What qualifies as a weight-loss food?
You want items that have at least two of three features: high fiber content to help keep you full longer and aid in digestion, high protein content to keep you full and build muscle, and/or high micronutrient content to help reduce inflammation, repair workout damage, and keep you energized.
We talked to 11 nutritionists and compiled a list of the top 100 foods you should be noshing on to lose weight without getting bored.
“Chili peppers (as well as other spicy peppers) are high in capsaicin, the component that gives chili peppers their heat,” explains Alexandra Caspero, R.D., owner of weight-management and sports-nutrition service Delicious-Knowledge.com. What’s special about that? The fiery ingredient increases your metabolism by 15 to 20 percent in the few hours after eating it, says a study out of UCLA. It helps stimulate your metabolism and turn white fat into brown fat, helping further regulate your metabolism, Caspero says. Add half a teaspoon of chili peppers to your breakfast—a study in Physiology & Behavior found this helped people eat fewer calories later in the day and quell cravings for sweet and salty snacks.
The Grapefruit Diet is most certainly an unhealthy, unhelpful fad diet—but the fruit itself is a great addition to healthy, weight loss diet, Caspero says. If you love the stuff, your waistline is in serious luck: People who ate half a grapefruit before a meal three times a day lost 3.5 pounds over 12 weeks in a study in the Journal of Medicinal Food. Even just one serving can help. “One serving of grapefruit has only 53 calories and about 2 grams of fiber. Plus, it takes a while to eat the individual segments, slowing down the rate of eating,” Caspero adds.
This German staple is finely cut, fermented cabbage. “All fermented foods are good for weight loss,” says Caspero. “Fermented foods are rich in probiotics that replenish the microbiome, giving it the right proportion of friendly bacteria for weight loss.” And in fact, a study in Cell shows not having enough beneficial gut bacteria is directly linked to obesity—so eat up!
You know about almonds and cashews, but pine nuts are an oft overlooked way to spice up a meal and lose some lbs. “Research showed that fatty acids in pine nuts can lead to stimulation of cholecystokinin (CCK), an appetite-suppressing hormone,” Caspero says. Throw them on a salad or throw them in a food processor with basil, garlic, olive oil, and parmesan for homemade pesto.
“Celery has long been thought of as a ‘negative calorie food,’ meaning it takes more energy to digest than the calories it contains,” Caspero explains. Plus, the vegetable is mostly fiber, essential for satiation and weight loss. For a healthy snack, Caspero recommends trying celery and almond butter, which will deliver a good source of protein, healthy fats, and fiber.
“Sprouts are nutritional powerhouses: They are excellent sources of vitamin K, C, fiber, and other essential minerals,” Caspero says. Try adding them to salads, soups or Asian pastas (like lo-mein) to bulk up the meal for relatively few calories.
This fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids (1.6 grams per serving), which have been shown to help with reduced inflammation and weight loss, Caspero explains. Throw it on a grill and smoke it, then add anywhere you would tuna, like in a salad or on a sandwich.
Don't fear soy! “So many of the claims against soy are incorrect and based on a limited view of how phytoestrogens actually works,” Caspero says. “Not only is tofu a complete protein source, it's also cholesterol-free and lower in fat than animal proteins.” Not sure what to do with the squishy stuff? She recommends trying it in stir-fry or baked for a more chewy texture.
“This is perhaps my favorite food of them all—I think that everyone should be eating more lentils,” Caspero says. A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found eating 3/4 cup of lentils every day can help contribute to moderate weight loss. Their high fiber content means you stay full longer after eating and have less cravings. Plus, they’re low fat and cheap to purchase, so they’re a superfood that everyone can enjoy, Caspero points out. Lentils are traditionally used in soup, but Caspero says you can use them anywhere you typically use ground beef, like spaghetti sauce, tacos, and casseroles.
We're happy to tell you eating dessert can actually help you lose weight—as long as it's dark chocolate. Folks who ate dark chocolate twice a week had a lower BMI than those who skipped it, according to a study in Internal Medicine. Pure cocoa boasts flavonoids and polyphenols, nutrients with potential antioxidant effects. While all kinds of chocolate have these to some extent, milk chocolate has less of the beneficial stuff—plus a ton of sugar added. Plus, since dark chocolate is more rich than milk chocolate, a little goes a long way, Caspero says. Look for 70% or higher dark chocolate.
Watermelon is rich in the amino acid l-citrulline, and a study earlier this year in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care found this may allow the fruit to help increase nitric oxide synthesis, decrease blood pressure, and improve blood flow—all of which would work together to improve exercise performance, says Tori Schmitt, RDN, LD, founder of YES! Nutrition in Ohio. “While more research needs to be done, we know that watermelon makes for a low-calorie snack full of potassium, vitamin C, and lycopene,” she adds. Try it in a smoothie: Blend watermelon with cucumber, lime, and vanilla whey protein powder, Schmitt suggests.
This traditional Korean side dish is made of fermented vegetables, so you not only score the micronutrients of the vegetables themselves, but kimchi is also a source of probiotics which can help your body achieve an optimal balance of gut bacteria, Schmitt explains. In fact, one Korean study found adding kimchi to your diet can help reduce heart disease markers, lower blood pressure, and reduce body fat. “Plus, naturally occurring probiotics found in kimchi help strengthen your immune system and promote a healthy digestive tract,” Schmitt says. Serve kimchi overtop of an avocado, or add some to your eggs or salad.
