Dieting doesn't have to mean a boiled chicken breast on undressed iceberg lettuce—really! Some of the most mouthwatering foods around can help you shed pounds and improve your health. Even better? You can fill your shopping cart with these tasty items and never break the bank.
Here are 24 treats dietitians love—not only because these picks offer amazing (and proven) health benefits but also because they taste great. Read on to learn the smart, delicious ways you can add them to your diet every day.
Almonds: One of these nuts contains just 7 calories and is crammed with protein and fat (the heart-healthy monounsaturated variety). This powerful combination prevents the blood-sugar fluctuations that can lead to overeating.
Eat them: Raw—whole as a snack or slivered atop salads.
Avocados: This fruit is a great source of slowly digested monounsaturated fat, which releases hormones that help you feel fuller longer. That might be why researchers found that people on reduced-calorie diets that included avocados were able to lose as much weight as those who reduced-calorie diets were avocado-free.
Eat them: Diced on baked potatoes.
Olive oil: It's filled with potent antioxidants that naturally nip inflammation, the cellular damage that contributes to the development of chronic disease. The condiment also is brimming with monounsaturated fat, which helps target belly flab.
Eat it: Mixed with vinegar, salt and pepper for a classic salad dressing.
Eggs: Two large eggs contain a whopping 12 grams of figure-friendly protein—more than a quarter of your daily needs. In fact, an International Journal of Obesity study found that women who had an egg-based breakfast every day lost more than twice as much weight as those who started their day with just a bagel.
Eat them: Poached over whole-grain toast or hard-boiled as a snack.
Greek yogurt: Not many foods can top this one when it comes to energy-boosting, diet-friendly protein. A 7-ounce serving of this tangy treat delivers about 20 grams of protein. (That's on par with half a chicken breast.)
Eat it: Drizzled with honey or used as a replacement for mayonnaise in tuna salad.
Quinoa: This crunchy grain is packed with protein—about 8 grams per cooked cup—making it especially satisfying. What's more, quinoa is a stellar source of magnesium, a mineral that has been shown to improve sleep.
Eat it: With any dish that you'd normally pair with pasta or rice.
Lean ground beef: Hamburger gets a bad rap, but if you choose a pack that's 85 to 95 percent lean, it can help you shed pounds. How? Its protein naturally preserves muscle mass, experts say, and the more muscle you have, the more efficiently your body burns calories. Australian researchers recently found that women who ate lean red meat six times per week lost about 25 percent more weight than those who skimped on it.
Eat it: In spaghetti sauce.
Pork: People who dined on pork reported filling more full afterward than those who ate other kinds of food, researchers at Purdue University in Indiana found. The reason: A 3-ounce serving of lean pork contains just 122 calories but 22 grams of satiating protein.
Eat it: Ground in meatballs or in chili.
Apples: One medium apple is packed with more than 4 grams of filling fiber. No surprise, then, that Penn State University researchers discovered that people who ate an apple before a meal consumed 15 percent fewer calories than those who didn't. Bonus: Apples are a strong source of disease-fighting antioxidants.
Eat them: Whole or chopped, sprinkled with cinnamon and microwaved for a minute to make a low-calorie apple pie—like treat.
Oatmeal: Whether you choose instant or old-fashioned, oats have one of the highest satiety rankings of any breakfast option. This whole-grain food is digested more slowly than most other carbohydrates, keeping blood sugar even and staving off that "I'm so hungry I could eat the fridge" feeling. One cup contains 8 grams of fiber, about a third of your daily needs.
Eat it: Cooked and topped with fruit or added raw to meat-loaf mix.
Black beans: They're high in satisfying protein and provide a heaping dose of fiber and complex carbohydrates. Bonus: Fiber helps move food through your digestive system more efficiently—which can help prevent constipation.
Eat them: Atop a taco salad or mixed into fresh salsa.
