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what to eat to lose weight

If you’re trying to lose weight, you may be tempted to cut calories, but eating too little can put your health at risk. In fact, research shows a diet of less than 1,000 calories a day generally fails to provide the balanced nutrition your body needs, and it can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies associated with serious health issues[1].

What’s more, eating far fewer calories than you need causes your body to break down its own muscle and organ tissues for fuel. And the less lean tissue mass you have, the slower your metabolic rate, which is not ideal for weight loss.

So instead of restricting your caloric intake, focus on feeding your body healthier foods—it’s a more effective weight loss strategy, says Jamie Feit, a registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Jamie Feit Nutrition in White Plains, New York. Here are the best foods to support a healthy and sustainable weight loss plan, according to experts.

The Role Food Plays in Weight Loss

Weight control is primarily a hormonal response to certain foods, says Matthew Olesiak, M.D., chief medical director of health technology company SANESolution based in Bellevue, Washington. “Hormones send signals to the brain that influence our cravings, hunger and body weight,” he says. Here’s how certain foods affect your hunger hormones:

Protein fills you up quickly and keeps you full for a long time. It also decreases post-meal secretions of the hunger hormone ghrelin, thus reducing feelings of hunger, says Dr. Olesiak.

“Protein also takes more energy to digest and increases lean muscle mass, both of which help boost metabolism,” he says.

Dietary fiber slows digestion and ensures a gradual rise in blood glucose levels, which triggers a slower release of the fat-storage hormone insulin, explains Dr. Olesiak.

“As fiber moves through the digestive system, various satiety hormones (like ghrelin) are released, sending signals to the brain to reduce hunger and regulate food intake,” he says.

That means you’ll stay fuller longer, which can help prevent overeating and reduce your overall caloric intake, says Kara Landau, a registered dietitian, gut health expert and founder of snack brand Uplift Food in Brooklyn, New York. “Prebiotic soluble fiber also feeds the beneficial bacteria living in your large intestine, which improves gut health,” she adds.

Ultra-processed foods are low in nutrients and fiber, so they’re digested quickly, says Dr. Olesiak. “As a result, eating them (think potato chips, candy bars and toaster pastries) causes a rapid rise in blood glucose levels, which triggers a significant release of insulin,” he says. Because insulin must clear glucose from your bloodstream quickly, most of those calories are sent to your fat cells, he explains.

“Ideally, you’ll dip into these stored calories the next time you need energy. However, eating a steady supply of ultra-processed foods means you’ll continually make deposits to your fat cells, never withdrawals,” says Dr. Olesiak.

Losing Weight Safely and Sustainably

Significantly restricting calories isn’t necessary; in fact, it’s not advisable, says Dr. Olesiak. Rather, the safest and most sustainable way to lose weight is to enjoy whole, unprocessed, high-quality foods. “These foods naturally control your hunger, increase your metabolism and promote fat burning,” he says.

Omit as many processed foods, fried foods and refined sugars as possible, adds Feit, and pay attention to portion size. “A great strategy is to use the plate method, where your plate is composed of half fruits and vegetables, a quarter of lean protein, and a quarter of fiber-filled carbohydrates,” she says.

Eating a variety of clean, unprocessed foods can improve your gut health, too, says Landau. “Good gut health is not only linked to a stronger insulin response (which decreases fat stored around the midsection), but also can help decrease inflammation and improve immunity, both of which will have you feeling better physically and mentally so you can stay on track to achieve your weight loss goals,” she adds.

16 Weight Loss-Friendly Foods, According to Experts

The following foods can support weight loss and boost your overall health in a variety of ways.

1. Lean Protein

Lean protein sources like chicken, turkey and grass-fed lean beef help keep you full, decrease cravings and stabilize blood sugar, says Feit. Plant-based proteins like legumes, beans and lentils have the same benefits, and they’re high in fiber as well, so they promote satiety.