“With just over 2 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein per serving, broccoli helps you fill up without a lot of calories,” Schmitt says. Plus, broccoli is the king of glucoraphanin—a special phytonutrient that helps your body with its natural detoxification process, she adds. Enjoy raw broccoli as a snack served alongside guacamole or hummus, or throw a frozen bunch into your morning smoothie.
Also known as aubergine, garden egg, and guinea squash, eggplant are chock full of phytonutrients that help repair damage in your body. “Full of fiber, eggplant serves as an excellent substitute for higher-calorie foods you love that may be keeping you from your health goals,” Schmitt says. “You can use it as a replacement for pizza crust, pop sticks in the oven as fiber-rich fries, or use slices of eggplant as a noodle replacement in lasagna.”
“Sardines are a great source of omega-3s, which when combined with a resistance exercise program may significantly improve muscle strength and neuromuscular function,” Schmitt says. One small can of sardines delivers 3 grams of protein for just 25 calories! Pair sardines on top of salads, as a protein-source on top of avocado toast, or even in a seafood taco.
“One fillet of tilapia has 23 grams of protein, which helps you feel fuller, longer. Plus, high protein diets have been tied to weight loss via helping preserve metabolism and lean body mass,” Schmitt says. If you think this basic fish is too boring, try Schmitt’s recipe: Bake tilapia with lemon and garlic in the oven, and serve with lemony quinoa and a green salad.
“Kidney beans are a type of pulse that pairs well in a variety of dishes, including in burritos, overtop salads, or mashed in hummus or in a bean-based burger,” Schmitt says. And research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that eating just one portion of pulses a day helps weight loss by making people feel fuller for longer.
“Green tea and matcha offer a healthy alternative to high-calorie coffee drinks or ‘energy’ drinks loaded with sugar,” Schmitt explains. While it’s not the silver bullet to shedding fat, studies have shown a small increase in weight loss in people who add the tea to their daily diet. Also, be careful as some matchas—which are finely ground powders of green tea—are actually adulterated and mixed with sugar, Schmitt points out. The easiest way to tell? The powder should be vibrant green like grass, not yellowed or brown.
“Because coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), it is metabolized differently than fats from other oils,” Schmitt explains. Early studies have shown replacing some fats in the diet with MCTs may induce some weight loss, although more research is needed here, Schmitt says. How should you use it? Try tossing air-popped popcorn lightly in coconut oil, or use it as a replacement for butter on toast or in the pan before scrambling eggs, she suggests. Just remember to use the oil occasionally since, like other oils, it is high in calories.
“Blueberries are extremely high in OPCs—oligomeric proanthocyanidins—which are among the most potent ‘anti-aging’ compounds around,” says Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., LDN, a nutritional biochemist in Salt Lake City. OPCs are also a type of flavonoid that can act as a prebiotic nutrient to help nourish the good bacteria in our guts (probiotics), and boost your metabolism for a slightly higher fat burn, he adds.
A study from Texas A&M found stone fruit, like peaches, contain bioactive compounds that may help fight obesity-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease. “Peaches are packed with a wide range of minerals and vitamins, especially potassium and fiber, so they can keep muscles from cramping during/after exercise and help keep you full,” Talbott adds.
Tired of chicken night after night? Pork chops are a great alternative to keeping your palette entertained while still being super high in protein (22 grams!) with very little fat (3 grams), Talbott says. Try throwing them on the grill with a nice herb rub, like our Sage-Rubbed Pork Chops with Grilled Peaches and Onions.
This Australian nut is extremely high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and the mineral manganese, both of which can help manage your appetite and fat-burning by controlling blood sugar, Talbott explains. In fact, studies show low-calorie diets that include nuts result in more weight loss than those that skip the snack. Aim for 1/4 cup, or roughly 14 whole nuts.
Technically a vegetable, garlic is good for way more than just making your breath stink (and food delicious!). “Garlic is a rich source of allicin and other sulfur compounds that help our cells to protect themselves from stress and pollutants,” Talbott explains. Plus, allicin can activate an internal cell protection pathway known as "Nrf2-activation,” which helps to control inflammation—and too much inflammation can interfere with weight loss, he adds.
Radishes are high in fiber, which means they help with digestion and keep you full longer. But what they really stand out for is their high content of detoxifying agents, Talbott says. “Radishes are rich in indoles, zeaxanthin, lutein, beta carotene, and sulforaphane, which help the body to eliminate environmental toxins such as air pollution, cigarette smoke, and others,” he explains. Plus, a recent study in BMJ found people who eat foods high in flavonoids gain less weight than those who skip the nutrients.
This saltwater flatfish is a great non-bovine protein source for very little fat—a 3 ounce filet has 13 grams of protein with just 2 grams of fat. A study from McMaster University in Canada found men who cut calories but kicked their protein into high gear were able to maintain muscle while simultaneously losing more fat than those who just scaled back on calories alone. Flounder can be high in mercury, though, so limit eating it to once a week, Talbott adds.
“Oats should definitely be a regular part of any weight loss diet,” Talbott says. Folks who ate oats on the reg had lower body weight, BMI, and body fat than those who skipped the grain, in a study out of Taiwan. Why? Probably because oats are a rich source of fiber—especially a type known as beta-glucan that can help regulate appetite, blood sugar, and cholesterol, Talbott explains.
“All types of milk are excellent sources of protein—fast-digesting whey, which is great for muscle building and fat-burning, and slow-digesting casein, which is great for appetite control,” says Talbott. Milk also contains special casein peptides, which are short protein chains that help with relaxation and cortisol balance, reducing your chances of “stress belly,” he adds. Whole milk is higher in fat than skim, but with that comes higher levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a fatty acid that stimulates fat-burning, he adds.
