Losing weight can be a challenge, especially if you believe that the best dinner for weight loss means tiny portions of plain, unappetizing food. It doesn't have to be that way.
There are lots of delicious, filling foods to choose from as you travel along on your weight loss journey. Portion control is important, as is packing as much solid nutrition as possible into every calorie. The key to any successful weight loss program is to choose your foods wisely so that you never feel deprived.
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Choosing Diet Food for Dinner
There are almost as many different diet plans available as there are pounds needing to be shed, and it can take some trial and error to find one that best fits your needs. According to the health experts at Harvard Medical School, one way to lose weight that offers solid benefits both in the short run and over the long term is to adopt a Mediterranean-style diet.
This way of eating is based on:
- A variety of vegetables
- Fresh fruit
- Whole grains
- Beans and legumes
- Small amounts of dairy
- Poultry and fish
- Very small amounts of red meat
- Healthy fats
People who follow a Mediterranean-type diet tend to have a lower risk of developing diabetes, dementia and heart disease. This eating plan is also flexible enough to stick to, whether you are into fine dining or trying to create healthy recipes for weight loss on a budget.
Mix and Match Vegetables
Vegetables are among the lowest-calorie foods you can eat, while also offering solid nutritional benefits and helpful fiber, remind the experts at the United States Department of Agriculture. How many veggies you should eat every week depends on several factors, such as your age, weight and activity level. A good rule of thumb is to aim for two to three cups of vegetables per day.
One way to get a full range of nutrients and fiber is to make sure that at least half of the food on your dinner plate consists of vegetables. Mix leafy, dark green vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach or kale, with red and yellow peppers and red tomatoes. Grill or broil eggplant, zucchini and yellow or butternut squash. These offer you a lot of vitamins and minerals for very few calories, especially if you rely on lemon juice, herbs and spices for your seasonings.
The more colorful your plate, the better. Experiment with sweet potatoes instead of white ones. Mix green beans and yellow wax beans and dress them with olive oil and red pepper flakes. Butternut squash can be mashed or cubed and enjoyed as a savory dish or a sweet one. It can also be served cold and goes extremely well with blackberries, dried cranberries or pumpkin seeds in a salad.
Feast on Fruit
Fruit is another staple of a Mediterranean-style eating plan. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average adult should be taking in at least one and a half to two cups of fruit every day, though fewer than 12 percent of adults actually do so. This is important because eating a diet that features fruit can help you reduce the risk of developing certain cancers, type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
Add fruit to your dinner plate by mixing apples, pears, mangoes, grapes or berries into your salad. Cubes of watermelon and feta cheese make a refreshing side dish when tossed with chopped mint and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Dried fruits can make wonderful accent pieces on your plate, such as a dried apricot smeared with a tiny bit of Camembert or brie and topped with whole roasted almonds.
Don't forget that many types of fruit can also be cooked. Pineapple slices liven up a baked ham or pork steaks. Or make a tangy island chicken dish by heating cooked, shredded chicken, pineapple chunks, green pepper and water chestnuts in coconut milk and serving it over brown rice. Most soft fruits, such as peaches and plums, can be cooked down into a glaze that can serve as a fat-free sauce.
Gravitate Toward Grains
Grains are an excellent source of both carbohydrates and fiber, according to the Mayo Clinic, but they're created equal. Refined grains are those that have been milled to give them a very fine texture and also extend the amount of time during which they may be used before spoiling. Unfortunately, refining grains like wheat and rice also removes much of their nutrient load and fiber.
Most types of bread and pasta are made with refined flour, meaning that the carbs they contain are digested very quickly, which can affect your blood sugar levels. Instead, look for pastas made with whole wheat or chickpeas and choose bread that contains cracked wheat or oatmeal.
Whole grains should make up one-quarter of your dinner plate. These include brown rice, barley, quinoa, millet and bulgur, also known as cracked wheat. They can be served alone or prepared using aromatics like onions, shallots and garlic. Most serve well as the base for a stir-fry or any type of protein served with a gravy or sauce.
Benefit From Beans
Beans are an excellent source of protein, says Colorado State University, and they contain no saturated fat. Eating a diet high in animal proteins that contain saturated fat may increase your risk of developing heart disease. In addition to protein, beans offer iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc and fiber. They can be enjoyed hot or cold and flavored to be sweet or savory.
