If you've been avoiding burgers, ice cream, and pizza, thinking you're doing your waistline a favor, don't. They can actually help you lose weight -- and keep it off, too. Here are the hidden slim-down perks of five foods that get a bad rap and the best way to add each one back into your diet.
Even burgers and meatballs can be light fare if you make them with ground sirloin, says Bonnie Gluck, M.S., R.D., a clinical dietitian at New York Methodist Hospital in New York City. "Lean red meat -- lean being the operative word -- is a great choice for women who are trying to shed pounds," she says. "It's an excellent source of protein. And protein takes longer to digest, helping you feel full and cutting the likelihood that you'll snack later on."
A study of 100 women from Australian researchers found that overweight women who ate reduced-calorie diets rich in protein from red meat and dairy lost more weight than those whose reduced-calorie plans had little meat and more carbs. "Protein can reduce hunger," says study author Manny Noakes, Ph.D., associate professor with the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization (Australia's national science agency) in Adelaide. And being less hungry while you're trying to lose weight can prevent overeating.
Best way to enjoy it: Choose ground beef labeled "97 percent lean" or "extralean," which means it has less than five grams of fat per serving. Want steak? Get lower-fat cuts from the loin, like sirloin tip, T-bone, or strip steak, Gluck says.
Watch out for: Beef that's labeled Prime. "It's very high in fat," Gluck says. Buy cuts graded Choice; the meat has less fat and still tastes good. And remember to limit your portion size, no matter how lean the meat. "Many restaurants will serve an eight-ounce steak or burger, which means you're getting twice the amount you actually need," says Dave Grotto, R.D., author of "101 Foods That Could Save Your Life." Stick to a three-ounce serving (roughly the size of a deck of cards).
Good news for ice cream lovers: A recent Swedish study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that women who have at least one serving of full-fat dairy products a day gain less weight than women who don't. Researchers aren't entirely sure why, but it's believed that a compound in milk fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) may aid weight loss.
Not all studies support the dairy-aids-weight-loss claim. But Gluck feels there's more evidence for than against, even if full-fat dairy's secret is simply that it's more satisfying. "Many women find that low-fat versions of dairy products like ice cream and cheese just aren't satisfying," she says, "so they may eat a lot of them -- downing hundreds of calories in the process, trying to fulfill their craving -- when just a little bit of the full-fat stuff would have done the trick."
Best way to enjoy it: Have a little cheese, ice cream, or a glass of milk each day. "You really can't go wrong with that," Gluck says. "Dairy should be part of your diet, whether you're trying to shed pounds or not. You need the calcium to maintain strong bones. And the vitamin D and CLA in milk both have cancer-fighting properties."
Watch out for: Fat intake. Remember that full-fat dairy products do contain saturated fat, Gluck says, so it's best to limit yourself to two servings daily -- and to make your third serving a low-fat or skim choice.
After years of being barred from the average American diet, things are looking sunny-side up for eggs. According to a study from Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, overweight women who eat egg breakfasts lose twice as much weight as women who start their days with bagels. Researchers say the protein in eggs increases satiety and decreases hunger, helping women eat fewer calories throughout the day. "Eggs are a perfect protein source because they have all eight essential amino acids," Grotto says. "And recent research debunks the idea that they have adverse effects on the heart."
Best way to enjoy them: Try 'em for breakfast. This is the ideal time for getting the proven fill-you-up benefits the rest of the day. Besides, it takes only a couple of minutes to scramble an egg. Work a hard- or soft-boiled egg into lunch, too, by adding it to a spinach salad. Or make an omelet or veggie frittata with two to three egg whites to every one yolk to keep the calories low (whites have just 16 calories, while whole eggs have 72 each).
Watch out for: Eggs served at restaurants.Even an egg-white omelet is likely to be fried in butter or oil unless you ask that it be prepared with cooking spray. And like pizza, beware of any egg dish that's smothered in cheese. If you're craving more flavor, add some herbs or salsa.
You already know you can enjoy some mozzarella on your favorite pie and still drop pounds. But there are other ways you can make that slice even healthier. To hike the diet-friendly fiber, choose a whole-wheat crust and top your pizza with veggies like peppers, artichokes, and broccoli. "Like protein, fiber is digested slowly and helps keep you feeling full, longer," Gluck says.
Even better? By sticking with healthful toppings like veggies and lean protein (grilled chicken is a good choice), a medium slice will set you back only 200 to 250 calories.
Best way to enjoy it: Choose whole-wheat varieties. You can make your own or try a frozen one, like DiGiorno, Boboli, South Beach, or Amy's. If you're ordering in or dining out, get a thin-crust pie (it's typically lower in calories and fat than thicker versions); try selections available at Pizza Hut and California Pizza Kitchen.
Watch out for: Additional oil and fat. Avoid any pie that's deep-dish (that means the crust is cooked in oil) or loaded with sausage and pepperoni, Gluck says. And while a bit of cheese is fine, a whole lot is not. Skip the extra cheese.
Unlike a regular strip of crispy pork fat, Canadian bacon -- which comes from the loin, one of the leanest parts of the pig -- is a dieter's best friend, with a third less fat than regular bacon. If that isn't reason enough to put Canadian bacon on your plate, a recent study from Purdue University shows that women who eat a diet rich in lean pork and other protein keep more lean body mass during weight loss than women who eat a low- calorie diet with little pork and other protein sources. An added bonus: Women who eat meals rich in protein from pork report that they feel satisfied, in spite of the fact that they are on reduced-calorie diets, and say they're happier overall.
Best way to enjoy it: Have some anytime. "Add Canadian or turkey bacon, another light pick, to scrambled eggs, or use some in a bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich on whole-wheat bread with reduced-fat mayo," Grotto says. You can chop it into strips and use it for a protein boost on salad, too.
Watch out for: Hidden fat. Some restaurants fry Canadian bacon on the griddle in oil.
Before you order, request that it be cooked without oil or heated in the oven.