Lately, we've felt frustrated seeing how weight that used to settle in our hips and thighs has started migrating north, thickening our midsection, forming an uncomfortable "apron" of loose, jiggly belly fat that seems impossible to lose. Good news: Harvard research reveals a promising new way to target stubborn menopause fat — green smoothies.
The approach takes the Mediterranean diet — deemed by U.S. News & World Reports to be the world's best diet, one that's already show to melt four times the weight of other plans — and makes it even better! How? By finding an easy way to more than double the number of slimming plant compounds the diet can deliver in a single day.
RX For Meno-Fat
Polyphenols, the ultra-healthy compounds found in plant foods like blueberries, olives, and red wine, are believed to be the secret behind the Mediterranean diet's success. Harvard adjunct nutrition professor Iris Shai, PhD, says, "We wanted to empower that effect."
In two separate trials, Dr. Shai's team had dieters swap the meat from a Mediterranean dinner for one green smoothie made with nutrient-rich aquatic plants, similar to seaweed, to boost their daily polyphenol intake. The results: People who did this daily lost more weight and more belly inches than those on a standard American diet. That's a weight loss improvement from the traditional Mediterranean plan.
So we asked author of The Lose Your Belly Diet: Change Your Gut, Change Your Life (Buy from Amazon, $15.75) Travis Stork, MD, about this new "green" Mediterranean trend. The former host of the TV show "The Doctors" has always been a fan of Mediterranean eating, especially the version "inspired by the Greek island of Ikaria, known for this population of healthy super-agers." There, fit folks eat a lot of vegetables and olive oil, avocado, nuts, legumes, and fish, with smaller amounrs of dairy, meat, and antioxidant-rich red wine. Dr. Stork raves, "This new 'green' approach takes an already health Mediterranean diet and adds beneficial nutrients."
So how exactly do "green" smoothies whittle our middle? Their polyphenols work like supercharged antioxidants, guarding cells from oxidation (or age-related damage) so they function better, which means burning fat like a kid again. The shakes are also packed with plant proteins, which Dr. Stork says control hunger and protect muscle. It's thanks to protein's thermic effect, which allows the body to burn calories faster than any other macronutrient.
When you aim for the study-backed dose of 1,240+ milligrams of polyphenols a day, pounds melt off. Getting that amount is as easy as enjoying one green smoothie (with 550 milligrams of polyphenols and 20 to 30 grams of plant protein), plus two Mediterranean meals and snacks. Within just a few days, dieters feel better and see belly inches and bloat disappear. Dr. Stork adds, "You may notice your skin has a healthier glow and you even look a little younger."
"Adding a green smoothie to the Mediterranean diet goes far beyond weight loss," adds Dr. Shai, citing lowered blood pressure, regulated fasting glucose, and a healthier gut and brain. In fact, in her study, subjects on the Mediterranean diet dropped their "bad" cholesterol levels more than the standard American diet, and the plan reversed fatty liver disease in some patients.
Try it for a month to jump-start your transformation. You'll likely be so impressed, you'll want to stick with it for life. Read to blast belly fat? Read on.
So Simple, So Effective
Adding one "green" smoothie a day to a traditional Mediterranean diet can turbocharge slimming on the world's best weight-loss plan. "The beauty of increasing plant-based foods and plant-based proteins is you get added antioxidants and compounds that you don't get form most meat," explains Dr. Stork.
On this four-week plan, which is so easy to do that many women choose to adopt it for life, you simply swap one solid meal a day for a green smoothie. Then you'll eat two delicious Mediterranean-inspired meals (think: fish, poultry, olive oil, fruit, vegetables, and legumes) plus snacks and beverages, while sidestepping processed foods and red meat. Each green smoothie should contain around 550 milligrams of polyphenols — plant compounds that are proven to improve health and speed slimming. The goal is to consume at least 1,240 milligrams of polyphenols daily, from foods and smoothies. To make your slim-down even easier, incorporate these simple strategies.
