How to Lose Weight: the Best Foods for Weight Loss – WTOP

U.S. News & World Report
October 23, 2022, 8:00 PM
The best foods to help you lose weight
There are dozens of diets out there to support weight loss, and it can be challenging to wade through all the options to find what works best for your body and your goals. Some tried and true foods, however, can help you lose weight. Read on for more advice and suggestions about what to include in your meals and snacks when trying to shed pounds.
High-protein foods
“Foods that are high in protein can help your metabolism work faster and therefore cause an increase in calories burned,” says Gaby Vaca-Flores, a registered dietitian and founder of Glow+Greens, a nutrition and skin care consultancy based in Santa Monica, California.
This means that “following a high-protein diet can help your body burn more calories throughout the day while also helping to curb cravings,” she says. The daily recommended dietary allowance of protein for the average, mostly sedentary adult is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. So, for someone who’s 185 pounds, or 84 kilos, you should aim to consume 67 grams of protein each day.
Examples of lean proteins include:
Eggs. A whole egg contains 6 grams of protein and 78 calories, making it a great food for dieters looking for a filling breakfast or an easy dinner.
Poultry. Chicken and turkey are both lean sources of protein. A 4-ounce serving of skinless chicken breast contains about 35 grams of protein and 271 calories. The same portion size of turkey contains 33 grams of protein and 214 calories.
Fish. Fish is a great source of protein that doesn’t add a lot of calories but does provide other nutrients. For example, salmon contains 23 grams of protein and 160 calories in a 4-ounce serving. Salmon and other fatty, cold-water fish such as tuna, mackerel and lake trout are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Not all protein comes from animals either. Mia Syn, a registered dietitian based in Charleston, South Carolina, and author of “Mostly Plant-Based,” adds that “beans can also help you meet your nutritional needs while increasing satiety.”
Complex carbohydrates
Vaca-Flores recommends pairing those lean proteins with complex carbohydrates to “boost your fiber intake. Fiber can help you lose weight by allowing you to feel fuller longer, which can be a big help if you’re watching your portions.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that women up to age 50 consume 25 grams of fiber per day and 21 grams per day after age 50, while men should eat 38 grams per day up to age 50 and 30 grams per day after age 50.
Sweet potatoes. A medium-sized sweet potato (roughly the size of your fist) provides 4 grams of fiber and meets your daily requirement for vitamin A. Plus, you’ll save half the calories compared to a white potato; a medium-sized sweet potato has only 150 calories compared to nearly 300 in a white one that’s the same size.
Quinoa. Quinoa has become many dieters’ go-to whole grain because it contains plenty of fiber (3 grams per quarter-cup serving) but also more protein than most other grains (6 grams of protein per quarter-cup serving). Fiber and protein are both helpful for keeping your blood sugar levels stable, which can help you feel satisfied longer.
Oatmeal. One-half cup of oatmeal contains 148 calories, 2.5 grams of fat and 5.5 grams of protein. A complex carbohydrate, oatmeal clocks in with 27 grams of carbs and nearly 4 grams of fiber. All that fiber can help you feel full for longer, and the complex carbs can help fuel workouts and other physical activity that can support weigh loss efforts.
Fresh fruit
Vaca-Flores recommends keeping a variety of “low-glycemic fruits on hand, such as berries, grapefruits and apples.” These fruits can help curb sweet cravings without adding the extra calories you’d get from cookies, ice cream and other sweet treats.
Foods with a low-glycemic index “stimulate less insulin secretion because insulin secretion is what leads to fat deposition and fat storage,” says Dr. Mir Ali, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.
The glycemic index ranks foods by how much a portion raises blood sugar over a certain period of time, and some fruits are lower on that index than others. “You want to be somewhat careful and use low-glycemic index fruits like watermelon and certain berries that have less sugar than something like an apple or an orange,” he explains. For example, a 1-cup serving of fresh raspberries contains 60 calories and is a great source of B vitamins, flavonoids, fiber and vitamin C.
Another good choice is watermelon, which tastes light and sweet but is chock full of water. Watermelon contains vitamin A, vitamin C and other antioxidants that help repair cellular damage to support a strong immune system and overall health. It also has lycopene, which has been associated with lowering the risk of heart disease, cancer and age-related macular degeneration. A cup of watermelon contains less than 50 calories.
Syn also recommends keeping frozen grapes on hand “for a sweet snack. Fruits like grapes deliver energy and hydration and can help satisfy sweet cravings without the added fat, salt and sugar found in many processed snacks. Plus, a three-fourths cup serving contains just 90 calories.”
One food misconception is some veggies, such as celery, actually take more calories to digest than they provide the body. What is true, Ali says, is “celery and other green vegetables are foods that are low in sugar, so they help your body burn fat.”