“Olive Oil is an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, which have benefits for controlling inflammation—important for weight loss—and reducing pain—important to help you feel your best during exercise,” Talbott explains. Olive oil is also rich in flavonoids like hydroxytyrosol, which can lower blood pressure as effectively as some blood pressure medications, he adds. “Extra Virgin” is the most pure source of these antioxidants, but since many studies show most bottles boasting the label are adulterated, always opt for a trusted brand like California Olive Ranch and Cobram Estate.
“Blackberries are great because 1 cup provides a whopping 8 grams of hunger squashing fiber,” says Chelsea Elkin, RD, a nutritionist based in New York City. “Blackberries are also rich in important antioxidants which are known to help target unwanted belly fat.” Pair the fruit with a protein rich food, like Greek yogurt, and you’ve got a meal that boosts your metabolism and helps control cravings, she adds.
Studies show that pomegranates can help to prevent obesity and its related conditions, like hyperlipidemia. What’s so special about the fruit? “Pomegranate juice has about three times the antioxidant activity of red wine and green tea,” Turoff adds. Good news for weight loss: Pomegranate is packed with dietary nitrates which have been shown to improve exercise by increasing blood flow and leading to a delayed onset of fatigue. Plus, pomegranate fruit seeds are also rich in polyphenols, a natural appetite suppressant, Elkin adds. How do you eat them? Elkin recommends adding pomegranate seeds to roasted vegetables.
“Lamb is a terrific source of protein, and protein helps to give us energy and hold us over from meal to meal,” Elkin explains. In fact, just 3 ounces of the meat delivers a whopping 21 grams of protein for just 250 calories. Look for grass-fed, lean cuts of lamb whenever possible, she advises. (Psst: Lamb also works well in a slow cooker if you’re short on time, Elkin adds.)
These seeds may be little, but they are rich in the good omega-3 fats and are loaded with fiber. “Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats, meaning the body can’t make them on its own, and one must get them from food,” Elkin explains. Why does this matter? Increasing your intake of omega-3s enhances your sensitivity to insulin, which can improve fat burning in the muscles, she adds. Add chia seeds to your morning bowl of oatmeal before to hitting the gym, she recommends.
“Brussels sprouts are rich in powerful antioxidants, like vitamin C, which can help to grow and repair tissues—extremely important when it comes to weight training,” Elkin explains. Brussels sprouts are also super low in calories, making them a slimming side dish to any meal. “I like to sauté Brussels sprouts in algae oil for a heart healthy dose of monounsaturated fats, and finish with shaved Parmesan and lemon juice for some bone-building calcium and added flavor,” she adds.
“While anchovies certainly aren’t the most popular food, it’s important to give this superfood a chance because of all its great health benefits,” Elkin says. Anchovies are loaded with vitamin A, which is important for bone growth, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, low in saturated fat, and high in protein. Use anchovies in salad dressing to add a boost of nutrition or use in pasta sauce for added flavor and nutrition benefits, she suggests.
“When it comes to weight loss, fish is always a great choice,” Elkin says. Perch is particularly great because it is rich in omega-3s but low in mercury, and a 3-ounce serving delivers 16 grams of protein for just 75 calories. “This white fish has a delicate flavor and is delicious grilled, baked, or steamed,” she adds. “Pair it with cruciferous veggies for a healthy dose of antioxidants and a complex carb to help optimize energy, weight loss, and metabolism.”
“Like chia seeds, flax seeds are also rich in plant-based omega 3 fatty acids, and are also a terrific source of protein and fiber—a powerful duo when it comes to weight loss,” Elkin says. One study from Brazil said flaxseed can help prevent weight gain by helping regulate your lipid and glucose profiles. Be sure to get the ground variety, though. “Whole flax seeds can pass through the body undigested, you need ground in order to make sure your body gets all of the great health benefits flaxseeds offer,” Elkin adds.
You know steak is high in protein, but it’s also rich in iron—an essential mineral for proper muscle function. “When we don’t have enough iron in our diet, we are at risk of iron deficiency anemia, which can cause fatigue and weakness,” Elkin explains. “If you want to get healthy, steak can have some drawbacks, since too much red meat has been linked with heart disease and some forms of cancer,” Morrow points out. Rotate it among chicken, fish, poultry, and plant-based protein sources like tofu and tempeh. And Choose lean cuts of red meat whenever possible, like flank steak, and aim to buy grass-fed varieties since they’re naturally leaner and lower in calories, Elkin adds.
“Strawberries are low in sugar and calories and provide a unique combination of essential nutrients, dietary fiber, and phytochemicals,” says Patricia Bannan, RDN, author of Eat Right When Time is Tight. Research shows eating just one serving (eight strawberries) a day may improve heart health, help manage diabetes, support brain health, and reduce the risk of some cancers. Plus, the juicy fruit may help reduce blood sugar and insulin levels after meals. “Scientists believe that a key antioxidant in strawberries blocks the activity of an enzyme responsible for breaking starch into simple sugar, which means fewer simple sugars are released into the bloodstream, lowering the blood sugar and the corresponding insulin response,” Bannan explains. “This is key for weight control because insulin shuttles excess sugar into fat cells.”