Lentils: These legumes are a solid source of soluble fiber, which binds to bad cholesterol, helping to remove it from the body. Numerous studies show that such fiber is a powerful weight-loss aid that fills you up, curbs cravings and helps keep people from overeating. Also, a cup of lentils exceeds your required daily amount of folate— a B vitamin that might reduce the risk of breast cancer in some women.
Eat them: Cooked, as a side with grilled chicken or fish.
Clementines: At 35 calories each, they're a smart way to satisfy your sweet tooth. Because they're rich in vitamin C, which improves skin tone, they boost beauty and help ward off colds.
Eat them: Solo as a snack.
Grapefruit: The famous diet food actually lives up to its hype. In addition to being low in calories (a half grapefruit contains 37), this morning staple may banish bloat and constipation. Grapefruit also has hefty stores of vitamin C, which has been shown to fight off free-radical damage, reducing the risk of heart disease.
Eat it: Cut into slices and mixed with other citrus for a tangy fruit cocktail.
Salmon: This seafood superstar is one of the foods highest in omega-3 fatty acids. Best known for improving heart and brain health, omega-3s also have a slimming effect. Studies show they help the body build and maintain more lean muscle mass and thus shed fat faster.
Eat it: Canned (it's cheaper than fresh).
Sardines: Don't overlook these tiny canned fish. They're less expensive than fresh fish (think cod and tilapia), yet still high in protein (one can contains about half your daily requirement). Plus, they're packed with omega-3 essential fatty acids which, along with protein, can aid weight loss.
Eat them: On top of whole-grain crackers or tossed in a salad.
Kale: At 34 calories per raw chopped cup, this dark leafy green will barely make a dent in your daily calorie count—but because it's full of antioxidants, it can make a big difference in your health. Plus, one study found that women who ate a diet filled with water-rich produce such as kale lost 23 percent more weight than those who didn't. Experts say those foods fill you up better than other picks, quashing the urge to nosh later.
Eat it: Sautéed in 1 teaspoon olive oil.
Spinach: Raw spinach contains a mere 7 calories per cup. Plus, a cup of fresh spinach contains almost 200 percent of the daily recommended vitamin K, which helps improve bone health.
Eat it: Added to sandwiches for extra crunch.
Blueberries: There is less than one calorie in a blueberry, yet these tiny treats have the highest antioxidant level of any fruit, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture research.
Eat them: Alone or folded into pancake or muffin batter.
Green tea: This drink has been tied to everything from a reduced cancer risk to a longer life, and some studies show that its catechins— potent disease-fighting plant chemicals— give your metabolism a slight boost, helping your body burn calories.
Drink it:Hot or cold with a drizzle of honey.
Pomegranates: The seeds and red pulp are loaded with folic acid and disease-fighting antioxidants. One large pomegranate has only about 235 calories, making it a good-for-you snack.
Eat them: Alone, or sprinkle the seeds on a salad for a crunchy kick.
Popcorn: People who eat popcorn consume 250 percent more hunger-curbing whole grains than people who don't snack on it, suggest recent data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. One caveat: Skip move theater popcorn, which can pack up to 300 calories per cup thanks to the butter topping and the palm oil it's cooked in. Make your own air-popped corn instead (a cup is just 30 calories).
Eat it: Sprinkled with cinnamon for a sweet treat or with chili powder for a spicy one.
Parmesan: Women who eat a daily serving of whole-milk products, such as most cheese, tend to weigh less than those who always opt for fat-free dairy, studies show. Experts credit the conjugated linoleic acid in whole-milk dairy. Scientists say that CLA might help the body maintain more muscle mass, helping people burn more calories. Bonus: This cheese's sharp flavor means you don't need a lot of it to feel satisfied.
Eat it: Sprinkled over roasted vegetables.
Chili peppers: These spicy veggies contain capsaicin, a compound unique to chiles that has been shown to boost metabolism.
Eat them: Chopped and sautéed (cooked chiles tend to be gentler on the palate) and added to tacos, stews and salsas.