving. In addition to being fortified with D, dairy is also rich in calcium, another important fat burner that I’ve already mentioned. Adequate levels of calcium help to reduce levels of fat storage hormones. But the benefits don’t stop there. Dairy is also rich in the amino acid leucine, which is important to stimulating muscle growth and fat burning. A review article published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that leucine helps to protect lean muscle tissue and promote fat loss during dieting. It also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels. Finally, the type of protein in dairy—whey protein—may help to reduce appetite above and beyond other types of protein. In one study by the US Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center, women who consumed whey protein shakes along with their normal diets lost 2 pounds over 6 months and shrunk their waistlines—even though they were not dieting or trying to lose weight. Women who consumed carbohydrate shakes gained 2 pounds over the same time period, and women who consumed soy protein shakes maintained their weight.
This might be why dairy sources of calcium are twice as effective at promoting weight loss as calcium supplements, says Dr. Zemel, who has spent many years studying dairy, calcium, and weight loss at the University of Tennessee. The D, leucine, peptides, calcium, and other nutrients work together to boost weight loss and make milk and other fortified dairy products perfect weight-loss tools. CONSUME THE DAIRY MINUS THE FAT. Because it’s fortified, fat-free milk contains just as much D as its heavier cousins. It also provides plenty of protein and calcium, but with fewer calories. OPT FOR A MILK ALTERNATIVE IF YOU CAN’T DO DAIRY. Although they lack some of the other weight-loss benefits of dairy (from the whey, peptides, and leucine), many varieties of soy milk, almond milk, and other milk substitutes are fortified with both D and calcium. READ LABELS. All milk is fortified with 100 IU of D per serving, but yogurt and other dairy sources are hit-or-miss. Some brands of yogurt are fortified with as much as 30 percent of the DV per 6-ounce serving, whereas others contain none at all. This is also true of breakfast cereal, orange juice, and other fortified foods. Check labels to make the best choice. USE YOGURT AS A SAUCE, IN PLACE OF CREAM. A cup of D-fortified yogurt contains 80 IU of D. Mix 1 cup vitamin D-fortified plain yogurt with half a grated cucumber, 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh dill, 1 minced clove of garlic, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste for a sauce that tastes great on top of fish. USE DAIRY TO PUMP UP SMOOTHIES. It’s easy to pack multiple high-D foods into one smoothie. For instance, when you puree a handful of berries with 1 cup of D-fortified kefir or yogurt, you end up with 100 IU of D, plus several other slimmers. Top your smoothies with cinnamon, which will work along with D to help control blood sugar and insulin levels. The smoothie recipes are also loaded with fiber and protein to drive down appetite and keep you satisfied.
Studies suggest that eating protein in the morning will keep your hunger in check longer than eating a bagel or other high-carb foods, and eggs are a great way to get that protein. One egg has only 75 calories but packs 7 grams of high-quality protein, along with other vital nutrients. In addition to providing appetite-suppressing protein, eggs are also one of nature’s few natural sources of D. They contain other important slimmers as well, including omega-3s (found in the yolk) and leucine, the same amino acid that I mentioned earlier and is also found in dairy. In the past, experts warned us against eating too many eggs, as the yolks are rich in both cholesterol and fat. That advice, however, is now outdated. Many studies show that egg yolks provide a wealth of good nutrition. Not only are they rich in D, they also house important antioxidants that improve your health—even your heart health. PICK FREE-RANGE OR OMEGA EGGS, NOT CONVENTIONAL EGGS: Eggland’s Best and other “omega” eggs come from hens who consume a special diet that yields eggs that are higher in D. The eggs contain 80 IU of D per egg, compared to just 40 IU for a conventional egg. And although researchers have not compared free-range eggs with those from conventionally raised chickens, it makes sense that hens exposed to sunlight would have more naturally circulating D that would eventually make its way into their eggs. A comparison by Mother Earth News found that eggs from free-range hens had six times more D than eggs from conventional hens. MAKE THE MOST OF HARD-COOKED EGGS. I like to make a batch or two at the beginning of each week. If you are anything like me, you probably don’t particularly like the yolk, which can become quite dry if you hard-cook the egg according to most standard instructions. That’s why I slightly underboil my eggs. This allows me to create an egg that has a cooked-through center that is moist and soft—not hard and flaky. To make eggs like mine, add the eggs to boiling water. Remove them after 9½ to 10 minutes. Place them immediately in a bath of ice water until they are completely cool. For easier-to-peel eggs, hard-cook eggs that are a few days old—not fresh. Eggs lose carbon dioxide through their shells as they age, which shrinks the egg inside the shell, creating a convenient little air pocket between the egg and the shell. When you hard-cook an older egg, this air pocket makes it easier to remove the shell without destroying the egg.
