14 Foods to Help You Get Lean
Last Updated: May 24, 2017
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Italian antipasto on table.
Choosing delicious foods that dampen your hunger, turn off your cravings for sweets and rev up your metabolism are part of the secret to slimming down. Here are 14 delicious, waistline-friendly choices. Read on to see if one of your favorites made the list.
Can creamy, rich avocados help shrink your waistline? New research says yes. Data published in the January 2013 issue of "Nutrition Journal" found that individuals who consume heart-healthy avocados have significantly lower BMIs and smaller waistlines, compared to non-avocado eaters. As an added bonus, avocado consumption has been associated with improved overall diet quality as the fruit provides more than 20 different vitamin, minerals and antioxidants. And one fifth of an avocado, (2-3 slices or 1 oz) contains just 50 calories. HOW TO ENJOY: Dip veggies in delicious guacamole, use sliced avocados as a scrumptious salad topper, mash with tuna or hard-boiled eggs for a non-traditional tuna or egg salad.
Related: Recipe for 5-Minute No-Cook Vegan Dark Chocolate Pudding Made With an Avocado!
Mangoes are one of the best choices to satisfy a sweet tooth while improving your overall diet and not weighing you down. A cup of fresh mango has 100 calories, 2.5 grams of fiber and is an excellent source of vitamins A, C and folate. An animal study reported that the addition of freeze-dried mango to a high-fat diet helped prevent body fat accumulation and lowered blood sugar and insulin levels. And a January 2013 study published in "The Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences" used national food intake data and reported adult mango eaters had higher levels of nutrients such as potassium and fiber, and they weighed less, had lower BMIs and smaller waistlines, compared to adults who reported not eating mangoes. HOW TO ENJOY: Mangoes make more than great salsas or smoothies. Try fresh mango in your yogurt or on your oatmeal, on toast with nut butter or in hearty whole-grain side dishes like quinoa.
Related: Mangos and 15 Other Foods You Don't Always Need to Buy Organic
An apple a day may keep a growing waistline at bay. According to several studies, this favorite fruit may lead to reductions in weight and body fat. In addition to containing just 95 calories per medium-sized apple, the fruit also provides the filling soluble fiber pectin and ursolic acid, which may keep you fuller longer while helping your body resist storing extra calories as body fat. In one study, researchers from the University of Iowa found ursolic acid supplementation in animals increased muscle mass. Another animal study found that when animals are given high-fat diets that promote obesity, supplementation of apples or apple juice concentrate help protect the animal from piling on body fat. HOW TO ENJOY: Forgo apple pie a la mode and instead choose one of the 5 recipes linked below.
Related: 5 Healthy Seasonal Apple Snacks
Protein provides more satiety per calorie than either fat or carbohydrate, which is why it’s often easier to lose weight by eating a higher percentage of calories from filling protein sources than quick-burning carbs. But when it comes to various protein choices, fish and seafood may be the best for keeping you full on fewer calories because they have among the highest protein-to-calorie ratios. In addition, a study of normal weight men reported that when they were given equal amounts of protein from either fish, beef or chicken, the subjects reported greater feelings of fullness from fish compared to either beef or chicken. Other studies have also identified fish as one of the most appetite-suppressing foods. HOW TO ENJOY: To keep calories in check, make sure your fish is baked, grilled or sautéed but not deep-fried.
Related: Healthiest Ways to Cook Fish
HERBS AND SPICES
Naturally calorie-free, herbs and spices are one of the easiest ways to help you cut calories by simply allowing you to pump up the flavor of your food without adding extra fat, sugar, sodium or calories. Herbs and spices are known to be among the most antioxidant-rich foods in the entire food supply, so it’s also not surprising that they can also help you whittle your waistline. A 2012 study found that subjects who received cinnamon supplements daily reduced their BMI compared to matched controls. Several additional studies have also reported that hot spices like cayenne pepper provide a metabolic boost and appetite-suppressing effects. HOW TO ENJOY: Use cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg to flavor foods when you want to combat your cravings for something sweet. Fresh herbs are best when added to dishes toward the end of cooking; garlic is best when it’s mashed or chopped.
