If you’re trying to achieve safe and sustainable weight loss, it’s important to keep in mind that weight is not the only indicator of overall health. However, incorporating low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods into your diet can help you manage your weight and improve your health.
Processed foods high in calories and saturated fat can hinder weight loss, but foods high in fiber, protein, and water are some of the best choices.
High-fiber foods are naturally low in calories, promote satiety, and regulate blood sugar levels. Combining these with foods rich in lean protein can help you feel fuller for longer.
Keep in mind that there is no magic ingredient, beverage, or supplement that can lead to weight loss without a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Our registered dietitians recommend incorporating nutritious foods and limiting processed foods high in sodium and sugar to support healthy weight loss and digestion.
With more fiber than quinoa and more potassium than a banana, pumpkin puree is an antioxidant-rich choice that’s naturally low in calories. One cup has only about 80 calories and is loaded with vitamins and minerals. Pumpkin gets its bright orange color from beta-carotene, a carotenoid the body uses to make vitamin A.
The benefits don’t stop with puree; with about 7 grams of protein per snack-size serving, pepitas (a.k.a. pumpkin seeds) are a great addition to most diets.
Canned pumpkin is a great pantry staple but advise you to look for 100% pure pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling, which is packed with added sugar and artificial flavorings. Stock up on canned pumpkin in the fall so you can enjoy it year-round.
Pureed pumpkin works great in smoothies, soups, vinaigrettes, oatmeal, yogurt and pancake batter. You can even whisk it into a cheese sauce to add some extra nutrients to your favorite mac ’n’ cheese. Try this the next time you’re craving sweets: Add pureed pumpkin to unsweetened Greek yogurt with cinnamon and chopped pears for a nutritious dessert.
This legume is a vegan powerhouse filled with fiber and plant-based protein, both of which can assist in your weight loss efforts. Our nutrition pros love that chickpeas are also packed with folate, iron, immune-boosting antioxidants and bloat-busting minerals. They’re a rich source of complex carbohydrates, which can help provide sustained energy throughout your day.
Although they are pretty low-calorie as it is, what makes chickpeas such a great food for managing weight is their nutrient density. Research shows that choosing foods with high nutrient density (hummus is provided as an example in the study) can help maximize each calorie and provide a slew of unique health-promoting ingredients while supporting healthy weight loss.
Chickpeas are a great starting place for tons of fast, easy and nutritious recipes. They can be easily incorporated into soups, stews, salads and side dishes. The tender, buttery beans soak up any flavors you decide to pair them with. Cooked dried chickpeas are incredible, but the canned version can be a quick and convenient option — just choose lower-sodium varieties when possible. You can blend them to make hummus or try (naturally gluten-free) chickpea flour in your favorite baking recipes.
As part of a balanced diet, oatmeal can be a great weight loss tool. The fiber and protein content of oats can enhance satiety and keep you full. Just ½ cup of uncooked oats has at least 4 grams of fiber and only 150 calories — and it expands when cooked to yield 1 cup.
Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) suggests that individuals who eat oatmeal actually tend to be healthier in general and have a lower body weight compared with those who don’t eat oatmeal.
Not only does the soluble fiber in oats help to reduce LDL cholesterol, but weight loss can lower LDL cholesterol as well. What’s more, the prebiotics in oats feed the good bacteria in your gut, helping it proliferate.
Don’t just limit oats to breakfast; they can be ground into oat flour for baking and even transformed into savory oat bowls for lunch or dinnertime. Does your smoothie leave you starving after an hour? Try adding a scoop of oats. They blend well and add a good source of dietary fiber to your smoothie to keep you fuller for longer.
With a tart and tangy flavor, kefir is a fermented milk drink with a thin consistency that has been around for over 2,000 years. Since it is a fermented beverage, it is a rich source of probiotics to help regulate a healthy gut and contains other important nutrients including protein.
One cup of kefir has a little over 100 calories and 10 grams of protein depending on the brand and variety.
Research continues to support the importance of the gut microbiome in overall health, and recent studies suggest that there may be a relationship between gut health and a person’s ability to lose weight. Kefir provides diverse probiotics (good bacteria) to help balance the microbiome, which in turn yields tremendous digestive benefits.