 Eggs

Eggs contain almost every essential vitamin (with the exception of Vitamin C), plus minerals like phosphorus, calcium and potassium. Along with being a source of complete protein, eggs are also adaptable for different tastes, says Feit.

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3. Vegetables

Vegetables of all kinds can assist with weight loss, says Feit. For example, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage are high in fiber and vitamins and help reduce digestive issues. Meanwhile, dark green leafy vegetables contain protein and are a good source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. And crunchy vegetables like celery and jicama are great low-calorie options for snacking.

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4. Avocados

Avocados are totally underrated, says Feit. The fruit is high in fiber and is a quality source of healthy fat, making it a great food for decreasing hunger. But since it is a fat source, avocado is calorically dense, so it’s important to remain mindful of portion size.

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5. Apples

Apples are high in fiber and antioxidants, says Feit. The fruit also has anti-inflammatory properties and contains phytochemicals and vitamin C.

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6. Berries

Berries are high in fiber, antioxidants and vitamin C—all things that your body needs to function optimally, says Feit.

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7. Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds have different health benefits, says Feit. All nuts are a good source of fiber, protein and healthy fat, and they help decrease hunger. Meanwhile, seeds are a great source of minerals and healthy fat. Watch your portions here, too. One serving of nuts and seeds is equivalent to a quarter cup.

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8. Salmon

Salmon is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, says Rima Kleiner, registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of wellness coaching company Smart Mouth Nutrition in Greensboro, North Carolina. Research suggests omega-3 fatty acids may help people with weight classified as overweight or obesity feel fuller[2]. And fish in general may help you feel satisfied and fuller longer than other proteins like eggs and beef, says Kleiner.

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9. Shrimp

Shrimp promotes increased feelings of satiety, says Kleiner. Eating shrimp appears to decrease appetite by stimulating the production of cholecystokinin, or CCK, a hormone that signals to your stomach that you’re satisfied. Plus, shrimp and other shellfish contain zinc and selenium, two important minerals for immune health and increased energy.

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10. Lupini Beans

Lupini beans are high in prebiotic fiber that feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut, says Landau. “When your gut bacteria is well nourished, the number and type of bacteria present multiplies. A well-populated and diverse microbiome improves gut health, which makes your cells more responsive to insulin, helping to remove fat stored around the waist,” she says.

11. Unripe Bananas

Unripe bananas contain one of the world’s richest sources of prebiotic-resistant starch, says Landau. Prebiotic-resistant starch makes your cells more responsive to insulin, helping to prevent fat storage around your waistline. Combined with protein (say, in a smoothie with a protein powder and/or nut butter), it can keep you satisfied for hours.

12. Raw Oats

Raw oats are full of resistant starch—a type of starch that resists digestion—which is very weight loss-friendly, says Landau. In the process of digestion, resistant starch releases byproducts that can make your cells more responsive to insulin, helping to reduce stubborn fat around your midsection.

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13. Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut, or fermented cabbage, is both a prebiotic and probiotic food, says Dr. Olesiak, meaning it adds beneficial bacteria to your gastrointestinal tract and feeds the good bacteria already there. Sauerkraut is also high in fiber, helping control appetite and regulate blood glucose levels, he says.

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14. Legumes

Legumes have a positive effect on satiety and gut health, says Landau. Their high fiber content keeps you feeling fuller for longer, which prevents overeating. Plus, they contain nutrients that nourish your gut bacteria, too.

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15. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds can help with weight control in two ways, says Dr. Olesiak. First, they’re loaded with fiber that can help you feel full, preventing overeating. Second, they expand in water, so if you eat them in their unsoaked form, they grow in your stomach, taking up more space and becoming a natural appetite suppressant.

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16. Water

Water isn’t a food, but it’s just as important when it comes to healthy weight loss. “All of our body processes need water to function—metabolism is one of these processes,” says Feit, so be sure to stay well-hydrated.

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