Mushrooms naturally contain only small amounts of D, but that’s mostly because, until recently, all of them were grown and harvested in darkness. Not long ago, however, scientists realized that mushrooms can use sunlight to make D in much the same way humans do in their skin. When mushrooms are exposed to UVB light from fluorescent bulbs just before packaging, their D levels jump dramatically. Regular mushrooms harvested in darkness have 6 to 10 IU of D per 3 ounces. One harvested in UVB light has close to 600 IU. The mushrooms lose some of that D during the first 3 days after exposure, so food manufacturers estimate that 3 ounces of most high-D mushrooms contain about 400 IU by the time they make their way to your kitchen. In addition to D, mushrooms can help you lose weight for several additional reasons, starting with the fact that they are super low in calories. This allows you to consume a large volume—and thus fill up your stomach—without gaining weight. This makes mushrooms a great way to extend other foods, such as ground beef. Study participants who consumed mushrooms rather than meat, for instance, shed nearly 13 pounds over 5 weeks. In a separate study done at Johns Hopkins University, researchers asked more than 50 participants to eat either mushroom- or meat-based lunches for 4 days. The mushroom-based lunches were of similar portion size but contained a lot fewer calories. People who consumed the mushroom lunches did not report increased hunger even though they consumed 444 fewer calories during their mushroom meals. CHECK THE LABEL.
Not all mushrooms are high in D, but most that are have a sticker with a high-D claim. On the nutrition facts label on the package, high-D mushrooms are listed as containing 100 percent of the DV for D, which translates to 400 IU. DO SOME SLEUTHING. At the time this article was written, only two companies were making and marketing high-D mushrooms. It is my hope that high-D mushrooms become more widely available around the country. At the moment, one of these companies, Monterey Mushrooms, sells these high-D mushrooms in most parts of the country at Kroger, Walmart, Whole Foods Market, and several other chains. Their button, crimini, and portobello mushrooms contain at least 400 IU per 3-ounce serving. If D-rich mushrooms are not available in your grocery store, you can find them online. Mushrooms are higher in protein than most people think, making them a great food choice for vegetarians. They are also rich in fiber, which suppresses appetite and helps you fill up on fewer calories. And certain types of mushrooms are packed with antioxidants, which are good for your overall health. STORE THEM CORRECTLY. You want to keep mushrooms dry, so don’t wash them until just before using them. Either keep them in a paper bag in the fridge or in their original packaging. COOK THEM. Cooking does not destroy or remove any of the D, but it does remove the water, concentrating the nutrients per serving. Usually you don’t want to make a food more dense, but mushrooms are so low in calories that this isn’t an issue.
Cooking them can allow you to quadruple the D in each serving. Here’s an easy way to make them and use them as a topping for other foods: Spread sliced mushrooms and onions on a baking sheet. Drizzle with good quality balsamic vinegar. Roast at 350°F until the mushrooms are lightly browned and glazed. Toss with chopped parsley or sprinkle with a little sea salt. CHOOSE DRIED MUSHROOMS, TOO. A serving of sun-dried shiitake mushrooms contains a whopping 1,600 IU of vitamin D! Just follow package directions to soak them. They will absorb the water, soften, and return to the texture of a fresh mushroom.
WHOLE GRAIN BREAD
More and more brands of bread are now fortified with D and sometimes even with calcium, too. This is great because bread, especially whole grain bread, offers many weight-loss benefits. Penn State researchers have found that the consumption of whole grains is associated with lower body weight. In a Penn State study, 50 people who chose products with a whole grain listed as the first ingredient lost more weight in the tummy region than participants who consumed refined grains. Dieters who consume whole grains also better maintain their weight loss. Bran is a particularly powerful whole grain option, seeming to prevent regain more than other types of grains do. Whole grain bread is also a rich source of fiber, and fiber helps to reduce appetite. A Brigham Young University study of 252 women determined that for every 1-gram increase in fiber consumption, body weight decreased by half a pound. (The study spanned 20 months.) Depending on the type of bread you purchase, you can benefit from two types of fiber. INSOLUBLE FIBER: This is the type of fiber that stays intact and bulks up the contents in your intestines so your stool gets heavy, slippery, and easy to pass. In other words, it keeps you regular and in and out of the bathroom quickly—no reading material required. It’s found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and bran. SOLUBLE FIBER: This type of fiber tends to grab onto the starch, fat, and cholesterol in your food, mixing with these food components to form a viscous, slow-moving gel. As fiber mixes with food, it may thwart some of the food calories from ever getting absorbed into your bloodstream and slow the absorption of others. This type of fiber also ferments in the colon, which provides some health benefits. It’s found in fruits, vegetables, oats, legumes, and seeds. LOOK FOR A WHOLE GRAIN SEAL. If it has a seal on the front of the package that says “whole grain,” that means at least 51 percent of the ingredients are whole grains by weight.
