18 Weight-Loss-Friendly Foods for Your Health Journey
Once upon a time, there was a belief that if you wanted to lose weight, the only option was to starve yourself. Cut serving sizes drastically. Eat bland foods (baked chicken breast and broccoli again?!). Fortunately, we’ve learned so much in the last decade, and we now understand that if you want to lose fat weight (instead of just water weight), then the goal is to nourish the body. With food. Real food. Weight-loss-friendly foods aren’t just plain lettuce or tasteless turkey. They’re rich, flavorful foods that fuel your active lifestyle.
What’s more, some of the foods you may have been told to leave off your plate can still be part of your healthy diet. Cutting calories too low can risk your health, set you up for nutrient deficiencies, and make it even harder to lose weight. That’s because eating too few calories can cause your body to break down calorie-burning muscle, which slows the metabolic rate.
Here are some of our favorite nutrient-dense foods that will fill you up with quality proteins, healthy fats, fiber, and vitamins and minerals that will tempt your taste buds while helping you achieve your health and weight-loss goals.
What are Weight-Loss-Friendly Foods?
The foods you eat play a powerful role in how you feel, your appetite, your hormones, the foods you crave, and your body weight.
For instance, protein-rich foods can fill you up fairly quicky and then help sustain you for hours by decreasing secretions of the hunger hormone known as ghrelin. Likewise, fiber-rich foods slow digestion and help stabilize blood sugar levels, so you release insulin more slowly. This, in turn, means you’re less likely to store the foods you eat as fat. Fibers also support satiety hormones, so you’re less hungry. That makes it easier to regulate how much food you eat and help prevent overeating. In addition, prebiotic fibers feed the good bacteria in the gut.
On the other hand, ultra-processed foods (such as chips, sweets, and refined-grain breads) are low in protein, nutrients, and fiber. Because they’re digested so quickly, they can cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly. This triggers insulin release to clear blood sugar out of the blood, which leaves your energy levels crashing and stimulates your appetite to eat even more.
So, to support your weight-loss goals, you’ll want to eat more weight-loss-friendly foods like those below, and less ultra-processed foods. Here’s what to pile on your plate.
18 Weight-Loss-Friendly Foods
1. Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes (aka pulses) may be one of the planet’s healthiest and most underrated foods. Lentils, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, edamame, etc. are rich in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids to help nourish your muscles, boost energy levels, and support gut health.
What’s more, they can help keep you full for longer, and they’ve even been shown to increase metabolism and support greater longevity. Finally, they’re rich in magnesium and chromium, which help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which may help you whittle off fat around the waist.
One study asked participants to cut the calories they ate by 30%. One group was asked to include three cups of beans or lentils in their diet per week, another around two cups per day, and another ate minimal beans and legumes. At the end of the six-week study, all groups of dieters lost weight. But those who ate the most beans and legumes lost the most weight—around 8.5 pounds, followed by the group that ate them 3 times per week at 7.5 pounds. Those who ate the least lost just two pounds.
2. Quality Meats and Poultry
High-protein diets in general have been found to help stabilize blood sugar and promote appetite control. Grass-fed lean beef and pasture-raised chicken and turkey also provide the building blocks for a lean, healthy, toned physique.
Remember, eating whole-food protein foods takes more calories to digest and absorb—around 25 calories for every 100 calories consumed. In comparison, when you consume fats or carbs, it takes just 10 to 15 calories per 100 calories.
Protein also fills you up and keeps you satiated by suppressing ghrelin, a hunger-triggering hormone. These quality meats are also rich in choline, methionine, and vitamin B12—nutrients that support a healthy metabolism.
3. Fish and Seafood
Wild-caught salmon, sardines, and other fish provide metabolism-boosting protein, which prevents overeating and helps you stay full for longer. These fish are also low in calories and high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to support healthy levels of inflammation. Not only can this help you see results on the scale, but it can help improve energy levels and reduce soreness, which can encourage you to be more active.
Other weight-loss friendly fish and seafood includes:
- Tuna (including canned)
- Pacific cod
- Sea bass
You may be surprised to learn that eggs are incredibly nutrient-dense and provide almost every essential vitamin (except vitamin C). They’re also high in phosphorus, calcium, and potassium. And, they’re a complete protein that’s also highly versatile.
And unlike many typical breakfast foods like bagels or other refined carb foods, they can decrease appetite and keep you going for longer. That means you’ll likely eat less, which can promote weight loss.
Just don’t toss out the yolks. That’s where most of the nutrients are found, including choline and vitamin D. The protein and fat found in the yolks is also what helps keep you feeling satiated and reduces hunger.
One study found that eating eggs and toast increased feelings of fullness for up to four hours, which was significantly longer than with cereal, milk, and OJ. Eating the eggs for breakfast then led to eating less calories for lunch.
