Don't let hunger sidetrack your efforts to lose weight. Choose foods that can control your appetite to make dieting easier and increase your chances for success. The best foods to eat for weight loss keep you feeling full longer, provide you with good nutrition and help you maintain your weight when your diet is over.
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Foods high in dietary fiber are some of the best foods to eat when you're losing weight. They create a feeling of fullness, control blood sugar by slowing the digestion of carbohydrates, lower your calorie intake and keep your digestive tract moving. Good high-fiber, low-calorie choices include beans, lentils, split peas, nuts, seeds, oats, barley, bran, whole grains, most vegetables and whole fruits.
To curb your appetite, include a lean source of protein in each meal and snack. As protein is digested in the small intestine, a chemical message to stop eating is sent to your brain, which turns off your appetite. Protein can also boost alertness and energy. Eat fat-free or 1-percent-fat dairy products, skinless chicken and turkey, eggs or egg substitute, tofu, hummus, nuts, seeds and beans to keep your appetite under control while losing weight.
Contrary to popular belief, a low-fat diet is not ideal for either weight loss or health. Fat actually enhances your weight-loss efforts, because it satisfies the appetite and prevents overeating. Include heart-healthy, hunger-curbing monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet with foods including almonds and other types of nuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, olive and canola oils, avocado and fatty fish such as sardines, tuna and herring.
Low Glycemic Index Carbohydrates
Choose carbohydrates with a low glycemic index to control hunger while you diet. The glycemic index is a measurement of how much a carbohydrate-containing food affects your blood sugar and insulin levels. Foods with a large impact on those levels -- white bread, white rice, potatoes, sweet cereals and any foods made from highly refined grains -- cause blood sugar to spike and then crash, which increases hunger. Instead, control your appetite with whole grains such as oats, barley and brown rice. Eat breads, pasta and cereals made with whole grains.
Foods With a Low-energy Density
Foods with a low-energy density are low in calories but high in volume, so you can eat more and feel fuller longer. Instead of eating 1/4 cup of raisins, have an entire cup of grapes for equal calories. Exchange a 300-calorie glazed doughnut for a serving of bran cereal with blueberries and skim milk and a slice of whole-grain toast with 1 teaspoon of peanut butter. Foods with a low-energy density take longer to eat, satisfy your appetite longer and are filled with fiber and other nutrients.
You need to consume fewer calories than you expend to lose weight. Certain foods can help reduce hunger while you are limiting your calorie intake. More filling foods often have a higher water, protein or dietary fiber content and are lower in fat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When trying to lose weight, limit your intake of unhealthy, high-calorie foods, such as sweets, refined grains and fatty meats.
Base Meals on Greens
Lettuce and other greens are low-calorie sources of dietary fiber. A cup of red leaf lettuce has only 4 calories, and a cup of turnip greens has 29 calories and 5 grams of dietary fiber, or 20 percent of the daily value for a 2,000-calorie diet. Use raw greens, such as Romaine lettuce, fresh spinach, arugula and mixed baby greens as foundations for salads, or add them to sandwiches to make your meal bigger without adding many calories. Add spinach, collard greens or kale to soups, stews and egg dishes or serve steamed greens as low-calorie side dishes to round out your meal.
Use Fruit to Save Calories
A medium apple has 95 calories and 4.4 grams of dietary fiber, and a medium orange has 62 calories and 3.1 grams of fiber. The low calorie content and high amount of water and dietary fiber in fruit can help you lose weight. Sweeten yogurt, cold cereal or oatmeal with fruit instead of sugar, which is high-calorie and low-nutrient. You can also save hundreds of calories each time you choose a serving of fruit or fresh fruit salad instead of a high-calorie dessert, such as apple pie or chocolate cake.
Let Lean Proteins Suppress Hunger
Protein is not only essential for maintaining your muscle mass, but it also acts to reduce your hunger. Skinless white meat chicken and turkey, fish, shellfish, and lean beef and pork are high in protein and low in fat. Including a source of protein with a meal or snack helps keep you feeling full for longer after eating so that you are less hungry before the next meal. Have a breakfast scramble with lean ground turkey and vegetables, add grilled shrimp to a salad, or serve broiled cod with asparagus at dinner.
Let Nuts Keep You Healthy
People who eat nuts and peanuts regularly tend to weigh less, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Nuts and peanuts provide fiber, potassium, vitamin E and heart-healthy unsaturated fats. To avoid consuming more calories than you intend, control your portion sizes when you eat nuts and peanuts. An ounce has about 160 to 210 calories. Add walnuts to a green salad with chicken, sprinkle chopped pecans on broiled fish or take a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread for breakfast.
Beans Can Do Double Duty
Beans are high in protein and fiber, and low in fat. They are filling options and can help you lose weight, as well as lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. Have a bean burrito for lunch, add garbanzo or kidney beans to salads, make vegetarian bean chili with tomatoes, bell peppers and onions or make bean and vegetable soup for a low-calorie, filling lunch.
- Bastyr University; Fiber and Weight Loss; Wendy Caamano, MS, CN, and Debra Boutin, MS, RD; February 2010
- "Diabetes Health"; The "Fat-Free Fallacy:" Is It Obesity's Great Enabler?; Jamie Bailes, M.D.; December 2008
- Harvard School of Public Health: Carbohydrates
- "Psychology Today"; The Protein-Hunger Connection; Carlin Flora; January 2006
- Clemson Cooperative Extension; Go Lean with Protein; December 2005
- Harvard School of Public Health: Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good