10 of the best foods for weight loss

Introducing more nutritious foods can lead to sustainable and healthy weight loss, say nutritionists
Introducing more nutritious foods can lead to sustainable and healthy weight loss, say nutritionists

We all have a pretty good idea of the foods we should limit if we want to lose a few pounds: chocolate, biscuits, cake, chips, pizza – the list goes on. But we don’t give as much thought to the foods we should include in our diet to improve digestion, keep us full and boost metabolism – all of which helps us to reach a healthy weight.

“When it comes to weight loss, find ways to improve your overall health rather than extreme calorie restriction or fad diets,” says Rhiannon Lambert, nutritionist and founder of Rhitrition. “There are many fad diets that offer unsustainable quick fixes, resulting in most dieters putting the weight back on when they come off a diet.

“Instead, introduce more nutritious foods which can lead to sustainable and healthy weight loss. I always pose the question, ‘What can you add into your diet, rather than take out?’”

What makes a food ‘weight-loss friendly’?

On the most basic level, we lose weight when we use more energy than we consume. However, this only tells half the story. An increasing body of research indicates that our ability to lose weight – and keep it off – is also influenced by a number of complex chemical reactions which take place in the body. These determine metabolic function and fat storage, and control feelings of hunger and satiety, effectively governing our ability to resist a 3pm sugar fix.

Stress, activity levels, diet and lifestyle can all disrupt the way these hormones function – and evidence suggests that ultra-processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugar are particular culprits. But the good news is that there are other foods which can support these natural processes. For example, one study found that people with obesity have fewer bacteria in their gut, and research suggests that this can affect our ability to lose weight. So adding food to support the microbiome could help people to manage their weight.

If you like the idea of eating your way to a healthy weight, here are the foods the experts recommend:

Eating protein aids long-term weight loss, research suggests, and reduces the risk of regaining what you lose. Lean meat is a complete protein, which means it contains all the essential amino acids the body needs, without the high levels of saturated fats and sodium that are found in fatty and processed meats.

The expert opinion: “Protein is a cornerstone of a healthy diet, particularly for those aiming to lose weight,” says Lambert. “Lean protein sources are essential because they help build and repair muscle tissue, which in turn can increase your metabolism. Additionally, protein promotes satiety meaning it keeps you feeling fuller for longer and may help reduce overall calorie intake without the need for strict dieting.”

People who increased their consumption of leafy green vegetables automatically ate fewer ultra-processed and fried foods and sweets, one study found. They’re a great source of fibre, and help to establish a healthy microbiome which, in turn, affects the way the metabolism functions.

The expert opinion: “The high fibre content of leafy greens slows down digestion by slowing the emptying of the stomach and overall transit time of food through the digestive system. This keeps you feeling fuller for longer,” says Lambert. “Foods high in fibre also act to delay the release of sugar from the intestines into the blood. This reduces the dramatic spike then subsequent fall in blood glucose levels, often seen in foods high in sugars. A slower and steadier release of sugar into the blood also promotes satiety, reducing the feeling of hunger over a longer period of time.”

Oily fish is believed to have a number of benefits, from supporting heart health to reducing inflammation in the body. Researchers have also found that eating oily fish and seafood can improve insulin sensitivity and aid weight loss, and it may also help to reduce appetite by increasing feelings of fullness.

The expert opinion: “Oily fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and promote heart health,” says GQ Jordan, a nutritionist specialising in sustainable weight loss and hormonal balance. “Lowering inflammation can help regulate cortisol levels, a stress hormone that, when chronically elevated, can impair metabolic processes and contribute to weight gain. Omega-3s also improve insulin sensitivity, helping you use sugar more effectively and reducing fat storage.”

They might not be the most popular vegetables, but several studies indicate that eating more cruciferous vegetables can have numerous benefits to metabolic health, including improved insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation and decreased appetite.

The expert opinion: “These are high in fibre and contain sulforaphane, a compound that helps to reduce inflammation and support effective oestrogen detoxification,” explains Jordan. “This is beneficial for hormonal and metabolic balance, and for regulating appetite and fat storage.”