Substitute beans for grains or protein on one-quarter of your dinner plate. Or mix them with rice to provide the full range of amino acids, which make up a complete protein. Make refried beans with olive or canola oil instead of lard to help keep the calorie count down.
Bean soups are also an excellent way to make it feel less like you are having diet food for dinner and more like you are simply enjoying a hearty meal. Black bean soup can be gently savory or fiercely spicy, the latter pairing well with a tangy red onion, mango and cilantro salsa. Navy bean soup is a classic, and you can even make soup with several types of beans mixed together.
Dabble in Dairy
Although most diet and nutrition experts have long advised sticking to low-fat or nonfat dairy products, many are beginning to rethink this strategy, according to Tufts University. Weight loss is more complicated than merely counting fat grams and calories. If it was that simple, losing weight would work the same way for everyone.
Dairy should still be used sparingly, with an emphasis on products like cheese, which is fermented, and yogurt, which contains the kinds of probiotics that are effective in keeping your gut bacteria balanced. Having a healthy gut allows your body to process nutrients more efficiently. There are lactose-free products if you are lactose-intolerant, and soy or nut-based products if you are vegetarian or vegan.
Use sharper, dryer cheeses, such as Parmesan and Romano, for flavoring. Sharp cheddar is also good and melts extremely well. The softer the cheese, the higher its fat content will be, so be sure to measure out portions to keep on track for your calorie count.
Substitute plain Greek yogurt for sour cream and mayonnaise to give your dinner a healthy nutritional boost without sacrificing flavor. There are soy-based faux cheeses available for vegetarians and vegans as well.
Make the Most of Meat
Losing weight doesn't mean giving up a juicy, perfectly cooked steak forever, though you will probably have to adjust your portion size. Meat should take up one-quarter of your dinner plate, and each serving should be approximately 4 to 5 ounces, depending on the type of meat.
As far as red meat goes, choose locally-sourced, grass-fed beef whenever possible, advises the University of Michigan. Avoid processed meats, such as cold cuts.
The other thing to remember is that beef is not your only option. Poultry and seafood also offer protein, but with less saturated fat. Pork can also be very lean, depending on the cut.
Seafood includes fish, such as salmon, swordfish, tilapia, swai, halibut, catfish, cod and tuna. Shellfish, including scallops, crab, shrimp, mussels and clams, are also high in protein and low in calories as long as you don't go crazy with drawn butter to dip them in.
Prepare your dinners by baking, broiling, grilling or pan-searing your beef, pork, poultry or seafood so that you are adding a minimum amount of fat and as few calories as possible. Fish can also be poached in wine, beer, broth or water, and tougher cuts of beef, such as London broil, can be browned on both sides and then finished in a bit of liquid, which is called braising.
Focus on Healthy Fats
Even more important than how much fat you take in every day is the type of fat you are eating, cautions the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. There are four basic types of fat, Roswell goes on to explain.
The very worst type of fat is trans fat. These fats are found in mass-produced baked goods and margarine. Trans fats lower your levels of high-density lipoproteins, or "good" cholesterol, and raise your levels of low-density lipoproteins, or "bad" cholesterol.
The next worst type of fat is saturated fat. This is found in animal products, such as red meat and full-fat dairy products. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, Roswell Park says, which is why you can leave butter on the counter and it will still retain its shape. Palm oil and coconut oil also contain saturated fats. These are best used very sparingly, such as a small pat of butter on baked sweet potatoes.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are mainly found in some vegetables and in fish. They raise your levels of good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol levels.
Polyunsaturated fats include essential fatty acids. These may help lower your risk of heart attacks and stroke as well as certain types of cancers. They are found in salmon, mackerel, avocados and olive oil, which should all be welcome on your dinner plate when you're trying to lose weight.
- Harvard Medical School: "Diet & Weight Loss"
- USDA: "Why Is It Important to Eat Vegetables?"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Only 1 in 10 Adults Get Enough Fruits or Vegetables"
- Mayo Clinic: "Whole Grains - Hearty Options for a Healthy Diet"
- Colorado State University: "What Are the Benefits of Beans?"
- Tufts University: "Rethinking Dairy Fat"
- University of Michigan: "Eating Meat in America"
- Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center: "Fats 101: The Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Fats"