Cutting calories? No need to subsist on spinach and egg whites alone. Stock your kitchen with a variety of healthy foods that are high in protein and fiber and you’ll feel satisfied enough to stick to a weight loss plan past January.
Losing weight doesn’t have to mean hunger pangs and feeling half-dead at your desk all day. The trick to trimming down without feeling tortured: “Shift to a fiber-rich diet with ample sources of lean protein—it's the simplest way to reduce your caloric intake without eating less,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, author of The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories & Fat Disappear—with Fiber! Foods high in fiber or protein have fewer calories per gram, so you can pile up your plate without piling on the pudge.
Picking real food over gimmicky weight loss bars and shakes will also help you keep your head in the healthy-eating game. “Being balanced in the food you eat will make you feel balanced mentally,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, a New York City-based nutrition expert and author of Read It Before You Eat It. “You’ll know that you’ve eaten something solid and can get on with your day.” We asked these two dietitians to weigh in on the healthiest feel-fuller foods. Here are their top 10 picks.
Not all nuts are created equal. Pistachios are one of the lowest-calorie and lowest-fat nuts out there, says Zuckerbrot. And because of that, you’ll get to eat more of them. A 1-ounce serving equals 48 pistachios, while 28 peanuts or 22 almonds set you back the same number of calories. Pistachios can also help protect your ticker: “Almost all of the fat found in pistachios are heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which when consumed in combination with a healthy diet may reduce the risk of heart disease,” says Zuckerbrot.
Zero-calorie foods are too good to be true, but veggies like cucumbers, carrots, zucchini, celery, broccoli, and cabbage come pretty close. Since they're made up of mostly water and fiber, they’re naturally very low in calories. “Fiber also adds bulk to foods, which gives you the satisfaction of chewing, plus the feeling of a full stomach,” notes Zuckerbrot. If you’re not a raw veggies type of guy, use produce to bulk up sandwiches, soups, and omelets.
Despite what your Paleo-preaching CrossFit friends tell you, if you’re trying to lose weight, you might want to think twice before ditching dairy. Cheese is a satisfying, portable, and inexpensive food that’s packed with calcium, vitamin D, and protein, notes Taub-Dix.
“Calcium can also promote weight loss because it helps maintain muscle mass, which boosts and helps maintain metabolism, helping you burn calories more efficiently throughout the day,” says Zuckerbrot. Stick to reduced-fat or part-skim varieties and work cheese into fiber-rich snacks, like string cheese with an apple or cottage cheese with diced pineapple on high-fiber crackers.
When your sweet tooth rears its head, reach for raspberries. A one-cup serving provides 8 grams of filling fiber and sets you back only 60 calories. Eat them as-is or throw them into a smoothie or on top of a salad—you’ll do your entire body a favor. “Raspberries are also bursting with vitamin C, a cancer-fighting antioxidant that keeps free radicals from causing damage to cells,” says Zuckerbrot.
Greek yogurt packs twice the protein of regular yogurt and takes care of 20 percent of your daily calcium needs. “Problem is, everyone likes to chew, and yogurt doesn’t always do the trick alone,” says Taub-Dix, who suggests adding in nuts, dried fruit, or cereal that is whole-grain, high in fiber, and low in sugar. If you’re not a fan of Greek yogurt, try a 2% fat variety, like Chobani 2% low-fat Greek yogurt. It’s creamier and only slightly higher in calories compared to plain nonfat Greek yogurt (130 versus 100 calories for 6 ounces).
Returning to a childhood comfort food hardly seems like a weight loss tactic, but cereal can make for a healthy meal when you’re in a hurry—as long as you don’t pick a brand with a rabbit on the box. “High fiber whole-grain cereals not only provide ample fiber, but are also loaded in B vitamins, antioxidants, and trace minerals such as iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium,” says Zuckerbrot. Top your bowl with skim milk and a few sliced almonds and use a measuring cup to keep portions in check, advises Taub-Dix.
Broth-based soup is a triple threat when it comes to feeling full for fewer calories. Most recipes are loaded with fiber-rich vegetables and lean protein, like chicken or shrimp. Plus, the warm liquid takes up plenty of space in your stomach. Eating soup as a pre-lunch snack helped participants in a Penn State University study take in 100 fewer calories during their midday meal than those who opted for other snacks or no snack at all. Researchers suggest that soup’s satisfying combination of liquids and solids makes it an appetite suppressant.
Be honest: chicken gets boring. But salmon is another excellent source of lean protein that comes with a fat-fighting advantage. “Salmon is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which may help aid weight loss by improving glucose sensitivity, reducing insulin resistance, reducing inflammation, and speeding up the oxidation of fat,” says Zukerbrot. For a super satiating meal, serve the fish alongside roasted vegetables. Pick artichokes, spinach, or broccoli, which all provide at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.
Not only are chickpeas packed with protein, hummus also gives you an excuse to eat more fiber-rich vegetables—for a fraction of the calories of higher-fat sour cream or mayo-based dips. Pair hummus with snap peas, jicama, carrots or celery and enjoy it when you get home from work and are making dinner or waiting for take-out to arrive, suggests Taub-Dix.
Almond butter is creamy and decadent, and you don’t need to eat a ton of it to feel satisfied. Plus, it has more calcium and fiber than peanut butter—for the same number of calories (approximately 100 for 1 tbsp). Spread almond butter on a slice of whole-grain bread, advises Taub-Dix. Whole-grain bread packs more fiber than white bread, so it takes longer to break down in the body and will keep your energy levels up for a longer period of time.