Are there really certain foods that can help you lose weight and keep it off? We’re not talking about any so-called miracle food that “melts the fat” (does the cabbage soup diet ring any bells?). These are foods that really can help you lose or maintain weight, either by helping you to eat less or to burn more calories — or, in some cases, maybe even helping to decrease your body fat.
Experts say there are two basic categories of foods that can be considered “keeping it off superfoods” because they fill your tummy without piling on the calories: fruits and vegetables. For example, two whole cups of steamed broccoli packs a measly 87 calories. Or how about two cups of strawberry slices? They’ll add only 99 calories. Even a denser vegetable, steamed carrots, has only 140 calories per two cups. And two cups of a denser fruit, apple slices? That’s only 130 calories.
If fruits and vegetables are the “keeping-it-off superfood groups,” fiber may well be the “keeping-it-off supernutrient.” (Incidentally, the two-cup servings of fruits and vegetables mentioned above all contribute from 5 to 9 grams of fiber.)
Protein is another supernutrient. It’s becoming more scientifically accepted that protein may help to curb appetite. But whether we need more than 0.4 grams per pound of body weight is still up for debate among many researchers.
“Eating enough protein-rich foods of low energy density [calories per portion] is a good strategy for increasing satiety, especially if you are trying to lose weight,” says Barbara Rolls, PhD, a researcher at Penn State University and author of the book The Volumetrics Eating Plan.
Protein can slightly boost metabolism, Rolls says. But, she explains, eating more calories than your body needs — even in the form of protein — will promote weight gain, not loss.
Before we get to the list of “keeping it off” superfoods, let’s make sure we keep things in perspective. At the end of the day, weight loss is still about burning more calories than you take in. The advantage to these foods is that they may help you do just that — if you eat them instead of some higher-calorie choices.
‘Keeping It Off’ Superfoods
1. Green Tea
Go out of your way to indulge in a tall glass of iced green tea or a mug of hot green tea when you get the chance. Here’s why: In a recent study, volunteers who drank a bottle of tea (fortified with green tea extract) every day for three months lost more body fat than another group who drank a bottle of regular oolong tea. Except for the different teas, their overall diets were similar. Researchers suspect that the catechins (helpful phytochemicals) in green tea may trigger weight loss by stimulating the body to burn calories and mildly decrease body fat.
2. Soup (broth- or tomato-based, that is)
Calorie-containing liquids generally are less filling than solid foods, but soups are the exception, says researcher Richard Mattes from Purdue University. In Mattes’ study, participants were fed 300-calorie servings of various soups before eating their lunches (they could eat as much lunch as they wanted). Mattes found that the study participants tended to take in fewer total daily calories on days when they had the soup, suggesting that eating low-calorie soups (the broth- and tomato-based ones) before meals may reduce hunger and increase feelings of fullness.
Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, director of nutrition for WebMD and the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic, agrees that lower-calorie soups (that is, tomato- and broth-based varieties) are highly satisfying.
“If you have soup before a meal, it helps control hunger and you eat less,” she says.
3. Low-Calorie Green Salads
Having a low-calorie salad — not to be confused with salads brimming with cheese, croutons, high-fat dressings, and so on — as a first course can help you feel fuller and reduce the calories you eat during that meal, according to a study by Rolls. She found that eating a small low-calorie salad tended to cut calories eaten at the meal by 7%, and a larger salad by 12%. But the study found the opposite is true with high-calorie salads. These increased the calories eaten during the meal by 8% for a small salad, and 17% for a larger salad.
Just how low-calorie can a green salad be? Consider that two cups of fresh spinach leaves, 10 slices of cucumber, one medium tomato, and 1/4 cup of grated carrot has a grand total of 67 calories (along with a hefty 5.5 grams of fiber).
Yogurt is a dairy food, and several studies have found that including dairy products as part of an overall lower-calorie diet may give you a weight-loss advantage. Still, some scientists aren’t convinced, pointing to other studies that show no strong effect between dairy and weight loss.