Almost instinctively, dieters reduce calories to lose weight. “Eat less and exercise more” might be cliche. It’s also the “secret” to shedding pounds and getting fit–except not all calories are created equal. There are plenty of foods that are not just good for you but are filling as well. Load your plate with them, and you’ll eliminate hunger while taking in fewer calories. Even better, many of these foods don’t just help you lose weight. Studies suggest they can cut your risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and many other health concerns. So give a few of them a try. What have you got to lose –– other than a few inches around your waist!
Protein is every dieter’s secret weapon. Ounce for ounce, nothing will help you reduce fat and gain muscle like protein. Besides being the most filling nutrient, studies suggest it can also increase your energy and help you burn an extra 100 calories per day. Made up of 20-plus basic building blocks called amino acids, protein is vital. Because our bodies don’t store amino acids, it’s important that you get enough every day––even if you aren’t dieting. Adults need around 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight (just over seven grams for every 20 pounds of body weight). Just as important is what type of protein you eat.
Although it can be found in non-animal sources, many vegans and vegetarians don’t get enough. So if you aren’t eating meat but still gaining weight, lack of protein might be the culprit. Try adding beans like lentils, black beans, or kidney beans to your diet. Non-vegans should eat eggs––a great source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. Skip the egg white omelette––turns out most of the nutrients are in the yolk. Plus, in one recent study of almost 50 people who were overweight, eating one large egg per day improved their fasting blood glucose––in other words, those pesky blood sugar spikes and crashes were eased by eating eggs. Dieters who switch from simple carbs like bagels to eggs for breakfast report significant weight loss.
For carnivores, lean meat is a great source of protein. You don’t have to eat boneless, skinless chicken breast every night. A small amount of lean red meat is perfectly acceptable. The key is to prepare a portion smaller than your hand while filling the rest of your plate with veggies. Avoid processed meats like the ones sold in plastic lunch kits. Instead of a cheeseburger on a bun, serve up a broiled patty with lettuce and a bit of barbecue sauce or ketchup (choosing brands that don’t contain high fructose corn syrup, of course).
Another great source of protein, fish earns its own category. Although technically a meat, plenty of vegetarians allow themselves fish––and for good reason. Besides protein, canned light tuna, salmon, and sardines are loaded with long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These have been shown in research to reduce inflammation (which has been linked to obesity) and lower an individual’s risk for cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Gym rats and Instagram models alike swear by tuna because it’s so protein dense and calorie light. Just make sure you get albacore or white tuna packed in water not oil. Trade the fat-filled tuna sandwich with mayo for a lettuce leaf topped by tuna right from the pouch or can. Add fresh squeezed lemon, and you’ll have a great low-cal meal or snack.
Fruits and Veggies
If you are able to read this, you probably know how important fruits and vegetables are to your health. Eating more of them will also help your waistline. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and cauliflower stand on their own because they are higher in protein than most veggies. Low in calories and high in fiber, they are very filling. Studies suggest broccoli may even detoxify your liver! Other good vegetable sources include kale, spinach, and other leafy greens. Boiled potatoes, either white or sweet, are a filling food and an excellent side dish. Because they affect your blood sugar, dieters with hypoglycemia should exercise caution. Keep in mind that on the glycemic index, white russet potatoes are highest while sweet potatoes are the lowest (and indeed are not only filled with antioxidants but might actually regulate your insulin levels). No matter which vegetable you choose, avoid lathering on the sour cream, butter, and the like. Lightly sprinkle salt, pepper, or low-sugar sauces.
Fruits are high in natural sugar but that’s balanced by the fiber and vitamins they deliver. Oranges, apples, and strawberries are great, while blueberries get a mention specifically for their higher antioxidant qualities and anthocyanin pigments. Studies have linked regular consumption of blueberries with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes along with improved weight maintenance. Plus most people agree they are delicious! Don’t juice them! Eaten raw, apples, oranges, and many other fruits deliver more nutrients and fiber while not elevating your blood sugar the way they do when fresh squeezed. Avocados are loaded with healthy fats and monounsaturated oleic acid which are also found in olive oil. The best thing about eating more fruits and veggies when you are trying to lose weight is that studies suggest they can actually help you control your hunger when you diet.
Instead of candy or chips, reach for the legumes. Peanuts have more protein than any other nut––as much or more than beans. They also are loaded with good fats and zinc (an amazing immune booster) along with phytosterols that block the absorption of cholesterol from diets. Studies have also suggested that peanut eaters have longer lifespans. Incidentally, while green tea and red wine get the headlines, peanuts have higher antioxidant capacity (if you eat them with the skins, you double this). Of course many people are either allergic or just don’t like peanuts. Other great snacks include protein-rich cottage cheese or full-fat yogurt. Advertising has trained us to reach for low-fat yogurt but full fat is actually better for us. It’s usually lower in sugar and way better for your gut health. Cottage cheese either alone or with some chopped fruit delivers a lot of protein with very few carbs or calories.
If you hated something 20 years ago, give it another try. Tastes change. You might discover you like it now. Finally, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you can’t get behind a whole orange, a glass of OJ is better than nothing. If you can’t stand oil and vinegar salad dressing, filling your plate with lettuce, tomatoes, chicken, and ranch dressing might equal the calories of a couple slices of pepperoni pizza, but it’s way better for you. Stop judging yourself for all the decaying veggies in your refrigerator. Frozen veggies are higher in vitamins and phytonutrients than produce that isn’t locally grown or has sat on a shelf for days because they are frozen as soon as they are picked. Don’t force yourself to eat something you hate solely to lose weight. Successful fit people discover healthy foods they love and enjoy daily. If you’ve been living for years on a diet of fast food, fried food, and snack food, give it time. Transitioning to healthier choices isn’t easy. After you’ve been doing it for a few weeks, you’ll wonder why you ever ate any other way.
- Gluconeogenesis and energy expenditure after a high-protein, carbohydrate-free diet
- Egg consumption may improve factors associated with glycemic control and insulin sensitivity in adults with pre- and type II diabetes
- Fatty acids from fish: the anti-inflammatory potential of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids
- Broccoli sprout extract induces detoxification-related gene expression and attenuates acute liver injury
- Dietary energy density in the treatment of obesity: a year-long trial comparing 2 weight-loss diets
- Peanuts as functional food: a review
- Are Frozen Vegetables Healthy?
- The 20 Most Weight-Loss-Friendly Foods on The Planet
- Diet Plans for Hypoglycemia
John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.