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.
Like a marathoner stretching before the big run, eating half a grapefruit before a meal can enhance your body’s fat-burning performance. A study published in the journal Metabolism found that this “warm-up” tactic can help whittle your middle—by up to an inch—in just six weeks! The scientists attribute the powerful effects to the grapefruits’ fat-zapping phytochemicals. The fruit can interact negatively with certain medications, so as long as you get the green-light from your M.D, plan to have half of a grapefruit before your morning meal and add a few segments your starter salads to reap the benefits.
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.
A better approach is to make a few small changes at a time. Keeping your goals modest can help you achieve more in the long term without feeling deprived or overwhelmed by a major diet overhaul. Think of planning a healthy diet as a number of small, manageable steps—like adding a salad to your diet once a day. As your small changes become habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices.
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.
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.
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.
All beans are high in fiber, which is your friend when you're trying to lose weight because it helps you feel fuller longer, thus controlling hunger. Eating beans and legumes has also been linked with various other health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, reducing LDL cholesterol and reducing risk of cardiovascular disease. Beans are fairly low in calories and deliver protein as well. Try them in homemade veggie burgers, soups and salads.
Try not to think of certain foods as “off-limits.” When you ban certain foods, it’s natural to want those foods more, and then feel like a failure if you give in to temptation. Start by reducing portion sizes of unhealthy foods and not eating them as often. As you reduce your intake of unhealthy foods, you may find yourself craving them less or thinking of them as only occasional indulgences.
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a diet promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (part of the NIH, a United States government organization) to control hypertension. A major feature of the plan is limiting intake of sodium, and the diet also generally encourages the consumption of nuts, whole grains, fish, poultry, fruits, and vegetables while lowering the consumption of red meats, sweets, and sugar. It is also "rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, as well as protein".
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.
Cheese isn’t traditionally thought of as something you consume to encourage weight management, but calcium-rich Parmesan, when eaten in moderation, can help stave off sugar cravings that can easily lead to weight gain. How does that work, you ask? The native Italian cheese contains the amino acid tyrosine (a building block of protein) which has been shown to encourage the brain to release dopamine without any unhealthy insulin spikes. What’s more? The combination of calcium and protein found in dairy products such as Parmesan has been found to increase thermogenesis—the body’s core temperature—and thus boost your metabolism.
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.