At the end of the day, peeling off pounds requires you to not only pay attention to what type of food goes on your plate, but, perhaps more importantly—how much.
While it's not easy to keep junk out of the house, making a concerted effort to keep it sparse will result in tremendous health benefits from weight loss and boosted energy to strengthened immunity and cancer prevention. But it’s not just the junk you have to watch out for. A pantry stocked full of heart healthy oils, fueling whole grains, and clean nut butters should pave the road to those toned muscles you’ve been pining after, but only if you practice portion control.
What is a superfood anyway? “A superfood is a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being,” says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition.
One might think that more is better when it comes to healthy food, but that motto doesn’t apply with these superfoods. Keep portions small and your waistline will follow.
You can’t walk into a cafe or grocery store anymore without seeing superfoods lining the shelves, and more often than not they take the form of vibrantly hued, bottled juices. While juices can fast track nutrients into your system, they’re often overloaded with calories and sugar, which can lead to unwanted fat gain. Keep an eye out for serving sizes especially, because many bottles contain two servings in one. Your best bet is to choose juices made mostly of vegetables or skip them altogether.
Cup for cup, quinoa has about the same amount of calories as most regular pastas and therefore should be portioned out similarly. The added benefit with quinoa however is that it is much more nutrient rich, containing all essential amino acids our muscles need for growth and repair. It also contains nearly twice as much fiber as other grains, which works to fill you up. Though, regardless of its superfood status, total calories in and calories out is important when it comes to shedding unwanted pounds, so be sure to keep measuring cups handy.
Bean and lentil-based pastas bump up the nutritional profile of your spaghetti tenfold, but unfortunately the calories don't magically disappear. Lentil-based pastas are rich in nutrients like folate—which may encourage greater weight loss—and thiamine, which works to convert carbohydrates into usable energy. These types of pastas also boast high amounts of fiber and protein per serving, which means they'll fill you up and keep you feeling fuller longer. However, just because they're plant-based and nutrient-dense, does not mean you can suddenly eat them with reckless abandon. Measure out your bean-based pastas just as you would regular varieties and mix in lots of fresh veggies to balance the meal out and keep your belly from bulging.
Research published in Nutrition Journal found that eating half of an avocado at lunch can decrease feelings of hunger in the hours following. The key point to note is the amount of avocado consumed—one half! If you go overboard with the guac or end up downing a whole avocado, you can set yourself back 300 calories or more. The healthy fats will help fill you up, but too much of them will fatten you up if you're not careful.
According to research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the omega 3 fatty acids found in walnuts may aid weight loss and encourage greater heart health. However, these fatty nuts are relatively high on the calorie spectrum, so proceed with caution. One ounce of walnuts contains around 200 calories, which means a few too many handfuls can skyrocket your total calories for the day without so much as a blip on the radar. Stick to one small handful per day or less to get those healthy fats without actually getting fat.
Research backing the weight loss and health benefits of the Mediterranean diet continues to stack up. A Spanish study links the abundance of good fats found in nuts and olive oil—which are staples of the diet—to assisting weight loss in older adults specifically. However, in order to reap these benefits, moderation is key. “In moderation (like anything else!) these foods can be added into the diet for overall health and wellness. They are foods that contain a high nutrient content, but aren't calorie free. Including them like "condiments" can be a healthy way to think of how to best include them in your diet,” says Smith.
Coconut oil contains what’s called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which works to supply energy in the body and in some cases encourage fat loss, though more research is still being done on this. However, as with most oils, coconut oil is incredibly calorie dense and very easy to overdo—one tablespoon contains about 120 calories. So while you’re spooning it into your bulletproof coffee in the morning, be sure to get those measuring spoons out and level them off. Just a small amount extra can sneak unnecessary calories into your diet and result in weight gain.
Dark chocolate has been touted with a wide array of health benefits including reducing stress, cutting your risk for heart disease and yes—even assisting with weight loss. Most milky bars don’t contain enough of the original cacao to boast these same benefits and are filled with added sugar to reduce the natural bitterness, which is why when it comes to picking out bars, the darker the better. Unfortunately even the darkest bars are still high in calories, and portion sizes need to be minded. The best way to keep your chocolate indulgences under wraps is by buying bags of pre-portioned squares or smaller, single serving bars.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re snacking on dates, dried figs, or goji berries, dried fruit is smaller in size than it’s fresh counterparts and as a result, more sugar-dense. The fact of the matter is: the more sugar you consume the more likely it will turn into fat. Trail mix may be healthier than a bag of chips, but portion control is absolutely dire here. “Nuts, nut butter, seeds, dried fruit, chocolate—these are all things that CAN be healthy but it’s key to monitor portion size!” say Smith.
Two tablespoons of peanut butter on average will run you nearly 200 calories. When you're slathering the creamy spread on bread and spooning it into smoothies, do you really think you're sticking to those two small tablespoons? Odds are you're eating more of the health-nut fave than intended. Yes, nut butters are bursting with healthy fats, vitamins, and plant-based protein that can assist weight loss efforts when eaten appropriately. The easiest way to fight back against the nut butter bulge is to stash measuring spoons where you prep your food. Be honest with yourself, too. Level out that tablespoon exactly if you're serious about keeping portions and your muffin top under control.