Related: 11 Healthiest Spices (and How to Add Them to Your Meals)
Enjoying a cup or two (or three!) of tea may be the easiest way to peel off pounds. An October 2013 review article about tea and weight loss, published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," reported that bioactive compounds called polyphenols in tea have been shown to increase energy expenditure and fat burning. Population-based studies show that tea drinkers have lower BMIs and waist-to-hip ratios and less body fat compared to non-tea drinkers. The results of one meta-analysis suggest that the increase in caloric expenditure among tea drinkers is equal to about 100 calories over a 24-hour period. Researchers have also found that subjects consuming green tea and caffeine lost an average of 2.9 pounds within 12 weeks, while sticking to their normal diet. HOW TO ENJOY: For the most health benefits, enjoy your green, black, oolong or white tea steeped for several minutes and avoid adding sweeteners or milk to keep it calorie-free. Adding lemon to tea may also boost its benefits.
Related: Check Out the New and Improved MyPlate, LIVESTRONG’s FREE Calorie Tracker
Antioxidant-rich beans have been touted as a winning weight loss food for quite some time and for good reason, too. With approximately 15-20 grams of hunger-squashing protein and around 15 grams of filling fiber per cup, this slowly digestible carbohydrate can help promote weight loss. According to a 2010 study conducted by Purdue University scientists, consuming moderate energy-dense beans has a beneficial effect on satiety (feeling of fullness after eating) and serves to promote weight management. Studies examining the potential associations between bean consumption and weight status consistently show that individuals with lower BMIs consume a greater amount of beans as part of their usual diet. HOW TO ENJOY: Try adding chickpeas to a Greek salad, making a black bean burger for Meatless Monday or adding white beans to whole grain pasta for an extra punch of protein. Below is a link to our favorite black bean salad recipe. You won’t be disappointed!
Related: Healthy Lunch Ideas With Black Beans
When it comes to weight loss, non-starchy vegetables are your best friends. They’re low in calories and filling. If you’re not a huge fan of raw or cooked veggies, that’s okay, because a recent study found that sneaking vegetables into meals in puréed form is an effective strategy to reduce the calorie content of meals and snacks and promote weight loss. The researchers of the study found that when participants were served casseroles made with puréed vegetables, they consumed 200 to 350 fewer calories per meal, when compared to the group consuming the veggie-free casseroles. HOW TO ENJOY: Consider puréeing your favorite vegetables and incorporating into a broth-based soup or try adding puréed veggies to casseroles and spaghetti dishes. You can even add them to your smoothies. Check out the link to the recipe below.
Related: Recipe for Hawaiian Dreaming Kale Smoothie
This trendy, South American whole-grain seed is loaded with protein and fiber, making it an essential ingredient when it comes to weight loss. In fact, according to a University of Milan study, quinoa has a higher Satiating Efficiency Index (measure of fullness) than wheat or rice, demonstrating that quinoa can aid in appetite control. Plus, quinoa is gluten-free, and research from the Columbia University found that the nutritional profile of gluten-free diets was improved by adding oats and quinoa to meals and snacks. Quinoa is also easy to cook and highly versatile, making it a must-have ingredient to keep stocked in the pantry.
Related: Quinoa: How to Pronounce It and Why You Should Eat It
FLAX AND CHIA SEEDS
Flax and chia seeds may be tiny, but these two superfoods pack big health benefits. Loaded with protein and fiber, the nutrients most linked to enhancing satiety, these seeds are a terrific option for someone trying to lose weight. A 2010 study found that diets high in protein and fiber serve to improve body composition and help to lower cholesterol. In this study, participants following a high-protein, high-fiber diet lost more body weight than participants following the standard diet. HOW TO ENJOY: Sprinkle whole chia or flax seeds on cereal, salads or yogurt. You can also soak chia seeds in water for about 30 minutes until a gel is formed. Add the chia gel to sweet or savory sauces, dips or use to make puddings or baked goods.
