Losing weight is not easy. Starving yourself certainly doesn’t help and is not only potentially very dangerous to your health but can actually slow down your metabolism and cause you to overeat, negating all your efforts of dieting. It’s about eating the right foods and having the right balance of nutrients, sufficient exercise and homeostasis of your hormones. Call Protea Medical Center for more information.
by Kathleen Mulpeter
If you’re trying to shed pounds, consider this the ultimate guide to what you should be putting on your plate. These good-for-you foods contain powerful nutrients and antioxidants that have been shown to help your body lose weight, feel full for longer periods of time, and have more energy. As a bonus, many have added benefits, too, such as preventing various diseases or reversing the signs of aging.
Here are 50 weight loss superfoods to start incorporating into your diet, plus delicious ways to prepare them from Health‘s contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD.
Almonds are a great source of mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which can help lower your cholesterol and keep you slim. They also contain fewer calories than most other varieties of nuts (just 163 calories for 23), as well as plenty of fiber and vitamin E. According to a study in the International Journal of Obesity, people who added a daily serving of almonds to a low-calorie diet lost more weight than those who followed the same diet but ate a carb-heavy snack such as crackers instead.
To reap the benefits, Sass recommends using almonds to crust a lean protein such as salmon or sprinkling them onto salads and cooked veggies. “You can also whip them into smoothies or use nut butter as the base for a savory sauce seasoned with garlic and ginger,” she says.
Apples contain pectin, an ingredient that naturally slows digestion and encourages feelings of fullness. Studies show that eating a whole apple with your meal (as opposed to apple juice or applesauce) is a natural appetite suppressant, helping you consume fewer overall calories without feeling deprived. Sass likes using shredded apple in slaws and stir-fry, or mixing them into burger patties to add moisture.
Apples are also a good source of antioxidants, vitamin C, and fiber. Just be sure not to skip the skin, which contains much of the fruit’s nutritional benefits.
RELATED: 25 Amazing Apple Recipes
Artichokes are incredibly filling-in fact, they are one of the highest-fiber vegetables, says Sass. A single boiled artichoke contains a whopping 10.3 grams of fiber-almost half the recommended daily amount for women. To curb your appetite before a meal, Sass suggests enjoying the veggie as a pre-dinner appetizer: try them in a refreshing salad with edamame and asparagus, or make homemade salsa with artichoke hearts, tomatoes, olives, and red onions.
Is there anything avocados can’t do? This creamy superfood (loaded with monounsaturated fats, potassium, magnesium, folate, and vitamins C and E) has been linked to improved vision, good heart health, and a reduced risk of certain cancers. And avocados can also help whittle your middle: according to one study, people who regularly consume them weigh less and have smaller waists than those who do not. Another study found that women who eat half an avocado at lunchtime might experience reduced food cravings later in the day.
There are countless ways to enjoy the fruit (yes, technically it is one), but you can’t beat the classic combination of whole-wheat toast with mashed avocado, lemon juice, and sunflower seeds. Sass also recommends whipping avocado into a smoothie, pureeing it with herbs and citrus juice to make a creamy salad dressing, or adding it to a veggie omelet.
Although they’re best known for containing potassium, bananas are also a great source of resistant starch, a type of starch that’s important for weight loss. Your body digests resistant starch slowly-helping you feel full for longer-while simultaneously encouraging your liver to switch to fat-burning mode. And no need to wait for them to become completely ripe; bananas actually contain more of this calorie-torching ingredient when they’re still a little green.
Even more reasons to add a bunch to your shopping cart: Bananas can help regulate blood pressure, ease digestive problems, replenish nutrients after a workout, and may even help prevent strokes in older women.
Next: Black beans
Black beans are a member of the pulse family, a food group that’s been shown to help burn calories, reduce belly fat, and curb appetite. Just one cup of black beans packs 15 grams of protein without the saturated fat you often find in other high-protein sources, such as red meat.
“Black beans work great in both savory and sweet dishes,” says Sass. “You’ve probably had black bean soup, but you can also make black bean brownies or whip them into puddings and smoothies.”
One cup of antioxidant-rich blueberries contains just 80 calories and 4 grams of fiber, which helps your body feel full for longer. They’re also a good source of manganese, which can speed up metabolism and make you feel energized.
More reasons to love them: blueberries contain a compound that attacks cancer-causing free radicals, and research suggests they may also help ward off UTIs, keep skin bright, and reduce age-related memory loss.