“While some claim that pineapple can speed up your metabolism and boost fat loss, there’s no solid scientific evidence to support this,” says Bannan. However, it’s also packed full of vitamins and, when enjoyed among other fruits, can be a great part of a weight loss diet, she adds. “Even though pineapple is nutritious, though, it is more calorically dense and has a worse sugar-to-fiber ratio than other fruits, so it’s best to enjoy it once in awhile,” she adds.
Loaded with nutrients and antioxidants, including zinc, vitamin B6, and alpha lipoic acid, lean beef is a protein-rich, iron-rich food that can be a healthy addition to your diet—if you do it right, says Bannan. A 3-ounce serving of 95 percent lean ground beef has just 164 calories and 4.5 grams of fat, but offers up 24 grams of protein. “Go for at least 90 percent lean beef, because leaner beef is lower in fat and calories, but maintains almost the same protein content as fattier ones,” she adds.
Putting more tomatoes on your plate can help you lose weight. “Tomatoes have been found to reduce inflammation and water retention in the body, as well as reversing leptin resistance, a protein that helps regulate your appetite and metabolic rate,” Bannan says. Tomatoes are also extremely low in calories, as one medium-sized fruit only has only 22 calories—helpful if you’re looking to drop a few pounds.
Turnips are members of the cruciferous family, so they grow in temperate climates throughout the world. “Low in calories and nutrient-dense, turnips are a super healthy food to include in your diet that can aid with weight loss,” Bannan says. One cup has just 36 calories and offers fiber, potassium, and vitamin C, she points out. Try them boiled and mashed for a low-calorie, nutrient-dense side dish.
“An excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, trout is one of the healthiest fish you can include in your diet,” Bannan says. For weight loss, the main benefit of trout is that it’s high in protein (21 grams per 3 ounces!) and low in fat. A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who scored roughly 25 percent of their total calories from lean protein sources like fish were more likely to lose weight, retain lean muscle mass, and feel fuller for longer as compared to those who only got 12 percent of their calories from protein. “Maximize trout's health benefits by choosing low-fat cooking methods like broiling, grilling, baking, or steaming instead of fried or breaded fish,” she adds.
Kamut (pronounced ka-moot) is a trademarked name given to the super healthy khorasan wheat. One cup of cooked kamut has 10 grams of protein and 7.4 grams of dietary fiber. “Foods high in protein and fiber have long been shown to help create a feeling of fullness, which aids with healthy weight management,” Bannan adds. Naturally gluten-free, Kamut also provides B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids to help fight inflammation, as well as vitamin E to keep the immune system strong, she adds. Look for whole kamut to make sure you are getting all the nutrients.
While cow’s milk dominates the U.S. market, goat’s milk is actually the world’s preferred milk. “Goat’s milk yogurt is easily digested, as yogurt provides beneficial bacteria or probiotics, balancing the levels of “good” and “bad” bacteria, and provides a balance of vitamins, minerals, and complete proteins,” Bannan adds.
“Pistachios are one of the lowest-fat, lowest-calorie snack nuts—for 100 calories, you can enjoy about 30 in-shell pistachios,” Bannan says. “And, nearly 90 percent of the fats found in pistachios are the healthy unsaturated type, so along with the fiber and protein they provide they can help you feel fuller, longer.” Plus, there’s a psychological perk: “In-shell pistachios may help you fool yourself into feeling more full because the leftover shells provide a visual cue for portions, potentially helping to curb intake,” she adds. Try topping them on your salad, yogurt, or oatmeal to add some fiber, protein, and healthy fats, which may help curve your appetite longer.
In the right portions, peanuts and peanut butter can be a snacking savior for weight loss. Research in Nutrition and Food Insecurity found that eating peanuts or peanut butter three times a week can help lower your BMI compared to noshing on it only once a week. And, according to a study from Purdue Univeristy, peanuts keep you full for roughly an hour longer than high-carb snacks. “Try swapping regular butter for peanut butter on your morning toast, or include a handful of peanuts with a piece of fruit for a snack with staying power,” Bannan suggests.
One cup of raspberries has only 64 calories with 8 grams of fiber—one of the highest amounts of fiber in any comparable serving of fruit, points out Alix Turoff, RD, nutritionist at Top Balance Nutrition in New York. (Remember, fiber equals fullness, so the more the better when it comes to avoiding overeating.) Plus, there are only 7 grams of net carbohydrates in 1 cup of raspberries, which makes them one of the lowest glycemic index fruits—which means that they won’t cause a high spike in blood sugar, she adds.
People who noshed on almonds regularly 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. “Almonds keep you more full than other snacks because they have a triple-threat of protein, fiber, and fat,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, CSSD, nutritionist to the Chicago CUBS and author of the upcoming The Superfood Swap. In fact, a study in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found almonds can help you burn more fat and carbs during a sweat session. And while other nuts are also healthful, you can score more almonds in one serving compared to other nuts—a generous 28 almonds—meaning they’ll last longer, which is great for dieters, Turoff adds.
“Aside from being low in calories and high in belly-filling fiber, asparagus is packed with vitamin K, providing nearly 70 percent of the daily requirements in 1 cup,” Turoff says. Vitamin K is important in blood clotting and is also crucial for bone health—keeping you healthy and ready to hit the gym harder. Plus, asparagus can also help you to de-bloat thanks to its potassium content, she adds.
