To lose weight, you don’t necessarily need to eat less—you just need to eat smarter. Superfoods are nutritional powerhouses that load your body with vitamins and minerals to not only reduce inflammation, but also regulate your digestive tract, both of which will banish bloating and load you with more energy for your workouts. The superfoods on this list, though, take it to the next level, firing up your metabolism and piling in protein-building nutrients to help you trade fat for muscle. Check out 15 of our favorite slimming superfoods.
Here’s a reason to heat things up: The capsaicin that gives chili peppers their heat is great for your metabolism, says New York-based nutritionist Jessica Cording, RD. Eating foods with the fiery ingredient increases your metabolism by 15 to 20 percent for up to two hours after the meal, according to a study out of UCLA. What’s more, research presented at the Biophysical Society Annual Meeting earlier this year showed that the spicy ingredient can help activate white and brown fat cells, helping to regulate your metabolism better. What’s so special about the spice? Capsaicin activates your sympathetic nervous system, which is what controls your adrenaline and fight or flight response. Try add half a teaspoon to your breakfast—a study from Purdue University found this amount helped folks eat fewer calories later in the day and squash cravings for sweet and salty snacks.
Hemp seeds are packed with the uber-healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fats and magnesium, which help control your blood sugar. What’s more, hemp seeds, hearts, or powder are excellent vegan protein sources, says Laura Lagano, RDN, an integrative clinical nutritionist based in New Jersey. It’s much easier on your body to digest than other grains and nuts, and it contains all nine essential amino acids so your muscles have all the building blocks needed for prime muscle protein synthesis. Thirty grams of hemp seeds (2 to 3 tablespoons) deliver about 11 grams of protein, so adding a few scoops to your smoothie, yogurt, or salad can give your meal a muscle-building boost.
Adults who eat two eggs for breakfast as part of a calorie-cutting diet lost 65 percent more weight than those who noshed on something else in the a.m., reports a study in the International Journal of Obesity. “Eggs provide satisfying protein and fat to keep your appetite in check,” Cording says. Plus, they contain all nine essential amino acids so they’re great for building muscle—and the more muscle you have, the greater your fat burn. And eat the whole egg, Lagano adds. Almost half the protein and all the fat of a single egg is in the yolk. “It’s truly nature’s perfect food,” she says.
Hazelnuts don’t get as much airtime as peanuts and almonds, but noshing on the nut can help you eat better at other meals. In astudy in The Journal of Nutrition, people who ate 30 grams (about two tablespoons) of hazelnuts a day for 12 weeks saw an improvement in their diet quality—and no negative effects on their BMI. Researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand found people who snacked on hazelnuts daily for 12 weeks didn't get sick of the healthy fare and generally ate less carbohydrates (which cause your body to retain more water) throughout the three months of the study.
For starters, yogurt is a great source of protein (there’s about 17 grams in a single serving container of Greek yogurt), which means it helps build muscle and keep you full longer, as well as calcium, which has been linked to reduced weight gain, Cording says. Folks who eat yogurt regularly have a lower BMI, lower body weight, smaller waist, and lower body fat, reports a study in the International Journal of Obesity. The probiotics in yogurt have also been shown to contribute to a healthy GI tract—crucial in weight management, Cording adds. And it'd be tough to overdo it—the more yogurt you eat in a day, the better, according to a study from the University of Tennessee found that folks who ate three servings of fat-free yogurt a day on a diet lost 22 percent more weight and 61 percent more body fat (81 percent more fat in the stomach area alone!) than those who just cut calories. “Skip the calorie-heavy sugar and stick with unflavored yogurt, then add your own sweetness with fruit, cinnamon, or a small amount of maple syrup or honey,” Cording offers.
Pulses—another name for grain legumes—were deemed the food of the year for 2016 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Why? High in protein, fiber, B-vitamins, and minerals like iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium, legumes pack a strong punch in a tiny seed. One study inJournal of Medicinal Food found that those who ate legumes—which includes peas, beans, lentils, soybeans, and peanuts—four times a week over the course of a month lost more weight and lowered their cholesterol levels compared to guys who cut calories without the grains. Plus, pulse-eaters saw improvements in their bad LDL cholesterol levels and systolic blood pressure. Eating the nutritional powerhouse helps prevent your insulin from spiking, the researchers explain, which means your body is less likely to store excess fat.
Compared to longer-chain triglycerides (the type of fat found in meats and dairy products), coconut oil is made up of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are great for your heart. In fact, coconut oil is the best source of MCT, says Lagano. As for weight loss, in a study from Columbia University, people who used MCT oil lost more body fat than those who consumed olive oil. Why? MCTs aren’t stored in fat deposits the way LCTs are. Plus, studies have shown MCTs suppress appetite and enhance thermogenesis, or fat burning.
“Like other berries, blueberries are comparatively lower in calories than a lot of other popular fruits like apples and bananas,” Cording says. What sets the blue ones apart is they’re packed with vitamins and minerals, and are a great source of fiber. The real power behind blueberries, though, is that they’re one of the most potent sources of antioxidants, which not only help your body fight inflammation and toxins, but have also been linked to potentially boosting the metabolism. If you normally have a banana with your morning cereal or yogurt, try trading it for three-fourths a cup of blueberries instead, she suggests.
