Real fat loss goes far beyond penny-pinching our calories to try and see some results. We’re actually going to target the hormones, organs, and organ systems that determine what your body does with the calories you consume in the first place. This is what eating smarter is all about! You have a right to know this and eat smarter to be the best version of yourself.
No matter what diet camp you’re on, Shawn Stevenson (the author of bestselling books Eat Smarter and Sleep Smarter) wants to make sure you’re equipped with the three essentials that actually support long-term fat loss. Whether you go paleo, vegan, keto, pescatarian or vegetarian, these three essentials are keys to the success of your dietary campaign.
Fat Loss Essential #1: Support Your Microbiome
What’s a Microbiome Anyway?
Your microbiome is literally the foundation of your metabolism. It’s the home for your entire microbial community, and it’s the first place that decides what your body will actually do with the calories you consume.
Building a strong microbiome foundation is critical in maintaining a healthy metabolism. We want to make the most beneficial bacteria feel welcome and comfortable in our gut condominium and keep the less-than-supportive bacteria outside sleeping in a tent.
4 Essentials of a Stronger Microbiome
Microbiome Essential #1 Diversity in Your Food
One of the biggest downfalls of typical cookie-cutter fitness diets is the lack of diversity. Chicken, rice, vegetables, repeat. Chicken, rice, vegetables, repeat. This is meal prep gone awry, and we have to start thinking differently about how we eat. It doesn’t mean that you have to totally abandon your framework, but simply adding in or swapping out a food each day will make your microbial community thank you. They might even throw a calorie-burning bonfire party in your name.
Eating a diverse array of nuts like walnuts, almonds, pistachios, Brazil nuts, and others will help support microbiome diversity. We tend to go nuts on one type of nut, so mix up your nuts a bit more often. Also, uncooked or dehydrated options are best.
Another tip here to support microbiome diversity and your metabolism is to purposefully eat more seasonal foods. This by no means says that you can’t eat your favorite foods that might be out of season, this simply means to incorporate more foods that are in season in your area and your microbiome will be grateful for it.
Microbiome Essential #2 Primary Prebiotics
Beneficial bacteria cannot survive without their preferred choices of food. Prebiotics are like appetizers for your friendly bacteria that make them happy enough to stay longer and leave a bigger metabolic tip. If you want to make your helpful bacteria happy, then the following are some foods to add.
Reasons apples (and pears) are lyrically gifted is they are rich in pectin. Pectin, as stated by scientists in the journal BMC Microbiology, is an excellent prebiotic that enables your gut bacteria to produce the critically important SCFA, butyrate.
These green spears are a generally common food that feature a great amount of the prebiotic fiber inulin.
Shawn is not talking about the Halloween candy version of chocolate. That mutated monster of chocolate will scare your metabolism into submission. What these studies indicate is that the purest forms of chocolate, which come from the seeds where all chocolate originates, cacao seeds, is overflowing with potential health benefits. But, the more it’s denatured, the closer it goes to the dark side.
Microbiome Essential #3 Focused Fiber
Many prebiotics fall under the umbrella of a broader, more recognizable term called fiber.
Fiber is generally divided into two specific camps: soluble and insoluble. The solubility of fiber refers to its ability to dissolve in water.
- Soluble fiber is a type of fiber that combines easily with water in the gut. When water and soluble fiber meet, it forms a gel-like substance that supports the integrity of your gut lining, supports gut bacteria, and can have profound impacts on your metabolism.
- Insoluble fiber does not readily combine with water like soluble fiber does. Instead, it sweeps through the gastrointestinal tract mostly intact while acting as a “bulking agent.
The best fat-burning nutrition approaches are going to contain a healthy combination of both soluble and insoluble fibers. Some of the highest sources of soluble fiber include avocados, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, pears, nectarines, black beans, broccoli, apples, flaxseeds, and carrots.
Some of the best sources of insoluble fiber are berries, beans, lentils, okra, spinach, cocoa, sweet potatoes, whole grains (which we’ll talk about momentarily), apples, walnuts, and almonds.
Microbiome Essential #4 Probiotic Foods
Prebiotics and fiber are the substances that make our friendly flora feel supported and welcomed. Now it’s time to identify some of the best friendly flora-rich probiotic foods to help support your metabolism and your health overall.
