While no one food is a magic bullet for weight loss, there are certain foods that can help you achieve your weight-loss goals. Most of the foods included as part of a weight-loss diet have a few things in common: they're high in fiber (which helps keep you feeling fuller longer) and have a low energy density—meaning that you can eat a decent-sized portion without overdoing it on calories. Include the following weight-loss foods as part of a healthy overall diet, and you may find it's easier to achieve your weight-loss goals.
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.
Almonds are a great source of mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which can help lower your cholesterol and keep you slim. They also contain fewer calories than most other varieties of nuts (just 163 calories for 23), as well as plenty of fiber and vitamin E. According to a study in the International Journal of Obesity, people who added a daily serving of almonds to a low-calorie diet lost more weight than those who followed the same diet but ate a carb-heavy snack such as crackers instead.
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.
A 2016 study found that garlic powder reduces body weight and fat mass among people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Recent studies have also shown that garlic supports blood-sugar metabolism, and helps control lipid levels in the blood. What’s more? Eating garlic can help boost your immune system, help ward off heart disease, fight inflammation, increase memory retention, and lower blood pressure, so consider adding some to your next meal. At the very least, it is preferable over salt, which can lead to water weight gain and bloating.
Fears of high cholesterol were frequently voiced up until the mid-1990s. However, more recent research has shown that the distinction between high- and low-density lipoprotein ('good' and 'bad' cholesterol, respectively) must be addressed when speaking of the potential ill effects of cholesterol. Different types of dietary fat have different effects on blood levels of cholesterol. For example, polyunsaturated fats tend to decrease both types of cholesterol; monounsaturated fats tend to lower LDL and raise HDL; saturated fats tend to either raise HDL, or raise both HDL and LDL; and trans fat tend to raise LDL and lower HDL.
A complete plant protein boasting all nine essential amino acids, quinoa is a weight loss superfood win. One cup of cooked quinoa has about 220 calories, 5 grams of fiber, and 8 grams of protein. “Complex carbohydrates like those in quinoa can help with satiety when eaten with other healthy foods (like heart-healthy avocados for a healthy dose of fats) that inevitably will help with weight loss in the long run,” explains Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, CPT.
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.
Another weight-loss-friendly substitute to keep in mind is favoring salsa over ketchup. While ketchup typically has around 19 calories and 4 grams of sugar per tablespoon, fresh tomato salsa has about 5 calories per tablespoon, no added sugar, and is packed with nutritious veggies. Tomatoes, for example, are loaded with fat-blasting fiber and vitamin C, a deficiency of which Arizona State University researchers associated with increased body fat and larger waists. If you can handle spice, toss some jalapenos in your salsa to rev up your metabolism. For more on how you can switch your metabolism into overdrive, check out the best ways to boost your metabolism!
“Fish is a great source of satiating protein and is typically lower in calories than other animal proteins,” says Maggie Moon, MS, RD, author of The MIND Diet. “Sardines are a sustainable seafood choice, which are packed with heart-healthy and brain-healthy omega-3 fats,” she says. These healthy fats can help decrease inflammation and improve your mood while dieting.
These tiny fish are the unsung stars of the sea. With 23 grams of protein per can and a truckload of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, they're an easy way to load up on nutrients. They're also low in mercury and high in calcium, making them a smart fish pick for pregnant women. If the flavor doesn't appeal to you, soak them in milk for an hour to help cut down on the fishiness.
It emphasizes both health and environmental sustainability and a flexible approach. The committee that drafted it wrote: "The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet. This pattern of eating can be achieved through a variety of dietary patterns, including the “Healthy U.S.-style Pattern”, the “Healthy Vegetarian Pattern" and the "Healthy Mediterranean-style Pattern". Food group amounts are per day, unless noted per week.
Sure, nuts aren’t known for being low in calories, but they have an array of other properties—namely a high protein and fiber content—that makes them ideal for weight loss. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, Circulation, found that consuming 1.5 ounces of almonds daily (as opposed to a carb-dense muffin) along with a heart-healthy diet, helped to improve cholesterol and lipid profiles among the research participants. The study also found that eating almonds reduces belly fat, too.
