If you’re looking to lose weight permanently or to maintain a healthy body weight, there are plenty of healthy ways to do so. One of these ways is to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Not only are they very filling, often low in calories, and generally low in fat—they also provide essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other nutritional components essential for good health. Which fruits and vegetables are best for weight loss? According to registered dietician Juliette Kellow, there is no specific answer: it is simply best to enjoy a wide variety daily.
You may be familiar with the concept that, to lose weight, you must eat fewer calories than your body uses. This may sound like you have to eat less food, but that is not necessarily true. For example, for the same number of calories as one (1 oz) serving of corn chips, you could eat a small apple, 1 cup of whole strawberries, AND 1 cup of carrots with ¼ cup of low-calorie dip (like hummus). You could easily substitute one or two of the aforementioned options for the chips and still have a satisfying snack with fewer calories.
Substituting some low calorie fruits and vegetables in place of higher-calorie ingredients can allow you to create lower-calorie versions of some of your favorite dishes. Lisa Lillien, aka Hungry Girl, is well-known for this concept. The water and fiber in the produce add volume so that you can eat the same amount of food but with fewer calories. Additionally, even if you do something as simple as pair a smaller serving of something that isn’t necessarily as healthy for you (say, a serving of chicken alfredo) with a larger serving of vegetables, the veggies will help fill you up but you will still get to eat some of the food you really love. Essentially, it’s a win-win scenario. That said, here are a few ideas for incorporating some different fruits and vegetables into your diet.
Portabello mushrooms. While quite large, there are only about 35 calories in one of them. In the words of Lisa Lillien, “even the leanest beef around isn’t as lean as a mushroom.” If you’re craving something meaty, try adding some mushrooms in place of a bit of the meat in your recipe. This can easily work for things like pasta, stews and chili, tacos, or even lasagna. If you’re feeling adventurous, try a vegan portabello steak.
Cauliflower. Pre-cooked cauliflower meshes well with dishes like macaroni and cheese and adds volume. It can even act as a partial substitute for rice or potatoes. Substitute some into your favorite mashed potato or risotto recipe to aid in cutting down on calories, and use the same trick for the topping of a shepherd’s pie.
Eggplant. This is good in ratatouille and also pairs well with saucy Italian dishes. Add some thick, lengthwise slices of eggplant to every other layer of your homemade lasagna will up your vegetable count and your satiety level.
Squash. Winter and summer squashes are great vegetables for bulking up dishes. Butternut squash is a lot like a sweet potato, but lighter and lower in starchy carbs. You can make fries or hash browns with it, mash it, or put it into stews. Spaghetti squash (about 42 calories per cup), when cooked, is an ideal alternative to actual spaghetti noodles. It’s delicious when paired with things like marinara sauce or chili.
Pumpkin. With about 40 calories per half cup, pure pumpkin puree is high in nutrients, full of fiber, and has a fantastic creamy but neutral flavor. This makes it good for both savory and sweet recipes.
Remember that you want to incorporate a wide variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet, so select whole foods that are an assortment of different colors. For example, rather than following a fad diet that has you eating mostly bananas, also try to incorporate other fruits such as apples, berries, melon, and oranges or grapefruit. If you’re interested in seeing how nutritional information compares (which fruits have the most fiber, what nutrients are present, etc.), there are databases with access to this information such as that of the USDA.
Keep in mind that whole fruits are more satiating than their dried counterparts or even fruit juices, and also tend to have fewer calories and less sugar. Consider the fact that a half-cup of raisins is about 246 calories (dried fruit is very calorie dense), a half-cup of juice is about 75 calories, and the same amount of grapes has only 31. Even if a beverage boasts additional vitamins and minerals (or that one serving has a certain number of fruit or vegetable servings in it), don’t fall prey to marketing gimmicks. That juice also most likely boasts high amounts of sodium or sugar. Vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional components are utilized best (and most easily) by the body when they come from whole foods.
The bottom line can be taken from registered dietician Cynthia Cass: it’s the overall balance of your diet and consistency over time that counts, not just your fruit and veggie intake.