Heavily studied the last few years for its notable anti-obesity benefits, kimchi is gaining massive popularity outside of its original home in Korea. Kimchi is a spicy, fermented vegetable side dish that has a base of cabbage and can include an assortment of other ingredients like ginger, garlic, daikon radishes, carrots, red pepper, fish sauce, scallions, and more.
There’s so many different versions of yogurt, it can be hard to keep up with it all. Fat-free yogurt, low-fat yogurt, or full-fat yogurt. Sweetened yogurt or sugar-free yogurt. Yogurt is a very broad term, so here’s a few things to look for if you’re hankering for some.
Go for full-fat yogurt if it suits your fancy, it’s better for your hormones and better for your microbiome. Also, shoot for naturally sweetened, low-sugar or sugar-free yogurt or you could be shooting up your insulin levels. Many conventional yogurts actually contain as much sugar as two glazed donuts. Additionally, organic and grass-fed varieties contain less potential allergens that disrupt your gut health rather than support it.
Natto, Miso, and Tempeh
Natto is one of the best natural sources of vitamin K2, and a new study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that optimal vitamin K2 levels improved the function of adiponectin (one of the hormones from Chapter Two that influences your appetite and your fat metabolism). The study also found that test subjects experienced greater amounts of weight loss, reduced levels of visceral fat, and reductions in abdominal fat mass overall.
Research conducted at the Institute of Food Technology of Plant Origin at Poznan´ University of Life Sciences in Poland demonstrated that tempeh is a notable source of prebiotics and probiotics, with several of the most beneficial strains of friendly bacteria that support human metabolism.
Miso, another staple from Japan, is a traditional seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and a fungus called koji. This fermented paste is used for things ranging from sauces, to pickling vegetables or meats, to mixing with soup stock to create the renowned miso soup.
Pickling is a valuable method of food preservation dating back thousands of years. With origins spanning across Africa, India, Asia, and Europe, besides being able to keep food edible longer, pickling was found to have some surprising additional benefits.
Pickles (and pickle juice) have been found to provide beneficial flora, improve digestion, support healthy blood glucose levels, and even reduce inflammation. They also contain naturally occurring electrolytes and antioxidants that support performance and metabolism.
This fermented, probiotic-rich drink dates back thousands of years as well. The name kefir appears to originate from a Turkish word that means “feeling good.” The probiotic drink kefir was originally made from milk by adding what came to be known as kefir grains (which are not actually grains, but rather, they’re cultures of bacteria and yeast) to goat’s milk or cow’s milk. Today, there are several other kefir beverage options like coconut kefir and even water kefir.
Fat Loss Essential #2: Mind Your Macros
Macronutrients are a gigantic focus in the world of health and nutrition today. Macros are conventionally separated into the big three: protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
The First Macro – Protein
Various sources of plant and animal protein.Protein is actually an all-around player that can help you manage blood glucose, burn body fat, and even help regulate your appetite. Remember, part of protein’s allure is the fact that it’s a building block of your valuable muscle tissue. But another aspect of protein’s fat-burning skills is that you actually burn more calories digesting protein than digesting any of the other Big Three.
Now, before you go out and try to score career highs with protein, there are a couple of caveats you need to know about. When protein is overused, and you are consistently nibbling on things like that Voldemort sandwich, it can increase your risk of problems to the tune of damage to your microbiome, constipation, excessive stress to your liver, heart, and kidneys, and even something clinically we refer to as halitosis (lesser known as stank breath).
How Much Protein is Enough Protein
There are generally two camps when it comes to protein diet —Camp 1: Protein doesn’t matter that much and Camp 2: Protein is everything. Both camps need to do some team building exercises, because the answer usually exists somewhere in the middle. Hitting around 30 percent protein in your macronutrient ratio appears to be the most effective for fat loss.
Quality over Quantity
Did you know that it’s been a regular practice in the conventional dairy and beef industry to feed cows candy? This is in no way a joke. If you’re going for beef to fulfill some of your protein requirements, then quality truly does matter. There’s a whole spectrum: from grass-fed/grass-finished to grass-fed/grain-finished to grain-fed/grain-finished. Of course, grass-fed is clearly healthier.
