Eat an apple, lose weight?
OK, so losing weight is not as simple as adding a single food to your menu, but every food choice is an opportunity to build toward the best weight-loss diet for you, explains Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD, registered dietitian and nutrition manager at Openfit.
So when you’re trying to lose weight, here are some of the best foods you can eat.
The Best Foods to Eat When Trying to Lose Weight
These little gems are rich in fat and calories, but they can still be one of the best weight-loss foods out there if you don’t overeat them, Giancoli says. In fact, in an eight-year Harvard School of Public Health study, women who ate nuts at least twice per week were less likely to become obese compared to those who didn’t include nuts in their regular diet.
Nuts have protein, fiber, and unsaturated fats that help your body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, Giancoli says. What’s more, it’s important to realize that your body doesn’t necessarily absorb all of the calories listed on your bag of walnuts, almonds, or pecans, she says, explaining that unless you grind every bite to a fine powder, your gastrointestinal system will not be able to fully extract all of the nuts’ calories.
That said, it is easy to go overboard on nuts, so focus on one to two ounces per day. To reap all of the weight-loss benefits of nuts, stick with unsalted, natural, or roasted varieties that pack zero added oil, salt, or sugar.
2. Lean meats
We’re not hating on higher-fat cuts of meat, but white meat chicken and pork, as well as lean beef, are all going to deliver the same amount of protein for fewer total calories, a win when you’re trying to lose weight.
“Protein should be part of every meal,” Giancoli says. It aids in satiety, promotes growth of lean, metabolically active muscle, and actually takes a significant number of calories to digest. Called the thermic effect of food, the energy cost of digesting a gram of protein is higher than that of fat or carbs, she explains.
3. Apples and pears
Every fruit is a veritable weight-loss food (yes, even bananas). They are rich in satiating fiber and most come with a hefty dose of water to improve hydration.
But apples and pears may very well take things to a new level. For example, in one 12-week study, people who simply added three apples or pears to their regular diets ended up losing 2.7 pounds. Plus, in the study, compliance was high; people were able to stick with this change they had made to their diet.
“These fruits help make you feel satisfied, so you may eat less overall, even if you aren’t actively trying to reduce food intake,” says registered dietitian and board-certified sports dietitian Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD, co-founder of Appetite for Health.
For an extra edge, choose raw versions, which force you to slow down with all of the biting and chewing required.
Beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils belong to a family of legumes called pulses, which are rich in fiber and protein — working together to help you feel fuller longer and prevent overeating.
A 2016 meta-analysis reported that on average, people who included a single-serving of pulses to their diets lost an average of 0.75 pounds over the course of six weeks without trying to make any other dietary changes.
Eggs are the number one bioavailable source of protein, meaning that the protein found in eggs is better absorbed and used by the body compared with protein from any other food.
For the best results, choose eggs for breakfast as a way to get in protein bright and early. Some research has shown that when people started their days with eggs while on a reduced-calorie diet, they successfully lost more weight compared to those who started their day with a bagel with the same number of calories.
Try one of these tasty egg recipes for breakfast.
6. Greek yogurt
“Nonfat plain Greek yogurt has one of the best protein-to-calorie ratios of any food,” Upton says. An 8-ounce serving contains 24 grams of protein and only 130 calories.
Bonus: People who ate the most dairy while cutting calories lost about 1.6 more pounds from fat compared to those who consumed the least dairy, according to one International Journal of Obesity review.
7. Whole grains
Grains tend to be the leading source of fiber in the average American’s diet, but that fiber intake is still only about half what it should be for good health, including weight management, Upton says.
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that women (ages 19–50) eat between 25–28 grams of fiber per day. For men (ages 19–50), that range is a little higher, about 30–34 grams per day.
Whole grains, which span everything from quinoa and oats to whole wheat bread and whole-grain pasta, are fabulous sources of fiber. And when people use them as a substitute for refined grains, they consistently lose weight, Upton says.
8. Leafy greens
Eating leafy greens — such as spinach, arugula, kale, collards, and Swiss chard — is great for increasing the volume of your meals, without increasing the calories, Giancoli says. That’s because they are incredibly nutrient-dense and have very low energy density, meaning they pack a ton of nutrients including fiber, vitamins, and minerals for very few calories.
Some studies have shown that meals and diets that prioritized low-energy-density foods and decreased fat intake consistently helped control hunger and facilitate long-term weight loss. To enjoy leafy greens, think outside of your normal salads, adding greens to pastas, soups, and even pizza.
9. Chili peppers
Even if you eat these more as a condiment than a main dish, chili peppers are a great food to eat when trying to lose weight. In fact, one study found that when people consumed capsinoids (compounds in chili peppers) every day for 12 weeks, their bodies burned slightly more fat for energy — and their levels of belly fat decreased.
“This alone won’t make you hit your goals, but if you like spicy foods, it can give you an extra edge,” Giancoli says. It’s a win-win.
10. Cruciferous veggies
Seriously, what can’t cruciferous vegetables do? Including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and more, cruciferous vegetables are fibrous, nutrient-dense, and, compared to other veggies, they have a decent amount of protein, Upton says.
Emerging research in mice also shows that glucoraphanin, a compound naturally contained in cruciferous vegetables, may help spur weight loss as well as decrease levels of unhealthy bacteria in the gut.
11. Green tea
Here’s another fun weight-loss hack. A review paper found that daily consumption of green tea may help you lose weight thanks in part to its caffeine and antioxidant content. Green tea may crank up your caloric burn due to its antioxidants called catechins (EGCG and polyphenols), Giancoli says.
While any metabolic boost from green tea will likely be small, you can make an even bigger impact on your weight-loss efforts by using green tea as a substitute for your typical sips, including sugary, blended coffee drinks.