If you’re looking to lose weight, the most logical place to start is with a reevaluation of the food you eat. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is key to helping you achieve your weight loss goals.
“When the goal is weight loss, the objective is to create a caloric deficit while meeting needs for macronutrients (protein being the number one priority for muscle preservation), and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals),” says Silvia Carli, MS, RD, CSCS, registered dietitian with 1AND1 LIFE.
But it can be overwhelming to know what to stock your fridge and pantry with. So we asked registered dietitians and took a closer look at studies to help you buy the right weight loss foods to benefit your journey. Here are 40 of the best foods and drinks for weight loss.
Best foods for weight loss
A meta-analysis of weight-loss studies conducted by the journal Nutrients found that cauliflower was the #1 veggie that helped women sustain weight loss over a 4-year period. It’s also packed with protein—one small head of cauliflower has over 5 grams.
“Whole grain oats are rich in fiber, which promotes satiety and helps us feel full longer,” says Carli. “Moreover, whole grains promote control of blood sugar, being a complex carbohydrate that provides steady energy release. Oats also improve our blood lipid profile by lowering cholesterol and promote heart health.”
Turmeric, a spice that comes from the turmeric plant, was found to help fight against obesity and insulin resistance in a study published in the Annual Review of Nutrition. It found that curcumin—the yellow-pigmented chemical found in turmeric—is naturally anti-inflammatory.
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A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that eating potatoes did not lead to weight gain. One medium-size (5.3 ounce) skin-on potato contains just 110 calories per serving, boasts more potassium (620g) than a banana, provides almost half the daily value of vitamin C (45 percent), and contains no fat, sodium or cholesterol.
A 2014 study found that people with diabetes who ate 1-2 ripe bananas improved their blood sugar and lipid profiles, and can help keep blood sugar levels steady.
“Lentils are packed with 8 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein to help keep you full,” says Sue Heikkinen, MS, RD, head registered for MyNetDiary. “These quick-cooking legumes make a versatile pantry staple, helping you avoid unnecessary calories from takeout meals.”
Eating avocados may help suppress hunger. A study published in the journal Nutrients found that participants who ate avocado with meals reported feeling less hungry after 6 hours compared to those who didn’t.
“This item is of low caloric density while rich in nutrients like the powerful antioxidant vitamin C,” says Carli. “They are also rich in fiber and promote satiety, helping to curb hunger. and favor gastrointestinal health.”
Kefir isn’t just good for gut health, it can also help you lose weight. A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that drinking kefir led to similar weight loss as drinking low-fat milk.
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This fermented drink is loaded with gut-healthy probiotics, which research has found may be a promising method for treating obesity.
“I encourage clients to get 20 grams of protein at a meal to help manage appetite. That can be challenging, especially at breakfast,” says Heikkinen. “A 7-ounce carton of low-fat Greek yogurt provides 20 grams of protein (and only 146 calories), while also providing essential potassium and magnesium, which are good for blood pressure control and muscle function.”
The fluffy, crunchy snack is filled with fiber and has been found in a study published in Nutrition Journal to be more satiating than potato chips, which may help lead to weight loss.
“This is a staple item in many diet plans because chicken breast is the leanest part of the chicken and provides almost exclusively protein while keeping calories low,” says Carli. “It contains, in fact, 27 grams of protein for a 3 oz serving with only ~140 calories.”
“Sometimes we just need to snack on something crunchy. Pistachios are fun to eat, and the time it takes to crack the shells helps keep your portions in check,” says Heikkinen. “Pistachios are lower calorie compared to other nuts and are a convenient alternative to highly processed snack foods. You can eat 25 pistachios for just under 100 calories while getting a good source of healthy fats, protein, and fiber.”
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Extra virgin olive oil
EVOO has also been found to help reduce body weight. A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that overweight women who consumed 5 teaspoons of EVOO daily for 9 weeks reported reduced body fat and improved blood pressure.
“Zucchini is made up for the most part of water, and therefore has a low caloric density,” says Carli. “One cup of cooked zucchini contains 17 kcals and only 3 grams of carbs, one of which is fiber. Zucchini is a good source of vitamin A which is good for immunity, skin, and vision.”