Most vegetables, and green, leafy vegetables in particular, contain loads of fiber too, which can help keep you feeling full for longer. They also provide all kinds of vitamins and minerals your body needs to run optimally, which can help support healthy weight loss.
Avocado is another vegetable — OK, it’s technically a fruit but often plays a veggie-like role in meals — that can support healthy weight loss. It’s full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which can help lower LDL cholesterol levels (that’s the bad kind) and help you feel full for longer. Avocado is versatile and goes well in salads and sandwiches. The one caveat with avocado is that because of its high fat content, it’s also high in calories; half of a medium-sized avocado contains about 120 calories, so watch your portion sizes. Roughly speaking, adults are typically told to aim for about 2,000 calories per day, but that very general rule of thumb is subject to a range of variables including sex, age, weight, health, activity levels and whether you’re trying to lose weight.
Low-fat dairy products
Low-fat milk and other dairy products can be part of a weight-loss diet, as evidenced by one 2019 study in the journal Nutrients. Researchers found 4 to 5 servings a day of low-fat dairy foods may be beneficial for weight loss or maintenance and lead to more favorable bone and body composition outcomes in postmenopausal women pursuing moderate weight loss.
Nonfat plain Greek yogurt is also a diet superstar. A 170-gram container has 17 grams of protein and just 100 calories. It also provides 18% of your daily calcium needs to keep your bones strong.
Thermogenic foods
There’s some evidence that foods that contain certain thermogenic, or calorie-burning, compounds could speed up metabolism and encourage weight loss. Examples of these thermogenic compounds include:
Capsaicin. Capsaicin is the compound that makes spicy foods hot, and some research has indicated it can support weight loss. Capsaicin may also help activate brown adipose tissue, or brown fat, a type of body fat that actually burns calories. It can support better insulin control and suppress appetite as well. However, capsaicin-containing foods are notorious for causing heartburn in some people, so watch your portions.
Caffeine. Coffee and green tea are sometimes singled out as foods to include in your diet when you’re trying to lose weight. Both contain caffeine, a central nervous system stimulant that can help you feel more alert and awake and improve athletic performance by delaying fatigue. There is also some evidence that it can speed up metabolism and help the body burn fat. One study found that consuming 4 cups per day of coffee was associated with a 4% increase in weight loss.
Catechin. Green tea also contains catechin, an antioxidant that may speed up metabolism by helping break down excess fat. Green tea extract is a common component of dietary supplements that claim to help burn fat. A cup of brewed green tea contains 50 to 100 milligrams of catechins and about 30 to 40 milligrams of caffeine. Drinking between 2 and 4 cups of green tea daily is generally considered to be safe for most adults.
Acetic acid. Apple cider vinegar has long been touted as a fat-burning, weight-loss supplement because it contains acetic acid, a byproduct of the fermentation process. There is some evidence that acetic acid can help subdue appetite and burn fat. It also contains just 3 calories per tablespoon and adds no fat, carbs or protein, so it can be an easy addition to a variety of drinks and dishes. But be careful because it is acidic; it can cause stomach upset and throat irritation and could interact with certain medications such as diuretics and insulin.
While Ali says there can be a thermogenic effect to these compounds, which are all calorie-free, “it’s not dramatic. These can facilitate fat loss along the way but not necessarily cause tremendous fat loss.” In other words, if these foods aren’t already part of your diet, it’s probably not worth it to add them just for the possible fat-burning boost.
You also want to be mindful of how much you’re taking in, particularly when it comes to caffeine. Caffeine can become toxic in large doses — in excess of 10 grams. A typical 8-ounce cup of coffee contains 95 milligrams, so you’d be looking at drinking up to 100 cups before reaching a toxic level. Still, energy drinks and caffeine supplement pills can contain mega doses of caffeine, so read the label carefully before you use these products.
Go slow to make lasting lifestyle changes.
Making sensible changes that aren’t super restrictive can help you avoid a common dieting pitfall: losing weight too quickly and subsequently regaining it. “Rapid weight loss is typically not sustainable in the long term, and that slow and steady wins the weight loss race,” Syn says.
The most successful weight loss plans combine diet and exercise, she adds. “Successful habits that support weight loss include portion control, using healthy cooking methods and getting enough sleep.”
The best foods for losing weight
— High-protein foods, such as eggs, poultry and fish.
— Complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, quinoa and oatmeal.
— Fresh fruit, such as raspberries, watermelon and grapes.
— Vegetables, such as green, leafy veggies and avocado.
— Low-fat dairy products, such as milk and nonfat plain Greek yogurt.
— Thermogenic foods that contain capsaicin, caffeine, catechin or acetic acid.
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How to Lose Weight: the Best Foods for Weight Loss originally appeared on
Update 10/24/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.
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