Whether you're trying to lose a significant amount of weight or the last 10 pounds, dropping fat is incredibly difficult. Low-calorie diets are unreasonable and you're hungry all the time. That's why nutritionists urge dieters to eat quality, nutrient-dense foods—the benefits of which equal to or outweight their caloric impact.
So, what foods are we talking about? "For one, fiber-packed foods are a great way to fill up and control hunger, mange blood glucose levels, as well as promoting gastrointestinal health," says Katherine Zeratsky RDN, LD, at the Mayo Clinic. "Fruits and veggies are rich in fiber and are also predominately water, which makes them heavy (your stomach feels weight) and keeps you fuller longer, while being low in calories," she adds. Finally, take plant-based foods that are naturallly high in protein and you'll get a hunger-curbing one-two punch that'll ignite your metabolic fire, keep you satisfied, and torch calories while you chew.
So, add these foods to your "diet" if you're looking to drop some pounds. The best part? It won't feel like a diet at all.
Quinoa is a unique whole grain because it's a complete protein (about 7g per serving) and high in fiber (6g). Dietary fiber actually binds to fat and cholesterol, helping your body absorb less of the two. The ancient grain is also rich in eight essential amino acids, and vitamins and minerals like magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, iron and B12—both of which are crucial to energy levels. "Quinoa is great eaten alone, mixed with raw veggies as a cold salad, or warm like a pilaf," Zeratsky says. It's a high-quality carb that scores low on the glycemic index, so you won't experience a sharp rise and fall of blood sugar.
"Mushrooms' meaty flavor and texture make them great additions to ground meat dishes such as hamburgers, meatloaf, meatballs, or the like," Zeratsky says. Because they hold up to cooking, mushrooms can even serve as beef substitutes for vegans and vegetarians. Research has even found subbing out meat with mushrooms for one meal a day can prompt significant weight loss because you're consuming less fat and fewer calories. "They add flavor and moisture as well as fiber—stretching recipes to make them more economic, lower in calories, and more nutritious," she adds.
Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries (and more varieties) are an ideal weight loss food because they're relatively low in calories, pack a nutrient-dense punch, and add tons of flavor to otherwise lackluster meals. "Loaded with fiber and antioxidants these little fruits are great on cereal, yogurt, smoothies, salads, or alone as a snack," Zeratsky adds. Fruit gets a bad rap when it comes to weight loss because of its natural sugar, but this actually helps relieve the monotony of a diet program. Berries satisfy your sugar cravings without destroying your progress because they're filling, and can effectively curb your overal calorie intake by slowing digestion and the absorption of fructose.
Greens like spinach are low in calories so you can eat cups of them, allowing you to fill up on a variety of nutrients (vitamins A, K, C, E, copper, manganese, iron, calcium, and many others) and phytonutrients, while consuming few calories," Zeratsky says. Spinach is an incredibly versatile vegetable, but it's also a powerful weight loss food. A Lund University in Sweden study found a spinach extract containing green leaf membranes called thylakoids boost weight loss by 43 percent and are able to curb food cravings by up to 95 percent. The extract bolsters your body's production of the satiety hormone, which curbs hunger, and promotes healthier eating habits.
We're constantly updating our coverage on the latest research involving dark chocolate. The health benefits are seemingly endless. Cocoa contains flavonoids and polyphenols, nutrients that have potential health benefits. For one, frequent dark chocolate consumption (twice a week) is linked to lower BMI, according to a study published in the Journal Internal Medicine. "A small square of chocolate can satisfy a chocolate craving while keeping calories in check," Zeratsky explains, which is what the study concluded, too. People who ate modest amounts of dark chocolate had better mood and activity levels, ate more fruits and vegetables, and ate less saturated fat.
Peppers, particularly green peppers, have large amounts of vitamin C, which is actually a potent fat releaser. Research has found people with inadequate levels of vitamin C hold on to fat more readily, so munching on foods rich in the stuff can trigger your body into a weight loss mode. "The colors, crunch, and options from sweet to earthy to spicy allow you to personalize peppers to your flavor preferences," Zeratsky says. Plus, vitamin C helps your body absorb iron, so cooking peppers with beef or spinach can make for a powerful combination. What's more, a study published in the journal PLOS ONE found hot chili peppers trigger a nerve in your stomach that creates the sensation of fullness and tells your body its had enough food—amazing when you’re trying to lose weight!
Apples typically come in at about 100 calories, making them the perfect snack or pre-workout staple. "The portable fruit makes eating on the go simple and nutritious since there are so many varieties of apples available year-round, and they pair well with entrees like lean pork loin or salads," Zeratsky says. "Apples are also delicious baked, making for a tasty, comfort food-type of dessert," she adds. Compounds called polyphenols in apples are also linked with promoting a healthier immune system, reducing your risk for stroke, high cholsterol, and cardiovascular disease.
If a bag of carrots isn't a fridge staple for you, you should change that. "These root vegetables are hearty, so have them ready to eat as a snack to curb hunger pre-meal instead of opening a bag of chips or other high-calorie snacks," Zeratsky says. Carrots can also serve as a fat substitute by thickening soups and stews. You'll benefit from the high degree of beta-carotene and fiber content.
Beans and legumes are seriously underrated in the superfood world. Zeratsky says kidney and black beans are loaded with fiber while being high in protein, iron, and zinc. Beans are a perfect diet staple if you're hoping to lose weight, because they keep you energized and full longer. Plus, beans are a complex carb, so it takes your body a while to convert them into energy. Research backs it up: One study found black beans help improve insulin resistance, a protective effect against obesity.
"Edamame is a complete protein that has all the amino acids of meat," Zeratsky says. The only difference is edamame also contains healthy fat. You're helping your waistline twofold since one cup of edamame yields about 17g of protein, 8g of fiber, and 189 calories, so you'll stave off hunger without hurting your weight loss progress.
Nuts are an incredible snack—in moderation! Walnuts, almonds, and other varieties are high in heart-healthy fat and fiber, which helps control your hunger. They're also very caloric, so portion is important, Zeratsky urges. There is an association with nut intake and weight maintenance. Brazil nuts are a top-notch choice. They're one of the greatest sources of selenium, which keeps your metabolism, immunity, and reproductive health chugging along. Walnuts are another great option; with about 13g of polyunsaturated fats, these nuts can reduce fat storage and improve how your body metabolizes insulin.
Loading more kale on your plate helps your stomach fill up on little calories a (just 33 cals/100g serving) nd fat, and tons of potassium, vitamin K, and iron. Because kale is fiber-rich, it can also aid your weight loss goals by regulating your digestive system.
Swiss Chard is loaded with anthocyanins and fiber, magnesium, iron, potassium, and vitamins A, C, E, and K. The taste is similar to beets and spinach, so don't dismiss it at the farmer's market or grocery store. Just one cup has 35 calories, making it an incredibly low-calorie yet filling veg you can add to salads, soups, stews, and more. Swiss chard is also a natural fat-burning food; it contains a good amount of vitamin C, which can actually promote weight loss by stimulating the synthesis of carnitine—a compound linked to improved fat burning.