Tofu is one of the star D foods because not only is it fortified, it’s what makes high-D eating truly possible for vegetarians. Although other key D foods can be incorporated into a vegetarian diet, tofu offers a strong source of D, calcium, and protein. Even without the fortification, tofu is a great weight-loss food because it’s high in protein and low in calories. A ½ cup adds up to only 88 calories but provides 1 gram of fiber and 10 grams of protein. That’s a huge fiber and protein punch for so few calories-making tofu an incredibly filling food. It’s also a versatile food that can be a great substitute for calorie-laden fatty spreads like mayo. And you can use it to extend high-calorie foods. For instance, combine ground beef with tofu and mushrooms when making burgers to cut down on some of the beef and fill up on fewer calories. And you can even add it to smoothies to help fill up on fewer calories. READ LABELS. Not all tofu is high in D. USE TOFU AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR MAYO. Combine 16 ounces of silken tofu with ½ ounce of sugar, ½ ounce of cornstarch, and lemon juice, vinegar, dry mustard, salt, and cayenne to taste. Or you can puree it in a blender with lemon juice, salt, pepper, and a little cheese and use it as a substitute for sour cream. USE TOFU AS A LOW-CALORIE FOOD EXTENDER. Mix it into ground beef. Add silken tofu to creamy spreads and dips. MASTER SIMPLE COOKING TECHNIQUES. If you aren’t a fan of tofu’s consistency, there are easy ways to make it more of a “burger” patty or a faux meat. Drain tofu of excess water by placing a plate or something heavy on top of it until you’ve squeezed most of the water out of it. Then marinate it, slice it into ½-inch slices, and bake for 30 minutes at 375°F. Broil for a few minutes on each side before serving.
Orange juice is sometimes fortified with both D and calcium, making it a great way to boost the D content of your morning meal. It’s also rich in vitamin C, which may also aid weight loss. A study done at Arizona State University found that people with higher blood levels of C had smaller waistlines than people with lower blood levels. There are no do’s and don’ts to suggest here because OJ is so simple. Enjoy a glass a day for a 100-IU boost in D. You can drink it alone or add it to smoothies.
WHOLE GRAIN BREAKFAST CEREAL
Breakfast cereal—both hot and cold—rounds out the list of star foods. Like bread, breakfast cereals can be rich sources of whole grains and fiber, making them great appetite suppressors. Studies find that people who eat cereal for breakfast every day are significantly less likely to be obese than those who don’t. They also consume more fiber and calcium—and less fat—than those who eat other breakfast foods. My best tip for cereal is this: Consider eating it for lunch and dinner, too, or after a workout. A bowl of cereal is an easy meal to eat when you are on the run or just too tired to cook. Once you add milk, you are pumping up the D even more. And if you add a glass of OJ to the mix, your total D content for that meal can top 300 IU. For variety, consider mixing cereal in with D-fortified yogurt, rather than milk. Make sure you pick a brand that is high in fiber, fortified with D, and low in sugar.
I’m going to tell you something that most diet authors won’t. It’s this: You can lose weight on practically any diet. It doesn’t matter if it’s low carb or low fat or low ice cream. It doesn’t matter if the diet features grapefruit, acai berries, or peanut butter. It doesn’t matter if the diet requires you to consume only raw foods, only liquid foods, or only vegetarian foods. You can lose weight on any of them, and in fact, you probably have in the past. If you only want to lose weight, it truly doesn’t matter what diet you try. Any of them can work for you—for a while, anyway. Yet, depending on how much weight you want to lose, it can take weeks, months, and sometimes even years to finally get the body you want. And then you need to follow a version of that plan for life in order to prevent the pounds from creeping back on. The problem with most diets, however, is this: They are not sustainable long-term. Can you eat raw for life? Can you avoid bread and pasta for life? Can you periodically fast or cleanse or go liquid for life? I can’t, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Indeed, perhaps one of the most important characteristics of a winning diet is this: It’s something you can follow without feeling the urge to cheat. Think about it. How many diets have you stuck to religiously—without cheating, without backsliding, without relapsing, and without eventually regaining? I’m guessing none of them. But don’t blame yourself for that. Blame the diets. If you’ve “failed” at diets in the past, it’s really not your fault. You are not a bad dieter. You are not weak or lazy. The diets you’ve tried in the past did not prepare you mentally and physically to follow them long term.