A study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders found that participants on a low-calorie diet increased their weight loss by 62% by eating 3 ounces of almonds over 24 weeks.
“Raspberries are an easy way to add fiber and volume to oatmeal, cereal, salads, and smoothies,” says Heikkinen. “Raspberries have only 64 calories in a cup (about half the calories of a cup of most other fruits). One cup of raspberries has 15 grams of carb, including a whopping 8 grams of carb from fiber, meaning they can fit in with many low-carb plans.”
A study from the John Hopkins Weight Management Center found that participants who ate mushroom entrees compared to beef entrees over 4 days reported the same results for palatability (meal appeal), appetite, satiation (after meal fullness) and satiety (general fullness) as those served beef.
“Eggs are a powerhouse of nutrients and provide two micronutrients that are involved in proper thyroid functioning: iodine and selenium,” says Carli. “Eggs are also a source of protein, which is indispensable to prioritize when on a weight loss plan to ensure proper functioning of metabolic reactions and immunity.”
“Plant protein sources are more popular than ever. Edamame (immature soybeans) are the ultimate minimally processed plant protein source. They are high in protein and fiber and easy to eat as a snack or add to salads, stir-fries, and grain dishes to give them more substance,” says Heikkinen. “Keep frozen, shelled edamame to use in recipes like this Cauliflower Fried Rice. An added bonus: edamame tends to be less gas-forming than other legumes.”
Cottage cheese may be the best late night snack. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that participants who ate 30 grams of cottage cheese about 30 minutes before bed saw a positive impact on muscle quality, metabolism and overall health and did not gain weight.
“Tuna is a very lean fish that provides high protein for a savvy caloric density. It is imperative to choose tuna stored in water and not in oil if the caloric deficit is the goal as it would add calories from fat,” says Carli. “Tuna is also high in omega-3, which has benefits beyond weight loss. Tuna pouches are a great idea for a portable snack.”
Those juicy berries may greatly benefit weight loss. A study conducted by Harvard Medical School found that thanks to their high flavonoid content, blueberries may help promote weight loss.
“Don’t sacrifice flavor or variety when cutting calories. Spices allow you to transform the flavor of any dish,” says Heikkinen. “For example, you can take a basic soup recipe and opt for Southwestern, Italian, or Indian flavors by using different spice blends. While metabolism-boosting claims for spices are likely overstated, spices are a tasty way to add antioxidants and protective phytochemicals to your meals.”
Chili peppers have been shown to improve metabolism rate, and also have been found to help increase the burning of calories in people who took cayenne capsules.
“Legumes (beans, garbanzo beans, pinto and lima beans, lentils, etc.) can be defined as a mixed food as they contain both carbs and protein,” says Carli. “The carbohydrate part is largely fiber, which promotes satiety and favors gastrointestinal regularity and can ultimately be beneficial for weight loss for these reasons.”
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that participants who ate whole grains compared to refined grains over six weeks saw an improvement in their metabolism.
“Although no vinegar, including balsamic vinegar, has magical weight-loss properties, vinegar may help lower blood sugar. Balsamic vinegar can be a powerful weight-loss ingredient when used instead of high-calorie sauces, dressings, and oils,” says Heikkinen. “Balsamic vinegar has a mere five calories in a teaspoon and can be used to punch up the flavor of salads, roasted veggies, and lean proteins.”
This yummy, aromatic veggie can help you lose weight. A 2016 study found that garlic powder reduced body weight and fat mass in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
“A high protein fish, salmon is filling and satisfying. Protein is the macronutrient with the highest thermogenic effect meaning that it helps the body burn more calories while it’s being metabolized,” says Carli. “The benefits of salmon go beyond weight loss as it is rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3.”
The spicy flavor of the ginger root can also help with weight loss. A 2019 study published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition found that daily supplementation with ginger decreased weight and overall insulin resistance in study participants.
“It can be tricky to get enough fiber when you are eating less, especially if you are cutting carbs. It’s easy to add ground flaxseed to shakes, smoothies, and baked goods, providing a fiber boost and a mild, nutty, flavor,” says Heikkinen. “A review of 45 studies reported that the addition of flaxseed to the diet resulted in weight loss and decreased waist circumference in people who were overweight.”