Weight loss never tasted better—pure, dark chocolate can actually help you shed the lbs. Adults who ate moderate amounts of dark chocolate regularly were thinner than those who didn't, despite eating more calories and exercising equally to their chocolate-less counterparts, reports a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. What’s more, a Swiss study found folks who ate roughly one and a half ounces of dark chocolate a day—about the amount in a whole bar—had lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that wreaks havoc on your nervous system and encourages your body to retain fat, particularly around the abdomen. Why does the sweet stuff help reduce stress? For starters, it’s full of antioxidants. But chocolate is also slightly caffeinated, which can benefit your nervous system, the study authors say. Opt for a few squares of a bar that’s at least 70 percent cocoa, but the darker the better.
Chock full of antioxidants, ginger root soothes inflammation and GI distress, as well as fortifying your immune system. Plus, people who drank hot tea with ginger felt fuller after a meal and were less likely to overeat later than those who had the hot drink without the kick, in a study out of the Institute for Human Nutrition at Columbia University. The researchers speculate that ginger helps enhance thermogenesis—that fat burning process in your body.
People who incorporated almonds into their diet lost 62 percent more weight and 56 percent more body fat than those who skipped the snack in a study from the City of Hope National Medical Center in California. Researchers from Purdue University found that just trading one snack a day for 1.5 ounces of almonds helped participants feel less hungry and gain less weight. And the nuts are an ideal pre-workout snack: A study in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutritionfound almonds can help you burn more fat and carbs during a workout. The perks are mostly from almonds’ high fiber content, which works to keep you full longer; high protein content, helping you build muscle; and high levels of the amino acid L-arginine, which boosts muscle protein synthesis and serves as a precursor to blood-flow-booster nitric oxide.
Bell peppers are good for more than just delivering hummus to your face sans the carbs of crackers. Red, green, and yellow are all packed with vitamin A, C, B6 B2, E, as well as folate, dietary fiber, and potassium. One yellow bell pepper offers 341 milligrams of vitamin C—that’s nearly 3.5 times as much as in a large orange. Not only are roughly one-third of Americans deficient of the nutrient, but a study in theJournal of Nutrition found folks with higher levels of C have lower BMIs and less body fat. Meanwhile, red bell peppers have 9 times more beta carotene and twice the vitamin C than their green brothers. Plus an entire bell pepper is only between 24 and 50 calories depending on the color, so snacking on one allows you to load up on a ton of nutrients with minimal calorie cost.
Green tea or the ground up version of its leaves, matcha, are both rich with phytochemicals, including catechins like epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)—a metabolism booster. Plus, the caffeine in green tea and matcha can help curb your appetite, Cording explains. In a study in The Journal of Nutrition, participants who drank four to five cups of green tea a day and hit the gym for at least 180 minutes per week lost more stomach fat and overall weight after 12 weeks than those who exercised but passed on the hot beverages. A study in The European Journal of Clinical Nutritionfound a daily dose of 300 mg of EGCG and 200 mg of caffeine increased fat oxidation by almost 50 percent. What that translates to in tea bags varies by brand, according to a study from ConsumerLab.com. A solid bet: Drinking just over four daily cups of Lipton Green Tea, which boasts one of the highest levels of EGCG tested in the study (71 mg per cup). Not into multiple cups a day? Hop on the trendy matcha train, since less goes further in the concentrated form. “But rather than purchasing matcha lattes or sweetened bottled drinks which may provide more calories than you need, stir a teaspoon or two of matcha powder into hot water,” Cording suggests.
“Avocado provides heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, plus filling fiber to give your meals some staying power,” Cording says. People who ate half a fresh avocado with lunch were 40 percent less likely to eat for hours after in a study in Nutrition Journal. Avocados are also full of potassium, which can help reduce bloating, Cording adds. Not only is the fruit itself healthy, but it enhances the rest of your diet: Adding avocado to a fresh salad allowed people to absorb three to five times more carotenoids (found in orange and red fruits and vegetables) in a study in the Journal of Nutrition. Those who ate half an avocado every day also ate a healthier diet overall, says a survey in Nutrition Journal.
Consider using it in oil form for cooking or salad dressing. A study from Penn State found those who ate about 3 tablespoons of high-oleic oils (like avocado, olive, and canola) on a daily basis lost more fat around their stomach in just one month than those who consumed a flax/safflower oil blend. Bonus: It has an almost identical nutritional profile to extra virgin olive oil but a higher smoke point, so it can be used in sautees and stir-frys.
Eating half a grapefruit before a meal can help to you avoid gaining weight. People who ate half a grapefruit prior to a meal three times a day lost 3.5 pounds over 12 weeks in a study in the Journal of Medicinal Food. What's more, folks who noshed on the tart fruit saw a significant reduction in their insulin levels for the two hours after eating—good for that spare tire considering spikes in your insulin encourage your body to retain fat. (Note: Researchers saw almost identical results when participants drank fresh grapefruit juice before a meal instead.) Meanwhile, scientists from UC Berkeley found mice that were fed a high-fat diet but given a solution of grapefruit juice gained 18 percent less weight than those who just ate the high calories. But the acidic fruit can interact negatively with certain medications, particularly those for high cholesterol, so get the all clear from your doc before adding it to your diet.