The best foods for weight loss are low in calories and saturated fat, high in protein and packed with healthy doses of vitamins and minerals. It might sound like a lot to ask for, but there are plenty that meet all these criteria.
By making a few tweaks to your daily diet and adding foods known to fill you up while delivering quality nutrients, you can enjoy great food that will keep you going through the day and help you reap a whole other set of health rewards as you hit your weight loss targets.
Whether you want to know how to lose a stone in a month or just how to eat less and have better portion control, combined with a regular exercise routine and meals that contain all seven food groups, the 21 best foods for weight loss will not only help you lose weight but feel good and energized, too.
What foods are good for weight loss?
Foods that are higher in protein are best for weight loss as this is the most-filling macronutrient, multiple studies have found. Research from the likes of Missouri University have confirmed that protein increases the production of several hormones linked to satiety—such as ghrelin.
"Protein takes longer to digest than carbs," explains Dr. Michael Mosley, creator of the Fast 800 lifestyle plan. "It also reduces levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and boosts levels of Peptide YY (PYY), a protein that tells you when you are full."
The best sources of protein are meat, poultry, fish, dairy foods, eggs, and tofu. If you struggle to meet your protein target through your meals, reap the benefits of protein powder every day by making a shake with one of the best protein powders.
Foods that are high in fiber are also great go-tos when it comes to losing weight. It may surprise you but around 90 percent of us aren't getting the recommended daily fiber intake of 30g, according to research by Texas Woman's University. As well as helping the digestive system, the plant-based carbohydrate plays a huge role in keeping us full as it slows down the stomach's processes and increases digestion time. So, stock up on high-fiber foods including brown rice, wholewheat bread, and fruit and vegetables.
Beyond boosting your levels of protein and fiber, a balanced plate of food also includes healthy carbohydrates, fresh fruit and veg, and good fats.
The best foods for weight loss
1. Nuts and seeds
Nuts are a great snack and just a handful a day is enough to deliver plenty of nutritional benefits. “Eating nuts can help to control body weight as they boost satiety—that feeling of fullness after eating,” says dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton.
But, what type is best? Chestnuts contain the lowest fat and calories, and almonds make a great healthy snack—one study by Penn State University found eating a handful of almonds daily, instead of a high-carbohydrate snack with equal calories, helped reduce belly fat, and significantly improved cholesterol levels.
Chia, sunflower, and flax seeds can also be part of a healthy weight-loss plan. Also, look out for pumpkin seeds; they are packed with zinc, which is important for helping the body burn fat.
From blueberries and strawberries to blackberries, cranberries, and raspberries, these are nature’s superfoods—and they're also excellent foods for weight loss.
"Fresh or frozen, they're low in calories and high in fiber, and they won't make your blood sugar soar," says Dr Joan Borysenko, cell biologist and author of The PlantPlus Diet Solution. "They're also rich in antioxidant flavonoids [which have anti-inflammatory effects]."
Mix them with your morning oats or use a one of the best blenders to make a delicious and nutritious smoothie.
3. White cod
If you want to fill up on more protein foods to aid weight loss, consider adding this simple, lean fish to your shopping list and serving it with steamed vegetables.
A cod fillet is a good source of high-quality protein, yet is light enough to enjoy for lunch. In fact, research by Karolinska University Hospital revealed that people who ate this fish for lunch consumed 11 percent less food at dinner, compared to those who ate beef for their midday meal.
While many people are after the best advice on how to stop eating chocolate, the goods news is that a nibble of chocolate won't derail your diet. And, surprisingly, it could also help keep you full.
But, you should stick to dark chocolate with a high cacao content, rather than milk chocolate. This is because cacao is nutrient-dense and packed with antioxidants. "It can help lower blood pressure, combat clogged arteries, and reduce the risk of stroke," says Dr Borysenko.
In fact, surprisingly, it could help with workout motivation. Research by Kingston University found that eating 40g of chocolate for two weeks boosted performance during short bursts of moderate-intensity exercise.
5. Yoghurt and fermented foods
Fermented foods are those that have gone through a natural preservation process to promote the growth of good bacteria. Foods in this group include sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso kefir and yogurt with live cultures.