What’s more, because all the food and beverages that we consume are broken down in the gut, maintaining healthy gut microbiota is crucial. When it comes to kefir specifically, our experts recommend plain varieties with no added sugar.
Kefir can be enjoyed straight from the bottle, added to smoothies and used in overnight oats or chia pudding. It can even serve as the base of your next protein marinade: Not only does kefir’s tangy flavor work well with herbs and spices to impart a fresh flavor, the lactic acid and the live and active probiotic cultures turn tough cuts into tender, juicy masterpieces.
All berries are packed with antioxidant polyphenols and vitamins, but compared with other berries, raspberries really reign supreme in the fiber department. They boast a whopping 8 grams of fiber per cup, making them the perfect low-calorie nutrient-dense food. They are an excellent addition to an already balanced breakfast — whether it’s oatmeal, yogurt or even a quick smoothie — to make the meal feel even more substantial. One cup has only about 64 calories.
Animal studies conducted by researchers at Oregon State University found that the consumption of the equivalent of one serving of raspberries daily curbed weight gain in mice, even when they ate an unhealthy and high-fat diet. And since raspberries are free from added sugar, they are a great natural way to sweeten practically any recipe, including baked goods and breakfast bowls.
Instead of traditional sugary jelly on a PB&J sandwich, try mashing raspberries for a natural healthy spread to pair with your peanut butter. They add great vibrant color to smoothies and a refreshing bite in muffins too.
Walnuts are rich in monounsaturated fats — they’re an extremely heart-healthy snack compared with other grab-and-go items like chips or pretzels. One ounce comes in at under 200 calories and provides 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber. But you’ll find that this nut happens to be quite satiating. Previous research has established that walnuts, in particular, help to curb cravings that you may experience in between meals.
Walnuts also offer over twice the amount of antioxidant polyphenols than many other nuts including peanuts and tree nuts as shown by initial studies. Research findings show that when compared to control diets, walnut-enriched diets resulted in significantly greater decreases in total and LDL cholesterol and triglyceride, too. They also contain prebiotics that have been shown to positively impact gut bacteria.
Enjoy walnuts on their own or add them to grain dishes like quinoa, wheat berries or couscous. Chopped walnuts can be folded into ground meat dishes, and they are great to use for added texture and crunch in baked goods.
This popular protein is fairly low in calories at under 200 for a 3-ounce serving, and it’s packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are essential. The body can’t produce them, so we must get them regularly from our diet. These nutritious fatty acids can contribute to a healthy heart as well as benefit cholesterol, triglycerides, inflammation and even blood clotting. Plus, the healthy fats and protein in salmon make it very satisfying. What’s more, when combined with a calorie-controlled diet, incorporating seafood like salmon may increase weight loss, according to recent research.
Opt to bake or air-fry your salmon, as you won’t need to use much oil. Get creative with different herbs and spices whenever you can, as this will encourage you to cut back on high-sodium staples and avoid the salt shaker, a major player in weight gain. We love basil, cilantro, rosemary, sage, tarragon, mint, oregano and black and red chili peppers, to name a few.
You can enjoy salmon on its own or transform it into something creative like delicious salmon burgers. Canned salmon can be a great option to have on hand for last-minute lunch salads. Just stick to varieties with lower amounts of sodium when possible.
8. Dark Leafy Greens
Spinach, kale and other dark leafy greens are low-calorie and low on the glycemic index, making them ideal foods for achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. More importantly, adding more green veggies to a balanced diet can increase dietary fiber intake, improve digestive health and assist in weight management. Plant-based foods that are rich in nutrients and fiber, like dark leafy greens, help enhance satiety.
Spinach is loaded with minerals like potassium which can help offset the effects of sodium. And kale is virtually fat-free and a single cup contains about 30 calories, alongside strong amounts of vitamins A, K, C, B6, calcium, potassium and magnesium, among others.
Whether tossed as a salad or sautéed as a side for dinner, dark leafy greens are a no-brainer to include in your diet. Add them to smoothies for more bulk and a dose of both fiber and key vitamins and minerals.
Some initial research indicates that eggs, which are low in calories and rich in other dietary nutrients, may aid in weight loss over time. High-protein breakfasts, including omelets and veggie-forward skillet scrambles, can be quite satiating; but even adding a hard-boiled egg atop a salad at lunch can help keep you full until dinner.
