Updated: Aug 22, 2020
As some of you may have already read in My Story (accessed from the home page), freshman year of college didn't treat me so well. Actually, to correctly rephrase that: I didn't treat me so well my freshman year of college. I ate like crap, looked like crap, and felt like crap. Believe it or not the photo on the left is one of the best ones taken of me during that time because I completely obliterated any and all photos that actually showed how big I was. Since then my relationship with food has changed.. a lot.. and I am SO excited to share some of my favorite foods that helped me drop over 50 pounds!
Okay, yes, I know. Reading that title you either said "duh" out loud or in your head. It's no secret that vegetables are primo when it comes to weight loss but, as someone who would rather not eat boring raw veggies at every meal, here's some ways I incorporate them into my dishes.
Omelettes. Adding diced veggies to breakfast omelettes is a great way to skip out on the saturated fat found in cheese and bacon while not missing out on any flavor and getting a boost on your vitamins and minerals.
Sandwiches. When I'm trying to reduce my caloric intake, lettuce wraps are often my go-to in place of bread. Several chain-restaurants are also now offering lettuce buns/wraps as bread alternatives on their menus which expands healthy eating options while dining out! I tend to add bell pepper, cucumber, tomato, black olives, and onion to all of my sandwiches as they add volume to my meal without any extra calories and keep me feeling full longer (get used to me saying that.) They also add tons of flavor so I don't even miss the mayo!
Soups. One thing I am very excited to eventually share on this blog is my love for the instant pot. During the winter months I especially look forward to using it to make one of my all time favorite comfort foods: vegetable soup. After discovering that most canned soups and vegetables contain insane amounts of sodium I began freezing fresh vegetables while they're in season (shoutout to my Dad's garden) so I can spare my blood pressure during the winter months. In traditionally broth or cream based soups I like to emulsify these vegetables into the base or sometimes just cook them in for texture.
Sauces. Just like in soups, pureeing vegetables into the base for my sauces is one of my favorite ways to ensure I'm getting enough fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Butternut squash can create a delicious and silky alternative to the traditional cheese sauce in mac and cheese and packing blended zucchini and mushrooms into fresh marinara is better than any jarred pasta sauce on the market.
2. Lean Meats
If you're trying to lose weight, protein will (and should) become your very best friend. It keeps you full much longer than carbs or fat and burns more calories during its digestion. Meats are a great source of protein, however, high fat meats like beef, pork, and lamb are full of saturated and trans fats which put you at an increased risk for heart disease. Opting for lean cuts of meat gives you the same amount of protein per ounce while cutting out the extra fat and calories making them a great option for weight loss. Some of my favorite lean meats are skinless chicken breast, turkey, and haddock. Ground turkey is a great alternative to ground beef and goes well in scrambled eggs, tacos, meatballs, salads, and brown rice bowls. On occasion I still purchase a pound of ground beef for certain dishes but, when I do, I make sure it's at least 93% lean. Just switching from 80% to 95% lean ground beef can save you 12.7 g of fat (5.8g saturated) per 3oz.
3. Low Calorie Fruits
Fresh fruits are high in volume, packed with nutrients, and great for weightless because you can get full on fewer calories when eating them. Not all fruits are created equal, though, as some are full of sugar and consequently higher in calories. Some of my favorite low calorie fruits are strawberries, peaches, honeydew, watermelon, apples, blackberries, oranges, and plums. They go great in whole grain cereals, oatmeal, smoothies, yogurt, and more. Fruit's high fiber content not only helps to curb hunger but also slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream improving blood sugar levels.
4. Greek Yogurt
Greek Yogurt is full of protein and has significantly less sugar, carbs, and calories than regular yogurt. I buy mine plain to keep it as minimally processed as possible and add my own mix-ins at home. Whole grain granola, honey, chia seeds, and fresh fruit are just a few great options that add both flavor and fiber. Greek yogurt also makes a great base for smoothies or homemade fro-yo, and by using some ranch seasoning, you can turn it into a delicious veggie dip without the extra fat or calories of sour cream. I also use it in dressings like honey mustard or ranch to spare the mayonnaise and save up to 90 calories per tablespoon - crazy, I know! Greek yogurt has been proven to curb hunger and provides a high concentration of Calcium in each serving (nearly 20% of our daily recommended intake!) It has been an absolute staple in my fridge for weight loss and provides many health benefits from reducing inflammation to boosting your immune system with it's probiotics.
5. Whole Grains
Whole grains are another great choice for weight loss as they contain both fiber and protein, however, many products on grocery store shelves claiming to be "whole grain" only provide you with 20-50% of a serving of whole grain. If a food is actually 100% whole grain, it should contain about 3g of fiber per 100 calories and whole grain or whole wheat flour should be the first ingredient listed in its ingredient list. Be careful to not confuse "wheat flour" with "whole wheat flour" (it may also be listed as enriched wheat flour, unbleached wheat flour, or fortified wheat flour.) Wheat flour is what all bread is made out of (minus gluten-free) and although it's not necessarily unhealthy, any product containing it is NOT completely whole grain.
100% whole grains can also either be unprocessed (whole) or processed (ground into a flour.) Processed whole grains are used in crackers, bread, pretzels, and chips and are much more dense in calories. I tend to avoid these as they actually contain about 3x more calories than unprocessed grains.
To give you a better understanding, whole grain pretzels contain anywhere from 1200-1800 calories per pound while rolled oats typically contain about 500 calories per pound. Processed whole grains are still nutritious but, because of their calorie content, can be easy to overindulge on. Another reason unprocessed whole grains are better for weight loss is because they are typically cooked in water giving them more volume for zero extra calories (think brown rice.) This is why I find myself much fuller after one bowl of oatmeal than I do one slice of whole grain bread.
Packed with protein and satiating fat, eggs are a great nutrient dense option for breakfast that will keep you feeling full for hours. Many people tend to steer away from whole eggs because of their cholesterol content, however, studies show that they do not have the same negative effects as trans and saturated fats. What can put you at an increased risk for heart disease, however, is what you pair your eggs with or how you cook them as pork sausage, bacon, ham, certain oils, and butter are all full of saturated fats. In the mornings, I typically pair my eggs with a single slice of whole grain bread and some fresh fruit but when cutting my calories I just go for the whites.
Low in calories yet full of fiber, spinach, particularly baby spinach (my favorite), has helped add volume and many micronutrients to my dishes without any extra calories. One cup contains only 7 calories yet provides you with protein, vitamin A, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. I add a handful to my smoothies, scrambled eggs, soups, pastas, and salads and freeze what I don't eat to use later in other dishes. It is just another great food that has added volume to my meals without many extra calories!
8. Powdered Peanut Butter
Although the fat in nut butters are primarily unsaturated and heart healthy in nature, I have found that opting for powdered peanut butter is a great way to cut excess calories out of your diet and promote weight loss. While I don't recommend throwing out regular nut butters altogether, if you're anything like me, you may be spreading on double or triple the recommended serving size every time you open the jar. And because nut butters are a calorie dense food, over time, extra tablespoons could easily stall weight loss or even cause some weight gain. This is why I implement both options into my diet meaning while I still reach for my favorite creamy peanut butter when making a PB&J, powdered nut butters mix easily into my fruit dip, oatmeal, smoothies, and baked goods, helping keep my snacks lighter. It's also been helpful for me to remember that one tablespoon is about the size of my thumb!
9. Bean and Vegetable Pastas
Versatile, affordable, and easy: all great reasons as to why flour based pasta was a staple in my pantry before changing my eating habits. I know many people associate pasta with being "fattening" and "loaded with carbs" but like anything, it isn't a bad food when eaten in moderation. The problem with this, however, is, again, that most people do not abide by the recommended pasta serving size of 2 oz (guilty!) Although delicious, it never curbed my hunger for very long and contains little nutritional value as it's mostly empty carbs. I first tried frozen zucchini noodles in an effort to find a more nutritious alternative with fewer calories but was only disappointed at the sad slimy blob I got after microwaving. Then one day, I came across the spaghetti squash *cue angelic noises*. I'm not sure if I was more amazed at the silky noodles I could scrape out of it so easily or the fact that I could enjoy spaghetti and meatballs again with this high-fiber nutrient packed pasta alternative. To compare, one cup of cooked spaghetti noodles has 200 calories and 40g of carbs while one cup of spaghetti squash noodles has just 40 calories and 10g of carbs. Now, I know that sometimes there is simply not enough time, or patience, to cut, cook, and scrape a spaghetti squash before dinner which is why chickpea pasta is another amazing option I've used. It cooks the same as pasta, has double the protein, four times the fiber, and almost half the net carbs. Plus I have been able to find Banza brand chickpea penne, rigatoni, and spaghetti pasta at my local grocery store for less than $2 a box.
Although I've already mentioned whole grains, I think that popcorn is well deserving of it's own category in this list. Now, yes, popcorn has gotten a bad wrap in the past because of the unpronounceable ingredients and gallons of butter pumped into it at the movie theatres. But as it's high in fiber, protein, and antioxidants, it's a great health food, especially when purchased organically. Also, because it's airy, three cups of most popcorn only contains about 100 calories (the same amount you'd get in 9.5 Lays, 8 Doritos, or 13 Cheetos.) However, one thing to watch out for is that some brands add flavorings to their popcorn that can significantly raise the calorie and fat content making it a not-so-smart snack - think white cheddar and caramel corn.
Just be sure to check the Nutrition Label before buying and opt for a bag whose only ingredients are "organic popcorn" and a healthy oil such as sunflower seed!