Food processing isn’t always a bad thing: Cooking and preparing raw ingredients at home is also processing them. But the word “processed” is almost always reserved for commercial foods, usually packaged. Highly processed foods are industrially formulated mixtures that are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal sources—everything from hot dogs and margarine to ice cream, candy, and many packaged snack foods. Such foods, which supply more than half the daily calories in most U.S. households, lack key nutrients and fiber and are high in sugars and sodium.
Almonds are a great source of mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which can help lower your cholesterol and keep you slim. They also contain fewer calories than most other varieties of nuts (just 163 calories for 23), as well as plenty of fiber and vitamin E. According to a study in the International Journal of Obesity, people who added a daily serving of almonds to a low-calorie diet lost more weight than those who followed the same diet but ate a carb-heavy snack such as crackers instead.
Is there anything avocados can't do? This creamy superfood (loaded with monounsaturated fats, potassium, magnesium, folate, and vitamins C and E) has been linked to improved vision, good heart health, and a reduced risk of certain cancers. And avocados can also help whittle your middle: according to one study, people who regularly consume them weigh less and have smaller waists than those who do not. Another study found that women who eat half an avocado at lunchtime might experience reduced food cravings later in the day.
Although adding an exercise routine to your diet overhaul will help you burn fat more quickly than a dietary intervention alone, one JAMA study found that obese patients who change their diets first and begin exercising six months after their diet change will lose the same amount of weight after 12 months as those participants who eat healthier and exercised over the course of the whole year. In short: don’t put off your weight loss goals just because you don’t want to exercise. Change your diet today by eating more weight loss foods, exercise later, and you can still lose weight.
In addition to dietary recommendations for the general population, there are many specific diets that have primarily been developed to promote better health in specific population groups, such as people with high blood pressure (as in low sodium diets or the more specific DASH diet), or people who are overweight or obese (in weight control diets). However, some of them may have more or less evidence for beneficial effects in normal people as well.
A 2012 CDC study found that the average adult consumes about 100 calories worth of alcohol daily, but favoring a glass of wine instead of beer or sugary cocktails can drastically reduce that figure and make your waistline slimmer. In addition to having fewer calories than most alcoholic beverages, red wine, in particular, is a good source of those waist-shrinking flavonoids that are also found in red fruits. Resveratrol, a particular flavonoid found in red wine, is believed to have heart health benefits because it helps prevent blood vessel damage and reduces your ‘bad cholesterol.’ Just remember to imbibe in moderation.
Diets to promote weight loss are divided into four categories: low-fat, low-carbohydrate, low-calorie, and very low calorie. A meta-analysis of six randomized controlled trials found no difference between the main diet types (low calorie, low carbohydrate, and low fat), with a 2–4 kilogram weight loss in all studies. At two years, all of the diets in the studies that reduced calories caused equal weight loss regardless of whether changes in fat or carbohydrate consumption were emphasized.
Fruit gets a bad rap sometimes because it naturally contains sugar. But eating fruit can help you lose weight, especially when you swap in fresh fruit for processed foods or other unhealthy snacks. You'll get a naturally sweet treat, plus reap the benefits of fiber and antioxidants. A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that higher fruit consumption was associated with lower risk of becoming overweight or obese, independent of vegetable or fiber intake—though including fruit as part of a healthy diet overall is always the best strategy.
These foods—notably vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains—should supply about 20 to 35 grams of dietary fiber a day, depending on your calorie needs. (Aim for 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories, as advised by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.) Fiber slows the absorption of carbohydrates, so they have less effect on insulin and blood sugar, and it provides other health benefits. Try to fill three-quarters of your plate with produce, legumes, and whole grains—leaving only one-quarter for meat, poultry, or other protein sources.
Excess sodium, found in many processed foods and restaurant meals, raises blood pressure in some people and can have other adverse effects. The Dietary Guidelines recommend a limit of 2,300 milligrams a day for the general population; people with hypertension or prehypertension can benefit from a further reduction to 1,500 milligrams per day. As you cut back on sodium, eat more potassium-rich foods, which help lower blood pressure. These include citrus fruits, bananas, beans, avocados, some fish, and dairy products.
^ Sacks, Frank M.; Lichtenstein, Alice H.; Wu, Jason H.Y.; Appel, Lawrence J.; Creager, Mark A.; Kris-Etherton, Penny M.; Miller, Michael; Rimm, Eric B.; Rudel, Lawrence L.; Robinson, Jennifer G.; Stone, Neil J.; Van Horn, Linda V. (15 June 2017). "Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association" (PDF). Circulation. 136 (3): e1–e23. doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000510. PMID 28620111.
Cabbage is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C but extremely low in calories (just 22 per cup), so you can fill your plate with the leafy green guilt-free. And while you're probably familiar with the infamous Cabbage Soup Diet, there are plenty of alternate ways to eat this veggie that won't leave you feeling hungry. It's delicious in a variety of slaws or salads, and makes a crunchy garnish atop tacos or burgers.
With its trifecta of carbs, protein, and fat, Greek yogurt can keep you full and ward off hunger by keeping blood sugar levels steady. Instead of choosing the non-fat kind, go for 2 percent or one with whole milk—selecting non-fat is a surefire way to wind up hungry soon after downing your meal. A single cup of Fage Total 2 Percent has 170 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, and a whopping 23 grams of protein.
“This warming—or cooling—beverage serves a dual purpose. Not only is it full of antioxidants and other healthy phytochemicals, but it has the benefit of slightly increasing your metabolism,” says Harris-Pincus. Sipping tea in the evening instead of snacking, or trading in your PSL for a cup of green tea will lower your calorie intake and help you burn a few extra calories. Just be sure to keep it unsweetened.
When it comes to eating for weight loss, fiber is the number one nutrient that belongs on your radar. The Cleveland Clinic says women should aim for the recommended 25 to 30 grams per day, and one of the easiest ways to do that is by loading your plate with broccoli. The veggie contains 16 grams per bunch! If you don't like eating it solo, sneak it into the dishes you already love, like this Fusilli with Broccoli Pesto recipe.