Food processing isn’t always a bad thing: Cooking and preparing raw ingredients at home is also processing them. But the word “processed” is almost always reserved for commercial foods, usually packaged. Highly processed foods are industrially formulated mixtures that are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal sources—everything from hot dogs and margarine to ice cream, candy, and many packaged snack foods. Such foods, which supply more than half the daily calories in most U.S. households, lack key nutrients and fiber and are high in sugars and sodium.
Like a marathoner stretching before the big run, eating half a grapefruit before a meal can enhance your body’s fat-burning performance. A study published in the journal Metabolism found that this “warm-up” tactic can help whittle your middle—by up to an inch—in just six weeks! The scientists attribute the powerful effects to the grapefruits’ fat-zapping phytochemicals. The fruit can interact negatively with certain medications, so as long as you get the green-light from your M.D, plan to have half of a grapefruit before your morning meal and add a few segments your starter salads to reap the benefits.
Before diving into all this delicious goodness, an important note: Health and weight loss are not the same thing, and they're different for different people. Whether you want to eat well, lose weight, or maintain your weight, it's about finding what works for you—including which foods help or your hinder your goals. But if you are looking to change how you look, it's important to ask yourself why, along with how you can do it while upgrading your mental and physical health instead of harming it. To that end, if you have a history of disordered eating, it's always a smart idea to chat with your doctor before making any changes to your eating habits. But even if you don't, talking with a doctor or registered dietitian can help make sure you're setting realistic, reasonable goals for yourself. Because remember, your weight is about so much more than how you eat and exercise. Various factors influence it, like your sleeping habits, your stress levels, and other components like health conditions and hormonal fluctuations.
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.
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.
You may not think of them as a weight-loss food, but eggs are packed with protein, which helps curb your appetite. One study found that overweight women who ate eggs for breakfast were able to lose twice as much weight as women who started their days with bagels. And egg whites in particular are a good source of branched-chain amino acids, which help keep your metabolism running smoothly.
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.
This often over-looked gem is loaded with protein, filling fats, and calcium to help you build and repair muscles, which can aid in weight loss. “It's fabulous with fruit, on whole grain toast, oatmeal or salads, but the super high protein content [13 grams per 1/2 cup serving!] helps to keep you full in between meals,” says Harris-Pincus. You can also use it in smoothies, in eggs, or in pancake batter. Just be sure to check labels and find a product that’s low in sugar.
To jumpstart your weight loss, we’ve selected some nutritious eats, like salsa, that are lower-calorie substitutes for less healthy choices (we’re looking at you, ketchup). And other weight loss foods, such as watermelon, contain certain compounds that have been scientifically proven to reduce the size of your waist and help reduce body fat. Scroll down below for a list of a few dozen best weight loss foods, and get even more health-conscious inspiration from this list of these dinner ideas that don’t need a recipe!
The average American consumes approximately 15.5 pounds of pasta each year—and most of it is the refined white stuff. Unfortunately, this type of noodle is usually void of fiber and micronutrients. Spaghetti squash, on the other hand, boasts only about 40 calories per cup—more than 75 percent fewer calories than a cup of plain pasta—and is an excellent source of vitamin A and potassium. Make this simple swap to jumpstart your weight loss and you’ll be fitting into your skinny jeans in no time! For more swaps to save you calories, don’t miss these food swaps that cut calories.
Going gluten-free may be a popular trend, but unless you're actually gluten-intolerant or have celiac disease, plenty of reasons exist to continue eating whole grains. They're a tasty way to fill up on both soluble and insoluble fiber, which help you feel full for longer and keep bowel movements regular (oats, barley, and bulgur are especially high sources). Whole grains can also help prevent weight gain: in one study, women who ate whole grains like wheat germ and dark bread had a 49% lower risk of "major" weight gain over time.
“The Dietary Guidelines recommend eating fish at least twice a week, and I think salmon is the perfect food to incorporate into your weekly meal plan,” says Rizzo. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart and can lower inflammation to aid in weight loss and combat water retention. Plus, eating healthy fat keeps you full. The bonus is that salmon has vitamin D to improve mood, she says.
If you’re on a quest to jumpstart weight loss, why not kick your metabolism into overdrive by sneaking spicy foods into your diet. Capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper that gives it its spiciness, revs up your metabolism in a way that’s conducive to weight loss. In fact, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, those who supplemented their diet with capsaicin consumed 200 fewer calories during their next meal.
Good news, wine drinkers. Thanks to resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grape skin, drinking red wine in moderation can be part of a healthy diet. Some studies suggest that people who drink wine have smaller waists and less abdominal fat than those who drink mainly liquor. And having one glass of red wine can increase your body's calorie burn for up to 90 minutes afterwards. The antioxidants in wine might even help your body prevent cancer and improve heart health. Just be sure to stick to no more than a glass a day—the calories can add up fast.
Speaking of flavonoids, the waist-whittling compounds also exist in higher concentrations in red fruits such as watermelon, Pink Lady apples, and plums, meaning they also have the power to induce weight loss. In fact, a 2016 study in the journal BMJ found that people who eat a diet rich in flavonoid-heavy food tend to gain less weight, which could be promising seeing as many people tend to put on pounds as they age. In addition, anthocyanin, a specific flavonoid compound that gives red fruits their color, has been shown to reduce fat-storage genes.
In general, healthy eating ingredients are found around the outer edges of most grocery stores, while the center aisles are filled with processed and packaged foods that aren’t good for you. Shop the perimeter of the store for most of your groceries (fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and poultry, whole grain breads and dairy products), add a few things from the freezer section (frozen fruits and vegetables), and visit the aisles for spices, oils, and whole grains (like rolled oats, brown rice, whole wheat pasta).