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updated: 1/11/2011 11:23 AM

Lemon juice no weight loss miracle

Ask the Nutrionist

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Q. Is it true that drinking lemon juice helps people lose weight?

A. Lemon juice may offer some help for weight loss, but it's not the unique secret weapon portrayed by some articles in magazines and on the Internet.

Some suggest that lemon juice works by stimulating digestive enzymes and improving digestion. Whether or not that's true, excess body fat does not stem from undigested food; it comes from consuming more calories than needed. In order to become body fat, these calories have been digested and absorbed.

As an acid, lemon juice may lead to a slower rise in blood sugar following a meal, which could mean less of the rise and fall that leads people to eat again soon. However, other acids, including vinegar used in salad dressing or seasoning vegetables, can have the same effect.

Lemon juice also provides vitamin C, which some studies suggest may increase how quickly we burn fat and how vigorously we move. Two tablespoons of lemon juice provides about 11 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C; yet vitamin C can add up even more quickly from modest servings of broccoli, red pepper, tomato-vegetable juice, or several other vegetables or fruits.

The weight loss achieved with any of the lemon juice diets circulating around is more likely to result from their "small print rules:" eat more vegetables and fruits, limit sweets, choose modest portions and get some moderate activity nearly every day. Lemon juice can be a valuable part of a healthy diet, since it adds delicious flavor to food without significant calories or sodium and may offer the extra benefits described above. Without additional steps to reduce calorie consumption, simply drinking lemon juice before meals does not promote weight loss.

Q. I've been seeing something called "quinoa" recommended as a healthy side dish. What is it and what would I do with it?

A. Quinoa -- pronounced "KEEN-wah" -- is considered and used like a whole grain, although technically it's not quite the same as true whole grains such as brown rice, bulgur (whole wheat) and oatmeal. Unlike most grains, it's a good source of protein, so it's a perfect choice as you experiment with smaller meat portions and meatless meals.

In just 15 minutes it can be cooked like rice to serve as a fluffy side dish or incorporated in soups and stews instead of pasta or potatoes. Each grain is naturally coated with a bitter substance to protect it as it grows, so put it in a sieve and rinse it before cooking.

• Provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research. Learn about its New American Plate Program at aicr.org.

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