Need to fit into that little black number or your new bikini? Certain foods can help you on the road to a healthier weight. While these nutritious foods should form part of your diet anyway, this list might just give you a little more reason to put them in your shopping trolley.
Just remember that there are many other factors that contribute to a healthy weight. Diet, and certain foods that could play a role in terms of weight loss, will do little if you're still inactive or if the rest of your diet consists of high-fat, kilojoule-dense foods. Like all things in life, it's about balance.
Also take note of the fact that some of the research results listed below need to be confirmed by further studies and that firm conclusions can't be made as yet:
Having a bowl of soup before your main meal could help you lose weight. But research studies contradict each other in the type of soup that's best.
Researchers from Penn State University found that low-energy soup made from chicken stock and vegetables lowered participants' total energy intake during meals by 20%. On the other hand, researchers from Duke University found that eating a fatty soup, such as chicken soup, before dinner also reduced the total amount of food consumed by 20%.
The bottomline, it seems, is just to do the soup-starter thing if you're trying to lose weight. Our suggestion is to skip the cream-based soups and to go for the vegetable broths instead - that way, you'll also up your daily intake of disease-fighting veggies.
A number of research studies have linked a diet rich in dairy products to healthy weight management, but the topic remains controversial.
According to Dr Michael Zemel, who spoke at the Pasteur Institute in Paris in 2006, dairy can help reduce body fat. It's believed that the calcium in milk, yoghurt and cheese plays a key role in terms of this effect.
It's important to note, however, that many cheeses and certain other dairy products have a high fat content and that excess consumption may actually lead to weight gain.
So, while more research is being done to test the weight-loss association, the general recommendation is to eat two to three portions of fat-free or low-fat dairy products every day. Fat-free and low-fat dairy products contain the same amount of calcium as full-cream dairy products.
A diet high in fibre-rich foods, such as fruit, vegetables, pulses and whole-grains, is associated with lower body fat stores, according to research by the University of Texas.
Another study, this time from the Maryland Medical Research Institute, showed that teenage girls who ate high-fibre cereal for breakfast were more likely to maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI) over a period of ten years.
Fibre can be defined as complex carbohydrates that can't be digested or absorbed by the body. It's believed that because fibre provides bulk in the diet (without adding kilojoules) it has a satiating effect on appetite.
Apart from possibly helping you to maintain a healthy weight, fibre also helps to keep the digestive system regular.
A few almonds a day could help you maintain a healthy weight. Recent research shows that these nuts, which are a good source of healthy fats, may enhance a feeling of fullness.
An American study tested almonds' effect on weight loss by supplementing overweight women with two servings of almonds a day for ten weeks.
The researchers found that there were no changes in energy intake or body weight in the almond-eating women, and came to the conclusion that the women found the almonds filling. This meant that they consumed fewer kilojoules at other meals.
But, like all nuts, almonds have quite a high energy value. So, while they could have an important role in the diet – especially if they replace other fats – you should still limit your intake. Have a small handful of almonds no more than three times a week.
When you eat spicy foods, it leads to a process called "thermogenesis" - in other words, heat generation. This process burns more kilojoules, which can help to keep unwanted kilos in check.
Researchers from Maastricht University in Holland and Laval University in Quebec reviewed studies that looked at the effects of capsaicin, black pepper, ginger and mixed spices in terms of energy balance and thermogenesis.
The results seem to indicate that capsaicin, the compound that gives red chilli pepper its kick, leads to greater heat generation, which burns more kilojoules immediately after a meal.
Black pepper, on the other hand, seems to stimulate metabolism, while ginger also has thermogenic properties. And, like black pepper, mixed spices have a positive impact on metabolism.
But be warned: spicy foods could be dangerous, especially if you suffer from heartburn or a gastrointestinal tract disorder (for example, a peptic ulcer). If, however, you're given the all-clear by your doctor, there's no reason why you can't include more chilli, black pepper, ginger and spices in your diet.
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