The same thing holds true for chicken, pork, fish, bison, lamb, and any other commonly eaten animal-based foods. The vast majority of data shows that when these animals are allowed to eat their natural diet, their food products are more nutritious. If you eat meat, it would be in your best interest to avoid eating animals raised using antibiotics, synthetic hormones, and abnormal diets.
When it comes to eating animal foods, it’s not, “You are what you eat,” it’s really, “You are what you eat ate.”
Vegetarian and Plant-Based Proteins
You can do really well on a plant-based diet, and the truth is just about every commonly eaten plant food has a fraction of protein in it, whether it’s a bean or a berry. But the even bigger truth is, based on the protein data we’ve already covered, that we all need some dense, high-quality sources of protein to really assist our hormone function and our metabolism. If your diet is mainly plant-based, eggs, diary, beans, peans, lentils, nuts, seeds, grains and even protein powder is a great way to increase your protein intake.
The Second Macro – Carbohydrate
When people see carbohydrate, they tend to just see the flashy stuff that he makes look “simple”: cookies, candy, cakes, chips, bread, and pasta. But it’s the complex side of carbohydrate that’s overlooked. We’re talking about the leafy greens, the low glycemic fruits, and the other non-starchy vegetables that truly make carbohydrate special. These are the fundamentals and why carbohydrate is really on your team.
Finding your carbohydrate tipping point requires you to listen to your body’s hormonal cues. These include hunger, energy level, and cravings but also include mood, motivation, digestion, focus, and sleep quality. The proper response should be no hunger between major meals, no cravings, and increased energy. You should also feel motivated and focused without anxiety and depression. Gas and bloating should not be present and sleep should normalize. And don’t make the mistake of assuming these symptoms are not related to food intake.
What About Fructose?
Fruit provides some remarkable benefits that are often not found in other categories of food. They can be helpful for your microbiome, for satiety, and also for supporting fat loss. A meta-analysis published in the journal Obesity Reviews cited the results of eight different studies that all found a statistically beneficial relationship between fruit and fat loss. Study participants who regularly ate fruit had lower levels of fat. But, the study acknowledged that the types and amounts of fruit need to be accounted for.
Like everything else, moderation is key. Going overboard on sweet fruit (specifically) can definitely overburden your liver, stealthily decrease your insulin sensitivity, and increase your levels of body fat.
Conventional wisdom would say eating more of your carbs and calories at night will make you store more fat, as you’re not doing anything to “burn them off.” So what do we do? We eat carbs and calories and then we go into action to burn them. That’s the offensive play. But Shawn insists it’s defensive play that wins you the championship.
When you start your day with an abundance of carbohydrates, you are forced to play offense. When you’re playing defense, you start your day by eating fewer cars (and fewer calories in general) and as a result, your body dips into your reserves more quickly. You can hit your savings account faster and start burning fat faster, if you don’t have all that cash onhand.
The Third Macro – Fat
Body fat and dietary fat are two totally different things. Yet, even hearing the word fat, people began lumping them together as one happy, heinous family. But in reality, they were as unrelated as Whoopi Goldberg would be from the wrestler Goldberg. Same name, two totally different backgrounds.
Within the family of saturated fats, there are also several different types. The most common saturated fats in the human diet can be broken down into groups of either long chain, medium chain, or short chain fats.
Foods rich in long chain saturated fats include different types of animal fats as well as coconut fats, palm oil, and cocoa butter. Medium chain saturated fats will be found in coconut fats, palm oil, and goat’s milk. Short chain fats are found in foods like butter, but primarily we receive them thanks to the action of our gut bacteria making them for us when we eat adequate fiber and prebiotics.
All of these dietary saturated fats are important and play significant roles in our health. But, particularly, it’s the short chain and medium chain fats you want to be adamant about including/supporting in your diet. Too much of anything can get us into trouble, but missing out on adequate amounts of saturated fats can actually do more harm than good.
Monounsaturated fats have one bend in the straw, while polyunsaturated fats (which we’ll talk about next) have many bends in the straw (this would be the equivalent of a crazy straw). Both of these types of fat pack some serious health benefits.
Some of the most popular sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, nuts and seeds (like almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews and pumpkin seeds), butter, pork, beef, duck, avocados, avocado oil, olives, and certain types of cheeses like cheddar and Colby.