Related: No-Cook Healthy Vegan Chia Dark Chocolate Pudding
Cottage cheese is rich in leucine, an essential amino acid that’s necessary to build and maintain muscle mass and has been shown to have appetite-suppressing effects. In fact, just one cup of cottage cheese contains a whopping 2.9 grams of leucine per cup -- among the highest leucine content of any food. Additional studies suggest that a higher protein diet can be beneficial during weight loss. As an added health benefit, cottage cheese contains no added sugars, making it a good choice for individuals watching their sugar intake to keep cravings for carbs and sweets in check. HOW TO ENJOY: Try a cottage cheese and fruit parfait for breakfast, use as a topping on waffles or add to salads. You can also strain and put in food processor and use as a slimmer version of Ricotta cheese in recipes.
Related: 16 Snacks That Are OK to Eat at Night
Although apple cider vinegar has been used as a diet aid for eons, now science is starting to discover that vinegar actually does improve blood sugar control. Vinegar (acetic acid) is made by fermenting foods like apples, grapes and many other fruits or vegetables. Vinegar is almost calorie-free making it a great option to add flavor (but not extra calories) to your meals and snacks. It is thought to help you peel off pounds by tempering your appetite and improving the effectiveness of insulin’s ability to dampen rising blood sugar levels that can spike after eating sweets and other simple carbs. HOW TO ENJOY: Vinegar can add tang to almost anything but is great to use when cooking fish, tomato sauce or ground beef. Use a 2:1 ratio of vinegar to oil for dressings, marinades and when dipping. (NOTE: Don’t drink plain vinegar as the acid can irritate or damage tissues.)
Related: Check Out the New & Improved MyPlate, LIVESTRONG’s FREE Calorie Tracker
LETTUCE AND SALAD GREENS
When it comes to foods that help whittle your middle, lettuce has always taken center stage. But, what is it exactly that makes leafy greens such an effective weight loss tool? The main reason lettuce is so good for a lean physique is that it’s low in calories for a relatively large serving. A cup of greens generally contains only 5-10 calories, thanks to its high water and fiber content. Several clinical trials have shown that reducing the energy density of the diet by the addition of water-rich foods, such as lettuce, is associated with substantial weight loss even when individuals do not restrict calories. Another study found that when intake of an entire meal was analyzed, caloric intake decreased as the energy density of the salad was decreased, regardless of the portion size. HOW TO ENJOY: Incorporate peppery arugula into egg white omelets, whip up chicken lettuce wraps for a low carb appetizer, add lettuce to sandwiches and wraps for some extra crunch or try grilling lettuce for a nice smoky flavor and fabulous texture.
Related: 23 Healthy Salads Nutrition Experts Eat
WHOLE GRAIN BREAKFAST CEREALS
Eating a healthy morning meal is almost a sure-fire way to help you lose weight and keep it off. Problem is, many adults skip breakfast when they’re rushed. Whole grain cereal is a great solution as it’s quick and filling and studies show that eating fiber-rich whole grains helps people maintain healthier weights. Whole grain cereal is also recommended for athletes who need to keep calories low in order to maintain a leaner physique for optimal performance. HOW TO ENJOY: Choose a cereal that contains at least 5 grams fiber and less than 10 grams of added sugar and lists whole grains as the first ingredient. Examples include shredded wheat or oats or hot cereals such as oatmeal. For additional hunger management, look for a whole grain cereal with at least 6 grams of protein.
Related: Check Out the New & Improved MyPlate, LIVESTRONG’s FREE Calorie Tracker
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Do you eat any of these on a regular basis already? Do any of them help decrease your appetite? Are there other foods that help you fight hunger better that we left off our list? Leave us a comment below and let us know.
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