The infamous “cabbage soup diet” claims that cabbage has magical fat burning properties, and, while this isn’t necessarily true, cabbage is an extremely low-calorie, low-carbohydrate, and high-fiber food, Turoff says. Plus it’s packed with vitamin C and helps to fight inflammation, making it a great post-workout food, she adds. To top it off, the vegetable is extremely versatile so you can drop it in soups, slaws, and salads.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Salmon is ridiculously good for you, but stick to the wild variety. “If you compare a half fillet of wild to farmed salmon, you’ll find that wild salmon contains less calories (281 versus 412 in farmed), the same amount of protein, less fat (13 grams in wild versus 27 grams in farmed) with almost three times the amount of saturated fat in farmed salmon,” Turoff says. Packed with vitamins, minerals, and healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, salmon delivers a ton of good nutrients with very little caloric downside. Plus, a study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found guys who worked out with a body full of omega-3 acids felt less post-workout muscle soreness compared to guys who were low in the nutrient—so stocking up on salmon may actually help get you back to the gym faster.
In terms of caloric density, halibut is comparable to lean poultry such as chicken or turkey breast—a 3-ounce serving of halibut contains only 94 calories and an impressive 18 grams of protein, Turoff points out. Plus, the fish is a great source of B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, both great for keeping energy levels up for your workouts.
Green beans are low in calories, carbohydrates, and fat. “A one cup serving contains only 34 calories with 8 grams of carbohydrate, 4 grams of fiber 0 grams of fat,” Turoff shares. Plus, the vegetable is incredibly versatile and can be eaten at breakfast in omelets, as a snack (raw dipped in hummus) or as a side dish.
“Sweet potatoes are a great choice for dieters who still want to eat starch,” Turoff says. Why? They’re full of fiber and contain only 112 calories—plus they’re packed with flavor so you won’t need much to make them tasty. Adding just 1 teaspoon of butter or olive oil will only add roughly 40 calories but tons of flavor, she adds.
Normally when antioxidants are discussed, blueberries are first to mind, but tart cherries have the same amount—and sometimes more—of antioxidants, points out Jim White, RD, owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach. This helps fight oxidative stress in the body, needed for body daily functioning as well as disease prevention. In fact, researchers from Oregon Health & Science University point out that tart cherries have the same enzymes as painkillers like ibuprofen, making them a natural recovery aid. They are moderate in fiber like many other fruits, with about 3 grams per serving, aiding in satiety and improving weight loss outcomes. Also, tart cherries can actually aid in sleep, White says. “Cherries have a small amount of melatonin, a hormone naturally found in our body; supplementing melatonin into your diet will aid in your natural sleep cycle,” he explains. Sleep is obviously important, but with weight loss in mind, sleep is critical for muscle recovery from intense exercise and maintaining a balance in hormones, he says. “More sleep means regular eating habits and satiety due to leptin and ghrelin levels being at normal functioning levels.”
Plums and their dried brothers, prunes, are a perfect balance for both insoluble and soluble fiber. “Both of these fibers aid in digestion, with soluble fiber promoting a slower rate at which food exits the stomach, leaving you satisfied longer and less likely to overeat,” White explains. “The insoluble fiber found in the prune is well known for its laxative effect, due to this fiber’s fermentable nature, the healthy bacteria in your intestines will be increased.”
“Protein is the backbone of your cells, as well as the backbone to your diet,” White says. “Without the intake of dietary protein, cells in your body cannot be synthesized and the overall balance of energy is compromised in your cells, even in your sleep.” Chicken breast is lean and affordable, and with just 4 oz comes roughly 24 grams of protein, delivering about a quarter of your daily protein needs and keeping you satisfied (read: lowering your risk of eating extra calories). “When weight loss or maintenance is the goal, the macronutrients protein, fat, and carbohydrates are needed in balance. Consuming protein regularly and periodically throughout the day, the balance of these macronutrients can be easily met and will reduce cravings due to crashes in carbohydrate overload or lack of satiety,” White adds.
“Hemp seeds are ideal for those who struggle with getting enough protein or prefer to not eat meat regularly,” White says. The seeds provide all the essential amino acids—like that of what we find in animal products—plus fiber and omega-3 fatty acids making this a great addition to smoothies, salads, or yogurts. “Filling snacks and meals like these will leave you satisfied longer, preventing mindless snacking of sweets and cravings like those you may have on a busy day,” he adds.
“While all vegetables have some fiber, artichokes uniquely have a similar fiber content to beans and legumes, delivering about 10 grams of dietary fiber per 1 steamed artichoke,” White explains. With little calories (about 50 to 70 per artichoke), this vegetable keeps you full at a low cost. White’s favorite trick? Replace your starch at meal time with an artichoke to reduce your calories by at least 100. “It’s best served steamed with a dash of salt and pepper or you may find them jarred in vinegar,” he adds.
When it comes to weight loss, filling up your stomach is a necessity. “Physical volume in your stomach will contribute to overall satisfaction and fullness in order to reduce your caloric intake,” White explains. With zucchini’s water content at 95 percent, and only 17 calories (4 grams of carbohydrates) per 1 cup serving, this vegetable helps fill your stomach, making it the perfect addition to a weight loss diet.
“Having ready-to-eat lean protein on hand at all times is helpful when the days get busy and eating has to be quick. And one or two fresh tuna packets in water are perfect for a quick snack or sandwich before heading to the gym,” White says. With a quick 17 grams of protein one hour or so prior to your workout you’ll be able to perform efficiently without drops in energy. Adding a quick carbohydrate like an apple or whole wheat bread to the mix makes it a perfect choice for a pre-workout snack, he adds.
