If you're looking to shed pounds, success depends on what you put on your plate. The best foods for weight loss are often the simplest choices you can make: whole, nutrient-rich foods that you can feel good about eating.
On your next trip to the grocery store, or while you plan your weekly meals, include the following healthy choices in your repertoire. Whether you struggle with extra pounds or you're a parent helping your kids eat better, these great weight loss foods can be your friend. Not only will they help trim your waistline, but they will also put you on a path to better health in the long run.
Why Your Diet Is Important
Perhaps even more effective for weight loss than exercise, your dietary choices have a powerful impact. Some studies show that diet alone, or a combination of diet and exercise, has a greater effect on body composition than exercise alone.[1, 2] Keeping active is essential for good health. However, if you had to choose between diet and exercise to jump-start weight loss, diet would come out the winner.
When it comes to diet, the quality of food — more than the quantity — is an overlooked part of weight loss. A 2018 study found that people who ate vegetables and whole foods heartily throughout one year lost weight without restricting calories. There are plenty of reasons to opt for whole, nutrient-rich foods in any dietary weight loss plan.
Fruits for Weight Loss
Fruits are some of the best foods on the planet for weight loss. For starters, fruits are rich in fiber, which helps you feel full longer. Many contain flavonoids, compounds that make their colors bright. Flavonoids offer many benefits. In addition to having antioxidant powers for overall health, they also prevent weight gain. In one study, people who ate a flavonoid-rich diet experienced less weight gain than a control group who did not. The result is likely because flavonoids decrease fat absorption and increase the body's energy expenditure.
With just 53 calories and 2 grams of fiber, one serving of grapefruit is an excellent addition to your breakfast table. Science backs the long-standing assumption that grapefruit is a fat-burning food.
A 2006 study found that dieters who ate half a grapefruit before every meal experienced significant weight loss after 12 weeks. Some foods, including grapefruit, take more calories to burn than they contain — this is called the thermic or metabolic cost of food.
Apples can satisfy your sweet cravings while you try to lose weight. You might notice that eating an apple is very satiating, even though it has just 100 calories. That's because the average apple contains lots of fiber (4 grams) and high water content — two factors that help you feel full.
One study compared a group of women who ate three apples daily with a group that ate three oat cookies daily; the apple eaters lost weight and consumed few calories, while the cookie eaters experienced no change.
Avocados contain a high amount of fat, but don't worry — it's the good fat. The monounsaturated fat in avocados (as well as in olives and olive oil) does not increase triglycerides in the blood the way that saturated fats do. Moreover, science supports the belief that monounsaturated fats, and avocados, in particular, can assist with weight loss — the age of "low-fat" diets is long gone.
In one study of overweight adults, people who ate half an avocado at lunchtime reported a 40 percent decreased desire to eat for three to five hours afterward.
High in fiber and low in calories, bananas exhibit many of the qualities of a weight loss food. Interestingly, bananas that are slightly green have lower sugar content than their brown-spotted counterparts. That's because greenish bananas contain resistant starch (sugars that are resistant to digestion), which can help you feel full longer, according to studies.
Berries — including strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries — contain lots of tummy-satisfying fiber (up to 9 grams per cup) and are a rich source of vitamin C. Packed with antioxidants such as flavonoids, berries also contain less sugar than many other fruits, making them a good choice even for dieters who limit their carbohydrate intake.
Vegetables for Weight Loss
Piling on the vegetables is a great way to add bulk to your meals – as well as crazy amounts of nutrition — while you try to lose weight. A good rule of thumb is to make sure veggies occupy about half of your plate at lunch and dinner. That way you'll reap the benefits of their many vitamins and minerals while cutting down on other foods that add to your waistline.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are high in fiber, low in calories, and jam-packed with nutrients. One serving of steamed broccoli contains twice the amount of vitamins C and K that you need daily! Broccoli is also a negative-calorie food, meaning that — like grapefruit — it contains fewer calories than what's required to digest it.
Also in the cruciferous family, cabbage has a high fiber and water content to help you feel full and satisfied. Cruciferous vegetables also have unique sulfur-based compounds called glucosinolates, which scientists suggest have anti-cancer properties. Bonus: Cabbage is inexpensive, so it's an economical choice for those looking to trim their waistline but not their wallet.
Containing only 50 calories per cup and over three grams of fiber per serving, carrots fit nicely into a weight loss plan. Carrots are a good source of vitamin A, which supports your vision and immune system. They're also a great source of potassium and vitamins C and K.
Cauliflower is all the rage in low-carb diets as an alternative to rice — you can finely chop and cook it to create “cauliflower rice." Cauliflower is packed with fiber, water, and nutrients. The white cruciferous vegetable also has high levels of vitamin C, which helps to oxidize or break down fat during moderate exercise — making it a good weight loss ally.
Technically speaking, tomatoes are a fruit. However, when cooking, tomatoes are often used and referred to as vegetables. With a skinny 18 calories per serving and high water content, juicy tomatoes check off many of the boxes for weight loss foods. Their key antioxidant is lycopene, which may help protect the body's cells and have a host of potential health benefits. Great on salads or as a healthy snack, cherry tomatoes are nature's candy.
Other Food Options
Stock up on the following foods and common pantry staples. Many of these are easy to add to your menu, and each one is notable for its weight loss friendliness.
