By Perri O. Blumberg
Nutritionists dole out their top plant-based picks to promote healthy, lasting weight-loss.
You came. You slawed. You conquered just about every fat-burning vegan smoothie you could dream up. And now that your vegan cleanse thing is over, you're determined to eat more plant-based foods. Or maybe you've been vegetarian for awhile and think it's time to make the shift. Heck, maybe you just want to drop those final 10 pounds and are sick of grilled chicken and tuna sandwiches.
Regardless of your reasoning for wanting to slip more plant-based foods into your diet, it's clear that doing so can be a huge help toward ushering in healthy, lasting weight loss. So we talked to top RDs to get the scoop on the best vegan foods to drop it like it's hot chicken (erm, tofu). And then for more insightful advice on cleaning up your routine choices that make you cringe, check out these 15 Ways to Break Your Bad Eating Habits!
"Nuts contain healthy monounsaturated fats and protein, which keeps blood sugars steady," says celebrity nutritionist Lisa DeFazio, MS, RDN. "Nuts are also so satisfying, especially when you crave something crunchy. Add almonds or walnuts to oatmeal, a salad, or yogurt." And if you're addicted to sprinkling on the toppings, check out these 30 Healthy Toppings for Weight Loss.
2. Spiralized Noodles
"Skip the pasta and opt to make vegetable noodles instead!" exclaims Rebecca Lewis, RD for HelloFresh. "Whether it's zucchini, beet, sweet potato, or carrots, these vegetables can be spiralized to give meals a healthier vibe. Not to mention that they add color to the plate making the meals even more beautiful–and upping your Instagram likes."
3. Ground Hemp Seed
"Here is a simple plant-based protein rich in fiber and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats," says Annie Kay, MS, RDN, Lead Nutritionist at Kripalu Center for Yoga&Health. " You can put a little in a morning smoothie, or sprinkle it over warm whole grains or breakfast vegetables. Plant proteins are special because they also contain fiber–a great combination for feeling full longer. Fiber is a plant phenomenon; there's no fiber in animal foods!" Don't miss these 30 High Fiber Foods That Should Be In Your Diet.
Sushi fans, that seaweed that wraps up your tasty roll is seriously worth befriending: "Nori is a sea vegetable, commonly used in sushi. It is extremely rich in protein and dietary fiber while being very low in calories and fat," says Lisa Hayim, registered dietitian and founder of TheWellNecessities. "Just five sheets of nori make for the perfect snack, scoring in at a total of 50 calories, five grams of protein, and five gram of fiber."
Forget funky-smelling pee; it's time to get down with this stalk. "Due to its fantastic fiber content, including immunity-boosting prebiotics, asparagus encourages satiety," explains Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT, a plant-based dietitian and author of The Vegiterranean Diet and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition. "Additionally, asparagus tends to have a diuretic effect, which may help expel retained water." Bye-bye, belly bloat!
Blueberries are tiny fruits that pack a huge, slimming punch. "Sweet, juicy and delicious, at just 80 calories a cup, they're the perfect satisfying weight loss dessert. A serving hits the spot squashing sweet cravings and filling you with their fiber," say The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT, and authors of The Nutrition Twins' Veggie Cure. Plus, research suggests that blueberries may assist in weight loss since they contain the phytochemical C3G that may increase production of both adiponectin (which enhances fat metabolism) and leptin (which suppresses appetite). Speaking of appetite, always be sure to avoid these 25 Foods That Make You Hungrier.
Skip the fart jokes and befriend these plant-based rockstars. "These are loaded with the magic three: carbohydrates, protein and fiber, keeping you satisfied and full for hours," offers DeFazio. "Hummus is a perfect snack with veggies or toss beans into a salad."
Peace out, Brussels sprouts (J/K, we love you too). "Cauliflower is the trendy new 'it' veggie and can be used in so many fun ways," says Lewis. (At least 17 is our current count in this list of 17 Ways to Use Cauliflower!) "You can steam and mash it in place of regular mashed potatoes, roast it whole and slice it in 'steaks' and fire up on the grill with cumin and cilantro, or even use your blender to make it into a 'rice.'"
All hail the mighty side dish staple. "Quinoa is a grain but acts more like a vegetable and a protein. Because it is rich in protein, fiber, and vitamins, a small amount can leave you feeling satisfied," offers Hayim. "The dietary fiber is especially important for weight loss as it binds to fat and cholesterol, causing your body to absorb and store less of the fat and cholesterol." Hungry? Try one of these 30 quinoa recipes for weight loss tonight!
10. Balsamic vinegar
All about that bal, 'bout that bal...balsamic! But really, though. Ditto for other vinegars being a boon for dropping weight. "Despite its acidic flavor, vinegar tends to be alkalizing and, therefore nourishing, in the body. It is a perfectly healthy, very low calorie, fat-free flavoring agent to dress salads or add to any food," offers Hever. If you're fan of apple cider vinegar, you'll love these apple cider vinegar tips, hacks, and deets.
"I love that this food used to be considered 'too fattening' and we now understand that not only is it filled with fiber and healthful mono-unsaturated fats, but is a terrific source of glutathione, which is called the mother of all antioxidants," says Kay. Slip some in a smoothie or spread it on a sandwich as a creamy, rich condiment that boosts flavor, too.
