If you’re trying to shed pounds, consider this the ultimate guide to what you should be putting on your plate and the foods you should always keep in your kitchen. These good-for-you foods contain powerful nutrients and antioxidants that have been shown to help your body lose weight, feel full for longer periods of time, and have more energy. As a bonus, many have added benefits, too, such as preventing various diseases or reversing the signs of aging.
Here are 15 weight loss super foods to start incorporating into your diet, plus delicious ways to prepare them from Health’s contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD.
Almonds are a great source of mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which can help lower your cholesterol and keep you slim. They also contain fewer calories than most other varieties of nuts (just 163 calories for 23), as well as plenty of fiber and vitamin E. According to a study in the International Journal of Obesity, people who added a daily serving of almonds to a low-calorie diet lost more weight than those who followed the same diet but ate a carb-heavy snack such as crackers instead.
To reap the benefits, Sass recommends using almonds to crust a lean protein such as salmon or sprinkling them onto salads and cooked veggies. “You can also whip them into smoothies or use nut butter as the base for a savory sauce seasoned with garlic and ginger,” she says.
Apples contain pectin, an ingredient that naturally slows digestion and encourages feelings of fullness. Studies show that eating a whole apple with your meal (as opposed to apple juice or applesauce) is a natural appetite suppressant, helping you consume fewer overall calories without feeling deprived. Sass likes using shredded apple in slaws and stir-fry, or mixing them into burger patties to add moisture.
Apples are also a good source of antioxidants, vitamin C, and fiber. Just be sure not to skip the skin, which contains much of the fruit’s nutritional benefits.
Artichokes are incredibly filling—in fact, they are one of the highest-fiber vegetables, says Sass. A single boiled artichoke contains a whopping 10.3 grams of fiber—almost half the recommended daily amount for women. To curb your appetite before a meal, Sass suggests enjoying the veggie as a pre-dinner appetizer: try them in a refreshing salad with edamame and asparagus, or make homemade salsa with artichoke hearts, tomatoes, olives, and red onions.
Is there anything avocados can’t do? This creamy super food (loaded with monounsaturated fats, potassium, magnesium, folate, and vitamins C and E) has been linked to improved vision, good heart health, and a reduced risk of certain cancers. And avocados can also help whittle your middle: according to one study, people who regularly consume them weigh less and have smaller waists than those who do not. Another study found that women who eat half an avocado at lunchtime might experience reduced food cravings later in the day.
There are countless ways to enjoy the fruit (yes, technically it is one), but you can’t beat the classic combination of whole-wheat toast with mashed avocado, lemon juice, and sunflower seeds. Sass also recommends whipping avocado into a smoothie, pureeing it with herbs and citrus juice to make a creamy salad dressing, or adding it to a veggie omelet.
A single serving of the leafy green contains just 46 calories and also provides calcium and your daily-recommended doses of vitamins A and K. Because collard greens are also a great source of fiber (7.6 grams per cup), they can help keep you full for longer.
“No other food on the planet contains the unique natural substances found in dark chocolate,” says Sass. The sweet treat is a good source of monounsaturated fatty acids, which could help speed up your metabolism. Research suggests that dark chocolate might also help curb your cravings for sweet, salty, and fatty foods.
“I love to chop dark chocolate into squares and add them into a smoothie,” says Sass. “You can also melt it and season with cinnamon, grated ginger, or fresh mint.”
Add this to your list of reasons to drink plenty of H2O: Because the symptoms of hunger are similar to those of dehydration, it’s possible for your body to mistake thirst for hunger, tricking you into eating more than you need to.
Drinking enough water can help you stay slim, too. Research from the American Chemical Society in Boston found that having two 8-ounce glasses of water before a meal while also reducing portion sizes could help you lose weight and keep it off. Not to mention, water fills you up, curbing your appetite: “In addition to slightly boosting your metabolism, drinking water before meals has been shown to help you eat less without trying,” says Sass.
You may not think of them as a weight-loss food, but eggs are packed with protein, which helps curb your appetite. One study found that overweight women who ate eggs for breakfast were able to lose twice as much weight as women who started their days with bagels. And egg whites in particular are a good source of branched-chain amino acids, which help keep your metabolism running smoothly.
Pearl barley is a type of barley that has been polished to remove the hull and outer bran layer, which helps it cook more quickly. Another great source of fiber and slimming resistant starch (nearly 2 grams per half-cup serving), pearl barley helps increase feelings of satiety.
Because it’s such a hearty starch, pearl barley is delicious in stews and soups
Going gluten-free may be a popular trend, but unless you’re actually gluten-intolerant or have celiac disease, plenty of reasons exist to continue eating whole grains. They’re a tasty way to fill up on both soluble and insoluble fiber, which help you feel full for longer and keep bowel movements regular (oats, barley, and bulgur are especially high sources). Whole grains can also help prevent weight gain: in one study, women who ate whole grains like wheat germ and dark bread had a 49% lower risk of “major” weight gain over time.
Whole grains also boast a slew of other enviable health benefits: 2015 research found that older people who eat whole grains could have longer lives. And another study found that women who consumed two to three servings of whole grains everyday were 30% less likely to suffer from a heart attack.
Good news, wine drinkers. Thanks to resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grape skin, drinking red wine in moderation can be part of a healthy diet. Some studies suggest that people who drink wine have smaller waists and less abdominal fat than those who drink mainly liquor. And having one glass of red wine can increase your body’s calorie burn for up to 90 minutes afterwards. The antioxidants in wine might even help your body prevent cancer and improve heart health. Just be sure to stick to no more than a glass a day—the calories can add up fast.
A fat-burning super food, grapefruit contains a compound that can lower the fat-storage hormone insulin, which in turn can lead to weight loss. In fact, eating half a grapefruit before each meal could help you lose up to a pound a week—even if you don’t change anything else about your diet. Because grapefruits are 90% water, which fills you up, they also act as a natural appetite suppressant.
Bonus: Research suggests that this super fruit can also help protect your heart and maintain firm, healthy skin.
A squeeze of lemon adds instant freshness to everything from drinks to salads to fish without additional calories, making it an ideal way to flavor food if you’re watching your weight. Plus, the pectin fiber in lemons can help fill you up and fight off hunger cravings. And while it hasn’t been scientifically proven, some experts believe that the citrus fruit can aid in weight loss, as well.
“Add a slice of lemon to a glass of water, hot or iced tea, or homemade vinaigrette,” says Sass. “Or steam veggies in lemon water to give them flavor.”
Like lemons, oranges are low in calories but contain plenty of fiber, helping you to feel full throughout the day and consume less overall. In fact, in a list of the most filling foods compiled by Australian researchers, oranges ranked the highest among fruits.
From January to April, keep your eyes peeled for blood oranges, a darker-hued winter variety of the citrus that contains a full day’s worth of vitamin C as well as high levels of the disease-fighting antioxidant anthocyanin.
Salmon is filled with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which could help speed up weight loss: a 2001 study found that participants who ate more MUFAs lost an average of 9 pounds, while those who ate a primarily low-fat diet gained an average of 6 pounds.
Selecting protein sources that are rich in PUFAs (like salmon) instead of those that contain lots of saturated fat (such as red meat) could also help reduce visceral fat in your belly, according to a Swedish study.