“When you’re cutting calories for weight loss, it’s essential that your food choices give you the most nutrition ‘bang-for-your-buck’,” says Heikkinen. “Leafy greens are well-known nutrition powerhouses, but it’s not always easy to keep fresh greens on hand. I love the versatility of spinach. You can eat spinach raw in a salad or sandwich, but you can also throw in a handful of baby spinach into a smoothie, mix chopped spinach into scrambled eggs, soups, or casseroles.”
Apples and pears
A Brazilian study published in the journal Nutrition found that overweight women who ate three servings of apples or pears a day saw more weight loss compared to those who ate oat cookies.
Best drinks for weight loss
“Green tea contains catechins, compounds that may slightly increase calorie-burning. If you don’t like green tea, any form of unsweetened tea can be a good weight-loss choice,”says Heikken. “A cup of caffeinated tea in the morning may help curb appetite and give you an energy boost. Creating a new soothing ritual of sipping decaf tea at night instead of stress eating can save you countless calories.”
Drinking more water has been linked to an increase in weight loss. A study published in Obesity found that participants on a low calorie diet who drank at least 16 ounces of water before each meal lost 4.5 pounds more than those on the same diet who didn’t drink water.
That energizing drink you pour yourself every morning has also been linked to weight loss. A Harvard study found that drinking four cups of coffee per day for 24 weeks reduced body fat by 4%.
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Drinking tomato juice has been found to help aid weight loss. In a study published in Nutrition found that women who drank a little over one cup a day for two months reported reduced body weight, body fat, waist circumference, and BMI.
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Silvia Carli, MS, RD, CSCS, registered dietitian with 1AND1 LIFESue Heikkinen, MS, RD, head registered for MyNetDiaryNutrients: “A Comprehensive Critical Assessment of Increased Fruit and Vegetable Intake on Weight Loss in Women.”Annual Review of Nutrition: “Targeting Inflammation-Induced Obesity and Metabolic Diseases by Curcumin and Other Nutraceuticals”Journal of the American College of Nutrition: “Potatoes, Glycemic Index, and Weight Loss in Free-Living Individuals: Practical Implications”Indian Journal of Experimental Biology: “Daily consumption of banana marginally improves blood glucose and lipid profile”Nutrients: “Using the Avocado to Test the Satiety Effects of a Fat-Fiber Combination in Place of Carbohydrate Energy in a Breakfast Meal in Overweight and Obese Men and Women: A Randomized Clinical Trial”European Journal of Nutrition: “Kefir drink leads to a similar weight loss, compared with milk, in a dairy-rich non-energy-restricted diet in overweight or obese premenopausal women: a randomized controlled trial.”Nutrients: Probiotics: How Effective Are They in the Fight against Obesity?Nutrition Journal: “Popcorn is more satiating than potato chips in normal-weight adults”Obesity: “Water Consumption Increases Weight Loss During a Hypocaloric Diet Intervention in Middle-aged and Older adults” European Journal of Nutrition: “Consumption of extra virgin olive oil improves body composition and blood pressure in women with excess body fat: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial”International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders: “Almonds vs complex carbohydrates in a weight reduction program”Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center: “New Mushroom Study Shows The Power Of Energy Density”Harvard T. Chan School of Public Health: “Four cups of coffee a day associated with modest loss of body fat”British Journal of Nutrition: “Pre-sleep protein in casein supplement or whole-food form has no impact on resting energy expenditure or hunger in women”The BMJ: “Dietary flavonoid intake and weight maintenance: three prospective cohorts of 124 086 US men and women followed for up to 24 years”American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Substituting whole grains for refined grains in a 6-wk randomized trial favorably affects energy-balance metrics in healthy men and postmenopausal women”Advanced Biomedical Research: “Effect of garlic powder consumption on body composition in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial”Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: “The effects of ginger intake on weight loss and metabolic profiles among overweight and obese subjects: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials”Nutrition: “Tomato juice supplementation in young women reduces inflammatory adipokine levels independently of body fat reduction”Nutrition: “Weight loss associated with a daily intake of three apples or three pears among overweight women”