For most of us, losing weight is simply about reducing our calories and increasing our level of physical activity. We need healthful, nutrient-rich substitutions to replace the higher-calorie foods that we love but should avoid when trying to optimize our health. Here’s a look at some of the most helpful healthy foods to lose weight.
1. Spinach in salads, shakes and wraps
Non-starchy vegetables like spinach, arugula and lettuce are diet freebies and can be eaten in unlimited portions. Spinach is one of those superfoods that is packed with vitamins and minerals for increasing your overall health.
One cup of boiled spinach has 5 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber and loads of vitamin A, calcium, vitamin C and iron. The boiling process increases the protein, fiber and nutrients, but fresh spinach also houses helpful doses of all of those components.
When losing weight, be sure to substitute spinach and other mixed salad greens whenever you can. Planning on serving shrimp laid on a bed of rice? Cut out the rice and use fresh spinach instead. Craving bean burritos? Use large spinach leaves as the wraps instead of tortillas. Wanting a yummy milkshake? Don’t even think about a calorie-rich ice cream: blend fresh spinach leaves, carrots, berries and almond milk for a healthful drink that can keep you on track.
2. Zucchini instead of pasta, bread bowls and other starches
One medium-sized zucchini has 2 grams of fiber, almost 2.5 grams of protein and a lovely offering of potassium, folic acid and vitamin A. Zucchini is a great diet freebie not only because of the nutrients it offers but also because of what the useful veggie can substitute for. The composition of the summer squash makes it great for stuffing, baking, frying and transforming into a variety of different shapes.
Whether you want to replace bread bowls, pastas, potatoes or other starchy options, zucchini can be your new go-to pick. Dying for lasagna? Use slices of zucchini in place of layered noodles. Want a nice spaghetti dinner but can’t afford the calories? Pick up a vegetable noodle slicer that conveniently transforms the simple veggie into a pasta-like offering.
Scoop the insides out to make a zucchini soup bowl or fry some slices in a pan with a tad of olive oil for a French-fry replacement. Get creative and ask yourself: could zucchini replace that ingredient? The answer may be “yes” much more often than you’ve previously realized.
3. Almonds instead of sugary protein bars and unhealthy on-the-go snacks
Almonds are one of the most delicious nuts and mistakenly get a bad rap for being too fatty of a choice when you’re on a diet. A serving of 100 grams of whole almonds does have 14 grams of fat, but there is no trans fat and only 1.1 grams of the total fat is saturated. The bulk of the fat grams comes from monounsaturated fat and the rest is polyunsaturated, both being considered good types that help lower your cholesterol.
This sized serving still has 163 calories so I’m not saying it can be considered a diet freebie, but with 6 grams of protein, 3.5 grams of fiber, no cholesterol and lots of iron, calcium and magnesium, almonds are a great snack to keep in your purse when you’re on the go. The portability of almonds provides a great alternative to packaged protein bars that are often full of the wrong kinds of fats as well as unwanted servings of sodium and added sugar.
One other crucial benefit almonds provide dieters with is the access to almond milk, which you can make yourself by crushing almonds and water in a blender or you can buy it prepackaged.
Locate a natural option with pure almonds and no added sweeteners, which will likely be around 30 calories for a full cup. If you’re making protein shakes, vegetable juice blends and other snacks and meals that require a creamy liquid base, almond milk can be your new best friend.
4. Shrimp instead of fatty meats & hard-to-portion proteins
A 100-gram serving of cooked shrimp, which is roughly 3.5 ounces, has around 100 calories, .3 grams of fat, 24 grams of protein and plenty of vitamins and minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Shrimp does have cholesterol, but since it doesn’t have any significant saturated fat, having .1 grams per serving, the ratio of good to bad cholesterol in your body can actually be improved by eating shrimp making it a good source of protein when eaten in moderation.
The tasty seafood is especially helpful when you feel like you’ll die if you’re forced to eat another serving of chicken or turkey. When sticking to a diet, variety is often the key to success so you don’t get burnt out by eating the same exact meal over and over. Shrimp helps add diversity, even if you end up using it to top the same kind of veggie salad you would’ve eaten otherwise.
Since you can simply buy frozen shrimp and dethaw a serving at a time in water, you don’t even need to worry about finding a diet-friendly cooking oil or wasting food because the package won’t stay fresh in the time you can eat the product.
5. Lemons instead of salad dressings, high-calorie meat marinades & sugary drinks
In addition to providing a great amount of vitamin C, lemons actually have some fiber, protein, iron, calcium and potassium.
Many weight-loss programs advise dieters to not even count the calories of fruits eaten only in moderation, but even if you were to count the calories, a regular-sized lemon has around 20 calories, a tablespoon of lemon juice has around 3 calories and a lemon wedge has around 2 calories, making this fruit a real freebie even if you are tallying the content of other options like bananas and apples.
Most of us are probably disinterested in just chowing down on a lemon, but the juice can instantly take a boring, diet-friendly snack or meal to the next level. You should be drinking around 10 glasses of water a day. If you’re used to drinking sodas and other sugary drinks, switching to plain water for the whole day can feel like a huge downgrade. But, it’s amazing what a little lemon wedge thrown into a cup of water can do. If you’re avoiding sweeteners, just keep the drink to lemon and water, but if you’re itching for another option, throw in your favorite no-calorie sweetener every once in a while.
Lemon juice, by itself or with a little bit of olive oil, also makes a great salad dressing. You may prefer a thick and creamy option, but you’ll pay for the calories and fat. If you can convince yourself of the benefits, simply sprinkle some lemon juice over your sensible veggie salad, but if you really want a more pleasing option every now and then, go ahead and use a teaspoon of olive oil as well. A teaspoon has around 40 calories and 4.5 grams of fat, but only .6 grams of that is from saturated fat.
When baking fish, chicken and other lean proteins, don’t forget to use lemon juice and black pepper to act as a nice marinade along with any other seasoning freebies like paprika, onion powder or sage. You can soak the meats in true marinade fashion, or you can simply sprinkle some lemon juice and your favorite spices on top of the fillets that you’ve placed on top of an aluminum-foil-lined baking sheet and that are ready to go into the oven.