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Home > Health Archive > Weight-Loss Supplements that Work

Weight Loss Supplements That Work

Weight Loss Supplements
Weight Loss Supplements That Work


Written by: Steve Calechman

Learn the facts on five of the most promising diet supplements.

Most of us would love a pill to make extra pounds melt away. No supplement can work miracles, but nutrition and weight-loss researchers say that some supplements can give you a small advantage in the battle to be slim (helping you lose about 2 to 3 pounds a month). Here are the facts on five of the most promising supplements. These supplements work best if you also exercise, eat less, and deal with any emotional reasons for your extra weight, our experts say. You can combine them, but seek a health care practitioner's advice before taking green tea and ephedra supplements together, as they are both high in caffeine.


How It Spurs Weight Loss

Protein can reduce hunger (thereby decreasing the calories you consume), help you preserve muscle as you lose weight, and help your body build more muscle, particularly if you include strength training in your fitness routine, says Richard Kreider, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Health, Human Performance, and Recreation at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Muscle burns more calories than fat and also helps you look trimmer, Kreider says, so strength training three times a week is a good addition to any weight-loss program.

A six-month study of 65 overweight and obese people published in 1999 in the International Journal of Obesity compared two low-calorie diets: one with 12 percent of calories from protein (which mirrors the federal recommendation for protein consumption) and one with 25 percent of calories from protein. Those who ate more protein lost more weight. The subjects did not exercise.

You'll see weight-loss benefits by consuming either protein-rich foods or shakes, but shakes contain fewer calories and less fat than some high-protein foods, and they're also convenient.

Kreider does not advise drastically reducing your carbohydrate intake to eat more protein. He recommends 30 to 40 percent protein, 35 to 45 percent carbohydrates, and no more than 30 percent fat.

The Results You Can Expect

The 1999 study shows that you may lose about 3 pounds a month.

Effective Dose

Take 40 to 50 g of protein powder a day, in the form of two shakes, and combine them with three small meals, Kreider says. Drink one shake mid-morning and another an hour before dinner, which will control your appetite at common craving times. To make sure you don't eat too many calories, reduce portion sizes at meals by a quarter to a third, Kreider says. This plan is safe for long-term use, he adds.

To make a shake, mix 20 to 25 g of protein powder and 12 ounces of water or milk. (Most experts we consulted recommend whey powder, a protein derived from milk, but if you're lactose intolerant, try soy powder.) For flavor, add some fruit, like a banana or a half-cup of berries.


Whey protein is tough for some people to digest. If you experience cramping or bloating, try soy protein.


Green Tea

How It Spurs Weight Loss

Green tea (Camellia sinensis) increases your metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories) and stimulates your body's ability to burn fat, according to a handful of human studies. Research shows that the benefits come from an interaction between caffeine and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a plant chemical in green tea that triggers your production of the metabolism-boosting, appetite-suppressing hormone noradrenaline. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition gave 10 healthy men a green tea supplement (that contained 90 mg of EGCG and 50 mg of caffeine), 50 mg of caffeine, or a placebo. The men ate a normal diet and did not exercise. Only those who took the green tea supplement experienced a significant increase in calorie-burning ability.

The Results You Can Expect

Based on a study of obese people who took green tea supplements, published earlier this year in the journal Phytomedicine, you may lose about 2 1/2 pounds a month.

Effective Dose

Take a standardized extract of green tea in capsule or tablet form. Choose a supplement that provides 90 mg of EGCG and 50 mg of caffeine, and take it three times daily before meals, says Shari Lieberman, Ph.D., a nutrition scientist, exercise physiologist, and author of Dare To Lose (Avery, 2002) based in Pompano, Fla., and New York City. Drinking the tea may also help you lose weight, but this has not yet been studied.


Green tea and green tea supplements are safe; no known adverse effects have been reported, but they may cause nervousness if you're caffeine-sensitive.


How It Spurs Weight Loss

Researchers say the herb ephedra (Ephedra sinica), also known as ma-huang, increases your metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories) and reduces hunger. Studies show that ephedra works somewhat like green tea; ephedrine alkaloids in the herb stimulate your body to release the metabolism-boosting, appetite-suppressing hormone noradrenaline. Ephedrine is usually combined with caffeine to enhance these effects.

But ephedra is controversial. Critics called for its banning after a 2000 report published in the New England Journal of Medicine linked ephedra to 43 cases of hypertension, stroke, seizures, and heart attacks. However, a new study conducted at the New York Obesity Research Center in New York City and at Harvard Medical School in Boston looked at the supplement's effect on people with healthy hearts and found that ephedra is safe and effective when used in recommended doses. The six-month double-blind, placebo-controlled study, published this year in the International Journal of Obesity, involved 167 overweight people who were screened to ensure they did not have heart problems. Subjects who took 90 mg of ephedrine alkaloids and 192 mg of caffeine daily experienced weight loss without significant adverse effects to their hearts. The participants could eat what they wanted and exercise moderately.

The Results You Can Expect

Ephedra may help you lose about 1 1/2 pounds a month.

Effective Dose

Do not take ephedra without the guidance of a health care practitioner; you may have a heart problem that has not been diagnosed. Because the supplement formula used in the most recent study is not available for sale, Anthony Almada, a nutritional biochemist in Laguna Niguel, Calif., recommends a more conservative dose: Take a supplement that provides ephedrine and caffeine in a 1 to 10 ratio, with 5 to 10 mg of ephedrine alkaloids and 50 to 100 mg of caffeine once a day for three days. If this dose does not cause problems (like heart palpitations), add a second daily dose. Do not take more than 60 mg of ephedrine alkaloids a day, he advises.


Ephedra is a stimulant, so do not take it if you have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, prostate conditions, anxiety, or mental illness. Don't use ephedra for longer than six months; long-term effects have not yet been studied, says Carol Boozer, D.Sc., director of the Energy Metabolism Lab at the New York Obesity Research Center.


How It Spurs Weight Loss

Fiber allows you to eat less but still feel satisfied, says Edward Saltzman, M.D., director of the Obesity Center at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston. One type, soluble fiber, slows the rate that food passes to your small intestine, causing you to feel full and eat fewer calories. And insoluble fiber prevents overeating because it requires a lot of chewing. A 2001 review of 80 fiber studies published in Nutritional Review found that subjects (both overweight and normal weight) who increased their fiber intake felt full longer and ate an average of 10 percent fewer calories than subjects who ate little fiber. The subjects did not diet but some exercised.

The review showed that fiber supplements and fiber from food were equally effective, but Saltzman recommends you get more from food; fiber-rich foods offer key nutrients and require chewing.

The Results You Can Expect

Raising your fiber intake to about 25 g a day may help you lose about 1 pound a month.

Effective Dose

Take 4 g or more a day in supplement form. Add additional fiber-rich foods to bring your total to about 25 g. (For example, 1 cup of black beans contains 15 g and 3/4 cup of bran flakes sup-plies 5 g.) Fiber supplements made from psyllium husk are commonly available. They're sold as capsules or as a powder that you mix with water and drink. Fiber supplements are safe for long-term use. To prevent constipation, take them with plenty of water.


Add this additional fiber gradually over the course of several weeks. Increasing your intake too quickly can cause bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.


How It Spurs Weight Loss

This essential mineral appears to change your body composition by increasing the effectiveness of the hormone insulin. If your insulin works efficiently, your body turns fewer calories into fat and more into muscle, says Richard Anderson, Ph.D., lead researcher at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, Md. The more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns. In an eight-week study of 83 overweight people presented at this year's meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, half took 400 mcg of one of two forms of chromium daily and the other half took a placebo. Those who took plant-based chromium supplements lost 3 pounds more body fat than the placebo group, and those who took chromium picolinate lost 1 1/2 pounds more body fat than the placebo group. All subjects ate less than usual and exercised. Chromium does have detractors. Some researchers question if insulin's effectiveness really plays a role in weight loss.

The Results You Can Expect

You may lose about 1 pound a month.

Effective Dose

Take 400 mcg a day with food, divided in two doses, for at least 12 weeks. Anderson says this dose is safe for long-term use.


Studies have not found chromium toxic in these doses.

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