Farro, like many other whole grains, contains more than just fiber and carbohydrates. For starters, half a cup of uncooked farro provides 15 percent of your daily value of magnesium, critical for muscle functioning as it works as an electrolyte in your body, preventing muscle cramps, White explains. Plus, magnesium helps improve sleep and digestion, both of which can help you lose weight faster. “Try farro instead of beans on your next salad for a crunchier, nutty texture so you can sleep well, cramp-free,” he adds.
Cottage cheese’s low-carb, high-protein makeup makes it ideal for weight loss. “Naturally, cottage cheese is 80 percent casein, a protein that can take hours to be digested, absorbed, and utilized,” White explains. “When calories have been slightly restricted or exercise has been increased, a snack like this is ideal before bedtime so hunger can be tamed.” Protein synthesis occurs throughout the night, and cottage cheese provides your body the amino acids needed for recovery, leaving you refreshed for tomorrow’s workout. White suggests adding berries to the bedtime snack for more fiber and flavor.
Apple cider vinegar—better known in health circles as ACV—has been touted as a magical elixir in the past year or so. The research is still scarce, but the science makes sense. “Low acid levels in your stomach are needed in order to breakdown and allow proteins, fats, and carbohydrates to be absorbed and utilized,” White explains. Raw apple cider vinegar can help promote an acidic environment and improve digestion. Plus, a recent study in the Journal of Functional Foods found sipping on ACV before a meal may help lower your blood sugar. Many people shoot one or two tablespoons straight before a meal, but White says you can also mix it with water to get the tart tonic down. Turoff likes using it as a salad dressing for a ton of flavor without the oil. Also, check out these 7 Uses for Apple Cider Vinegar.
“Oranges are high in vitamin C, which helps boost the immune system—and less sick days means more days in the gym,” says Colorado-based Katie Kissane, RD, CSSD, owner of My Nutrition Coach. Choose whole fruit over juice, though. “The fiber in whole oranges can help fill you up and peeling oranges takes time so it can help you eat more slowly,” she adds. Plus, oranges contain fluids and potassium, which work to maintain hydration and maintaining good hydration is helpful in weight loss. Not crazy about the fruit straight? Add orange segments to your salad, she suggests.
“There are certain flavonoids in pears that may improve insulin sensitivity, which may help you with the goal to lose body fat,” Kissane says. “Pectin is a type of soluble fiber found in pears, which helps with digestion and may help regulate blood sugars and stabilize energy levels.” But the power of pears (in the form of phytonutrients and antioxidants) comes from the skin—so don’t peel them! Eat them as a snack, or turn them into a healthy dessert: Cut one in half, drizzle with a little maple syrup, and bake it until soft, Kissane suggests.
“The protein in turkey—26 grams in just 3 ounces—provide the building blocks for building muscle, which in turn can increase metabolism and help with weight loss,” Kissane points out. Turkey is high in the amino acid tryptophan, which is the precursor for the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, helping you stay positive and focused. Turkey also contains vitamin B12 and other B vitamins, which are important for energy metabolism. Turkey is a great addition to a sandwich, but Kissane also recommends it as an alternative to chicken or beef in meals like enchiladas or pasta.
The omega-3 fats found in walnuts are anti-inflammatory and help with recovery from workouts, but the real power comes from their minerals. “Walnuts contain copper, essential for red blood cell formation, as well as manganese, which is a co-factor for an enzyme called manganese superoxide dismutase—a potent antioxidant that helps support the immune system to keep you healthy,” Kissane points out. Plus, they do contain some protein and fat, which can provide stable energy and curb appetite. Try them on top of yogurt or oatmeal for a great, energy boosting mid-day snack, she says.
“Onions are a great addition to any dish because they are high in flavor and low in calories, with 1 cup having only 64 calories,” Kissane points out. Onions are rich in quercetin, a flavonoid that has been linked to decreased inflammation and pain as well as improved endurance, allowing you to work out longer and potentially recover faster, she adds. Plus, they’re extremely versatile—you can add raw onions to salads or cook them into soups, stir fries, or casseroles.
“The carbohydrate in winter squash is a polysaccharide, meaning it’s many glucose molecules bound together, and this may have insulin-regulating properties which help with weight regulation,” Kissane explains. The combination of carbohydrate and fiber in the winter squash causes it to stay in the digestive system longer, keeping you full. Spaghetti squash is a great, low calorie and high fiber substitution for pasta, while adding butternut squash to soups and stews delivers a sweet taste and nutrient boost. And don’t forget about the seeds from things like pumpkins, which make a great snack because they contain healthy fats, fiber, and protein, Kissane adds.
In addition to being high in protein—about 20 grams in 9 shrimp—this shellfish is high in the trace mineral selenium, important for thyroid health. “The thyroid regulates many of the body’s functions—including metabolism,” Kissane points out. Shrimp also contains B12, which is an important nutrient for red blood cell formation and keeping energy up. Astaxanthin is a potent anti-inflammatory found in in the shellfish, which can help fight fatigue and increase energy.
“Whole grains, including whole wheat, contain fiber, important for weight loss because it helps slow digestion,” Kissane says. Whole wheat bread also contains B-vitamins, which are important for energy metabolism. Specifically, whole wheat bread is full of one specific B-vitamin, folate, which is a cofactor in the synthesis of amino acids and, therefore muscle building. “Make sure to choose 100 percent whole wheat bread, though, and each slice should have 3 or more grams of fiber per serving,” Kissane adds. Pair a slice with a protein source, such as turkey or peanut butter, for an even greater weight loss benefit she adds.
