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Best Foods to Eat for Weight Loss: Three Steps to Transform Your Diet Today

A breakdown of the best foods to eat for weight loss, based on scientific research and patient experiences, with a 3-step process to get started today!

This post breaks down the best foods to eat for weight loss, based on current scientific consensus and the experiences I’ve had working with patients for the past 8 years.

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All Diets Have ONE Thing in Common

DIET- did I eat that

The media is obsessed with promoting new diet trends. In recent years, we’ve heard testimonies from people who have found success with keto, whole 30, paleo, intermittent fasting, and Weight Watchers.

On the one hand, I’m happy to support any approach that works for a particular person. If you’ve found a “diet” that has allowed you to find a way of eating that supports your weight management goals and feels sustainable long-term, that’s amazing- keep going with it!

But, I’m also a skeptic about trendy diets, because they all boil down to one thing:

Cutting down on ultra-processed junk foods.

No matter which approach you follow, one of the main changes you’ll be asked to make is to reduce how often you eat ultra-processed foods (like white bread, fast foods, packaged snacks like chips, and desserts). Cutting down on ultra-processed foods will then encourage you to eat more whole foods like vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains.

And that’s the formula for EVERY diet, which is why they all can “work.”

What the Science Says

Trendy diets aside, there has been a significant amount of research looking at which types of foods are best for steady weight loss progress.

Low Fat vs. Low Carb

a low carb low fat meal

Regarding the discussion of low-fat versus low-carbohydrate eating plans, a low-fat (higher carb) eating plan has been found to be best for weight loss in people with normal glucose metabolism, meaning people without conditions like type 1 or type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, or PCOS (Astrup & Hjorth, 2017). Low-carb (and higher fat) eating plans seem to lead to more weight loss among people with prediabetes, diabetes, and PCOS (Astrup & Hjorth, 2017). However, given that many people have insulin resistance or undiagnosed prediabetes, a low-carb approach may be a better starting place for weight loss (Bazzano et al., 2014).

Protein: The Macronutrient with the Most Scientific Support

protein as part of a healthy meal as an example of the best foods to eat for weight loss

One point that seems to be agreed upon across the majority of scientific studies is that protein is the most important macronutrient for weight loss. A 2020 review of scientific studies by Moon and Koh found that protein helps with weight loss by:

  • being satisfying, keeping you fuller for longer between meals and snacks
  • helping preserve your muscle mass as you lose weight
  • keeping your metabolism functioning efficiently, to reduce the metabolic adaptations that occur with weight loss
  • preventing weight regain after weight loss, making your progress stick long-term
  • reducing the likelihood of developing diet-related diseases, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease

These powerful benefits observed in research studies have also been echoed by many patients I’ve had the privilege of working with over the past 8 years. Protein is the key to feeling full, combatting your cravings, and preserving your metabolism as you use weight and keep it off for life.

My Three-Step Process for Transforming Your Diet

Understanding what all diets have in common and considering the scientific studies, I believe there are three steps that will have the greatest impact on transforming your diet.

Step #1: Cut Down on Ultra-Processed Foods

dog looking at french fries

The step that every “diet” you may have read about has in common, and there’s a reason for it. Ultra-processed foods like white bread, fast food, packaged snacks like chips, and desserts are not only high in calories but have added amounts of fat and sugar that are so rewarding they actually cause cravings.

But, I understand that these foods are so saturated within our society and culture that it is not practical to avoid them completely. The best ways to cut down on ultra-processed foods are to:

  1. Plan when you will enjoy them versus when you will skip them— you may always want to enjoy your grandmother’s chocolate chip cookies, but maybe you could skip the stale donuts in the office break room.
  2. Slowly stop purchasing them or clear out your pantry— your home environment is where you have the most control, so set yourself up for success. If I kept my favorite candy in my pantry all of the time, I would eat way more of it than I want to. This isn’t an issue of willpower, it’s an environmental trigger you can avoid.
  3. Find substitutions you enjoy— when you’re cutting down on ultra-processed foods, make sure to find replacements that you actually like and would want to eat.

Examples of Substitutions for Ultra-Processed Foods

Step #2: Power Up with Protein

salmon and vegetables as an example of a high-protein

Begin including protein with every meal and snack. Examples of foods that are high in protein are:

  • Eggs (especially the egg white, I love to do a combination of eggs and liquid egg whites)
  • Poultry like chicken and turkey
  • Pork
  • Red meat like bison (very lean!), ground beef (look for 90/10), steak (sirloin and filet are lean cuts), and lamb
  • Seafood, such as shrimp, scallops, salmon, tuna, tilapia, cod, and squid
  • Tofu and seitan
  • Plant-based protein sources like quinoa, chickpeas, edamame, lentils
  • Protein supplements

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Step #3: Ramp Up the Volume of Your Meals with Vegetables

vegetables and fruits

One of the keys to a sustainable way of eating is to find ways to maximize the calories you can eat and still lose weight. The best way to do this is to add in foods with a low calorie density, meaning that you can eat a large portion of the food for a modest amount of calories.