5. Protein Powders
There are a lot of myths around protein powders. Many think they’re only for bodybuilders or intensely training athletes. Some are afraid they all taste chalky or unappetizing. Others think they’re all the same. However, there’s a wide range of protein powders, and they are not all created equal.
A good quality protein powder can be tasty and can even knock out cravings for shakes or ice cream. They are also an easy, convenient way to fill your protein needs to support weight loss by helping you maintain calorie-burning muscle mass when combined with a regular exercise program.
Just remember to choose a protein powder that’s low in calories and carbohydrates and doesn’t contain unhealthy additives like excess sugar and artificial sweeteners and flavors.
6. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is protein-rich (with more than regular yogurt), low in carbohydrates, yet so creamy and delicious. It’s been shown to help reduce hunger and help you feel fuller, which helps you eat less. And Greek yogurt helps promote insulin sensitivity.
Greek yogurt also provides conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has been associated with decreased body fat and long-term weight management. Because it provides probiotics like Lactobacillus, it may also help support your gut health and promote healthy levels of inflammation and support your immune system.
Finally, Greek yogurt can be used to replace other high-calorie, less healthy additions, such as mayo, creamy dressings, cheese, and sour cream.
7. Cottage Cheese
Low in calories and carbs yet high in protein and calcium, cottage cheese has long had a reputation for supporting weight loss. Not surprisingly, it’s satiating, so it’s easier to eat less. It also provides the amino acids needed to build muscle and improve metabolism.
Cottage cheese is also versatile, easy to take and eat when you’re on the go, and combines well with other weight-loss-friendly foods like vegetables, fruits, eggs, nuts, seeds, and can even be used in decadent but lower-calorie dessert recipes.
8. Leafy Green Vegetables
Spinach, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, and other leafy greens are another weight-loss-friendly food that fit into any healthy diet. They’re high in fiber, nutrients, and water. In addition to their fiber content, they also provide nutrients like calcium, iron, and folate. They also contain thylakoids, which are plant compounds that have been associated with improved satiety, so they help with appetite management.
Plus, leafy greens add volume to your meals without increasing the calorie count, so you feel like you’re eating more. And there are numerous ways to add them to the menu as salads or steamed or tossed into soups and more.
Two and a half cups of vegetables are recommended per day, including one a half cups of leafy greens, so add some of these brightly colored, highly nutritious foods to your menu:
For extra crunch: green leaf lettuce, bibb lettuce, and romaine
For an extra boost of flavor: arugula, chicory, and watercress.
9. Cruciferous Vegetables
Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage are rich in fiber and nutrient-dense, so they’re really filling despite their low-calorie count. They also are a great source of plant proteins.
Cauliflower is surprisingly versatile. This low-calorie veggie (just 25 calories per cup) can be turned into tasty, lower-calorie alternatives for rice, mashed potatoes, pasta, pasta sauce, and even pizza crust, potentially saving you hundreds of calories to support your weight-loss efforts. Plus, it’s rich in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorous.
10. Root Vegetables
Sweet potatoes, onions, turnips, beets, fennel, carrots, and even white, red, purple, and gold potatoes are weight-loss-friendly foods, even if they’ve fallen out of favor in recent years. In fact, boiled white potatoes were found in studies to be the most satiating food tested. They’re also incredibly high in a variety of nutrients.
What’s more, when cooked and then cooled, these root vegetables provide an unusual carb known as resistant starch, which has been shown to provide numerous health benefits, including supporting increased weight loss and promoting gut health.
11. Fermented Vegetables
Sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, and other fermented foods both boost the shelf-life of the food and increase their nutrition levels. This is because they’re rich in probiotics, which support a healthy gut. The gut, in turn, helps fine-tune the immune system, tamps down excess inflammation, helps control blood sugar levels, and yes, even helps you lose weight. What’s more, fermented vegetables can enhance flavor, giving your tastebuds a treat.
Just remember to look for fermented foods that provide live cultures from the natural fermenting process rather than those that are pickled in vinegar.
Most fruits are known for being high in carbs and natural sugars. Avocados, on the other hand (they are a fruit), are rich in healthy fats, including monounsaturated oleic acid. They also are rich in fiber and water, so they help you stay full.
In addition, a salad topped with avocado can increase nutrient absorption from the rest of the vegetables by as much as 12.6 times! Just by adding some sliced avocados (or a spoonful of guac), you can increase the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K as well as carotenoids.
Avocados are nutrient-dense, but they’re also calorie-dense, so watch the portion sizes if you’re decreasing calories to lose weight. The good news, because they’re so satiating, they can help you eat less the rest of the day.
