Cutting back on Ben & Jerry’s and Tostitos = one of the suckiest parts of dieting. But you *can* actually eat more (no more hanger!) and burn fat - if you’re focusing on the right foods.
“People will go crazy and cut out whole food groups,” says nutritionist Jess Cording, R.D., “or be really intense with exercise without refueling appropriately. But it’s really important to build in time and give your body adequate calories and nutrients to take care of itself.”
While pretty much any whole food (think fruits, veggies, lean proteins) has major benefits for your bod, these 15 picks are top of the class when it comes to shedding fat and bulking up. Your grocery list awaits!
1. Chicken and turkey
As you lose weight, fat isn’t the only tissue your body’s churning: Studies have found that about a quarter of weight lost, in fact, is muscle. However other research has found that by eating more protein, you lose less muscle as you shed fat. Turkey, chicken, and other lean meats are a great source of protein, so you’ll feel satisfied, not hangry, says Cording.
All animal proteins are also a good source of tryptophan, which is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin. “If you struggle with mood or stress, it’s important to the boost the production of serotonin to stabilize your mood, curb emotional eating, and keep stress-induced snacking at bay," especially when you’re trying to lose weight, says Cording.
2. Nuts and nut butters
“Nuts have healthy fat, fibre, and protein, which is a great combo to keep you energised and satisfied,” says Cording.
Another great natural source of animal protein (six grams) and healthy fats (five grams), Cording says eggs help keep you satisfied and energised so you can maintain muscle while you’re burning fat.
4. Milk, yoghurt, and cheese
Milk offers tons of bone-building calcium (300 mg in one cup) and animal protein (eight grams)–and you don’t have to choose the low-fat varieties to enjoy those benefits.
Because they’re loaded with fibre, these sweet treats help improve satiety and reduce cravings as you’re burning fat. In one cup of blueberries, for example, you get fewer calories (about 84) and more grams of filling fibre (3.6) than in one large banana.
“Berries take up lots of space on a plate, so they’re visually satisfying,” says Cording.
What’s more, colourful raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries are all loaded with anti-inflammatory antioxidants that help support.
6. Olive oil
All cooking oils (with the exception of coconut oil) are chock full of monounsaturated fats, at about 14 grams per tablespoon, to promote fullness and keep you from mindlessly snacking. But olive oil is Cording’s all-around favorite option.
“It’s very satisfying and very versatile, and there’s lots of research around its benefits,” she says. She recommends it for basically any kind of cooking except frying, since it'll smoke up your kitchen.
“Avocados are a really great combination of monounsaturated fats plus tons of fibre, which helps you to stay satisfied,” says Cording. They’re also an excellent source of potassium, which helps reduce water retention and bloat—always a welcome effect when you’re trying to burn fat.
Because they’re dense in calories, the official recommended serving size is one-third of an avocado, although Cording says half of a medium fruit is perfectly fine. Time for some avo toast!
8. Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel)
Fish is a great option to help build muscle and keep you full. One serving of cooked wild salmon has about 29 grams of protein for just 200 calories. Salmon also has about nine grams of fat, mostly from heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to support efficient fat-burning and reduce inflammation, says Cording.
Unlike straight-up OJ, grapefruit is better at regulating blood sugar because it has a ton of fibre, at about three grams per 80-calorie fruit. Fibre, in turn, helps slow down the breakdown of sugar to reduce blood sugar spikes and stabilise your appetite.
10. Green tea
While you can’t simply sip on green tea and expect the pounds to fall off, there is actually quite a bit of research showing that this elixir can help fire up your body’s fat-burning capabilities.
11. Chilli peppers
Capsaicin, the compound that makes chilli peppers hot, has been shown to mildly increase metabolic rate, which is of course welcome when you’re trying to burn fat.
12. Dark leafy greens
Dark, leafy veggies contain loads of iron (1.6 mg, or about a tenth of your daily needs, in two cups raw spinach), which supports efficient oxygen transport throughout your body. So your green salad helps you maximise your workout by building muscle at the same time you’re burning fat, says Cording.
13. Whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, oats)
Carbs are your body’s go-to fuel source, which it breaks down into glucose for energy. People cut out carbs for weight loss, but regularly eating complex carbohydrates actually helps your metabolism. “When our body has the glucose it wants to do its job, you’re less likely to struggle with cravings and you body works more efficiently because you’re well-fueled,” says Cording.
If you’re not regularly eating healthy whole grains like buckwheat, bulgur, quinoa, or brown rice, however, you might feel sluggish. “Athletes in particular who are trying to follow a low-carb diet often find they don’t get the results they want because their bodies are not able to recover and repair, which can affect metabolism,” Cording adds.
If you’re choosing more processed grains like bread, be sure to check the ingredients label for “100 percent whole wheat” or “100 percent whole grain,” since products simply labelled “whole wheat” have part of the healthy grain removed during processing.
14. Beans and legumes
Beans and legumes are a great source of protein (seven grams in half a cup of black beans) to help build muscle, burn fat, and keep you satisfied. A massive dose of both soluble and insoluble fibre (seven grams total) also helps prevent blood sugar spikes for a slower, steadier energy burn. “Fibre helps you build stool bulk, physically filling up your system when it interacts with water. It also helps things move more efficiently through your digestive tract, supporting digestive health,” explains Cording.
15. Whey protein
“Whey protein has been shown to support muscle repair, building, and retention,” says Cording. And since muscle burns more calories than fat, it helps support an efficient metabolism.
If you’re regularly lifting weights, she suggests adding a scoop of whey (or other protein supplements like pea, egg, soy, or casein) to shakes or oatmeal as a quick post-workout meal to get the most bang for your buck. Or, if you’re feeling extra creative, whip up your own protein fudge or energy bars at home.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.