“Greek yogurt is a great source of protein and carbohydrate making it a perfect post workout snack,” Kissane says. One cup delivers 22 grams of high-quality protein, helping you build muscle and avoid hunger. Plus, research in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows eating calcium-rich dairy helps folks not only lose weight but also feel more satisfied during calorie restricting. “Yogurt also contains iodine, which plays an important role in thyroid health and energy metabolism,” Kissane adds. You know about it as a great breakfast option, but also try swapping it for sour cream on Chili or enchiladas, she suggests.
With 125 calories per 5-ounce serving, red wine is a better choice than dark beers or high-calorie cocktails like margaritas. “Red wine contains antioxidants, like resveratrol, which helps fight inflammation and may in turn be beneficial in decreasing pain and thus recovery from workouts,” Kissane points out. But moderation is key—small amounts of wine can increase the good HDL cholesterol, but large amounts of alcohol can have detrimental effects on the liver and metabolism.
“Bananas are the often vilified fruit—but they are actually a great choice for a healthy, low calorie snack,” says Kelly Morrow, RDN, associate professor and nutrition clinic coordinator at Bastyr University Center for Natural Health. Bananas are high in fiber which helps keep you full and they have loads of potassium, an important mineral that regulates heart rhythm and blood pressure. Bananas add creaminess to smoothies without extra fat and calories and when frozen and pureed, are a great alternative to ice cream, she adds. If you are worried about the sugar content, choose a smaller banana that is just barely ripe and dip it in peanut or almond butter, Morrow suggests.
“Mangos are low in calories, good for the heart and the immune system, and helpful in recovery from a hard workout,” Morrow says. Plus they are loaded with fiber, potassium, and vitamins A and C. Mangos are creamy and tart and at 100 calories per cup, a perfect option for a snack, dessert or smoothie. “Many people don’t know what to do with a mango, since they’re notoriously hard to peel and cut when fresh—so just opt for the frozen chunks that are easy to eat,” she suggests.
Pecans pack a nutritional punch. “They are high in protein, fiber and trace minerals, plus they are packed with antioxidants that help aid in muscle recovery,” Morrow explains. When we eat pecans, our levels of gamma-tocopherol, a form of vitamin E and natural antioxidant, double and unhealthy oxidation of bad cholesterol decreases by a third, says a study in the Journal of Nutrition. Concerned about the cals (there’s roughly 250 in 1/3 cup!)? “Even though nuts are high in fat and calories, research shows that we don’t absorb it all,” Morrow says. Aim for a 1/3 cup, and pair them with fruit, yogurt, salad, or even atop cereal.
“This crispy and hydrating vegetable is a perfect addition to the diet when you are increasing your physical activity and cutting calories,” Morrow says. The vegetable provides B vitamins, fiber, and multiple antioxidant phytonutrients, helping your muscles recover faster from a workout. Plus, cukes are a portable and satisfying snack and go well with healthy staples like hummus and feta cheese. According to the Environmental Working Group, cucumbers are high in pesticides so it is best to buy organic, Morrow adds.
Collard greens are nutrient-packed crucifers in the same family of vegetables as broccoli and cabbage. They are low in calories (25 per cup), high in fiber, vitamin A, and vitamin C, and contain powerful anti-cancer phytonutrients, Morrow says. Additionally, collards are an excellent source of vitamin K, which aids in bone health and blood clotting. Because they are a bit tough and can be bitter, eat them cooked—try it in soups, scrambled eggs, or sautéed with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice, Morrow suggests.
A 3-ounce serving of haddock contains about 20 grams of muscle-building protein and only 95 calories—and is perfect for those who are not big on fishy taste, Morrow points out. “It is a delicious, mild, and flaky white fish from the North Atlantic, and because it swims in cold water, it is full of heart healthy, anti-inflammatory omega 3’s,” she adds. Cook it with dill, lemon, and, because it is low in calories, add a little butter.
Whole grains are high in fiber, filling, and contain lots of B vitamins to keep your metabolism humming. In fact, you can’t burn fat without a little carbohydrate, Morrow adds. What makes brown rice so great: It is easy to make, stores well, and tastes great. “Have a handful with some steamed vegetables and fish or mix some in with vegetables and scrambled eggs,” she suggests.
“I wish more people knew about kefir,” Morrow says. Think of this tangy, delicious Mediterranean beverage as a drinkable yogurt, she says. Kefir has probiotic cultures which help support digestion and immunity, and research shows that a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut helps control weight and supports a healthy metabolism. Kefir can be drunk straight or added to smoothies or soup. Opt for the kind without added sugar—because it is typically a milk-based product, it will already have 12 grams of naturally-occurring milk sugar per cup. (Note: If you are sensitive to dairy, Kevita is a brand that makes kefir using coconut water.)
“A half of avocado has about 150 calories, 7 grams of filling fiber, and lots of heart-smart, satisfying fat,” says Blatner. People who eat avocados tend to eat more vegetables and fruit, eat less added sugars, and have a better diet quality overall, according to a study in Nutrition Journal. Plus, eating half an avocado at lunch lowers your chances of eating in the hours after by 40 percent, according to a study from Loma Linda University in California.
“Kiwi provides a mega dose of vitamin C, an antioxidant important to keep cells healthy,” says Blatner. Antioxidants are especially important to heal the damage done to muscles during workouts, so you can get back into the gym and work up a sweat again sooner.
This classic breakfast has serious benefits: One study in the International Journal of Obesity found folks who ate two eggs for breakfast lost 65 percent more weight and felt more energetic than people who had refined carbs in the a.m. (like a white bagel). “Don’t skip the yolk since it has a higher portion of an egg’s vitamins and minerals and vision-enhancing carotenoids than egg whites,” Blatner adds.
