5 Surprisingly Healthy Foods to Help Lose Weight
You might think individuals who manage to lose weight and keep it off eat only salads, especially if they’re plant-based. Let's put that urban myth to bed.
While plant-based eaters do eat salad, they also eat a lot more than that, including foods you probably consider off-limits because of their fat and calorie content. The surprise? Studies actually support the efficacy of these foods in keeping you slim. Below, experts talk about five shocking foods that actually can aid in weight loss.
It may sound counterintuitive, but avocados can help you lose weight. While avocados do add calories and fat, albeit healthy unsaturated fat, to the diet, but eating them could pay off in the end. “A growing body of evidence shows that the healthy dietary fats, and corresponding calories, in avocados do not contribute to weight gain,” says Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, M.S., R.D.N., president and CEO of the Produce for Better Health Foundation. Even better? “Avocado eaters are less likely to be overweight or obese.”
Take, for instance, a study from the journal Nutrients, which showed that avocado eaters weighed less and had lower BMIs than non-avocado eaters. What’s more, those eating about a fifth of an avocado a day had the lowest chances of becoming overweight or obese.
That makes sense when you consider that avocados are a heart-healthy, nutrient-dense source of fiber, which can make you feel fuller faster and longer. A whopping 79 percent of their weight is made up of fiber and water, Kapsak says. They’re also packed with almost 20 vitamins, minerals, and plant-based compounds to get you healthier from the inside out.
Pro tip: Prevent unused avocados (best in the shell and with the pit) from going brown by sprinkling them with lime or lemon juice and covering it tightly with plastic wrap; store them in the fridge for up to three days.
Sweet news: Chocolate can help lose weight. But note: “It’s not a magic bullet for weight loss,” says DJ Blatner, R.D.N., a dietitian in Chicago and author of The Superfood Swap.
Yet there are three ways it could help in the weight department. One, chocolate can enhance your mood, and when you’re in a better mood, you’re more likely to engage in healthy acts of self-care like exercising and cooking nourishing meals, Blatner says. Chocolate can also help reduce stress, and when you have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body, you’re more likely to gain weight. Bonus? “Less stress equals less stress eating,” she says. Finally, if you’re eating a small amount of chocolate, say one ounce a day, you have less of the restriction mindset, which usually leads to failure.
Pro tip: Choose dark chocolate with 70 percent or more cocoa to help you lose weight. Not only is it more filling than milk and has more healthy cocoa flavonoids, but it can be paired with fresh berries to boost the nutrition.
3. Dried Fruit
Dried fruit may not be in the same health category as fresh fruit, but that doesn’t mean you should discount it. One reason? Folks eating dried fruit were generally healthier than those who didn’t and ate more nutrients on the days they ate dried fruit versus when they didn’t, according to a study from the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Although it’s recommended that you eat 2 to 2.5 cups of fruit per day, dried fruit eaters came closer to this goal than those who didn’t eat dried fruit. Plus, dried fruit eaters were more physically active than those who abstained.
But that’s not all. Even though they ate more calories on days they were eating dried fruit, these individuals tended to have lower body mass index and waist circumference versus those who didn’t. “One reason energy intake might be higher on consumption days yet not translate into higher body weights is that people don’t consume dried fruits every day,” says Valerie Sullivan, Ph.D., R.D.N., a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who conducted this research while a student at Penn State in University Park, Penn. Even if you do eat more calories when consuming dried fruit, it’s not a daily occurrence and won’t lead to weight gain as long as you maintain energy balance. And like fresh fruit, dried fruit contains fiber, which may help you feel fuller and support healthy weight maintenance.
Pro tip: Choose unsweetened varieties of dried fruit to help you lose weight.
If you’re stopped eating pistachios because you’ve heard nuts make you gain weight, it’s time to rethink that strategy. In one study from Nutrients, eating pistachios regularly was associated with similar weight loss and reductions in body mass and waist circumference as a control group who didn’t eat pistachios. What gives? Pistachios are slightly lower in calories than what labels list, namely because your body doesn’t absorb all of the fat from the nuts you eat, Blatner says. For instance, one ounce of pistachios is about 160 calories versus 170 calories listed on the food label.
This, however, isn’t the main reason. “It’s the fact that eating nuts displace other less nutritious, higher-calorie foods,” Blatner says. Nuts, pistachios included, have protein, healthy fat, and fiber, all of which add up to making you feel full. Plus, that one-ounce serving of pistachios goes a long way, as you actually get 49 kernels to fill up on.
Pro tip: Pistachios are a great food for weight loss. To make it an even better weight-loss snack, buy pistachios in the shell so it takes you longer to eat them.
Spuds get a bad rap for boosting weight. Truth is, though, carbohydrates like potatoes are critical to a healthy diet and overall well-being. “Potatoes are high in potassium and fiber, two important nutrients which many Americans don’t consume enough of,” Kapsak says. Potatoes also boost your energy and can help you feel more productive. Both white and sweet potatoes contain these nutrients and count toward your veggie intake.
Because of their high water and fiber content, especially if you eat the skin, potatoes can be particularly filling and provide long-lasting energy, which can lead to weight loss. Take, for instance, a 2014 study from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in which researchers found that people can eat potatoes and still lose weight. Researchers note that a medium-sized potato contains only 100 calories per serving.
Pro tip: Potatoes are great for weight loss if eaten in a healthy way. If possible, eat your potato baked, without added fat or plant-based butter or oil since that drives up the calories and negates the health benefits of the fiber.
If you’re looking for more ways to incorporate a healthy, plant-based diet into your day-to-day life, check out our Health and Nutrition articles.