Should you find yourself at a dinner party with a heart surgeon, a neurologist, a child psychologist, a celebrity trainer and a registered dietician, don’t panic at the level of intellect in the room. You can quickly prove yourself the most interesting person at the table with the utterance of just one small word: Omega-3s. Purse your lips, drop The Big O, and watch the crowd go wild.
That’s because recent studies on the benefits of essential fatty acids span the health-and-wellness spectrum: from protecting the heart and brain, to improving kids’ behavior; building lean muscle and turbocharging fat loss. All of which should give your dining companions plenty to discuss.
Fish and nuts are most widely cited for their omega-3 content, with salmon as poster child. But there are a number of surprising sources that can help you meet your daily dose — 1100 to 600 milligrams, according to The Institute of Medicine. So peruse this life-enhancing list, add the weight loss foods to your daily diet, and then enjoy dinner. They’re gonna love the wild rice.
Omega-3 Payoff: 814 mg per 3-ounce serving
It has the reputation of being bland and slimy, but like the high school nerd-turned-successful hottie who’s come-ons once made you cringe, tofu is worth a second look. A solid curd made from mashed soybeans, it’s a terrific source of plant-based protein with proven weight-loss potential. One study published in the journal Nature showed dieters who followed a 12-week meal plan that included a soy-based protein replacement lost twice as much weight and saw greater reductions in cholesterol and belly fat than a control group whose equicaloric weight loss diet included protein from lean meats.
Omega-3 Payoff: 480 mg per cup (raw)
Diet experts go ga-ga for brown rice, but it’s wild rice that tugs on our heartstrings as a weight loss wonder food. After all, the native American grain has nearly double the fiber and protein, and fewer calories than its arguably more popular cousin. Whole grains have a proven reputation as a weight-loss staple. In one study, Penn State researchers found dieters on a calorie-restricted diet who ate whole grains like rice lost significantly more belly fat than a group who consumed the equivalent number of calories from refined carbohydrates.
Omega-3 Payoff: 480 mg per cup (raw)
Lentils are an inexpensive dietary pulse, touted by weight loss experts for their ability to boost fat metabolism and regulate appetites. Researchers say the slimming benefits can be attributed to resistant starch, a form of slow-digesting fiber that triggers the release of acetate, a molecule in the gut that signals the brain when it’s time to stop eating. In fact, people who ate a daily serving of lentils (about ¾ cup) felt an average 31 percent fuller compared to a control diet, a systematic review of clinical trials on legumes found.
Omega-3 Payoff: 4500 mg per 2 tablespoons (1 ounce)
With more omega-3s, gram for gram, than salmon, and double that of flaxseed, cha cha cha chia seeds are also one of the best sources of dietary fiber in the world. Just two tablespoons of the seed provide 11 grams of filling fiber — that’s more than you’ll find in 3 packets of Quaker Original Instant Oatmeal, and particularly good news for your waistline, researchers say. For every 10-gram increase in fiber eaten per day, belly fat reduced by 3.7 percent over five years, a recent study found.
Ground Mustard Seed
Omega-3 Payoff: 100 mg per teaspoon
One tiny teaspoon of ground mustard provides 100 milligrams of Omega-3s, plus serious fat-burning potential. Scientists at England’s Oxford Polytechnic Institute found that a teaspoon of the hot stuff was enough to boost the metabolism by up to 25% for several hours after eating. Researchers attribute the weight loss benefits to allyl isothiocyanates, compounds that give the mustard its characteristic flavor. You can use ground mustard seed as you would black pepper.
Omega-3 Payoff: 352 mg per half-cup (frozen, cooked)
At only 40 calories per cooked cup, spinach is also rich in vitamin E and two compounds called “betaine” and “choline” that work together to turn off fat storage genes. Recent research suggests compounds in the leaf membranes called thylakoids may also serve as a powerful appetite suppressant. Participants in the three-month study who drank a breakfast smoothie containing spinach thylakoids had fewer cravings and lost 5.5 pounds more than the placebo group.
Omega-3 Payoff: 332 mg per cup (baked)
More squash = less squish. A cup of winter squash provides one-third the recommended daily intake of vitamin C — a nutrient researchers say is directly related to the body’s ability to burn through fat. In fact, one study by researchers from Arizona State University showed deficiencies of vitamin C were strongly correlated with increased body fat and waist measurements.
Omega-3 Payoff: 442 mg per 2-ounce serving
Dairy has made a dietary comeback, with new research suggesting the high-fat products like cheese may help reduce the risk of obesity. Cheese-eaters lost more belly fat than a control group who took a calcium supplement, one study that compared the effects of calcium and dairy on fat loss found. The group that nibbled cheese also exhibited increased levels of butyrate, a fatty acid found in the gut proven to improve fat metabolism.