You eat healthy all day but then, midway through a new episode of The Blacklist, you're suddenly elbow-deep in a bag of Doritos. Ugh. Fortunately, new research has uncovered compounds capable of making us feel fuller longer, say "no" to cravings, and even reach our weight-loss goals.
These compounds are called "thylakoids," and they're found in the chloroplasts of green plants. In a small study conducted at Sweden’s Lund University, overweight women who drank 5 grams of spinach extract each morning for 12 weeks lost an average of 11 pounds (compared to 7.7 pounds for those swigging a placebo). But here's the most interesting thing: The extract group reported a 95% reduction in cravings for sweet and fatty foods and found it easier to stick to three daily meals. And these effects were immediate, kicking in after just one day.
According to study author and professor Charlotte Erlanson-Albertsson, the processed food in most of our diets is broken down too quickly in our stomachs. This messes up the intestinal hormones that tell our brains we're full. By slowing the digestive process, thylakoids help these hormones get back to doing their job, she says.
Want to give it a try? You have two options: Simply add more of the following 6 thylakoids-rich foods to your diet, or throw a handful of your favorite one into a breakfast smoothie (these 11 smoothie recipes are a perfect place to start). Here's the lowdown on each, complete with recipes.
1. KALE. It’s high in vitamins and low in calories, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD. If you find kale too bitter, she recommends shopping smarter. "Look for smaller, more tender leaves, and choose fresh kale--don't buy it and let it sit around." For a taste of fall, throw some into this butternut squash stew.
2. SPINACH. It's high in folic acid, protein, and potassium. (In fact, a cup of cooked spinach actually has more potassium than a banana.) And there are so many ways to enjoy it: raw or cooked; in salads or soups; and, of course, in a delicious green smoothie. (Note: there aren't any spinach extracts currently available in the US just yet; Gerbstadt says getting the compounds the natural way--in food form--offers similar benefits.)
3. BROCCOLI. It's loaded with vitamin C and actually has more fiber than spinach and kale. Whether you steam it or add it to a casserole like this one, it's one of the most versatile veggies.
4. DANDELION GREENS. Easy to prepare, these are especially high in calcium and vitamin K. Gerbstadt recommends mixing in uncured meat, chili peppers, or vinegar for flavor. Not sure where to find these greens? Check a health food store or Asian market. And if they're a little too bitter for your taste, add them to this pasta dish.
5. MUSTARD GREENS. Yes, these do indeed come from the same plant as the condiment you spread on a hot dog. They're full of antioxidants, especially vitamin A, and Gerbstadt suggests adding fresh lemon juice or light balsamic vinegar. Or for an Asian-inspired recipe, try this healthy side dish.
6. SEAWEED. You probably eat this all the time without knowing it--it's wrapped around sushi rolls. And with high levels of iodine, seaweed is most definitely a superfood. (We need iodine to maintain our thyroids, though it's not so common in other healthy foods.) Making your own sushi may sound like a daunting task, but this recipe shows that it's surprisingly doable.