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What foods help with weight loss? Only Google knows how many people around the world have asked the internet this question.
Of course, it’s common knowledge to opt for foods that are baked, boiled, or grilled instead of fried (although the recent advent of air fryers has offered a health-friendly solution for that crispy texture without the adverse effects of oil-fried foods). When seeking protein, swap out high-fat meats for lean proteins like fish and chicken. And for our plant-based friends, this means beans, legumes, and tofu.
However, in addition to choosing healthy foods, it’s just as important to consume in moderation—which means you should make the food that you do eat count. To get the most from your meals, many nutritionists will suggest eating nutrient-dense foods, which are full of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and unsaturated fats—but with only a moderate amount of calories.
Importantly, these foods are often high in protein, which some research suggests can help treat obesity because it makes people feel fuller for longer. One study found that eating a high-protein breakfast increases a person’s satiety. In fact, people who started their day with a boost of protein, compared with a low-protein food or no breakfast at all, had greater appetite control and reduced food intake at lunch (Rains, 2015).
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Best weight loss foods
The key to weight loss is burning more calories than you consume. This simple equation is primarily driven by diet, so even if you do have an active exercise routine, it plays just a small role compared with foods you choose to eat.
Technically, you could dine on fried chicken, fries, and a milkshake every day and still lose weight, as long as you’re not eating in excess and are burning more calories than you eat. However, that’s not advisable if better health is also on your list of wellness goals.
Read on to learn about some of the best foods to consider adding to your diet to improve your body weight.
Starting the day with eggs for breakfast can help you feel more full and consume fewer calories throughout the day, according to a study published in Nutrition Research (Ratliff, 2010). Another study examining breakfast choices among men found that those who ate eggs for breakfast required smaller lunches and felt fuller than those who had carbohydrate-rich foods like cereal or croissants (Fallaize, 2013).
With just 78 calories in one large hard-boiled egg, they’re a naturally low-calorie food and a good source of protein and nutrients such as vitamin D and choline. Boiled, baked, poached, scrambled, eggs are also an extremely versatile way to get your protein. That said, preparation is essential because adding too much fat from oil or butter can deter your weight loss goals.
Continuing with breakfast, which many deem the most important meal of the day, oatmeal is another highly regarded morning meal. Known as a “to stick to your ribs” kind of food, oats are often included in weight-loss diets because the high fiber count helps people feel full for longer.
Oats contain large amounts of a certain type of fiber called beta-glucan, which has been shown to regulate hunger hormones and decrease subsequent meal intake (Beck, 2009).
The exact nutrition facts may depend on the preparation style, but, in general, dietitians say that one cup of oatmeal has around 5 grams of fiber, one serving of whole grains, and 6 grams of protein—all for just 150 calories.
Touted by well-known names like Heidi Klum and President Obama as a go-to snack, almonds are just one type of nut that is linked to weight loss and cardiovascular health. Walnuts, pistachios, cashews, and brazil nuts are all similarly packed with protein, fiber, and healthy fats.
According to three prospective, longitudinal cohorts of U.S. health professionals, increasing daily consumption of nuts is linked to less long-term weight gain and a lower risk of obesity in adults. In fact, swapping half of a serving per day of less healthy foods with nuts may be a simple strategy to help ward off gradual long-term weight gain (Liu, 2019).
That said, nuts are a high-calorie food and are to be consumed in moderation. The recommendation for someone on a 2,000-calorie diet is no more than 5 ounces, or just over a half-cup, per week of nuts and seeds. Two tablespoons of peanut butter or other nut spreads are equal to about 2 ounces of protein foods (USDA, 2015).
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Beans and legumes
Although they’re sometimes used interchangeably, there is a distinction between beans and legumes. Legumes are plants that bear fruit, and beans are the seed of those plants. All beans are considered legumes, but legumes aren’t always beans.
Some popular beans (and legumes) are kidney beans, pinto beans, white beans, black beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), and lentils. They’re affordable, full of protein and dietary fiber, and some research even suggests that making legumes a regular part of your diet can help support healthy weight management or weight loss. A meta-analysis of 21 trials showed that diets that included dietary pulses (beans, lentils, and peas) yielded modest weight loss even when the diets were not intended to be calorically restricted (Kim, 2016).
Legumes are also a staple of the Mediterranean diet, which some experts recommend as one of the healthiest dietary patterns in the world.
When you hear cruciferous vegetables, you probably think of broccoli and cauliflower, but the family is actually quite diverse. Cabbage, bok choy, arugula, and brussels sprouts are included in this group of fiber-filled vegetables. As an added health bonus, cruciferous vegetables are also rich in folic acid, potassium, and other B vitamins and minerals.
Berries may be tiny, but they’re mighty in their health benefits. Sweet favorites like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are said to be high in fiber, which slows digestion and keeps you feeling full. They’re a nutritious alternative to candy or cakes and can be added to water or tea as a substitute for soda or juice.
When nutritionists suggest eating more leafy greens, they’re usually referring to the likes of kale, spinach, collards, and swiss chards. Leafy greens are typically low in calories but high in fiber. One serving of kale, for example, has only eight calories, yet contains vitamins A, C, and K; fiber; plant-based omega-3 fatty acids; and disease-fighting phytonutrients.
