Before diving into all this delicious goodness, an important note: Health and weight loss are not the same thing, and they're different for different people. Whether you want to eat well, lose weight, or maintain your weight, it's about finding what works for you—including which foods help or your hinder your goals. But if you are looking to change how you look, it's important to ask yourself why, along with how you can do it while upgrading your mental and physical health instead of harming it. To that end, if you have a history of disordered eating, it's always a smart idea to chat with your doctor before making any changes to your eating habits. But even if you don't, talking with a doctor or registered dietitian can help make sure you're setting realistic, reasonable goals for yourself. Because remember, your weight is about so much more than how you eat and exercise. Various factors influence it, like your sleeping habits, your stress levels, and other components like health conditions and hormonal fluctuations.
A squeeze of lemon adds instant freshness to everything from drinks to salads to fish without additional calories, making it an ideal way to flavor food if you're watching your weight. Plus, the pectin fiber in lemons can help fill you up and fight off hunger cravings. And while it hasn't been scientifically proven, some experts believe that the citrus fruit can aid in weight loss, as well.
Speaking of flavonoids, the waist-whittling compounds also exist in higher concentrations in red fruits such as watermelon, Pink Lady apples, and plums, meaning they also have the power to induce weight loss. In fact, a 2016 study in the journal BMJ found that people who eat a diet rich in flavonoid-heavy food tend to gain less weight, which could be promising seeing as many people tend to put on pounds as they age. In addition, anthocyanin, a specific flavonoid compound that gives red fruits their color, has been shown to reduce fat-storage genes.
Try a lower-calorie version. Use lower-calorie ingredients or prepare food differently. For example, if your macaroni and cheese recipe uses whole milk, butter, and full-fat cheese, try remaking it with non-fat milk, less butter, light cream cheese, fresh spinach and tomatoes. Just remember to not increase your portion size. For more ideas on how to cut back on calories, see Eat More Weigh Less.
OK, a bit of buzzkill news here: That rumor that chili peppers will crank up your metabolism as some kind of "fat-burning food" is a myth. Sure, they might have a modest effect on your metabolism, but nothing to produce any major effects. So, why should you still include chili peppers in your diet? Because getting creative with spices can help you lay off salt, plus, flavorful meals are always more satisfying.
No way could we have a “best foods for weight loss” list without this slice of heaven. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants known as flavonoids, which promote good heart health. As a bonus, an ounce of 70-85 percent cacao dark chocolate has 3 grams of fiber and 64 grams of magnesium, which supports nerve and muscle function, immune health, and bone strength. For maximum benefits, reach for a bar with at least 70 percent cacao. “The higher the percentage, the more antioxidant content,” according to Cleveland Clinic Wellness.
In addition to dietary recommendations for the general population, there are many specific diets that have primarily been developed to promote better health in specific population groups, such as people with high blood pressure (as in low sodium diets or the more specific DASH diet), or people who are overweight or obese (in weight control diets). However, some of them may have more or less evidence for beneficial effects in normal people as well.
To set yourself up for success, try to keep things simple. Eating a healthier diet doesn’t have to be complicated. Instead of being overly concerned with counting calories, for example, think of your diet in terms of color, variety, and freshness. Focus on avoiding packaged and processed foods and opting for more fresh ingredients whenever possible.
Though we singled out quinoa above, whole grains in general (we’re talking cereal, rice, pasta, and more) are conducive to weight loss, especially when they’re used in place of refined—white—grains. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that substituting whole grains for refined grains in the diet increases calorie loss by reducing calories retained during digestion and speeding up metabolism. Unlike refined grains, whole grains are packed with satiating, heart-healthy fiber.
“This warming—or cooling—beverage serves a dual purpose. Not only is it full of antioxidants and other healthy phytochemicals, but it has the benefit of slightly increasing your metabolism,” says Harris-Pincus. Sipping tea in the evening instead of snacking, or trading in your PSL for a cup of green tea will lower your calorie intake and help you burn a few extra calories. Just be sure to keep it unsweetened.
Like peanuts, avocados contain metabolism-enhancing monounsaturated fats that have been shown to reduce hunger. In fact, a study in Nutrition Journal found that participants who ate half a fresh avocado with lunch reported a 40 percent decreased desire to eat for hours afterwards. What’s more? The trendy toast topping is also loaded with unsaturated fats, which seem to prevent the storage of belly fat, as well as satiating fiber and free-radical-killing antioxidants.