“When these foods are eaten, the good bacteria act as a probiotic and help to naturally support our gut microbiome,” explains nutritionist Nicola Shubrook of Urban Wellness. This, in turn, can improve digestion and help prevent bloating, excessive gas and abnormal bowel movements.
When shopping for fermented foods, you'll find the best ones in the refrigerated section—pasteurization or canning of these foods can kill the probiotics.
When it comes to weight loss, so-called "healthy fats" are on your side. These are monounsaturated fats or polyunsaturated fats, research linked to Harvard University explains, and they're often found in vegetables like avocados, alongside olive oil, nuts, seeds and fish.
These unsaturated fats won't only help keep you fuller for longer, just like protein and fiber do, they also help to keep your blood sugar levels balanced and in turn, your insulin levels. This means you're less likely to experience sugar cravings, mood swings and periods of low energy—all of which lead to the drive to eat unhealthy foods.
"Avocados also contain both soluble and insoluble fiber that feeds gut microbes, and helps to move food through the digestive system," Dr Borysenko says.
Top your morning toast with avo or mix up a lunchtime salad with 146g of this superfood containing around 10g fiber and you'll already be on your way to hitting your 30g target.
7. Coffee and tea
There’s no need to ditch your morning brew just yet. Research by King’s College London found that caffeine can help speed up your metabolism, increasing the rate at which your body burns fat. Another study by the University of California found that both black and green tea could help combat obesity.
If caffeine isn't a friend of yours, Dr Borysenko suggests trying a water-processed decaf. She also notes that "while tea and coffee are non-calorific, adding lots of milk, sugar, artificial flavoring, and syrups can turn these drinks into chemical concoctions and caloric disasters." Go easy on the sugary lattes and stick to black coffee or add a dash of a plant-based milk alternative.
Each green vegetable has its own benefits, but kale is known as the “queen of greens”, perhaps because it really is rich in nutrients. Vitamin C and E, vitamin K and minerals, such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium are just some of the leafy green's inherent health-boosting properties.
“The benefits of magnesium are countless," nutritionist Jenna Hope says. "Kale also provides some fiber towards our recommended daily intake of 30g—leafy greens in general offer around 2-4g of fiber per 100g."
Add kale to a side salad at dinnertime, or pop it in a smoothie with fruit if you prefer a sweeter taste but still want to reap all the health benefits.
9. Free-range eggs
"After years of us being told not to eat eggs because of their high cholesterol content, the tide has finally turned," says Dr Borysenko.
Eggs are high in protein, low in calories, and have been shown to help boost metabolism—making them a great food for weight loss.
Start the day by having one for breakfast, but try to buy free-range if possible. "Yes, they're more expensive than the factory-farmed kind, but overall they're still a very economical source of protein and micronutrients," says Dr Borysenko.
10. Ginger Root
"Ginger is delicious in sauces, marinades, teas, and smoothies," says Dr. Borysenko. It's also good food for weight loss because it contains powerful anti-inflammatory properties that aid digestion and circulation.
Several studies collated in a review by Shiraz University of Medical Sciences show that the compounds in this fiery root are linked to healthy weight management. Buy it fresh from the supermarket and grate it into recipes and smoothies or use it to make ginger tea.
Also known as pulses, this food group is probably already sitting in your kitchen cabinets—hello lentils, kidney beans, and chickpeas.
"Legumes are a source of high-fiber carbohydrate and have a low GI (glycaemic index), which means they release their sugars more slowly so you feel fuller for longer," explains consultant dietician Sophie Medlin. Their fiber content also helps fill you up quickly and they are so easy to incorporate into your meals—think soups, curries, wraps and salads.
"This root is a superfood that is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory—one that has been used medicinally for thousands of years," explains Dr Borysenko.
And the weight loss benefits? Turmeric contains polyphenol curcumin, which research shows is linked to weight loss. Another study by Shiraz University of Medical Sciences found that consuming curcumin led to a significant reduction in body mass index (BMI), weight, waist circumference, and leptin, which is a hormone that plays a role in obesity.