Dieting—even with a well-designed diet like this one—isn’t easy. If sticking to a diet were easy, more than 60 percent of people in the United wouldn’t be overweight. It’s hard to change your lifestyle. It takes courage, dedication, an ability to problem solve, and more. SO WHAT HELPS you stick to one diet and not to another? It all comes down to a cost benefit analysis. As long as the benefits far outweigh the costs, you will have an easier time sticking to the diet. If the costs start to outweigh the benefits, however, your willpower will start to erode. Many diets try to hide their costs. I’m not going to do that. You’re smart, savvy, and don’t need to be tricked. Let’s be honest, there are costs to sticking to any diet. You will have to get used to eating new foods and making unfamiliar meals. It might take a little longer to shop for groceries and prepare meals. Fortunately, these are relatively minor costs and will become virtually nonexistent the longer you stick to the plan. Still, you will probably be eating less of something. There’s no sugar-coating this. Perhaps your portions will be smaller than what you are used to. Maybe you will be eating less dessert than you’d like or have fewer glasses of wine. Over time, though, your body will adjust to this new way of eating—and you’ll start to enjoy the way you look and feel. Finally, I would be lying if I told you that you would never feel hungry again. You likely will, especially at the very beginning of your diet. These costs exist, and it’s important to acknowledge them. But the good news is that the benefits diet far outweigh the costs. In addition to sculpting a gorgeously slim shape and seeing results almost immediately, you’ll boost your mood and increase your energy levels—two key ingredients to staying motivated.
How You’ll Stay Happy
IF YOU’RE ANYTHING like me, then the long, cold, dark days of winter can suck the willpower out of you like a self-absorbed talkaholic sucks the energy out of a room. That’s probably due, in part, to the winter blues. Reduced sunlight disrupts your body’s natural circadian clock—also known as your sleep-wake clock. Changes in sunlight seem to disrupt two important hormones: melatonin and serotonin. Melatonin is a hormone that your brain releases at night to induce sleep; serotonin is a nervous system chemical that affects mood, appetite, and sleep. When levels of both are too low, it can lead to a kind of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This depression usually strikes during the winter, when the days are short and light is scarce. It occurs in women more than in men and seems to be influenced by body temperature, genetics, and hormones. It starts in late autumn and can lead to increased appetite and cravings—especially for carbs. This obviously makes it difficult to stick to a diet! It also causes increased sleepiness and low energy, both of which make it hard to exercise consistently. And it often causes poor concentration, especially in the afternoon. SAD is a medical disorder that affects roughly 6 percent of the population. (That sounds like a small percentage, but consider that it only includes people with issues severe enough to have required a doctor’s care.) It’s thought that roughly 20 percent of women—about one in every five women—have a milder form of SAD. And physicians now believe that most people experience some seasonal variations in mood and energy levels. Women are more likely to get SAD than men. It’s also more common in people who live far from the equator, probably due to decreased sunlight.
YOU’LL BOOST MOOD WITH EVEN MORE D. Due to the lack of sunlight, you need more D during the winter months. Some experts theorize that a drop in D during the winter may be what’s actually behind SAD in the first place. Consider that: Your brain is full of vitamin D receptors; Low levels of D have been linked with higher levels of cytokines. Cytokines are proteins that increase inflammation and have been shown to be a possible risk factor for depression; Studies have found that low levels of vitamin D are associated with higher levels of depression. For instance, Italian women with lower blood levels of vitamin D had twice the risk of developing depression as women with higher levels; Supplemental D has been shown to relieve symptoms of depression, and the relief seems to come quickly, in as few as 5 days; YOU HAVE TO CONSUME PLENTY OF FISH. Omega-3s are an important type of fat that has been shown to play a big role in brain health. These fats are highly concentrated in the brain and play a role in memory, mental performance, and mood. People who are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids tend to suffer from fatigue, muddled thinking, mood swings, and depression. Over the past 20 years, our consumption of omega-3 fatty acids has dropped and rates of depression have risen. YOU HAVE GET THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF CALCIUM. Like D, calcium is an important mood booster as well as a sleep enabler.