Polyunsaturated fats, or PUFAs, are generally found alongside other dietary fats in foods like nuts, seeds, fish, beef, and various plant-based oils. The crown jewels of the PUFA family are the essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6. These vital nutrients are called essential because your body cannot make them and they must be procured from your diet.
Liquid Intelligence: Meet the Forth and Fifth Macros
The Forth Macro – Alcohol
First of all, a meta-analysis published in the journal Current Obesity Reports deduced that many studies show light to moderate alcohol intake—again, at most two drinks a day for men, one for women—does not seem to be associated with obesity risk in a short-term follow-up period. Heavy drinking, on the other hand, was clearly linked to an increased risk of obesity and the accumulation of more visceral fat. But even light to moderate drinking long-term raised some serious concerns.
Since alcohol is quickly burned as fuel, it takes a sneaky route to influencing weight and body fat. The researchers found that frequent alcohol consumption could lead to something referred to as fat sparing, where fatty acid oxidation is suppressed. In other words, fats are being spared from being burned as fuel more often, leading to statistically higher body fat long-term.
And then there’re concerns regarding addiction, reduced cognitive function, and increased likelihood of liver damage. Eat, drink, and be merry… but if fat loss is your goal, you’re going to want to drink ample amounts of our next powerhouse.
The Fifth Macro – Water
Water is not talked about much in the macronutrient conversation because it’s considered to be a macronutrient that doesn’t provide any energy. But that’s not completely accurate.
There are two really important things I want you to know. First of all, your body uses pathways built on water to transmit your hormones and neurotransmitters throughout your entire body. Water literally enables communication between all of your cells, tissues, and organs. Secondly, probably the most important thing that water helps to create in your body is your brain. Your brain, as it turns out, is a huge player in regulating your metabolism.
You want water that has some minerals in it. If you use a water filtration system like reverse osmosis or distillation, you simply need to add some minerals/salts to the water that you’re going to drink to give it some structure. This could be in the form of ionic mineral drops or high quality salts. Either way, that’s one method of literally “charging up” your water. Another way is through adding some fresh fruits or veggies to the water (like lemon, lime, mint, etc.). These plants provide minerals and electrons to the water that gives it a charge and structure as well. These minerals are in a natural, low concentration, so they inherently make it more hydrating.
How Much Water Do We Need?
The standard recommendation to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day doesn’t take into account our different heights, weights, activity levels, or current states of health. There’s no hard science on how much water each of us needs, but what we do know is that most people aren’t drinking enough.
Simply take your body weight in pounds and divide that number in half. The number that you come up with is the number of ounces you need to target each day. So, if someone is 150 pounds, divide that in half to get 75. So, 75 ounces is the target for that person.
Two Ways to Increase Your Water Intake
First, take an “inner bath” to start your day. While we are asleep, our bodies undertake hundreds of different processes to repair damaged tissues, fortify our immune system, eliminate old cells, and more. All of this results in a tremendous amount of metabolic waste products that need to be removed. Drinking water when you wake up literally helps to flush these things out (or you’ll risk them slowing your metabolism down like a hormonal clog.
Second, keep it on hand at all times. The best way to ensure you’re drinking enough water is simply to have it with you. You can’t drink it if you don’t have it. So, keep it close by.
Fat Loss Essential #3: Optimize Hormone Function
Micronutrients are essentially all of the other nutritive factors found in food besides the core five macronutrients. This means there are literally hundreds of different micronutrients that play a role in human health and metabolism. Micronutrients include all of the vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, antioxidants, enzymes, polyphenols, carotenoids, and more. The following is a list of some of the most micronutrient-dense foods you can eat on the planet.
Berries and Cherries
The unsung hero of many smoothies and fruit salads, these little berries are a powerhouse source of the micronutrients. Cherries are associated with desserts (a cherry on top), cocktails, and even car fresheners. A lot of people actually eat them because they don’t know how remarkable they are. According to data published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, micronutrients called anthocyanins found in cherries have the potential to literally shrink fat cells!
Nuts and Seeds
They’re both typically great sources of fiber, healthy fats, and packed with micronutrients. Nuts are the hard-shelled “fruit” of certain plants. Contained within the hard shell itself is a dry fruit and one or two seeds.
