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.
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.
For people who are healthy, a healthy diet is not complicated and contains mostly fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and includes little to no processed food and sweetened beverages. The requirements for a healthy diet can be met from a variety of plant-based and animal-based foods, although a non-animal source of vitamin B12 is needed for those following a vegan diet. Various nutrition guides are published by medical and governmental institutions to educate individuals on what they should be eating to be healthy. Nutrition facts labels are also mandatory in some countries to allow consumers to choose between foods based on the components relevant to health.
“Thirst and hunger cues feel similar, so it’s important to stay hydrated, especially if you’re trying to lose weight,” explains Moon. Yes, plain water is important, but 20 percent of our daily water intake comes from foods, she says. “Watermelon is 92 percent water, plus it is bursting with vitamins A and C and anti-inflammatory nutrients like lycopene,” she explains.
A great source of calcium and important cancer-fighting compounds, broccoli also has loads of filling fiber and will set you back only 30 calories per serving. If eating this cruciferous veggie makes you bloat, try steaming it first, which makes it easier to digest while still preserving the cancer-fighting ingredients that could be lost when you boil or cook it in the microwave.
Like peanuts, lentils also contain genistein, but their weight loss powers don’t end there. In one four-week Spanish study, researchers found that eating a calorie-restricted diet that also included four weekly servings of legumes aided weight loss more effectively than an equivalent diet sans the pulses. Those who consumed the legume-rich diet also saw improvements in their “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and systolic blood pressure. Next time you’re cooking something starchy for dinner, consider eating fiber and protein-packed lentils instead.
Blueberries are lousy with antioxidants, satiating fiber, potassium, and more, and according to researchers at the University of Michigan, the colorful fruits may also encourage weight loss. In a study of laboratory rats, scientists found that after 90 days the rats who consumed blueberry-enriched powder as 2 percent of their diet had less abdominal fat, lower triglycerides, lower cholesterol, and improved fasting glucose and insulin sensitivity, than the rats who didn’t consume any blueberry-enriched powder.
At least half your grains should be whole grains, such as whole wheat, oats, barley, or brown rice. Whole grains retain the bran and germ and thus all (or nearly all) of the nutrients and fiber of the grain. One sure way of finding whole grains is to look for a product labeled “100% whole wheat” or “100%" of some other whole grain. You can also look for a whole grain listed as the first ingredient, though there still may be lots of refined wheat in the product. Another option is to look for the voluntary “Whole Grain Stamp” from the Whole Grains Council. Or try this tip: Look for less than a 10-to-1 ratio of “total carbohydrates” to “fiber” on the nutrition label.