If you're trying to shed pounds, consider this the ultimate guide to what you should be putting on your plate and the foods you should always keep in your kitchen. These good-for-you foods contain powerful nutrients and antioxidants that have been shown to help your body lose weight, feel full for longer periods of time, and have more energy. As a bonus, many have added benefits, too, such as preventing various diseases or reversing the signs of aging.
“For weight loss, it’s important to eat foods with plenty of protein and fiber to keep you full throughout the day and prevent you from overeating. I like to recommend opting for plant-based proteins, since they tend to have fewer calories than their meat counterparts,” says Rizzo. A 1/2 cup of cooked lentils has 12 grams of protein for just 140 calories. It's super versatile and can be added to grain bowls, salads, soups, and more.
As found in nuts, seeds, fish, avocados, and plant oils. You should consume these high-fat foods in place of other high-calorie foods; otherwise, you’ll be adding excess calories to your diet. For instance, substitute olive or canola oil for butter, and nuts for chips. Fatty fish may reduce the risk of heart disease and have other benefits, attributed at least in part to their omega-3 polyunsaturated fats.
This often over-looked gem is loaded with protein, filling fats, and calcium to help you build and repair muscles, which can aid in weight loss. “It's fabulous with fruit, on whole grain toast, oatmeal or salads, but the super high protein content [13 grams per 1/2 cup serving!] helps to keep you full in between meals,” says Harris-Pincus. You can also use it in smoothies, in eggs, or in pancake batter. Just be sure to check labels and find a product that’s low in sugar.
Your favorite childhood snack is good for your grown-up self, too. Because peanut butter is a great source of protein and healthy fats, it can curb hunger and keep you feeling full long after you're finished eating. Having small snacks during the day that include a lean protein such as peanut butter with complex carbs (like an apple or banana) can also help keep your metabolism running smoothly.
As long as this popular crunchy treat isn't doused in movie-theater butter, it makes an excellent weight-loss snack. Not only is popcorn high in fiber, it even delivers some protein. A 1-ounce serving of air-popped corn (about 3½ cups) has 4 grams of fiber, almost 4 grams of protein and clocks in at 110 calories. This combination makes it a snack with staying power. Popcorn is filled with air, so you get a pretty large portion without a lot of calories. You can eat 3 whole cups of popcorn for only 100 calories.
Good news for java lovers: The caffeine in coffee could speed up your metabolism and help your body burn slightly more calories (about 26 per cup). A study in Physiology & Behavior found that the average metabolic rate of people who drank caffeinated coffee was 16% higher than those who drank only decaf. Just be mindful of how much cream and sugar you add to your cup, which could offset any health benefits the beverage provides.
Coconut oil may be high in saturated fat, but that doesn’t mean you should write it off completely, especially when it comes to weight loss. In fact, a study of 30 men published in Pharmacology found that just two tablespoons per day reduced waist circumference by an average of 1.1 inches over the course of a month. What’s more? At roughly 117 calories per tablespoon, coconut oil (which has a versatile high smoke point) is an ideal cooking companion so long as you don’t use it every day and rotate in other cooking oils such as heart-healthy EVOO.
While we’re on the subject of water, why not throw a few lemon slices into the hydrating and satiating beverage? In addition to adding a pop of color and flavor to a tall glass of H2O, lemon can also help encourage weight loss. Just one of the bright citrus fruits contains an entire day’s worth of vitamin C, a nutrient that has the power to reduce levels of a stress hormone called cortisol that triggers hunger and fat storage. Additionally, lemons also contain polyphenols, which researchers say may ward off fat accumulation and weight gain.
Supplements can't substitute for a healthy diet, which supplies other potentially beneficial compounds besides vitamins and minerals. Foods also provide the synergy that many nutrients require to be efficiently used in the body. Still, for many people a basic multivitamin/mineral pill can provide some of the nutrients they may fall short on. Certain people may also need supplements of folic acid, vitamin B12, calcium, and vitamin D (see next slide).
Food processing isn’t always a bad thing: Cooking and preparing raw ingredients at home is also processing them. But the word “processed” is almost always reserved for commercial foods, usually packaged. Highly processed foods are industrially formulated mixtures that are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal sources—everything from hot dogs and margarine to ice cream, candy, and many packaged snack foods. Such foods, which supply more than half the daily calories in most U.S. households, lack key nutrients and fiber and are high in sugars and sodium.
Carbs are not the nutritional Voldemort. Actually, certain healthy carbs can help you lose weight—and air-popped popcorn is one of them. “Portion-wise, it has a lower calorie per unit volume than many other snacks,” Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., and owner of Nutrition Starring You, told SELF in a previous article. You get more bang for your caloric buck, and since popcorn is made up of complex carbs, it’ll digest more slowly, keeping you fuller longer.
Developing healthy eating habits isn’t as confusing or as restrictive as many people imagine. The essential steps are to eat mostly foods derived from plants—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes (such as beans and lentils), and nuts—and limit highly processed foods. If you eat animal foods, you can add in some dairy products, fish, poultry, and lean meat. Studies show that people who eat this way have a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and possibly cancer and other chronic diseases. Here are our guidelines for building a healthy diet.
An apple a day might not always keep the doctor away, but they can help keep unwanted pounds at bay. According to a study published in the journal Nutrition, researchers found adding three apples into your daily meal plan can result in weight loss thanks to all that added fiber. Consumer Reports found that most people don't get enough of the daily nutrient, so consider this an easy way to up your tally.
Hello, hydration. Watermelon, which gets its pretty color from the antioxidant lycopene, is a juicy, delicious way to make sure you’re staying hydrated—a key factor in weight loss for various reasons. When you’re drinking enough water, all your systems (including your metabolism) are better able to work at their maximum capacity, Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist, told SELF in a previous article. Plus, proper hydration prevents you from confusing thirst for hunger, which can lead you to overeat throughout the day. And don’t buy into the hype about watermelon being a calorie bomb—1 cup only contains 46 calories.
Good news, wine drinkers. Thanks to resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grape skin, drinking red wine in moderation can be part of a healthy diet. Some studies suggest that people who drink wine have smaller waists and less abdominal fat than those who drink mainly liquor. And having one glass of red wine can increase your body's calorie burn for up to 90 minutes afterwards. The antioxidants in wine might even help your body prevent cancer and improve heart health. Just be sure to stick to no more than a glass a day—the calories can add up fast.
Cabbage is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C but extremely low in calories (just 22 per cup), so you can fill your plate with the leafy green guilt-free. And while you're probably familiar with the infamous Cabbage Soup Diet, there are plenty of alternate ways to eat this veggie that won't leave you feeling hungry. It's delicious in a variety of slaws or salads, and makes a crunchy garnish atop tacos or burgers.