Choose from endless options.
With more than 8,000 plant polyphenols known to science, it's easy to whip up healthy smoothies that suit your tastes. Dr. Shai recommends including leafy greens, seaweed, and legumes (like peas), and Dr. Stork loves superfoods like avocado, cinnamon, flaxseed, and chia seeds. Use the cheat sheet below for just a taste of some of the polyphenol-packed foods to enjoy as you power off pounds, and find a complete list curated by registered dietician Kelsey Kinney.
Reach for "super greens."
While the special seaweed-like greens used in the Harvard study aren't available in the US, you can get the results with other super greens like spirulina. Each tablespoon of this algae powder boasts 4 grams of plant protein and 150 milligrams of polyphenols, and eating it is shown to boost weight loss. Plus, spirulina is proven to protect against metabolic dysfunction and reduce belly fat in menopausal women. It can also be added to pastas, sauces, and soups, or sweeter fare like homemade ice pops and puddings. A brand we like: Source Naturals Organic Spirulina.
Don't skimp on protein.
In addition to polyphenols, Dr. Stork recommends adding 20 to 30 grams of craving-curbing plant protein to your daily shake, with the help of seeds, nut milks, and whey or pea protein. Bonus timing trick: There may be a benefit to enjoying that protein smoothie before noon. Consuming protein in the morning makes you feel fuller, controlling your desire to snack throughout the day. Try Dr. Stork's easy slimming smoothie: Blend 1 cup nut milk, 1 cup berries, 1/2 cup spinach, 1 teaspoon honey, 1 teaspoon flax or chia seeds, cinnamon, and 1 scoop whey or pea protein.
Spirulina Also Slashes Fatigue
Folks eating a daily serving of spirulina, the popular smoothie add-in, significantly reduced their weight, mimicking the results of exercise, without the effort, say Mexican researchers. In their study, overweight subjects adding 1 ¼ teaspoon of spirulina to their daily diet lost nearly as much weight while maintaining a sedentary lifestyle as those on the same diet who exercised rigorously. And in an Ohio State University study, this polyphenol-rich ingredient was proven to diminish physical fatigue. One theory: Spirulina nips energy zappers at their source. Health expert and Medical Medium (Buy from Amazon, $22.49) author Anthony William says, "Spirulina draws out heavy metals from your brain, central nervous system, and liver," so you feel revitalized, not foggy. Try Williams' detox smoothie: Blend 2 cups wild blueberries, 1 teaspoon spirulina, 2 bananas, the juice of 1 orange, 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon Atlantic dulse, 1 teaspoon barley grass juice powder, and 1 cup cilantro.
Don't love green smoothies?
Plants are bursting with polyphenols, powerful compounds that transform our health in countless ways. And getting 1,240+ milligrams daily turbocharges slimming. These easy between-meal sips and snacks can help get you to that magic daily dose.
Walnuts: In one study, eating two handfuls of walnuts daily (a dose that delivers and extra 440 milligrams of polyphenols) was linked to maintaining a healthy weight.
Blueberries: These gems pack an impressive 829 milligrams of polyphenols per cup. And a study from Colorado State University finds the anti-inflammatory snack drops high blood pressure to significantly lower heart disease risk in post-menopausal women.
More Delicious, Polyphenol-Rich Food Picks
Blood orange juice
Sample Meals to Get You Started
Lunch: Protein Pita
Spread 1 tablespoon olive tapenade on a whole-wheat pita and add 2 ounces water-packed tuna or shredded chicken, sliced red onion, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, and feta.
Dinner: Salmon Fillet
Marinate 4 ounces of salmon with Dijon mustard and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside. Serve with sautéed veggies.
Dessert: Yogurt Parfait
Line a glass with 1 cup vanilla Greek yogurt. Top with 1/4 cup almond granola, freshly sliced strawberries, dark chocolate chips, and a drizzle of honey.
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A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.