This is where vegetables take center stage.

Think of it this way, for 400 calories, you can enjoy a giant bowl of roasted vegetables with 6oz of grilled chicken, or a single piece of banana bread from a coffee shop— which do you think will keep YOU feeling full and satisfied, and which will have you craving more sugar in an hour?

Your goal is to find ways to add vegetables to the high-protein base of your meals and snacks to help you enjoy a larger portion size for the calories you’re eating. You can do this by:

  • Adding vegetables to dishes you currently make
    • Including one red onion and two red peppers with one pound of ground chicken when you make taco meat
    • Putting a handful of spinach in a blended protein shake
    • Substituting half of the rice in a dish for cauliflower rice
  • Make vegetable egg scrambles, soups, and salads 
    • These dishes provide you with a yummy, vegetable-rich base
  • Finding ways of preparing vegetables that you truly enjoy

Another resource I love in the era of online grocery shopping is Amazon Fresh. Amazon Fresh will deliver vegetables (fresh or frozen!) and all your other grocery needs to your door within 2 hours in most locations.

What is One Step You’re Willing to Take TODAY?

You’re reading this because you want to learn how to change the way you eat to maximize the best foods to eat for weight loss. Of the three steps I described (cutting down on ultra-processed foods, powering up with protein, and ramping up the volume of your meals with vegetables), which step could you start with today

Don’t underestimate the power of taking that first step. Perhaps you’re willing to clean out your pantry, substitute high-quality dark chocolate for your typical dessert, find a protein shake or protein bar supplement you love, or commit to having more vegetables at your next meal. If the thought of cooking feels overwhelming, consider using a meal delivery service to help you get started.

Dr. Schulte’s Summary:

Every single “diet” can work because they all share one thing in common: cutting down on ultra-processed foods. Beyond this, the science shows that following a high-protein diet is best for weight loss and maintaining your progress long-term. Some studies have also found that a lower carbohydrate diet may be beneficial for people with insulin resistance or conditions like prediabetes, diabetes, or PCOS.

The three steps to begin transforming the way you eat are:

  1. Cut down on ultra-processed junk foods
  2. Increase the amount of protein in your diet
  3. Eat larger portion sizes for fewer calories by adding vegetables to every meal and snack

What is one small change you will commit to making right now? Drop me a comment below!

References

Astrup, A., & Hjorth, M. F. (2017). Low-fat or low carb for weight loss? It depends on your glucose metabolism. EBioMedicine22, 20-21.

Bazzano, L. A., Hu, T., Reynolds, K., Yao, L., Bunol, C., Liu, Y., … & He, J. (2014). Effects of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets: a randomized trial. Annals of internal medicine161(5), 309-318.

Moon, J., & Koh, G. (2020). Clinical Evidence and Mechanisms of High-Protein Diet-Induced Weight Loss. Journal of obesity & metabolic syndrome29(3), 166–173. https://doi.org/10.7570/jomes20028

Disclaimer: all opinions are my own and are not affiliated with my employers. Please seek medical guidance before pursuing weight loss or making significant changes to the way you eat or your physical activity routine.

4 replies on “Best Foods to Eat for Weight Loss: Three Steps to Transform Your Diet Today”

I really enjoyed the post. Some of the points you have raised are very interesting. Is that vegetarians also can weight lose? Some of my friends want to lose weight  and decide to become vegetarians. I will share your article with others as its extremely informative and useful and I know lots of people who need to read it 🙂

Hi Evelyn, great question! Yes, vegetarians can be successful in losing weight. The most important things to keep in mind would be 1) enjoying vegetarian sources of protein like tofu and 2) eating plenty of vegetables! I know some vegetarians who eat mostly processed foods, which makes weight loss very difficult. Focus on whole foods! 🙂 

You highlight the most important reason that fad diets help so many people and they tend to get great results at least initially: removing processed foods! This is crucial to any diet. Processed foods are the cause of so many health problems so I appreciate that you’re spreading the message. Protein is also important because it’s the very building blocks of our bodies! I had been doing a low-fat, high-carb, whole food plant-based diet for decades because I thought it was the healthiest way to eat. I was also vegan for a few years. However, I still had health issues that seemed to get worse. When I changed my diet by eating more fat and protein and cutting down on carbohydrates and foods that I’m sensitive to – it’s made all the difference in the world! I wasn’t getting the nutrition from the food I was eating because you need dietary fat to absorb it. And the vegan sources of vitamins weren’t bioavailable. I hope that everyone that comes across your article really starts to focus on getting the junk out of their diets. 

I appreciate you sharing your story! It is incredibly important to do these experiments to your diet to figure out which foods truly work best to promote your health and energy levels. The bioavailability of vitamins is also an essential topic that isn’t talked about enough. I think you gave me an idea for an upcoming blog post! 🙂 

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