1. Take a spoonful of vinegar before reaching for the cupcake
Even after I've had the most satiating meal -- when I'm sure I can't take another bite -- I somehow always manage to find room for dessert. Even if all I crave is just one little bite, my sweet tooth wins (and I always end up taking more than just one bite).
If you can relate, Aim True yoga instructor, Kathryn Budig has an effective (if a little off-putting) solution: Take a spoonful of raw apple cider vinegar as your post-dinner cocktail. (And trust me, you're going to want to pound this stuff like it's a Jagermeister shot.) Raw apple cider vinegar helps stabilize blood sugar levels, says Budig, which curbs your craving for sweets. You can also take a shot of the vinegar in the morning, which will rev up your metabolism and digestive system for the day, she says.
2. Sprinkle a dash of cinnamon into your coffee
James M. Andry, MD, co-founder of MDWeightWorx in Bloomington, Ind., tells me to add some cinnamon to my diet. And sprinkling a little bit into my morning java is a great way to start.
Not only does cinnamon help curb appetite, research also shows that this sweet spice also helps control the insulin spike that often comes after meals. Cinnamon causes your body to absorb carbohydrates much more slowly, and lowers your blood sugar levels -- both which contribute to a lower insulin level, says Andry. And remember, insulin is a hormone that converts excess sugar into fat, which ultimately contributes to weight gain.
Andry says even as little as 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon a day can improve your blood sugar content by 24 percent and cholesterol levels by 18 percent. To get the benefits, start sprinkling the sweet spice into your coffee, oatmeal, or cereal.
3. Believe in bacteria
Bacteria gets a bad rap. It's the stuff that makes us sick, the stuff we're supposed to avoid at all costs. But there is such a thing as good bacteria, and when it comes to our digestion, this good bacteria is crucial.
"Beneficial bacteria [known as probiotics] keeps your gut healthy," says Stella Metsovas, a nutrition and diet expert in Los Angeles. "Having healthy, functioning intestines allows you to better digest and assimilate nutrients -- a key factor to optimal health!"
While Metsovas takes a bite of kimchi or sauerkraut every morning, any foods with live, active cultures (like miso, tempeh, and kefir) fit the bill.
4. Drink pure aloe vera
While aloe vera is great for soothing sunburned skin, drinking the liquefied plant can also help heal your body, says
Tanner Martty, fitness guru at LEAF Lifestyle. "Drinking pure aloe vera not only aids in proper digestion, it helps repair a digestive system that has been under duress from a diet high in grains, gluten, and dairy." What American doesn't need help on that front?
5. Spice up your comfort foods
Cutting out fatty foods completely is a non-option for most of us. Instead, add two tablespoons of spices, like black pepper, garlic powder, rosemary, paprika, or oregano, to your next fatty indulgence. "The Journal of Nutrition" reports that those who incorporated spices into their fat-laden meals had 30 percent lower levels of triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood) than those who skipped the seasonings.
So, the next time you're making that macaroni and cheese, add some cayenne pepper. Or, opt for the green curry instead of the pad thai at your go-to Thai takeout place. Your belly will thank you.
6. Add some pineapple to that pork
When you think meat, you don't exactly think fruit. But having a side of pineapple with your steak (or chicken, or pork) dinner does a number of helpful things for your digestive track.
"Protein takes the most digestive work, as the foods have to be broken down into amino acids from complex chains," says Kimberly Snyder, celebrity nutritionist and author of "The Beauty Detox." Instead of cancelling your cookout, Brown suggests adding some pineapple slices to your meat.
"Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, which helps to break down proteins," says Brown. "It's like a meat tenderizer in your stomach. If you are going to eat a high protein meal like steak or chicken kabobs, make sure to add a few pineapple slices to each skewer."
7. Cook with coconut oil
The latest "it" ingredient for healthy eating: coconut oil. Almost every nutritionist I spoke to says one of the best things you can do to maintain good health is consume 1 to 3 tablespoons of coconut oil every day. Michelle L. Butler, a holistic nutritionist in Redondo Beach, Calif., says consuming the oil every day can "relieve stress, stabilize cholesterol levels, increase immunity, and boost your metabolism and thyroid activity."
Coconut oil includes a variety of acids that are antimicrobial and antifungal, which keep your body working at its optimum level. You can "drizzle it on food, cook with it, or eat it straight," says Butler. Certified fitness trainer and nutrition guru for DailyBurn, Kate Brown, says eating coconut oil "also stimulates fatty acid oxidization, so it helps accelerate fat loss."
What's more, it fills you up. "Fat is satiating," says Brown. "So eating a spoonful of coconut oil can help you forget that what you were actually craving was a muffin or a cupcake."