Welcome to the Best Foods For Weight Loss Treasure Trove. Contrary to popular opinion, slashing as many calories from your diet as possible is not the optimal way to lose weight. Instead, you should be loading your diet with whole, healthy foods that fill you up (making you less likely to go overboard on less healthy options), boost your energy so you can crush it at the gym, and provide enough calories to keep your metabolism chugging right along.
To jumpstart your weight loss, we’ve selected some nutritious eats, like salsa, that are lower-calorie substitutes for less healthy choices (we’re looking at you, ketchup). And other weight loss foods, such as watermelon, contain certain compounds that have been scientifically proven to reduce the size of your waist and help reduce body fat. Scroll down below for a list of a few dozen best weight loss foods, and get even more health-conscious inspiration from this list of these dinner ideas that don’t need a recipe!
As it turns out, almonds aren’t the only superstar nuts around. Studies have shown pistachios aren’t bad to snack on either. UCLA Center for Human Nutrition researchers divided study participants into two groups, each of which were fed a nearly identical low-cal diet for three months. One group was given 220-calories of pretzels as an afternoon snack, while the other sect munched on 240-calories worth of pistachios. About a month into the study, the pistachio group had reduced their BMI by a point and improved their cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while the pretzel-eaters stayed the same.
Sure, nuts aren’t known for being low in calories, but they have an array of other properties—namely a high protein and fiber content—that makes them ideal for weight loss. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, Circulation, found that consuming 1.5 ounces of almonds daily (as opposed to a carb-dense muffin) along with a heart-healthy diet, helped to improve cholesterol and lipid profiles among the research participants. The study also found that eating almonds reduces belly fat, too.
A complete plant protein boasting all nine essential amino acids, quinoa is a weight loss superfood win. One cup of cooked quinoa has about 220 calories, 5 grams of fiber, and 8 grams of protein. “Complex carbohydrates like those in quinoa can help with satiety when eaten with other healthy foods (like heart-healthy avocados for a healthy dose of fats) that inevitably will help with weight loss in the long run,” explains Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, CPT.
“The Dietary Guidelines recommend eating fish at least twice a week, and I think salmon is the perfect food to incorporate into your weekly meal plan,” says Rizzo. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart and can lower inflammation to aid in weight loss and combat water retention. Plus, eating healthy fat keeps you full. The bonus is that salmon has vitamin D to improve mood, she says.
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.
Since avocados are packed with nutrients and healthy fats that can stimulate weight loss, it’s no surprise that avocado oil acts in a similar fashion. When Penn State University researchers compared those who consumed monounsaturated-rich oils (like high-oleic canola oil or avocado oil) with those who consumed a flax-safflower oil blend, they found that those who used just three tablespoons of the monounsaturated-rich oil daily lost nearly two percent of their belly fat in just one month.
Drinking enough water can help you stay slim, too. Research from the American Chemical Society in Boston found that having two 8-ounce glasses of water before a meal while also reducing portion sizes could help you lose weight and keep it off. Not to mention, water fills you up, curbing your appetite: "In addition to slightly boosting your metabolism, drinking water before meals has been shown to help you eat less without trying," says Sass.
These support bone health and have other possible benefits. Dairy products are the best sources of calcium, but you can also get it from fortified foods as well as canned salmon, sardines, dark leafy greens, and most tofu. If you can’t get the recommended 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams a day from food, take a calcium supplement. It’s hard to consume enough vitamin D from foods (the RDA is 600 to 800 IU a day, though other experts advise more). Thus, many people—especially those who are over 60, live at northern latitudes, or have darker skin—should consider taking a supplement.