Before diving into all this delicious goodness, an important note: Health and weight loss are not the same thing, and they're different for different people. Whether you want to eat well, lose weight, or maintain your weight, it's about finding what works for you—including which foods help or your hinder your goals. But if you are looking to change how you look, it's important to ask yourself why, along with how you can do it while upgrading your mental and physical health instead of harming it. To that end, if you have a history of disordered eating, it's always a smart idea to chat with your doctor before making any changes to your eating habits. But even if you don't, talking with a doctor or registered dietitian can help make sure you're setting realistic, reasonable goals for yourself. Because remember, your weight is about so much more than how you eat and exercise. Various factors influence it, like your sleeping habits, your stress levels, and other components like health conditions and hormonal fluctuations.
Your favorite childhood snack is good for your grown-up self, too. Because peanut butter is a great source of protein and healthy fats, it can curb hunger and keep you feeling full long after you're finished eating. Having small snacks during the day that include a lean protein such as peanut butter with complex carbs (like an apple or banana) can also help keep your metabolism running smoothly.
You may not think of them as a weight-loss food, but eggs are packed with protein, which helps curb your appetite. One study found that overweight women who ate eggs for breakfast were able to lose twice as much weight as women who started their days with bagels. And egg whites in particular are a good source of branched-chain amino acids, which help keep your metabolism running smoothly.
If giving up pasta is the hardest part of making changes to help lose weight, zucchini noodles are a healthier alternative, Michalczyk says. "I like to think of them as pasta's lower-carb and higher-in-nutrition cousin because zucchini is a good source of vitamins A and C, fiber and potassium for only about 33 calories per zucchini,” says Michalczyk. You can use in zoodles, much on as is with some dip, roast them, or add to salads.
Not all the nutrients and other substances that contribute to good health have been identified, so eating a wide assortment of healthy whole foods like fruits and vegetables helps ensure that you get all of the health-promoting benefits that foods can offer. If your diet, day after day, consists of the same half dozen foods, it could fall short. In addition, varying your food choices will limit your exposure to any pesticides or toxic substances that might be present in particular foods.
Fears of high cholesterol were frequently voiced up until the mid-1990s. However, more recent research has shown that the distinction between high- and low-density lipoprotein ('good' and 'bad' cholesterol, respectively) must be addressed when speaking of the potential ill effects of cholesterol. Different types of dietary fat have different effects on blood levels of cholesterol. For example, polyunsaturated fats tend to decrease both types of cholesterol; monounsaturated fats tend to lower LDL and raise HDL; saturated fats tend to either raise HDL, or raise both HDL and LDL; and trans fat tend to raise LDL and lower HDL.
Here’s more reason to add avocado to everything. “Most of the carbohydrate content in avocados comes from fiber (1/3 of an avocado provides 11 percent of our daily fiber needs), and it also contains monounsaturated fat, which is known as a ‘good’ fat and [is] important for heart health,” says Zigler. Together, the healthy fats and fiber will keep you full to avoid mindless munching throughout the day.
As long as this popular crunchy treat isn't doused in movie-theater butter, it makes an excellent weight-loss snack. Not only is popcorn high in fiber, it even delivers some protein. A 1-ounce serving of air-popped corn (about 3½ cups) has 4 grams of fiber, almost 4 grams of protein and clocks in at 110 calories. This combination makes it a snack with staying power. Popcorn is filled with air, so you get a pretty large portion without a lot of calories. You can eat 3 whole cups of popcorn for only 100 calories.
Coconut oil may be high in saturated fat, but that doesn’t mean you should write it off completely, especially when it comes to weight loss. In fact, a study of 30 men published in Pharmacology found that just two tablespoons per day reduced waist circumference by an average of 1.1 inches over the course of a month. What’s more? At roughly 117 calories per tablespoon, coconut oil (which has a versatile high smoke point) is an ideal cooking companion so long as you don’t use it every day and rotate in other cooking oils such as heart-healthy EVOO.
If you’re on a quest to jumpstart weight loss, why not kick your metabolism into overdrive by sneaking spicy foods into your diet. Capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper that gives it its spiciness, revs up your metabolism in a way that’s conducive to weight loss. In fact, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, those who supplemented their diet with capsaicin consumed 200 fewer calories during their next meal.
If you’re not drinking green tea with your workouts, you might be wasting your time at that barre class. A study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that after just two weeks, exercisers who sipped four to five cups of green tea each day and logged 25-minutes at the gym lost more belly fat than their non-tea-drinking counterparts. What makes the drink so powerful? It contains catechins, an antioxidant that hinders the storage of belly fat and aids rapid weight loss. And that’s not the only weight loss elixir out there: Discover more details and drop two sizes with these 4 Teas That Melt Fat Fast.
Prefer water over other beverages. Avoid sugary drinks, and limit intake of juices and milk. Coffee, tea, artificially-sweetened drinks, 100-percent fruit juices, low-fat milk and alcohol can fit into a healthy diet but are best consumed in moderation. Sports drinks are recommended only for people who exercise more than an hour at a stretch to replace substances lost in sweat.
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.
Protein gives you the energy to get up and go—and keep going—while also supporting mood and cognitive function. Too much protein can be harmful to people with kidney disease, but the latest research suggests that many of us need more high-quality protein, especially as we age. That doesn’t mean you have to eat more animal products—a variety of plant-based sources of protein each day can ensure your body gets all the essential protein it needs. Learn more »
Think smaller portions. Serving sizes have ballooned recently. When dining out, choose a starter instead of an entree, split a dish with a friend, and don’t order supersized anything. At home, visual cues can help with portion sizes. Your serving of meat, fish, or chicken should be the size of a deck of cards and half a cup of mashed potato, rice, or pasta is about the size of a traditional light bulb. By serving your meals on smaller plates or in bowls, you can trick your brain into thinking it’s a larger portion. If you don’t feel satisfied at the end of a meal, add more leafy greens or round off the meal with fruit.
A big reason to incorporate more strawberries into your diet: not only do they taste delicious, but a study from Harvard Medical School found that an increased intake of flavonoid-rich fruits, like strawberries, could help prevent weight gain. Stock up on the seasonal fruit in summer, but don't shy away from grabbing the frozen variety once colder temps hit — fruit is frozen at its nutrient peak, so you'll still nab most of the same health benefits.
This often over-looked gem is loaded with protein, filling fats, and calcium to help you build and repair muscles, which can aid in weight loss. “It's fabulous with fruit, on whole grain toast, oatmeal or salads, but the super high protein content [13 grams per 1/2 cup serving!] helps to keep you full in between meals,” says Harris-Pincus. You can also use it in smoothies, in eggs, or in pancake batter. Just be sure to check labels and find a product that’s low in sugar.
At least half your grains should be whole grains, such as whole wheat, oats, barley, or brown rice. Whole grains retain the bran and germ and thus all (or nearly all) of the nutrients and fiber of the grain. One sure way of finding whole grains is to look for a product labeled “100% whole wheat” or “100%" of some other whole grain. You can also look for a whole grain listed as the first ingredient, though there still may be lots of refined wheat in the product. Another option is to look for the voluntary “Whole Grain Stamp” from the Whole Grains Council. Or try this tip: Look for less than a 10-to-1 ratio of “total carbohydrates” to “fiber” on the nutrition label.