What Foods Should You Eat To Optimize Weight Loss?
While the major focus of most weight loss plans is exercise, diet is usually more important. We all know what “healthy” foods are, but there’s often confusion because of clever food marketing tactics that try to convince us about the benefits of some new weight-loss superfood.
Allow me to clear up the confusion: THERE IS NO “BEST” or “WORST” food to eat for weight loss. The most important determinant of weight loss is creating a caloric deficit, which means eating fewer calories than your body needs in order to maintain your current weight.
After that, yes, food choice matters. If you are given a choice between two diets that create a calorie deficit, and one is based around lean meat and greens, while the other is based around Twinkies, both will “work” for weight loss. But you’ll be a hell of a lot healthier eating lean meat and greens than cream-filled sponge cake.
This is good news! It means you can (technically) eat whatever you want, and still lose weight. No more complaining that you have to give up your favorite foods to fit into your skinny jeans. The caveat is this: you can’t eat an entire bag of chips, box of donuts, or pint of Ben and Jerry’s and expect to lose weight. Those foods are just too calorically dense. Moderation is key.
Now, to be fair, I should actually answer the original question.
What foods are “best” to eat when you want to lose weight?
- Lean cuts of meat,
- seafood and fish,
- eggs and egg whites,
- all-you-can-eat greens,
- other vegetables (peppers, carrots, etc)
- starchy carbs (like potatoes, beans, rice),
- fruit (especially berries),
- dairy products like plain yogurt or cottage cheese.
These foods are nutrient-dense instead of calorie-dense, meaning they pack in more vitamins and minerals per calorie than other foods.
Protein is metabolically expensive to digest, meaning you’ll burn more calories to break down meat, fish, and eggs, thus “boosting your metabolism.” Further, protein is highly satiating, which keeps you feeling full for longer. And, bonus points, it aids in recovery from the intense workouts you’ll need to do to burn fat without losing muscle mass.
Vegetables of all kinds, and especially leafy greens, are absolutely PACKED with vitamins and minerals, are low-calorie, and contain tons of fiber, which also keeps you feeling full and satisfied while you’re dieting.
Starchy carbs like potatoes, rice, beans, and fruit will help fuel your workouts. Unlike processed carbohydrates (chips and cookies), they are lower in calories, higher in nutrients, and have a lower glycemic index, which means they digest slowly in your body and provide a steady source of energy so that you don’t suffer a mid-day sugar crash.
How about the “best” beverages? The best drinks when you’re on a weight loss plan are those that are calorie-free. Think plain or sparkling water, black coffee, and plain tea. If none of those options tickle your fancy, you could add citrus (lemon, lime, orange) to your water to give it some flavor.
On the other hand, what are the “worst” foods to eat on a weight loss plan?
Anything processed, fried, battered, or super-sized obviously makes this list. Less obviously are “healthy” junk food alternatives like gluten-free cookies, trail mix, fancy-flavored yogurt, almond milk ice cream, and most juices or smoothies. Because these products are marketed as “healthy,” we tend to ignore the fact that we’re eating a box of cookies. Organic sugar is still sugar. And it will make you fat, just like the regular stuff.
That said, eating a cookie (regular, or gluten-free) won’t derail your weight loss efforts, as long as it doesn’t push you over your maintenance calories. The key to weight loss is creating a caloric deficit. Beyond that, what you chose to eat is a matter of personal preference.
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