Generally speaking, whole grains, as opposed to refined white grains, are the healthier choice when it comes to bread, cereal, pasta, and rice.
Refined grains are processed to remove the bran and germ, which is said to improve the texture and shelf life. The downside is that the process also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins that are so important to digestion and satiety. If you’re mindful of your carbs, choose wisely and go with whole grains.
There’s a reason why avocados have been trending in recent years. Avocados are not a low-fat food, but the health benefits are numerous. In addition to their reputation as a healthy staple and their photogenic nature on foodie Instagram posts, they’re full of monounsaturated fats that have been shown to reduce hunger. They also contain unsaturated fats that prevent the storage of belly fat, as well as fiber and antioxidants.
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Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a fermented form of apple cider that offers a variety of household and culinary benefits, including aiding in digestion.
One small study in humans found that among people who followed a 12-week restricted-calorie diet with and without apple cider vinegar, the ACV group lost more weight. Several studies in mice and rats have suggested that ACV can improve metabolism and burn fat, but there’s still more research to be done before drawing conclusive evidence
Although it might take a few days to get used to this tart flavor, adding one or two tablespoons to a salad dressing or sauce is a simple way to incorporate it into your routine.
Full-fat Greek yogurt
Foods like Greek yogurt, which are rich in probiotics, are said to help people to look and feel their best. Probiotics foster “good” gut bacteria that can help boost immunity, regulate gut function, and banish bloat. It’s also high in protein.
If you’re looking for a simple addition to your daily routine that comes with great benefits, then you might want to consider a superfood called chia seeds. Although there’s little research linking them to weight loss, chia is packed with fiber, protein, and calcium. Just one serving of chia seeds, which translates to approximately two tablespoons, is said to contain about 10 grams of fiber.
Foods to avoid
Now that we have enough nutrient-rich foods on our list to fill a shopping cart, let’s focus on which foods to avoid when trying to lose weight. It’s not necessary to eliminate these foods entirely, but they should be eaten in moderation if weight loss is one of your goals.
Because they’re battered and cooked up in oil, fried foods tend to be high in calories and trans fats. Although delicious, it’s wise to steer clear of too many fried foods if you’re trying to lose weight.
A cross-sectional study of more than 33,000 people in Spain, a country where frying with oil is a culinary staple, found that fried food intake was linked to general and central obesity (Guallar-Castillón, 2007).
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that a person on a 2,000-calorie diet consume no more than 12 teaspoons of sugar per day. Unfortunately, the same report found that the average American consumes around 17 teaspoons of added sugar per day (USDA, 2015).
While it’s understandable to want a little bit of sweetness in your life, it’s important to be mindful of not surpassing the 10% of total daily intake recommendation. Much of sugar consumption actually comes from beverages, so consider swapping sugary drinks like soda, juice, sweetened teas, and flavored coffees for water or seltzer.
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Eating red meat has been associated with weight gain, as well as other health side effects, because of the high fat, salt, and calorie content. If red meat is currently one of your main sources of protein, consider replacing high-fat red meats with lean proteins like fish, eggs, turkey, and chicken.
With such a strong emphasis on nutrient-dense foods for weight loss, it’s probably pretty clear that whole foods are healthier than processed ones. Processed foods are packaged items that often have a long list of ingredients, such as added sugar, salt, flavorings, emulsifiers, and high-fructose corn syrup.
- Anderson, J.W. Baird, P. Davis, R.H., Ferreri, S. (2009). Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutrition reviews, 67(4), 188–205. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19335713/
- Beck, E. J., Tosh, S. M., Batterham, M. J., Tapsell, L. C., & Huang, X. F. (2009). Oat beta-glucan increases postprandial cholecystokinin levels, decreases insulin response and extends subjective satiety in overweight subjects. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, 53(10), 1343–1351. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19753601/
- Fallaize, R., Wilson, L., Gray, J., Morgan, L. M., & Griffin, B. A. (2013). Variation in the effects of three different breakfast meals on subjective satiety and subsequent intake of energy at lunch and evening meal. European Journal of Nutrition, 52(4), 1353–1359. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22948783/
- Guallar-Castillón, P., Rodríguez-Artalejo, F., Fornés, N. S., Banegas, J. R., Etxezarreta, P. A., Ardanaz, E., et al. (2007). Intake of fried foods is associated with obesity in the cohort of Spanish adults from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 86(1), 198–205. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17616781/
- Liu X, Li Y, Guasch-Ferré M, et al. (2019). Changes in nut consumption influence long-term weight change in US men and women. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, 000034. Retrieved from https://nutrition.bmj.com/content/early/2019/08/27/bmjnph-2019-000034
- Rains, T. M., Leidy, H. J., Sanoshy, K. D., Lawless, A. L., & Maki, K. C. (2015). A randomized, controlled, crossover trial to assess the acute appetitive and metabolic effects of sausage and egg-based convenience breakfast meals in overweight premenopausal women. Nutrition Journal, 14, 17. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4334852/
- Ratliffa, J. Leite, J.O. Ogburn, R. Puglisi, M.J. (2010). Consuming eggs for breakfast influences plasma glucose and ghrelin, while reducing energy intake during the next 24 hours in adult men. Nutrition Research. doi: 10.1016. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0271531710000035
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans [PDF]. (2015). United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrived from https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf