By Julie Meyer, R.D.
Looking for a miracle diet food? It’s time to call off the search — there’s no such thing. “If you take in more calories than you expend, you gain weight,” says David Katz, M.D., of the Yale Prevention Research Center in Derby, Connecticut. “It’s simple biology, and no milkshake or mackerel can save you from that fate.”
But before you throw in the towel, there are certain foods that promote satiety (the feeling of fullness that comes after a meal) more than others. While they’re not miracle foods, they can help you eat less over the course of the day. “When you’re looking for foods that are going to keep you fuller for longer, look for ones high in fiber, healthy fats and protein, or with a high water content,” says Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Penn State University and author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan. “The additional benefit is that a lot of these foods are also really good for you and packed with important nutrients, vitamins and minerals.”
An apple a day may keep the fat pants away, too. This portable fruit is the perfect snack, with a high water content and both kinds of weight-busting fiber: soluble, which helps prevent blood sugar spikes that lead to cravings, and insoluble, which helps fill you up. “A medium apple is about 85 percent water with 5 grams of soluble fiber, making it a snacking powerhouse,” says Elisa Zied, M.S., same calorie level. To sweeten the pot, apples also contain quercetin, a flavonoid shown to help fight certain cancers, reduce cholesterol damage and promote healthy lungs.
TIP: Organic apples are worth the extra cost because commercial apples retain more pesticide residue than fruits you peel, such as oranges or bananas. And with half the fiber and most of the iron, magnesium and vitamin C, you definitely want to eat that peel to get the full slimming benefits.
“When you are trying to lose weight, non-starchy vegetables such as cauliflower are one of the few foods that can be eaten in unlimited quantities,” says Dr. Rolls. It’s good for you, too. Cauliflower contains the cancer-fighting phytonutrient sulforaphane, as well as a good amount of folate and vitamin C, which may be helpful for weight loss. In fact, a review from Purdue University pointed to vitamin C status as a key factor in how much fat is burned during physical activity. All that and it’s pretty tasty, too. (If you’re not a cauliflower fan, try spinach or broccoli.)
TIP: Eating your vegetables raw will also give you the nutrients which would otherwise be destroyed when cooked.
Mom didn’t know how right she was: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day — just eating it can make you slimmer. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley analyzed a national six-year survey and found that people who ate breakfast had a lower body mass index (BMI) than people who skipped breakfast, and that those who ate cooked cereal had a lower BMI than any other breakfast-eating group. Also, oatmeal was ranked as the most satiating breakfast food on the Satiety Index, developed by Australian researchers a decade ago, and it’s the third most satiating food overall. “Oatmeal helps you stay fuller longer, since it’s packed with fiber and is a good source of protein,” says Dr. Katz.
TIP: If you don’t have time for cooked oatmeal every morning, make muesli by mixing old- fashioned oats with plain yogurt, dried fruit and fruit juice and leaving it in the fridge overnight.
Almonds and walnuts have been getting all the glory these days, but don’t discredit peanuts, the most commonly eaten nut in America. Researchers at Purdue University found that peanut eaters end up eating less over the course of the whole day and are more likely to maintain weight, even if given as many peanuts as they want. So what is it about peanuts? Is it the protein? The fat? Turns out it’s a little bit of everything. “We’ve tried to isolate different components of the nut to determine what makes it so filling,’ says Richard Mattes, Ph.D., a nut researcher at Purdue. “But there is something special about the whole package.”
TIP: Calories do count, so look for single-serving sizes at convenience stores and drugstores.
We all know soup is good food, but who knew it was slimming, too? A recent study published in the journal Obesity Research found that adding two 10-ounce servings of broth-based soup to a weight loss diet each day can almost double the amount of weight lost in a six-month period. Why? Adding water into a food makes it more filling than drinking water separately. “The water in soup adds volume to a meal and helps you feel fuller, without extra calories,’ says Dr. Rolls, lead researcher on the study. “As a result, you take in fewer calories over the course of the day.”
TIP: Add your own veggies or fiber-rich beans to broth-based canned soup to keep you full longer.
You might be surprised to learn that fish tops oatmeal and vegetables in the satiety department. The Australian Satiety Index ranks steamed white fish such as halibut or cod as the number-one most filling food out of 38 common foods. Also, a new study from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden found that people ate 11 percent less at dinner after having fish for lunch versus those who ate a beef lunch. “This study demonstrated that a protein-rich lunch meal with fish protein reduced calorie intake compared with the same-calorie lunch meal of beef protein,” says lead researcher Saeedah Borzoei, Ph.D. Why is it so filling? “We are still learning about the filling properties of fish, but we do know that fish has a strong flavor, which can lead to greater satiety and less of a need to eat,” notes Dr. Katz.
TIP: To add some flavor to grilled fish, try a quick marinade of soy sauce, lime and ginger.
High-fiber grains are a great way to round out a meal, and fine-cut bulgur is easy to cook. Bulgur, which is a quick-cooking form of whole wheat, takes about 10 minutes or less to prepare once water is boiled and is a great substitute for white rice and pasta, which are low in fiber and heavily processed. “Fiber helps prolong the insulin response so you don’t have the blood sugar spikes you have with low-fiber carbohydrates like white pasta or rice,” says Dr. Katz. With all the good fiber comes some other benefits: iron and vitamins E and B6.
TIP: Find bulgur in health-food stores and organic markets. For a quick side dish, combine fine bulgur with chicken broth, diced canned tomatoes and some cooked onions.
When most people think of dieting, they think of salad. But if that means some sad greens topped with unripe tomatoes, it’s no wonder diets don’t work. “Salads are a great opportunity to add a lot of filling foods into your diet at one time: fresh vegetables, lean protein, beans and healthy fats,” says Dr. Rolls. And research backs it up. A study from Penn State University found that women who ate a salad before a pasta lunch ate fewer calories for the whole meal than those just digging into the pasta.
TIP: Start your salad with mesclun, arugula or spinach. Not only are these greens tastier than iceberg, they also contain more iron, calcium, vitamin C and folate.