It’s that time of year again when trending diets run amuck There might be several foods you’re mentally putting on a “do not eat” list if you have weight loss goals. But instead of cutting out some of your favorite foods and living in a place of “no”, what about embracing the wide variety of foods you can eat in a healthy and balanced eating pattern? Contrary to what you may have heard in the past, these seven foods can help you get there. Not only are they super nutritious, but they all also have research linking them to weight loss and health. And you may be pleasantly surprised to see a few of these foods on the list.
Pictured Recipe: : Roasted Fingerling Potatoes
This creamy, tropical fruit can get a bad reputation because of the amount of calories and fat it contains. But the good news is that the delicious avocado can and should be part of your healthy diet. “Each one third of a medium avocado packs 3 grams of dietary fiber, alongside unsaturated fatty acids to keep your hunger at bay,” says Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CPT, author and owner of Shaw Simple Swaps. Avocados are one of the only fruits with benefits unsaturated fatwhich has been linked to heart health and weight maintenance.
As a matter of fact, 2019 observational study in the journal Nutrients of over 55,000 people found that those who ate avocados were less likely to gain weight during the study duration of four to eleven years. The researchers attribute these findings to the fiber in avocados, which help promote feelings of fullness and beneficial hormones in the gut that may positively affect weight and appetite.
“The only downside is avocados don’t pack much protein,” says Shaw. She suggests pairing avocados with protein sources like beans, lentils, eggs or hemp seeds.
They might be high in calories, but there’s an abundance of research that concludes nuts are an important part of a healthy diet. “According to you researchadding pistachios to a calorie-restricted diet can contribute to weight loss and may impart additional health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com and author of The Everything Easy Pre-Diabetes Cookbook. The good news is that these results aren’t exclusive to one type of nut. Other studies on walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, cashews and more show similar results.
Nuts have a not-so-secret nutrient that makes them great for weight management: unsaturated fat. A small randomized controlled trial in the journal Nutrition of healthy adults compared those who ate their normal diet versus those who ate a diet high in polyunsaturated fat for seven days. Those who ate the high-fat diet experienced a spike in hormones that made them feel full, causing them to eat less overall. Another 2019 observational study in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health of over 100,000 healthy adults found that replacing just half a serving per day of less nutritious foods with nuts was associated with less long-term weight gain and lower incidences of obesity.
Include a handful of nuts in your day as a portable snack, or use them as a topper for salads, grain bowls, oatmeal or even soups. If you prefer nut butter, opt for one that is made with just nuts and salt. Pay attention to portions: all you need is one ounce of nuts (about 15-20 depending on the nut’s size) to reap the benefits.
Seeds may be small, but they are powerful in the nutrition department. Similar to nuts, seeds are known for their unsaturated fat content, and they also pack a fiber and protein punch. “Chia seeds have a special quality: they can absorb more than ten times their weight in water, allowing them to swell in your digestive tract to [help] keep you satisfied,” says Harris-Pincus. A 2017 randomized controlled trial in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases of 77 overweight individuals who ate 30 grams (about 2 tablespoons) of chia seeds per day for 6 months lost more weight than those participants who did not eat chia seeds. To go 2017 meta-analysis in Obesity Reviews found that participants who regularly ingested whole flaxseed had lower body weight. Both studies credit their findings to the fiber in the seeds.
It’s fair to say adding more chia, hemp, flax or pumpkin seeds to your diet is a healthy choice. “For an extra 20 calories per teaspoon, you will benefit from protein, fiber, coveted omega-3 fats and prolonged fullness,” says Harris-Pincus. “Sprinkle a teaspoon or two on yogurt, oatmeal or add them to your smoothies,” she adds.
Whether you prefer a white potato or the sweeter variety, adding this tuber to your plate can help support your nutrition goals. One medium potato has 151 calories and about 12% of your daily fiber needs. Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin A, and white potatoes are packed with potassium, an electrolyte that is important for blood pressure.
Both types of potatoes also contain resistant starcha type of carbohydrate that is “resistant” to digestion and has been linked to lower levels of leptin, a hormone that increases appetite. Furthermore, a 2020 study in the journal Nutrients found that eating a potato helped suppress appetite and short-term food intake. So enjoy the versatile starchy veg as part of your eating pattern to support a healthy weight.
With the low carb craze, fruit often gets a bad reputation. But the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends having two servings of fruit per day as part of a healthy lifestyle. Not to mention, most fruits are an excellent source of fiber, which can help keep you feeling full and can protect against chronic diseases. Research has also found that regularly eating fruit is inversely associated with obesity.
Plus, data from over 100,000 healthy adults suggests that eating more fruit is correlated to less weight gain. If you’re avoiding starchy or higher-sugar fruits in the name of weight loss, you may want to rethink that decision. For example, bananas contain resistant starch which can help you eat fewer calories overall.
6. Whole Grains
Whole grains are another great source of fiber. “Research shows that those who ate more whole grains were less likely to struggle with their weight,” says Shaw. And that even includes foods like whole grain bread, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta—carb lovers rejoice!
Shaw recommends eating a variety of whole grains, like farro, brown rice, quinoa, sorghum and oats, to reap the benefits.
Plus, research suggests that eating whole grains instead of refined grains may help induce weight loss. It’s no surprise that the researchers credit this finding to the fiber that makes you feel more full, so you eat fewer calories overall.
You read that right: you can eat dessert and still meet your weight loss goals. Avoiding dessert at all costs is a habit that is not sustainable and was born from diet culture. Restricting the foods you love the most will likely cause intense cravings that can lead to subsequent binges and overeating. This causes guilt, which then leads to more restriction and the cycle continues. Instead, eat the dessert you love, enjoy it and move on without guilt.
The best dessert to choose for weight loss? Well, that’s up to you. Choose a small portion of something that is satisfying, eat it slowly and savor every last bite. If you want more, you can always go back for it. But shift your focus on being mindful and present while you eat and you might find you feel more satisfied and feel better, even with a smaller portion.
The Bottom Line
To put it simply, there is no food that is off limits in a healthy eating pattern, even if you’re trying to lose weight. Although you may have heard that you need to cut out foods like fruit, potatoes and desserts, research shows that this is not actually the case. The important thing is to make healthy dietary changes that are realistic and pleasant for you so you’ll actually enjoy sticking with them for the long haul.