13. Nuts & Seeds
Other foods that are rich in nutrients as well as calories include nuts and seeds. These highly portable snacks provide protein, fiber, and healthy fats. And despite their calorie count, they’ve been shown to promote metabolic health and increase weight loss.
Research has also found that folks who consume nuts tend to get more nutrients in their diets. They also are more likely to sit at a healthy weight. Just remember to mind portion sizes and give your body time to register hunger. For instance, after you have a small handful of nuts, give your body at least 15 minutes to digest them to see if you still feel hungry.
Walnuts, almonds, hemp seeds, and more are all weight-loss-friendly foods. Chia and flaxseeds are both rich in fiber and also expand in water, so they fill up the stomach to help suppress appetite. They can be added to Greek yogurt, smoothies, salads, oatmeal, and so much more to help you stay full for hours and hours.
14. Whole Grains
Quinoa, oats, brown rice, and even whole wheat and barley provide the body with loads of fiber and some protein to promote metabolic health and support your weight-loss goals.
Oats, for instance, provide a soluble fiber called beta-glucans that have been shown to boost satiety and promote a healthy metabolism. If eaten raw (such as overnight oats) or cooked and cooled, oats are rich in resistant starch, which supports gut health, makes the body more insulin sensitive, and promotes weight loss.
If allowed to cool after being cooked, rice is another good source of resistant starch. If you choose brown over white rice, you’ll also get a good boost of nutrients.
With any processed foods, do watch for any that promote whole grains on the label. Many of these may have the minimum amount of whole grains and are made up of mainly refined grains that can contribute to weight gain and leave you hungry for more.
15. Herbs and Spices
Many people are afraid weight-loss-friendly foods are flavorless. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some of the most weight-loss-friendly foods add loads of flavor and even a kick to just about any recipe. Chili peppers, for instance, contain a compound called capsaicin. This not only adds a little heat, but it’s been shown to decrease appetite and boost fat burning.
Other flavorful metabolism-boosting spices include cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cumin, cardamon, ginger, garlic, fenugreek, oregano, turmeric, and black pepper. Adding various herbs and spices to your recipes not only enhances the flavor but gives a big boost to the health benefits across the board. And that includes weight loss.
Berries, bananas, apples, pears, citrus fruits, stone fruits, watermelon, and more are a sweet addition to any diet. What’s more, they’re loaded with phytochemicals and antioxidants like vitamin C.
Unripe bananas, in particular, are another source of resistant starch and are one of the richest sources of prebiotics for improved gut health.
Despite their sweet flavor, berries are low in sugar and high in fiber and fit into just about any weight-loss diet, from low-carb to Mediterranean to paleo to vegetarian.
17. Olive Oil
Yes, fats and oils are high in calories, but eating moderate amounts of unsaturated fats (specifically monounsaturated fatty acids or MUFAs) can help decrease appetite, enhance nutrient absorption, regulate hunger hormones, and support healthy levels of inflammation.
Skip the unhealthy refined oils like canola or vegetable oils and choose healthier fats like olive oil to promote metabolic health and support your weight-loss goals. As a bonus, olive oil has even been shown to lower blood pressure and support heart and brain health.
18. Dark Chocolate
When it comes to weight-loss diets, one of the most important aspects is that you can stick with it consistently. After all, you don’t want to lose weight just to gain it all back. So, it’s important to eat foods you enjoy and that give you pleasure. Enter dark chocolate. The smooth, creamy, decadent treat can satisfy your sweet tooth. More importantly, it has numerous health benefits, such as improving mental clarity, lowering blood pressure, and yes, decreasing appetite.
One study even found that an antioxidant found in cocoa prevented excess weight gain and lowered blood sugar. This study was performed on laboratory animals, but it is promising. Another later study found that when gut microbes digested chocolate, they released more of the short-chain fatty acids like butyrate that help increase insulin sensitivity and support healthy levels of inflammation.
For an even bigger boost, combined your dark chocolate with fruit. Why yes, chocolate-covered strawberries are part of my healthy weight-loss diet. 😊 Just remember to choose dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa. And skip past Dutch chocolate, which has been processed to drastically reduce the healthy compounds.
Weight-Loss-Friendly Foods: A Wrap-Up
If you thought you were going to have to go hungry to lose weight, think again! You can fill your plate with delicious foods that support your overall health, including a healthy weight.
In addition to filling your menu with weight-loss friendly foods, remember to drink plenty of water. The body needs water to function and to metabolize the foods you eat. Other weight-loss-friendly drinks include green tea, black tea, herbal teas, and even coffee.
When it comes to long-term weight-loss success, it often comes down to finding foods you enjoy, that make you feel good, and that provide the energy you need. Fortunately, you have a wide range of wonderful weight-loss-friendly foods to choose from!