Eggs (and specifically the egg yolks) are an impressive source of B-vitamins (including energy important vitamin B12), choline, zinc, and vitamin D. By the way, vitamin D functions as a powerful hormone in our bodies and influences processes related to our immune system, defense against cancer, managing blood sugar and, of course, fat loss.
When we think of eggs, we generally think of chicken eggs. But many cultures around the world prize the benefits of eggs like quail eggs, turkey eggs, and duck eggs. Duck eggs, in particular, are growing in popularity in the U.S. due to their higher ratio of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids than their chicken egg counterparts. Duck eggs also have upwards of six times more vitamin D than chicken eggs!
Seaweeds have anti-obesity effects that can improve metabolic rate and increase satiety. Specifically, seaweed’s fucoxanthin was found to boost the activity of uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1), which enhances the activity of brown adipose tissue, while simultaneously supporting the reduction of white adipose tissue from the waistline.
Other sea veggies include dulse, arame, sea lettuce, nori, and many others. Rich in potassium, magnesium, selenium, zinc, B-vitamins, and an abundance of other nutrients, this category of foods might just be the most micronutrient-dense foods on the planet.
An interesting thing about caffeine is that it works sort of like exercise in that it triggers the release of catecholamines (including adrenaline) that spark the release of stored fat to be used for fuel. Adrenaline can bypass the typical body bank account process and grab those fat security deposits much faster.
Another fascinating connection between coffee and metabolism is highlighted in a brand new study featured in the journal Scientific Reports. Scientists from the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham discovered that coffee may be able to influence the activity of your brown adipose tissue. The researchers used thermal imaging and found that drinking coffee lights up brown fat–dominant locations on the body, indicating increased thermogenesis. There are certain lifestyle factors that can trigger the “browning” of beige fat cells (cells that could either become white fat or brown fat), and drinking coffee appears to nudge them into the fat-burning brown fat side.
Green Tea and Black Tea
When it comes to fat loss, the caffeine found in green tea works in similar ways to coffee. And it’s not just the caffeine that supports your metabolism. A study published in the Journal of Health Sciences uncovered that antioxidants in green tea called catechins are able to increase the rate at which body fat gets burned for fuel.
There’s such a wide variety of green leafy fat burners to choose from. Along with kale and spinach you also have swiss chard, collard greens, mustard greens, bok choy, romaine lettuce, green leaf lettuce, arugula, and more. Include two servings in your first meal and shoot for five to seven servings each day.
Estrogen is critical to the metabolic health of both men and women. When estrogen levels are too low, it can trigger reduced fat burning, increased appetite, and a redistribution of more fat to the visceral belly fat area.
But, on the other side, when estrogen levels are too high, this can spark the rapid creation of more subcutaneous fat. And this fat, ironically, will then create even more estrogen. I3C, obtained from cruciferous vegetables, is able to positively alter endogenous estrogen metabolism by converting estrogen into safer forms and supporting proper estrogen elimination in the body.
Turmeric and Ginger
Turmeric and one of its most renowned micronutrients, curcumin, have well-noted anti-inflammatory effects. But what isn’t commonly known is its surprising anti-obesity effects. Meanwhile, compounds in ginger are able to substantially improve the ratio of blood fats and provide protection against nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
The loudest gripe against salt is that it increases blood pressure, which is true, to a degree. A meta-analysis published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews uncovered that study participants placed on a low sodium diet did have slightly lower blood pressure in the short-term, but found that the restricted sodium also led to elevated triglycerides, elevated stress hormones, and (accordingly) elevated blood pressure. Some experts might be salty to hear that, but they’ll be even more shocked to find out how much salt can influence metabolism. Just to be clear, reducing salt intake can have a positive effect on weight loss. But (and it’s a big but) this is primarily due to a reduction in water weight, since salt aids in fluid retention.
We have covered a great deal of of information so far, from supporting our microbiome to optimizing our hormonal functions with macro and micronutrients. Of course, it’s one thing to know how to lose fat. It’s another thing to start losing it. This is why Shawn put together a 30-day action plan with more pertinent tips and many other insights into how make our food choices at the end of the book. If you feel like that’s for you, I highly recommend you grab a copy of ‘Eat Smarter’ below.