Fresh, Frozen, or Canned Vegetables ― try something new. You may find that you love grilled vegetables or steamed vegetables with an herb you haven’t tried like rosemary. You can sauté (panfry) vegetables in a non-stick pan with a small amount of cooking spray. Or try frozen or canned vegetables for a quick side dish—just microwave and serve. When trying canned vegetables, look for vegetables without added salt, butter, or cream sauces. Commit to going to the produce department and trying a new vegetable each week.
If you’re not drinking green tea with your workouts, you might be wasting your time at that barre class. A study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that after just two weeks, exercisers who sipped four to five cups of green tea each day and logged 25-minutes at the gym lost more belly fat than their non-tea-drinking counterparts. What makes the drink so powerful? It contains catechins, an antioxidant that hinders the storage of belly fat and aids rapid weight loss. And that’s not the only weight loss elixir out there: Discover more details and drop two sizes with these 4 Teas That Melt Fat Fast.
Yes, peanut butter is high in calories, but if you stick the real stuff—a tasty combo of peanuts and maybe a touch of salt—the legumes can earn a place as one of the best foods for weight loss. In addition to providing you with belly-slimming monounsaturated fats, tummy-filling fiber, and metabolism-boosting protein, peanuts also contain genistein, a compound that helps turn down the genes for obesity and reduces your body’s ability to store fat.
These foods—notably vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains—should supply about 20 to 35 grams of dietary fiber a day, depending on your calorie needs. (Aim for 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories, as advised by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.) Fiber slows the absorption of carbohydrates, so they have less effect on insulin and blood sugar, and it provides other health benefits. Try to fill three-quarters of your plate with produce, legumes, and whole grains—leaving only one-quarter for meat, poultry, or other protein sources.
Potatoes often get a bad rap, but when it comes to weight loss they're hard-to-beat sources of scale-dropping fiber. According to the Cleveland Clinic, sweet potatoes will up the insoluble fiber in your diet, keep you full longer, and you can bake and eat one for just 114 calories. Just watch what you load it with — instead of cheese or sour cream, opt for good-for-you fillings like black beans, tomatoes, and bell peppers.
Although adding an exercise routine to your diet overhaul will help you burn fat more quickly than a dietary intervention alone, one JAMA study found that obese patients who change their diets first and begin exercising six months after their diet change will lose the same amount of weight after 12 months as those participants who eat healthier and exercised over the course of the whole year. In short: don’t put off your weight loss goals just because you don’t want to exercise. Change your diet today by eating more weight loss foods, exercise later, and you can still lose weight.
For a 2,000-calorie daily diet, aim for 2½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit a day. If you consume more calories, aim for more produce; if you consume fewer calories, you can eat less. Include green, orange, red, blue/purple, and yellow vegetables and fruits. In addition to the fiber, the nutrients and phytochemicals in these foods may help protect against certain types of cancer and other diseases. Legumes, rich in fiber, can count as vegetables (though they have more calories than most vegetables). For more fiber, choose whole fruits over juice.
Let's be real: Some nights, you need to eat out or order in. Check online menus before going out to prevent impromptu (read: poor) choices. A California roll with brown rice has only 26g carbs—that's half the carbs and triple the fiber in a white rice tempura (battered = carbs) roll. For more healthy ideas, read 5 Dishes You Should Avoid (and the 5 You Should Order) at Sushi Restaurants.
Lentils and beans are great foods for weight loss, but chickpeas also belong in your pantry. They contain a whopping 39 grams of protein per cup, which nearly meets your recommended daily amount from the USDA, so you're guaranteed to stay full for awhile after noshing on these beauties. Most eat them in hummus form, but you could also toss them in seasonings and roast in the oven, which you can then sprinkle into meals or eat alone for a crunchy snack.
Calcium. As well as leading to osteoporosis, not getting enough calcium in your diet can also contribute to anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties. Whatever your age or gender, it’s vital to include calcium-rich foods in your diet, limit those that deplete calcium, and get enough magnesium and vitamins D and K to help calcium do its job. Learn more »