Each year, hundreds of studies are published examining the most effective ways to lose weight, keep it off, and feel healthier and more energetic. We scoured this research from the last year to find the most reliable and most realistic ways for you to reach your healthiest weight in 2017. Luckily, these five strategies are not only easy, but also delicious, as you’ll see from the recipes below. Try one or all of them, and you’ll be on your way to your healthiest year yet.
1. Eat plant protein.
Plant protein has been gaining popularity in recent years, and now there’s even more reason to enjoy it. In a study published last fall in Food Nutrition Research, researchers fed 43 men three different breakfasts: a high-protein patty made of legumes, a high-protein patty made of veal and pork, or a low-protein patty made of legumes. The men who ate the first patty reported feeling fuller, and they ate 95 to 105 fewer calories at lunch. Researchers say the combination of fiber and protein in the legumes helped provide those feelings of satiety. This isn’t to say that plants are necessarily “better” than meat, but rest assured, you won’t starve if you eat plant-based meals.
Try this recipe featuring chickpeas that a friend of mine shared with me a decade ago. You can modify it how you like, adding raw onion instead scallions, various of your favorite spices, apple cider vinegar instead of umeboshi (pickled Japanese plums) vinegar—make it your own!
1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons celery seeds
1/4-1/3 cup small diced celery stalk
1-2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard
1 tablespoon umeboshi vinegar (this makes it taste more like fish)
Spices to taste, optional (black pepper, cayenne, thyme; Himalayan sea salt)
1. Place chickpeas in a food processor and pulse two or three times to roughly chop. The texture will resemble tuna if you keep the chickpeas in bigger pieces.
2. Add remaining ingredients and pulse two or three times more to incorporate.
3. Serve on bread with lettuce like a tuna sandwich or as a dip with crackers.
2. Add probiotics to your diet.
Although a lot has been said about the connection between probiotics and gut health, we’re now learning how they may play a role in weight management, too. A study published in the journal Cell Host and Microbe at the beginning of this year reported that our gut bacteria may help or hamper our diet efforts. Scientists found that people consuming the standard American diet have less diverse gut microbiome. This means that when you switch to a lower-calorie, plant-heavy diet, it may take longer to reap the rewards. So don’t give up if you don’t see the benefits of a better diet right away.
In an unrelated, meta-analysis of 25 studies, Chinese researchers discovered a connection between taking probiotics and reduced BMI and body weight. The best results seem to happen when you take more than one strain of probiotic for more than two months.
The research on probiotics, such as fermented foods and supplement pills, and weight loss is just beginning, but I am an enormous fan of probiotics. Even if you don’t lose weight, what you often will lose is inches. The number on the scale may be the exact same, but suddenly your pants will zip up easier because probiotics improve digestion and reduce gas and bloating. Each person has to experiment with probiotics, as certain strains are good for certain people at certain times. Our needs change, and so should the probiotics we use.
Related: The Profound Health Benefits of Probiotics
3. Embrace healthy fat.
As much as we all keep saying fat doesn’t make you fat, some people still fear this macronutrient. However, in a study published in The Lancet, researchers put more than 7,000 men and women on one of three diets: a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts, or a low-fat diet. Everyone lost weight, but those in the olive oil group lost about a pound more than the low-fat dieters. They also gained less belly fat. The researchers say these results show it’s best not to restrict the intake of healthy fats if you are looking to maintain your weight.
Healthy fats are known to balance blood sugar and slow down digestions, which keeps you more satisfied. That can help you eat less overall and lose weight. Include some healthy fat in every meal. Try my go-to vinaigrette. This is another recipe you can customize. You can add Dijon or whole-grain mustard. For those who like sweet dressings, you can add a teaspoon of honey, and you can use lemon in place of vinegar (you’ll need the juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon).
Mason Jar Vinaigrette
1 cup cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic, apple cider vinegar, or red wine vinegar
Seasonings to taste (granulated garlic, fresh thyme, fresh oregano)
Himalayan sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a mason jar. Shake well. Keep in the refrigerator.
4. Keep your metabolism going strong.
The jaw-dropping weight loss results seen on NBC’s hit show “The Biggest Loser” can make it seem like ultra-low-calorie diets and hours of intense exercise is the only way to drop pounds, especially if you want to slim down fast. Don’t believe everything you see on TV: Scientists followed up with 14 “Biggest Loser” contestants and found that, after six years, they had regained 68 to 90 pounds and their metabolic rate (how many calories they burned at rest) had slowed.
It’s proven that the long-lasting, less-stressful way to lose weight is slow and steady. No matter what diet you choose to follow, if you follow it consistently and exercise regularly, rather than doing anything extreme, your metabolism will balance itself out and stay there. So be inspired by “The Biggest Loser”, but don’t try this at home.
5. Don’t worry about your genes.
If you have the fat gene, also known as FTO, it doesn’t mean you are destined to carry excess bodyweight for life, according to a study published in British Medical Journal in September. Newcastle University researchers analyzed eight studies that looked at how effective different weight-loss methods (diet, exercise, drugs) are for people with the FTO gene. They found that the gene didn’t affect how much weight someone lost, no matter what method they used to slim down.
I’m not surprised by this study. Truth is, we can down-regulate many of our genes. That means if you have a healthy lifestyle, you can reduce the production of certain genes. This gives you some power and control over your weight fate—to a degree. No matter what’s in your family medical records, focus on creating good-for-you habits and being the author of your own health history.