A number of studies suggest that eating tofu or soy protein can not only reduce body weight, but also reduce body fat and improve insulin resistance. It’s a unique form of plant protein as, just like meat and poultry, it’s considered a complete protein which contains all of the essential amino acids.

The expert opinion: “While people often think of white meat and fish when referring to lean protein, it’s also important to note that you do not have to eat meat to get enough protein in your diet,” says Lambert. “As an added benefit of consuming more plant-based protein, you will also be consuming a significantly higher amount of the fibre, vitamins and minerals and antioxidants found within plants.”

Sweet potatoes can not only keep you fuller for longer, evidence suggests, but they can also help to reduce body weight and prevent the formation of the visceral fat which forms around the organs and is linked to health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

The expert opinion: “These low glycaemic load (GL) foods provide steady, gradual energy, helping to stabilise blood sugar levels,” explains Jordan. “Stable blood sugars allow the body to release stored fat safely, promoting healthy weight loss and preventing energy crashes that can lead to overeating.”

Foods to try: Eat them baked, roasted or mashed as an alternative to white potatoes.

Recommended portion: One medium sweet potato (80g) counts as one of your five a day.

Beans and legumes are a fundamental part of the Mediterranean diet, and a number of studies suggest that beans can aid weight loss. One US study established a link between consumption of beans and legumes and a lower body weight and smaller waist circumference.

The expert opinion: “These are rich in protein and fibre, helping you feel fuller for longer and supporting gut health,” says Jordan. “A healthy gut is essential for a healthy metabolism, and these foods support beneficial gut bacteria. They also provide key nutrients such as iron, magnesium, and folate, supporting energy levels.”

Even though they are high in calories and (healthy) fat, a number of studies suggest that eating avocado could help you to lose weight. One study found that avocado consumption is linked to a reduction in abdominal fat, and another found that they contain nutrients and compounds which may reduce the risk of obesity.

The expert opinion: “Avocados are rich in healthy fats that lower bad cholesterol, improve heart health, and keep you feeling full, helping to prevent overeating,” says Jordan. “Healthy fats are vital for hormone production and balance which impacts weight management.”

Avocado
Avocados are versatile and rich in healthy fats - ArxOnt/Moment RF

This might come as a surprise if you’ve spent years eating only low-fat dairy, but delicious full-fat Greek yoghurt is associated with lower body mass index (BMI), lower body weight and a smaller waist circumference. Traditional Greek yoghurt is strained, which removes a lot of liquid making it thicker, creamier, and more protein-rich than regular yoghurt.

The expert opinion: “Greek yoghurt is an excellent source of protein and prebiotics, which support gut health,” says Lambert. “The high protein content helps with muscle maintenance and satiety, while probiotics aid in digestion and nutrient absorption.”

Although high in natural sugars, evidence suggests that fruit has an anti-obesity effect. One US study found that blueberries can help to burn body fat, other research suggests that raspberries can improve blood sugar control, and there’s some evidence that strawberries have a similar effect.

The expert opinion: “Berries such as blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are a great snack option as they are low in calories but high in fibre and antioxidants,” says Lambert. “They can satisfy sweet cravings while providing essential nutrients that support overall health. The fibre content helps regulate digestion and promotes a feeling of fullness.”

When you eat can help you lose weight

Jessie Inchauspé, biochemist and author of Glucose Revolution, believes that eating in a way that keeps glucose levels steady can also reduce cravings, control appetite and support the metabolism – all of which can aid weight loss.

“My glucose hacks don’t ask you to remove anything from your diet,” she says, “just to add in principles of timing and food combinations, in order to eat everything you love with fewer glucose spikes.

“When we reduce glucose spikes, a few things happen: first, cravings reduce because with steady glucose levels, the cravings centre of our brain doesn’t activate so often. Second, hunger also reduces as we stay satiated for longer. Finally, our insulin levels lower, which means our body naturally burns more fat for energy. This is great as it means we become more metabolically flexible. Losing fat mass is a common consequence of steadying our glucose levels, but it’s not the primary objective. And if weight loss happens in this context, it’s for the long run.”