Plain yogurt, as opposed to the sugary flavored varieties, is an excellent weight loss food. The probiotics in yogurt and other fermented foods support the healthy bacteria in your gut that keep digestion moving smoothly. Choose alternative-milk varieties, like coconut milk or almond milk yogurt. If you're interested in making yogurt, check out our vegan probiotic yogurt recipe.
Breast cancer survivors who ate a diet enriched with olive oil lost more weight than those eating a lower-fat diet over two months. Other healthy cooking oils include avocado oil and coconut oil, both of which increase the good HDL cholesterol in the body.
Apple Cider Vinegar
An ancient folk remedy as well as a pantry staple, evidence suggests apple cider vinegar also possesses weight-loss powers. In one study, people who consumed one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar a day over three months lost 2.6 pounds, while those who had two tablespoons lost 3.7 pounds.
Try apple cider vinegar in salad dressings or smoothies, or add a tablespoon to your water along with a squeeze of lemon.
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are the perfect snack food for dieters. Powerhouses of nutrition that combine protein and fiber with healthy fats, nuts can satisfy the appetite, even in small amounts. Almonds and other tree nuts boost metabolism and possibly assist with weight loss or weight maintenance.[15, 16]
Filled with antioxidants, green tea is a great beverage choice for dieters. Several studies support the theory that green tea has a small but notable positive effect on weight loss and weight management. Researchers attribute this to the tea's combination of caffeine and an antioxidant called catechins, which may help to boost your metabolism.
Go ahead and enjoy that morning cup of joe. Coffee abounds with healthy antioxidants, and it may also assist with weight loss and weight management. Not surprisingly, researchers believe that it's the caffeine in coffee that speeds up your metabolism and helps you maintain a healthy weight. Avoid decaf, which not only removes the caffeine but introduces a variety of harmful chemicals to the process.
If you love spicy foods, you're in luck. Chili peppers contain capsaicin, the plant compound that makes your mouth feel hot and may also assist with weight loss. One review of the evidence found that consuming capsaicin in servings as low as 10 mg per day can help you burn an extra 50 calories daily.
Consumed in moderation, dark chocolate fits nicely into a weight loss regimen. It may even help you stay trim thanks to its antioxidants and flavonoids, which science links with weight loss. Enjoyed in small amounts, dark chocolate can also help you stay full and keep hunger at bay while satisfying your sweet tooth.
Legumes — which includes beans, peas, and lentils — are high in protein and fiber and low in fat. They make a healthy, plant-based protein source. Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and black beans may even boost metabolism, perhaps because they require extra calories to digest.
Foods to Avoid
Having a handy list of the best foods for weight loss can go a long way toward eating well and maintaining a healthy weight. However, in a world where fast foods and poor choices are everywhere, you should also know what not to eat.
Most fast foods are high in calories, sodium, and unhealthy fats — a dangerous trio for those looking to lose weight and stay healthy. Regions with more fast food restaurants have higher obesity rates, according to a 2011 study. Stay away from the drive-through, and instead choose "slow food" — food you make yourself with whole, organic, natural ingredients.
The typical grab-and-go pizza contains a high amount of refined carbohydrates, fat, and sodium. Avoid these greasy choices and make your own pie. You can often find ready-made gluten-free (or even cauliflower crust) pizza dough, good-quality sauces, vegan cheese, and toppings at your local grocery store.
Huge amounts of sugar hide in many common beverages, including soft drinks, sweetened iced teas, and juices with added sugar. Become a voracious nutrition label reader and pay attention to your beverages' sugar content. Cranberry juice, for example, can have a whopping 30 grams per serving. Opt for “no sugar added" versions instead or juice your own.
Highly Processed Foods
Often made with refined carbohydrates, high-fructose corn syrup, table sugar, and trans fats, highly processed products can undermine your weight loss efforts. Stick to whole foods as much as possible, avoiding foods that come in a box or factory packaging.
How to Assemble Your Meal Plan
Who needs fad diets when you can create an eating plan with foods that assist with weight loss? Choose options like these for healthy eating all day.
- A half grapefruit with raw honey (rich in digestive enzymes)
- Avocado toast on gluten-free bread with sliced tomatoes and extra-virgin olive oil
- Coconut milk yogurt parfait with fresh berries and nuts
- Grilled vegetable skewers
- Lentil vegetable soup
- Green bean salad with quinoa
- Zucchini noodle pasta with a homemade sauce
- Spicy black bean and brown rice bowl with chili pepper salsa and a side salad
- Vegetable stir-fry with cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and matchstick carrots, served over quinoa
Points to Remember
The best foods for weight loss are whole, plant-based foods including an array of fruits and vegetables, plant-based proteins, healthy fats, nuts, and seeds.
Keep in mind that it is the quality of the food that you eat, more than the quantity, that helps with weight loss. Make sure to always choose organic foods because they not only contain more nutrients but also have lower levels of pesticides.
Include foods that contain healthy antioxidants such as flavonoids (in colorful fruits and vegetables) and catechins (in green tea) and even caffeine (coffee and dark chocolate). Avoid poor choices such as fast foods, highly processed foods, and sugary drinks that can derail your goals for weight loss and optimal health. For more ideas on losing weight, check out our 17 Most Effective Weight Loss Tips for Long-Term Success article.
What fat-burning, weight loss foods have you tried? Share your experiences in the comments below!
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†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.