A great source of calcium and important cancer-fighting compounds, broccoli also has loads of filling fiber and will set you back only 30 calories per serving. If eating this cruciferous veggie makes you bloat, try steaming it first, which makes it easier to digest while still preserving the cancer-fighting ingredients that could be lost when you boil or cook it in the microwave.
Next: Brown rice
This healthy grain is a great source of phytonutrients, which have been linked to decreased risks of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Brown rice is also packed with fiber, contains 1.7 grams of fat-burning resistant starch, and is a low-energy-density food (in other words, it’s filling but still low in calories).
Feeling adventurous? Try adding black rice to your shopping cart instead of brown. It contains even more antioxidants than blueberries and significantly more vitamin E than brown rice.
Cabbage is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C but extremely low in calories (just 22 per cup), so you can fill your plate with the leafy green guilt-free. And while you’re probably familiar with the infamous Cabbage Soup Diet, there are plenty of alternate ways to eat this veggie that won’t leave you feeling hungry. It’s delicious in a variety of slaws or salads, and makes a crunchy garnish atop tacos or burgers.
RELATED: 23 Easy Cabbage Recipes
Because carrots have high water and fiber content, they can increase feelings of fullness as you eat. To boost their calorie-burning potential, try roasting them: in a University of Arkansas study, roasted carrots contained three times as many antioxidants as raw ones.
Also good: The beta-carotene in carrots can help maintain a strong immune system and good eyesight.
Cauliflower is an especially low-calorie vegetable-just 25 calories per cup. It’s also packed with filling fiber and good-for-you nutrients like potassium and vitamins C, K, and B6.
Like its cruciferous cousin broccoli, raw cauliflower can cause bloating, but steaming can make it easier to digest. Try steaming then blending the veggie to give it a mashed potato-like texture, pureeing it into soup, or making cauliflower ‘rice’ by pulsing florets in a food processor before heating them in a wok.
Next: Chia seeds
Small-but-mighty chia seeds are a terrific source of essential nutrients like omega-3s, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. They also pack a serious fiber punch-4 grams per tablespoon-so when you add them to your favorite healthy foods, they’ll help ward off hunger.
The versatile seeds can be blended into smoothies, stirred into oatmeal, used to thicken pudding, or added to yogurt. “You can even whisk them into a homemade citrus vinaigrette,” says Sass. “The gel-like texture when they absorb water is both filling and satisfying.”
Next: Chili peppers
The effect of chili peppers on your metabolism is real, says Sass. They contain a chemical compound called capsaicin that can increase your body’s ability to burn fat (as much as 90 extra calories following a meal), and are also a good source of vitamin C.
“You can add chili peppers to omelets or egg salad, sprinkle them into a stir-fry, or mix them into salad dressing, tahini, or guacamole,” says Sass. “You might even stir a little chili pepper into melted dark chocolate to drizzle over fruit.”
Next: Coconut oil
Coconut oil is having a moment right now: it can be used as a butter or olive oil substitute in everything from baked goods to salad dressing, and can even be used as an alternative to milk in lattes (yes, really). Sass is a fan of the heart-healthy oil whipped into smoothies, and you can also use it to sauté veggies, sear fish, or as an olive oil replacement in soups and stews. (It’s also a must-add to your beauty routine, and makes a wonderful natural moisturizer for skin and hair.)
Luckily, trendy coconut oil is also good for your waistline. Because it’s a satisfying source of healthy fats, coconut oil fills you up quickly and helps you consume fewer overall calories. It also contains medium-chain triglycerides, which are easily digestible and quickly converted into energy.
Good news for java lovers: The caffeine in coffee could speed up your metabolism and help your body burn slightly more calories (about 26 per cup). A study in Physiology & Behavior found that the average metabolic rate of people who drank caffeinated coffee was 16% higher than those who drank only decaf. Just be mindful of how much cream and sugar you add to your cup, which could offset any health benefits the beverage provides.
“You may be surprised to learn that you can actually eat your coffee, too,” says Sass. “Whip coffee grounds into a smoothie, stir them into oatmeal, or use them as a rub for meat.”
Not a fan of the taste? Exfoliating your skin with coffee grounds could help temporarily minimize the appearance of cellulite. Because coffee is a diuretic, it draws fluid away from fat cells, causing them to shrink in size.
Next: Collard greens
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“No other food on the planet contains the unique natural substances found in dark chocolate,” says Sass. The sweet treat is a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids, which could help speed up your metabolism. Research suggests that dark chocolate might also help curb your cravings for sweet, salty, and fatty foods.
“I love to chop dark chocolate into squares and add them into a smoothie,” says Sass. “You can also melt it and season with cinnamon, grated ginger, or fresh mint.”