One of the least well-known nuts, just six of these oily snacks packs 19 grams of healthy fat and 4 grams of protein. “Brazil nuts are one of the richest sources of selenium, a mineral that works to support a healthy thyroid,” Blatner explains. The thyroid produces hormones which regulate everything from heart rate to body weight.
Cauliflower has a ton of vitamin C and a healthy dose of vitamin B6 and magnesium. But where the white vegetable really shines is its ability to sub in for more calorie-dense foods. “Cauliflower is a low calorie vegetable that can be pulsed and used in place of rice, mashed to be added to mashed potatoes, or even battered and dipped in hot sauce to make low-calorie, high-nutrition vegetarian hot wings,” Blatner says.
“Beets have a high concentration of natural nitrates, which turn into nitric oxide (N.O.) in the body,” Blatner explains. “N.O. increases oxygen to muscles making it a super energizing food to have before workouts.” In fact, research shows eating beets can help you work out longer and harder.
“Cod is a low calorie way to get a high dose of protein,” Blatner points out. A 4-ounce cooked filet has over 20 grams of protein and less than 100 calories. Plus cod is chock full of omega-3 fatty acids, which may help decrease muscle soreness and inflammation from workouts, she adds.
“Tempeh is fermented soybeans, which are a healthy vegetarian protein source and, since they are fermented, they may be easier to digest than other forms of soybeans,” Blatner explains. Soy is one of the only non-animal-based complete proteins, making it ideal for building muscle and shedding fat. Plus, contrary to rumors, research shows it does not decrease testosterone, Blatner adds.
All beans are high in fiber, which increases feelings of fullness, and a good source of vegetarian protein. Garbanzo beans, in particular, are super versatile, Blatner points out. “They can easily be made into hummus, seasoned and roasted to be a fun snack, chopped to make a vegetarian version of tuna/chicken salad, or tossed on a green salad.”
White potatoes get a bad rap, but don’t be quick to associate natural white carbs with the refined white carbs you know to stay away from. “Carbs are the key source of energy for muscles, and when your muscles are fueled correctly, you can work harder and longer during a workout,” Blatner explains. “Plus, white potatoes are high in potassium, which is an important electrolyte that aids in muscle, cardiovascular, and nervous system function.”
This whole grain is unique in its family since it contains all 9 essential amino acids. That means it delivers both a dose of complete protein (7 grams) and helpful fiber (6 grams). The ancient grain is also rich in vitamins and minerals like magnesium, calcium, phosphorous, iron, and B12—which are crucial to energy levels. Try it alone, warm like a pilaf, or cold and mixed with raw vegetables, suggests Katherine Zeratsky RDN, LD, at the Mayo Clinic.
As vegetarians have known for years, mushrooms’ meaty flavor and texture make them a great meat substitute—especially for dishes like hamburgers, meatloaf, or meatballs, Zeratsky says. In fact, a study in The FASEB Journal found subbing white button mushrooms for red meat can help further weight loss. "They add flavor and moisture as well as fiber—stretching recipes to make them more economic, lower in calories, and more nutritious," she adds.
One of the most agreeable greens, spinach is a ridiculously versatile veg—and a great weight loss food. It’s rich in vitamins and minerals (including vitamins A, K, C, E, copper, manganese, iron, and calcium) and super low in calories (just 7 per cup!). A study out of Sweden found spinach extract increased weight loss by 43 percent, thanks to the green leaf membranes thylakoids, which boost your body’s production of satiety hormones, curbing hunger and encouraging healthier eating habits.
Peppers, particularly green peppers, have a ton of vitamin C, a potent fat releaser. In fact, research from Arizona State Univeristy has found adequate levels of vitamin C help folks burn 30 percent more fat during exercise. "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 saute peppers alongside iron-rich meats, like steak, or vegetables, like spinach, for a powerful meal.
Apples are low in calories, high in fiber, and even have a small amount of caffeine, making them a great snack. Compounds called polyphenols in apples are also linked with promoting a healthier immune system, reducing your risk for stroke, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease. Plus, there are so many varieties available year-round, offering more versatility and flavor pairings for everything from salads to steaks, Zeratsky says. Try baking them with a little cinnamon for a tasty, comfort food-type dessert, she adds.
These root vegetables aren’t just for rabbits. One medium carrot delivers 210 percent of your daily needs of vitamin A, crucial for healthy vision, bones, and immune system. Plus, these root vegetables are hearty, so make for a better hunger satisfier than potato chips, Zeratsky says. Not crazy about the vegetable straight up? Try adding carrots as a fat substitute to thicken soups and stews.
Immature soybeans still in the pod, edamame is a complete protein, delivering a whopping 17 grams in one cup, and under 200 calories. The only difference between meat and edamame is the latter also contains healthy fat, says Zeratsky. Combined with 8 grams of fiber, you'll stave off hunger without hurting your weight loss progress.
This rough green has earned a serious health halo, and while we’re in support of all leafy greens, kale does offer lots of fiber with few calories, helping keep you full without much of a cost. Kale is also loaded with potassium, vitamin K, and iron—crucial to delivering a superior workout by keeping energy up and muscle cramps at bay. If you aren’t into kale salads, try softening the green in a saute or add a few leaves to your smoothie.
The first thing everyone notices about swiss chard is the colorful stems, which is thanks to Anthocyanin pigments packed with disease-fighting flavonoids. The taste is similar to beet greens 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 vegetable 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.