While you may be tempted to skip the yolk and stick with egg whites to cut down on calories, the yolk is extremely nutrient-dense. Egg yolk contains filling healthy fats as well as special nutrients like choline and vitamin D. The small calorie investment per yolk will provide a big bang for your buck and keep you fuller longer. Plus, an entire egg is only about 70 to 80 calories.
Experiment with a wide variety of egg recipes like jammy egg toast, breakfast burritos, frittatas and more. Better yet, simply hard-boil a batch to enjoy as a snack.
One of the highest protein snack nuts, pistachios offer 6 grams of plant protein per serving and fuel your body with essential amino acids. They pack in 3 grams of fiber per serving at only 160 calories per ounce. Pistachios also give you more nuts per serving; you can eat about 49 pistachios compared to 23 almonds or 18 cashews making them feel like a more substantial snack.
Pistachios are a prime example of a wholesome snack that may help you focus on what you’re eating as you shell them. Initial research published in the journal Appetite found that the process of shelling pistachios signaled snackers to slow down — the shells themselves served as a reminder of how much they had already eaten.
If you don’t want to shell your own nuts, you can buy pistachios without shells to add to salads or to grind up and use as a crust on fish or chicken. Pistachios also make a great addition to pesto both in terms of their flavor and natural green color.
Plant-based proteins like lentils can prove to be an excellent weight loss food as they are also high in fiber. These little protein-filled bites of plant-based goodness make an excellent addition to soups or salads because they make a meal feel so much more substantial. The fiber and resistant starch within lentils can help keep you full between meals. Resistant starch is a type of carbohydrate that resists digestion in the small intestine, instead fermenting in the large intestine and acting as a prebiotic to feed the good bacteria in the gut as the fiber ferments.
At about 120 calories per half cup and an impressive 8 grams of fiber, lentils are one of the high-fiber foods that are excellent for weight loss and an overall healthy diet. Research on pulses including lentils, chickpeas, dry peas and more suggests that they may assist in modest weight loss even without intended calorie restriction. Lentils are also low in sodium and saturated fat, making them a heart-healthy choice too.
Lentils come in a variety of different colors and add richness and earthiness to any meal. Toss them in chopped salads or grain bowls, and add them to meat mixtures like chilis and stews to add more bulk and nutrients. You can even use a food processor to grind down lentils into a paste to transform into a veggie burger or vegan meatballs.
This naturally gluten-free whole grain is extremely high in fiber. But more importantly, it’s a complete protein source which means it contains amounts of all nine essential amino acids. It’s also one of the few vegan complete protein sources.
Quinoa provides a filling and nutrient-rich alternative to refined carbohydrates like white pasta. Bonus: It doesn’t totally disrupt blood sugar levels due to its low glycemic index. All in all, quinoa is a must-add to any kitchen to promote sustained weight management.
Quinoa is available in several varieties including red, black and white. It has a beautiful nutty flavor and is great as a side dish, substituted for rice in stuffed peppers and even incorporated into breakfast bowls as a sub for oats. If you haven’t tried quinoa before, try it as a side dish for a weeknight dinner.
Fat is not the enemy! In fact, fats are a crucial part of any diet and eating plan. But choosing good quality healthy fats like avocados is key. Avocados are loaded with fiber, vitamin E, lutein and monounsaturated fatty acids. Since fats are concentrated, portion size is key, but even a small amount of healthy fats can prove to be extremely filling.
In a 12-week randomized parallel controlled study, daily Hass avocado consumption in addition to a calorie-controlled diet supported weight loss among other benefits. Research even suggests that an avocado a day may redistribute belly fat in women.
Avocado can be transformed into so many dishes beyond guacamole. Try it in homemade green goddess dressing, as a citrus-avocado relish for fish and of course in your favorite breakfast toast recipe.
This yummy veggie is low in calories, high in water content and contains fiber too. One medium spear of asparagus is only 3 calories and has great texture and crunch. This cholesterol-free, fat-free and low-sodium pick makes a delicious addition to several dishes.
What’s key with asparagus — and any vegetable — is the preparation: Try air frying it for a great crispy texture without the added need for heavy fats. As a prebiotic-filled veggie, asparagus bumps up the benefits of soups, pastas and omelets, and makes a simple and tasty side dish. Also, try pairing asparagus stalks with other crudité and dipping them in hummus.