"This carbohydrate is special! Soluble fiber works to lower cholesterol and complex carbs keep you energized; they're also filling and prevent you from snacking on high-calorie junk food, "shares DeFazio. "Add oats to smoothies, make some healthy oatmeal raisin cookies, or start your day with oatmeal!" Have we mentioned we love overnight oats for weight loss?
13. Portobello Mushrooms
Not only are they that good on the grill, they're delicious chopped up in a salad or tossed with grains, too. "With their meaty texture and delicious flavor, they make the perfect low-calorie swap for burgers," say The Nutrition Twins. "They only have 21 calories per mushroom cap, so they can serve as a burger (or as the bread for a veggie sandwich!) for a fraction of the calories. They'll fill you with fiber and quench your burger craving as they have a similar mouth feel, especially when you throw them on the grill with a little bit of olive oil."
14. Fresh herbs
A handful of cilantro here? A few leaves of basil there? Some mint in your detox water? Don't mind if we do. "Because of their intense flavor, fresh herbs help make dishes even more satisfying. Plus, the added potent phytochemicals offer a dose of disease protection. Sprinkle your favorites over salads and sandwiches, in soups, stews, and bowls," says Hever.
15. Kelp noodles
You may not be familiar with them, but these tasty noodles are well worth including in your weight loss plan. "This is also a sea vegetable that is loaded with vitamins and minerals, yet shockingly low in calories," says Hayim. "A half cup of kelp noodles has just 34 calories and just one gram of carbohydrates. Compare that to a half cup of pasta like spaghetti, which has 111 calories, and over 20 grams of carbohydrates."
16. Cayenne or hot peppers
Brace yourself for some heat! Capsaicin is the phytochemicals found in hot peppers and it has been shown to rev up metabolism. "Enjoy them sprinkled over any healthy food for deliciously spicy flavor. Try hot peppers or cayenne in soups, chilis, and even sprinkled on fresh fruit!" says Hever.
"By far this is one of the most satisfying snacks for our weight loss clients. It's both sweet and crunchy so it prevents the need to reach for calorie packed candy bars or chips and its water and fiber-filled to add volume to the stomach," say The Nutrition Twins. "It also serves as a fabulous waistline friendly substitution for bread, crackers and chips. Simply slice large round apple coins and use it to spread peanut butter (no jelly required—the apple serves as bread and the sweet jelly!" Yes, they even make our superfoods list.
It's time to get to know this less common root vegetable. Here's why: "Jicama is extremely high in iron [which is great for those on a plant-based diet], low in calories, yet high in fiber," says Hayim. "Instead of using a fried chip or even a carbohydrate nutrient-deplete cracker or pretzel, jicama makes the perfect vehicle for any dip such as hummus or guacamole. It's also crunchy and rich in soluble fiber, playing an excellent role in lowering cholesterol and boosting digestive health."
This includes beans, peas, and lentils. "Pulses are fantastic for promoting weight loss. Pulses are one of the few foods that are packed with both fiber and protein which are the key to satiety and a single serving of pulses can help prevent hunger and squash cravings," say The Nutrition Twins. "Pulses have been shown to regulate blood sugar and insulin, reduce belly fat and rev metabolism so you burn more calories. Plus, they're also budget-friendly and they're amazingly versatile." We love pulses at Eat This, Not That! so much that we rounded up 25 Recipes and Ideas for Pulses. Yum!
20. Jerusalem Artichokes
A fancy-sounding name for a simply fabulous veggie. "If you love potatoes, why not try Jerusalem Artichokes instead?" asks Lewis. Also called "sunchokes," you bake them and then slice them into salads or create "french fries" out of 'em. Or simply shave them raw into salads for a nice hit of unique flavor.
21. Collard greens
You know greens = good. But collards = crazy awesome. "People think of collards cooked in bacon and not being a weight-loss friendly food, but this nutrient-packed leafy green has only about 10 calories per fiber-filled large leaf and makes an amazing swap to carb-heavy, calorie-loaded wraps," offer The Nutrition Twins. "The fiber helps to keep you satiated, as you'll still eat a wrap stuffed with the usual fillings, like veggies, protein, and carbs, like beans and rice. Simply slice along the stalk to make it thinner and more malleable and then either use it as a wrap as is or lightly steam it [even in the microwave] to slightly wilt the leaves. Steaming makes this fabulous weight loss aid even sweeter."
22. Raw salad greens
"Vegetables are the lowest calorie-dense food group, meaning they provide the most nutritional bang for your caloric buck. Starting every meal with a fresh green salad has been shown to decrease overall calories consumed," says Hever. Check out the best salad ingredients for weight loss and get chopping!
23. Non-starchy vegetables
Corn, carrots, and cukes, oh my! Be sure to get in a brimming half-plate of non-starchy vegetables, daily. "The CDC currently recommends between 9-13 servings of fruit and vegetables," says Kay. (FYI: A serving is about a half-cup or tennis-ball sized—or a cup for salad greens.) "The good news is most people need to eat more greens, herbs, summer squash, carrots, tomatoes or whatever their favorite." More plant-based, taste bud-tantalizing meals? Now that's a belly fat-crushing plan that gets our stamp of approval.
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