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The New American Diet

The absolutely most sensible way to lose weight (honest)

Include low-fat dairy foods

Dairy foods are a rich source of calcium and vitamin D: Fully 30 percent of women over 50 are deficient in this bone-building vitamin. Plus, consuming low-fat dairy products can lead to weight loss. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those with the highest daily low-fat dairy intake lost 38 percent more weight than those with the lowest.

Be wary of 'diet' foods

I can't tell you how many patients have actually gained weight on foods labeled as "low fat" or "fat free." Often such products are loaded with sugar, to make up for the taste lost when the fat is removed. Since many "diet" foods are also highly processed, you end up getting fewer nutrients and lots of empty calories. Instead of diet fare, then, eat a small helping of a higher-fat food periodically.

Don't eat out for two weeks

Dining away from home is fraught with potential problems; you don't always know how the food is cooked, and you tend to eat larger portions than you should. Some experts estimate that restaurant portions can be three times larger than a "normal" serving size. So what is a healthy portion? Fruits and vegetables should be the size of your fist; meat should be no bigger than a deck of cards; fish should be the size of a checkbook.

Inspect food labels

Women who regularly read food labels are, on average, nine pounds lighter than those who don't do this, research from the U.S. National Health Interview Study found. You don't need a calculator; just scan labels for calories and other nutrients. Some brands of yogurt, for instance, have as much sugar as a candy bar. If one brand has 12 grams of sugar and another has 20, the choice is obvious.

Snack often

I told you the AARP New American Diet would be fun. The key is smart snacking. Data show that people who snack twice a day lose more weight than those who eat three large meals. One snack should be between breakfast and lunch; the other, between lunch and dinner. (No eating after 8 p.m.) Snacking helps keep insulin levels fairly constant, which can prevent hunger and overeating at lunch and dinner. Great healthy snacks include a handful of nuts, baby carrots and hummus, or a piece of fruit.

Chew gum

Yes, chewing gum can help keep the weight off. And for a reason you may not have realized: Chewing gum releases hormones that signal your brain that you're full. This activity also helps if you're a "nibbler" — someone who tends to sample food while cooking or watching TV. You should always chew sugar-free gum; the sugared kind promotes tooth decay.

By following the principles of the AARP New American Diet, Anna lost 10 pounds the first month and 20 pounds within six months. Charlie lost 15 pounds and dropped his diabetes medications. "I finally found a diet that works for me," Anna told me recently. "The best part is, it's not really even a diet. It's just a new way of thinking about food."

John Whyte, M.D., is the author of AARP New American Diet: Lose Weight, Live Longer.

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