You might be looking to lose a few pounds, and you know that diet will need to play at least a part if you want to be looking your best. But too often, “diet” becomes synonymous with eating bland vegetables and salads you wouldn’t feed to your rabbit. Plus, you’re hungry minutes afterward, stuck battling snack cravings. Even if you choose pretzels over potato chips, it can be an uphill fight — and one you lose on the scale every time.
Instead of getting discouraged, try eating smarter. Eating low-calorie foods that fill you up but won’t add to your gut is the key. “One of the biggest challenges when you’re trying to lose weight is combating hunger and the desire to eat,” registered dietician Cynthia Sass told Health. “Foods that contain fiber, protein, and plant-based fat tend to be the most satiating,” Sass added. Eating plenty of these nutrients slows down digestion, which helps you to feel full for a longer amount of time.
You might still crave chips and cookies from time to time, but if you’re satisfied from your meals, you’ll be more likely to resist the urge to derail your good eating habits. Plus, choosing foods lower in energy density will allow you to eat more of them because they’re low in calories despite larger servings. Whether you’re looking for a snack, lunch, or dinner, we’ve got some hints at satiating foods that won’t feel like you’re on a diet in the first place.
1. Bean soups
Beans are some of the best foods you can incorporate in your meals if you’re looking to shed pounds. Just one ½ cup serving of pinto, black, or cannellini beans contains between 6 and 8 grams of fiber and about 8 grams of protein for around 120 calories, Cooking Light reports. If you make it into a full meal and have a full cup of beans, you could be on your way to losing weight in a healthy way, quickly. Eating 14 grams of roughage (the fibrous elements in vegetables like beans) per day can lead to eating 10% fewer calories over time, Cooking Light adds. Over the course of a month, that can translate to losing one pound without doing anything else.
Broth-based soups, which have a high water content, will allow you to eat more without packing in extra calories. Combine beans in the soup, and you’ve got a meal that will fill you up. “Once in the stomach, fiber and water activate stretch receptors that signal that you aren’t hungry anymore,” Barbara Rolls, author of The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet, told Health. If you’re looking for a recipe, give this kale and white bean soup from Shape a try.
If you’re a victim of the afternoon slump or the late-night Netflix binging, you know that snacking can be all too difficult to avoid during these times in particular. If you’re eating foods like popcorn, you can munch away without all the guilt that normally follows after downing half a bag of Doritos.
“Popcorn takes up more room in your stomach, and seeing a big bowl of it in front of you tricks you into thinking that you’re eating more calories and that you’ll feel full when you’re finished,” Rolls told Health. Of course, popping the corn yourself guarantees that you can control how much butter and salt you’re putting on the kernels, but even some store-bought versions can be OK, provided you watch out for the sodium and fat content.
If you can handle the heat, Health suggests adding crushed red pepper or cayenne pepper on top. One Purdue University study found people who ate the spices were less hungry afterward, and potentially burned more energy as well — especially if the people didn’t eat the spices normally. “We found that consuming red pepper can help manage appetite and burn more calories after a meal, especially for individuals who do not consume the spice regularly,” said Richard Mattes, distinguished professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue.
3. Canned salmon
As we’ve mentioned before, getting servings of protein in your diet throughout the day can go a long way toward keeping you fuller for longer. Avoid the vending machine cravings in the afternoon if you eat something like canned salmon as part of your lunch. We know that seafood in general is great for you, in part because of the omega-3 fatty acids that help to keep your heart healthy. But on top of that, the protein and low calorie count can keep you satisfied without packing on the pounds.
One 3-ounce can of salmon has just 122 calories and a whopping 17.5 grams of protein — meaning you should whiz right by that 2 p.m. craving for junk food. Add the salmon to a salad or mix it with chopped veggies for a sandwich. You’re welcome to prepare fresh salmon in the same ways, but the canned version has the same perks without any of the hassle. Either way, you’ll be elevating your lunch into a hearty meal.
4. Baked potatoes
Because of their high levels of carbohydrates, baked potatoes have gotten a bad rap lately. But don’t be deceived — if you’re careful about the toppings you eat with it, potatoes can be satisfying without being detrimental to your waistline. “Many people still think that because potatoes have a high glycemic index they will induce cravings and weight gain, but research shows this isn’t the case,” registered dietitian Joy Dubost, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Health.
In 1995, researchers developed a satiety index — a chart of foods with rankings about how satisfying they were. In that index, potatoes rank first. (There are many versions of this index, but this one shows how potatoes compare to other foods like whole-grain bread, fish, and other foods.)
Potatoes are starchy, but they also still classify as a vegetable. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one medium potato baked with the skin on has just 170 calories, but 4 grams of fiber (16% of what you need for the day) and 5 grams of protein. It also has 35% of your needed vitamin C and 10% of the necessary iron. If you can limit the butter and sour cream and instead top your potato with vegetables and herbs, it’ll satisfy without being a meal you regret. When you want to switch it up a bit, sweet potatoes are also a good choice to make.
They keep the doctor away and all that jazz, but apples are also one of the best fruits in terms of weight loss goals. That’s because apples naturally contain pectin, the compound that also helps to thicken jams. Pectin forms a gelatin in the stomach after it’s consumed, Livestrong explains, which could explain why most people feel more full after eating foods that contain it.
Citrus fruits like lemons, grapefruit, and oranges are other good sources of pectin, along with carrots, bananas, and squash. Apples in particular are a good example of a low-energy density food. “Whole apples take a long time to eat for very few calories,” says Susan Roberts, professor of nutrition at Tufts University. (One apple eaten with the skin has just over 100 calories.) Your body has more time to tell your brain that you’re no longer hungry — meaning you can chomp on an apple for a while to feel satisfied, but won’t take in so many calories.
Taking a whole apple to work makes for one of the easiest snacks ever, but you can also add apple chunks to oatmeal for breakfast or a mid-morning snack. If you’re looking for an (almost) guilt-free dessert, try this baked apples recipe. If you can resist putting ice cream on top, you’ll have a sweet and satisfying finish to any meal.
This protein-packed poultry works in a similar way that the salmon does, with even more options for variety. “Eggs are one of the few foods that are a complete protein, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids that your body can’t make itself,” Dubost said. “Once digested, those amino acids trigger the release of hormones in your gut that suppress appetite.”
In one study, researchers found that participants who ate eggs for breakfast instead of a bagel (with the same calorie count for the meal) ate 15% fewer calories for the next 36 hours. So not only will this make your morning pass more quickly, but you’re less likely to feel hunger pangs later in the day.
As you might realize, eating the whole egg is sometimes frowned upon in certain health circles, where egg white omelets reign supreme. But there’s a time and place for the yolks, too. “Whole eggs are a nearly perfect food, with almost every essential vitamin and mineral our bodies need to function,” trainer Jillian Michaels states on her website. One whole egg has just 70 calories but also contains 6 grams of protein and numerous other vitamins and minerals. Scramble them for breakfast, take them hardboiled to work, or try any of these delicious egg recipes.
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