Top nutritionists share their favorite foods to help you shed pounds—and stay satisfied.
“I love going on a diet!” said no one ever. Yet every year some 45 million Americans vow to tighten their belts.
Dropping a few unnecessary pounds, after all, helps decrease the load on your joints, which in turn helps relieve orthopedic issues like hip, knee, or back problems, points out Lauri Wright, Ph.D., R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and chair of nutrition and dietetics at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.
Losing weight also helps you hit better numbers in three key health areas: blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. Bringing your weight into a healthy range can even help you sleep better. One more upside to slimming down? You’ll have more energy to do the things you enjoy.
Fortunately, the weight loss doesn’t have to be much. “Just seven to 10 pounds can make all the difference in your health,” says Wright.
Yet there is a caveat. If you’re 75 or older, unless your doctor has advised you to lose weight, your focus should be on staying at a healthy weight—not trying to fit into a pair of skinny jeans.
Why? “Losing weight can increase your frailty,” and put you at a greater risk of falls, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D.N., president of Denver–based nutrition coaching firm KAK Consulting.
But if shedding a few pounds is on your agenda, choosing healthier foods should be your first line of defense. “Food choices are critical, and alongside getting plenty of exercise to maintain muscle mass, perhaps the most important factor,” says Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick says it’s key to get the most bang for your nutritional buck. That starts by cutting out highly processed foods—chips, fast food, bacon and other processed meats—which studies have found elicit overeating.
Your next move should be to stock your kitchen with smart swaps that will save you calories—and fulfill your need for satisfying flavor.
Flavor Swap #1: Vegetable Noodles
Vegetables, in general, should be at the top of your weight loss grocery list. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy, collard greens, and so many more are good sources of fiber, and with that fiber comes satiety.
But vegetable noodles stand out because they can stand in for a staple: pasta. Most pastas are made with refined flour, which does next to nothing for you nutritionally.
Veggie noodles, on the other hand, have a fraction of the calories—and packed with important vitamins and nutrients. One cup of cooked zucchini noodles (a.k.a. zoodles), for example, is a good source of vitamin A. Your immune system and vision thank you for that.
The mild-tasting vegetable also delivers potassium and magnesium—two nutrients that help stabilize blood pressure. And with just three grams of carbs per cup, zoodles are a great low-carb option for those who need to keep their blood sugar levels steady.
Other vegetables that make for great pasta alternatives include butternut squash, spaghetti squash, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, and turnips. If you’re short on time, stock up on pre-spiraled veggies from the fresh food or frozen sections of your grocery store. Or make your own using a spiralizer or julienne peeler.
Flavor Swap #2: Mixed Berries
You’re right to think that cutting sugar is one of the fastest ways to lose weight. But deprivation rarely works. So when dessert time comes around, pick a bowl of your favorite sweet berries.
Fiber is one of the keys to losing weight, Kirkpatrick says. And berries are loaded with that good stuff, even more so than other fruits. One cup of strawberries, for example, packs three grams of dietary fiber and less than 50 calories.
What’s more, when berries go head to head with other popular snacks, the berries prove to be more satisfying. In fact, people who had a 65-calorie berry snack consumed less food at their next meal than those who ate a 65-calorie gummy candy, according to a study in Appetite.
But the benefits of berries don’t stop there. “Not only do berries contain satiating fiber and plenty of antioxidants to fight diseases, studies show that having a few servings of berries a day may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline by two years,” Kirkpatrick says.
Flavor Swap #3: Grain Bowls
Refined grains like white rice and instant oatmeal are stripped of most of their nutrients during processing. On the other hand, whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, steel-cut oats, and kamut are kept intact and retain most of their nutrients—especially fiber and protein.
This duo gets absorbed slowly into your system, meaning your insulin and blood sugar won’t experience as much of an extreme high and low, Kirkpatrick says. You’ll also stay fuller longer.
Quinoa, in particular, is good to keep in regular rotation. It clocks in at just 220 calories per cup. Plus, it has the full set of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, to help you maintain muscle mass while the pounds drop.
Need some recipe inspiration? Try a vegetarian grain bowl, a meatlesss meal that even carnivores will love.
Flavor Swap #4: Beans
There probably isn’t a more perfect food for weight loss than beans. “They provide that perfect combination of protein, fiber, and flavor,” Wright says. “They help slow digestion and signal fullness.”
No doubt that’s why the healthiest individuals in the world—those living in areas known as Blue Zones—eat a half cup to a cup of cooked beans a day.
And because beans come in so many different varieties—navy, scarlet runner, fava, even rattlesnake—they can sub in for just about any meat in many of your favorite recipes, from burgers to stews.
In a 2016 study, diners who swapped meat for high-protein beans and peas felt more satiated. What’s more, diners who enjoyed a bean patty, compared with those who ate a pork-and-veal patty, consumed 12 percent fewer calories at their next meal.
Of course, beans do have the deserved reputation of giving you gas, but Wright says the way around that is to give your gut time to adapt to them by introducing them slowly into your diet.
Flavor Swap #5: Water
True, water isn’t a food per se, but consider this: Beverages like sodas, juices, and sports drinks make up almost half the amount of added sugar in the average American’s diet. Yikes, that’s a lot of wasted calories!
And because seniors are at increased risk of dehydration, which can sometimes be confused for hunger, maintaining adequate hydration levels is crucial, says Kirkpatrick.
The best thirst quencher is water. Keep a glass or bottle handy at all times for easy sipping. Not fond of flat water? Try punching it up with a squirt of lemon or other fruit.
Kirkpatrick is also a fan of including hydrating foods like fruits and vegetables in every meal and snack. It’s one small move that can help with overall weight loss, she says.
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