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.
“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.
Speaking of things you find in the sea, oysters have also been shown to contribute to weight loss thanks to their impressive zinc content. One study found that obese people who consumed 30 milligrams of zinc per day—the equivalent of just six raw oysters—had lower BMIs, weighed less, and showed improvements in blood cholesterol levels. If oysters aren’t your thing, spinach, pumpkin seeds, and mushrooms are also excellent sources of zinc.
How would you like to take all the great weight-loss results you’ve just read about—and double them? That’s what happens when you supplement your diet with a combination of vitamin D and calcium, according to a Nutrition Journal study. Just four weeks into the 12-week experiment, subjects who had taken these two nutrients—found in abundance in some yogurts—lost two times more fat than the other group! To get similar results at home, start your day with one of these best yogurts for weight loss.
Salmon boasts significant anti-inflammatory properties thanks to its rich omega-3 fatty acid content, meaning it’s an excellent source of protein for those looking to jumpstart their weight loss. In fact, one International Journal of Obesity study that examined the effects of weight loss and seafood consumption showed that when men ate three 5-ounce servings of salmon per week for a month as part of a low-calorie diet, it resulted in approximately 2.2 pounds more weight loss than following an equicaloric diet that didn’t include fish. According to a study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, fishy fatty acids may also signal thyroid cells in the liver to burn more fat.
Artichokes are incredibly filling—in fact, they are one of the highest-fiber vegetables, says Sass. A single boiled artichoke contains a whopping 10.3 grams of fiber—almost half the recommended daily amount for women. To curb your appetite before a meal, Sass suggests enjoying the veggie as a pre-dinner appetizer: try them in a refreshing salad with edamame and asparagus, or make homemade salsa with artichoke hearts, tomatoes, olives, and red onions.
This dark, leafy green has a long list of benefits: it's a rich source of iron, folic acid, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein, and powerful antioxidants that can help fight diseases like ovarian and breast cancer. Spinach is also loaded with magnesium, which can lower blood sugar and insulin levels (aiding your body in weight loss as a result), according to a 2013 study.
Excess sodium, found in many processed foods and restaurant meals, raises blood pressure in some people and can have other adverse effects. The Dietary Guidelines recommend a limit of 2,300 milligrams a day for the general population; people with hypertension or prehypertension can benefit from a further reduction to 1,500 milligrams per day. As you cut back on sodium, eat more potassium-rich foods, which help lower blood pressure. These include citrus fruits, bananas, beans, avocados, some fish, and dairy products.
From a psychological and cultural perspective, a healthier diet may be difficult to achieve for people with poor eating habits. This may be due to tastes acquired in childhood and preferences for sugary, salty and/or fatty foods. In the UK, the chief medical officer of the government recommended in December 2018 that sugar and salt be taxed to discourage consumption.
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.
Going gluten-free may be a popular trend, but unless you're actually gluten-intolerant or have celiac disease, plenty of reasons exist to continue eating whole grains. They're a tasty way to fill up on both soluble and insoluble fiber, which help you feel full for longer and keep bowel movements regular (oats, barley, and bulgur are especially high sources). Whole grains can also help prevent weight gain: in one study, women who ate whole grains like wheat germ and dark bread had a 49% lower risk of "major" weight gain over time.
Eating a healthy diet doesn’t have to be overly complicated. While some specific foods or nutrients have been shown to have a beneficial effect on mood, it’s your overall dietary pattern that is most important. The cornerstone of a healthy diet pattern should be to replace processed food with real food whenever possible. Eating food that is as close as possible to the way nature made it can make a huge difference to the way you think, look, and feel.
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.
Steel-cut and rolled varieties of oats have up to 5 grams of fiber per serving, making them the most filling choice. (Instant oats contain 3 to 4 grams per serving—if you're opting for that kind, make sure to skip the versions with added sugar.) And as a complex carb, they can help with weight loss. "Your body needs to break down complex carbohydrates because they’re a complicated mesh of molecules,” Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., and owner of Nutrition Starring You, told SELF in a previous article.
What is moderation? In essence, it means eating only as much food as your body needs. You should feel satisfied at the end of a meal, but not stuffed. For many of us, moderation means eating less than we do now. But it doesn’t mean eliminating the foods you love. Eating bacon for breakfast once a week, for example, could be considered moderation if you follow it with a healthy lunch and dinner—but not if you follow it with a box of donuts and a sausage pizza.
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 »
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.
As it turns out, almonds aren’t the only superstar nuts around. Studies have shown pistachios aren’t bad to snack on either. UCLA Center for Human Nutrition researchers divided study participants into two groups, each of which were fed a nearly identical low-cal diet for three months. One group was given 220-calories of pretzels as an afternoon snack, while the other sect munched on 240-calories worth of pistachios. About a month into the study, the pistachio group had reduced their BMI by a point and improved their cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while the pretzel-eaters stayed the same.
If you haven't jumped on the mushroom bandwagon yet, now's the time. Researchers from the University of Buffalo discovered that portobellos could help you lose weight thanks to their ability to regulate blood sugar (which can help prevent diabetes) and balance hormones. They also concluded that the fungus may help you exercise for longer periods of time, so use it as vegetarian-friendly burger base or toss into a tasty breakfast frittata.
Salmon is a rich source of high-quality protein and provides plenty of "good" fats: omega-3 fatty acids. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids helped people feel more satisfied when they were watching their calories, per a study in Appetite. Eating salmon can be a delicious and versatile way to get your recommended two weekly servings of heart-healthy fish.
It’s time to focus on your lentil health. In one four-week Spanish study, researchers found that eating a calorie-restricted diet that includes four weekly servings of legumes aids weight loss more effectively than an equivalent diet that doesn’t include beans. Those who consumed the legume-rich diet also saw improvements in their “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and systolic blood-pressure. To reap the benefits at home, work lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans into your diet throughout the week.
Fruit and vegetables are low in calories and nutrient dense, which means they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Focus on eating the recommended daily amount of at least five servings of fruit and vegetables and it will naturally fill you up and help you cut back on unhealthy foods. A serving is half a cup of raw fruit or veg or a small apple or banana, for example. Most of us need to double the amount we currently eat.