You can add turmeric to pretty much anything, whether that be tofu, eggs, rice or soup. And you can even add a dash to your morning smoothie.
As well as being packed with protein and vital omega-3 fatty acids, sardines are good sources of Vitamin D and iron, which help reduce inflammation in the body—something that's important in the fight against weight gain and obesity.
"These little fish are also low on the food chain and, therefore, low in pollutants such as mercury that accumulate in larger fish," says Dr Borysenko.
Use your sardines to make a fish pie or opt for a Mediterranean diet over the next few weeks to see the changes it can make to your weight and overall health. For starters, whip up a Mediterranean-style salad with leafy greens, tomatoes, aubergines and courgettes.
Taking care of your tummy is important when trying to lose weight, so pick foods that promote good gastro health and prevent bloating.
"Another plant in the ginger family, cardamom has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and a long history of medicinal use for gastrointestinal problems," says Dr Borysenko.
You can toast cardamom seeds and add them to salads or curries, or ground them up and add a little to sauces or tea.
15. Chicken broth
Chicken broth is a food that's been used as a folk medicine for years, with good reason. When you make a chicken or turkey soup from scratch, boiling the bones up to make a stock, the resulting broth is full of goodness, says Dr. Borysenko.
A bowl of it may also help you to lose weight. Research in partnership with the National Kidney Foundation revealed that a cup of chicken-bone broth contains more protein than regular chicken soup, so it will fill you up for longer and support a calorie-controlled diet, too.
This crunchy fruit is a great source of fiber, and also includes pectin, which can make you feel full for longer, says dietitian Sian Porter. Plus, the average apple contains just 77 kcal, making it a great replacement for high-calorie snacks to help with weight management.
"The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) checked the antioxidant levels in more than 100 antioxidant-rich foods, and Granny Smith apples ranked 13th," adds Dr Borysenko. Impressive!
Sprinkle this delicious-smelling spice over your cereal and porridge, or add to hot drinks and smoothies, and repeat the health benefits.
“Not only does cinnamon help prevent an increased storage of fat, but it’s also believed to help the speed of your metabolism while lowering your blood sugar levels, which are closely linked to weight gain and obesity,” says Frida Harju-Westman, a nutritionist for Lifesum app.
18. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Nutritionists often recommend extra-virgin olive oil as part of a Mediterranean-style diet of healthy foods for weight loss. This is because cooking or drizzling your foods with this is much better for you than using saturated fats or high-calorie dressings.
“People who consume olive oil as a regular part of their diet are less likely to develop cardiovascular disease, including stroke, high blood pressure. and high cholesterol levels," says Dr Borysenko. "It can also help regularize carbohydrate metabolism and dampen down spikes in blood sugar."
19. Chilli peppers
It’s time to turn up the heat. Capsaicin is a compound found in chili peppers—the thing that gives jalapeños, habaneros, chipotles, and cayenne their fiery kick.
"Consuming capsaicin increases body temperature, which increases metabolism. Your body has to work harder to maintain its normal temperature and therefore burns more calories to do this," explains Dr Borysenko.
Of course, if you don't like hot food or chili steer clear of this one. But, if you do, you can use chili peppers to create a whole range of dishes and even add it to sauces for an extra kick.
They might be simple, but oats are oh-so-delicious and one of the best fiber-based foods for weight loss. Have them for breakfast and hit your fiber targets early. You can also mix them with your berries, cinnamon or chocolate.
"By eating porridge made from rolled oats, or a muesli mix, topped with 1tbsp of flaxseeds and a piece of fruit, you can easily consume 15g of dietary fiber first thing," says nutritional therapist Natalie Lamb.
When it comes to protein foods for weight loss, this tasty fish always come to mind.
"Salmon is notable for its exceptionally high level of omega-3 fatty acids," says Dr. Borysenko. This translates into less inflammation, increased cardiovascular health, and improved metabolic age, which all help with weight loss.
There are so many ways to cook salmon, whether you bake, fry or grill it, and you can serve it with anything from rice or noodles to green beans or Brussels sprouts.
Miriam worked for woman&home for over five years and previously worked on the women's lifestyle magazines Woman and Woman's Own.
- Grace Walsh Health Editor
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