Dieting can be downright difficult, especially if your diet includes foods you don't particularly enjoy. After all, how much cabbage soup can a person stand? The good news is that there are thousands of diet foods that are healthy, taste great, and can help you stick to your weight loss plan. Visit any grocery store to witness the explosion of lower-calorie, lower-fat, or portion-controlled options.
Here are just a few of the best foods for dieters:
1. Calorie-Controlled Snacks. Plenty of consumers are buying the 100-calorie (more or less) snack packs of everything from chips to cupcakes, but are they really the answer for weight loss?
Carolyn O'Neil, RD, author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous, likes calorie-controlled packages because they eliminate the chance for mindless overeating. "Foods packaged in 100-calorie packs do the work and calorie math for you so you can enjoy snacking on foods that need to be enjoyed in limited amounts," she says.
Quaker Mini Delights (90 calories) and Hostess 100-calorie cupcakes are among the more addictive options.
But Lona Sandon, MEd, RD, says that though these snacks can satisfy a sweet tooth, "many of them won't fill you up for very long, and can't replace a more nutritious snack."
Sandon suggests checking the ingredient list and nutrition facts on the package. "Look for products that offer some nutritious benefits, such as ones that contain less than 3 grams fat, less than 140 milligrams sodium, 15 grams or less sugar, and are made from whole grain with about 2 to 3 grams fiber and about 7 grams protein," says Sandon, assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
2. Healthier Fast Food. Fast food restaurants don't have to spell disaster for dieters. Try Quiznos' Flatbread Sammies without cheese or dressing (all less than 250 calories,except the Italiano) or a small Honey Bourbon Chicken sub (275 calories); Taco Bell's Fresco-style items (less than 180 calories); McDonald's Southwest salad with grilled chicken (290 calories without dressing); or any of Subway's subs with 6 grams of fat or less (230-380 calories).
3. Low-Fat and Fat-Free Dairy Products. Milk, yogurt (solid, frozen, and drinkable), cheese, sour cream, and cream cheese are available in lower-fat varieties that offer both healthy nutrients and great taste. Laughing Cow light cheese has only 35 calories per individually wrapped wedge, and Yoplait Fiber One nonfat yogurt combines yogurt crunchy cereal for a fiber boost and only 50-80 calories per 4 oz. cup.
Fat-free half-and-half is a suitable substitute for heavy cream with a fraction of the calories. And lower-fat and fat-free cream cheese and sour cream can easily pitch-hit for their fattier counterparts, particularly in recipes.
"You can trim calories effortlessly if you use low-fat and lighter products and if the product is mixed in with other ingredients, no one will ever notice," says Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, and the "Recipe Doctor" for WebMD and a WebMD blogger.
4. Rotisserie Chicken. It's no wonder that nearly every grocery store sells rotisserie chickens. You can serve one as is, shred it to use for tacos, pasta dishes, or casseroles, or chop it for an entree salad. You can even have it for dinner one night, then debone it and freeze the leftover meat for a quick meal later in the week.
5. Diet-Friendly Desserts. Lower-calorie and portion-controlled sweets mean that desserts can be part of any weight loss diet. Dieters who crave ice cream love Skinny Cow ice cream cones (150 calories), Edy's Slow-Churned ice cream bars (150 calories), and Fudgsicles (100 calories). Cookie lovers can enjoy Hershey's 100-calorie wafer bars, Teddy Grahams, graham crackers, Fig Newtons, vanilla wafers, or gingersnaps. On the road, try chewing on a piece of sugarless gum or suck on a piece of hard candy to satisfy your sweet tooth without sabotaging your diet.
6. Flavored Mustards and Vinegars add sizzle to foods, with few calories. Try honey, tarragon, ginger, garlic, wasabi, or Dijon mustards, or balsamic, wine, herb, cider, fruit-flavored or, sherry vinegars. Use them in place of oil, mayonnaise, or butter in recipes.
7. Light Salad Dressings: Nearly half of the salad dressings you'll see on your grocer's shelves are reduced in calories and/or fat. Use Wish-Bone salad spritzers to lightly mist your salads, or try one of the many light or nonfat salad dressings. Another option is to make your own lower-calorie dressing, using more vinegar than oil, as well as a little water.
8. Cooking Liquids: Dieters have discovered that wine adds wonderful, low-calorie flavor to soups, stews, casseroles, and finishing sauces. Beef, fish, vegetable or chicken stocks come in fat-free varieties and add lots of flavor with very few calories. A secret ingredient to add sweetness to dishes is apple, orange,or pineapple juice concentrate.
9. Frozen Entrees. This is another grocery category that has grown tremendously, as consumers look for quick and easy meals. Sandon recommends the light varieties of frozen foods, such as Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, or Kashi. Read the label, and look for entrees with about 300-400 calories, less than 600 milligrams of sodium, at least 4-5 grams of fiber, and less than 5 gram fat.
10. Beverages. Good old-fashioned water still tops the list of healthy drinks, but when you want something more, try these virtually calorie-free options: flavored waters; powdered packets to mix into bottled water, like Crystal Light and Propel; green, herbal, or exotic teas; coffee; sparkling water; or diet soft drinks. Low-cal options include light beer (100 calories/12 oz.); wine spritzers (100 calories/5 oz.); Starbucks' skinny latte or mocha (90 calories/12 oz.); and the new V8 juice with fiber (60 calories and 5 grams fiber/8 oz.).
11. Bars. Whether you eat them as snacks, pre-workout, or as meal replacements, these bars are the ultimate in convenience. For staying power, look for bars with fiber and protein, such as Luna, Kashi, or Fiber One bars.
12. Dips. Use these nutritious dips for your veggies, pretzels, or baked chips for only 5-50 calories per 2 tablespoons: hummus, salsas; fat-free black bean dip; mustards; and fat-free French onion dip.
13. Breakfast Cereals. Research shows that people who eat breakfast control their weight better than those who skip the morning meal. Start your day the healthy way with a bowl of whole-grain cereal (top it with fruit and low-fat dairy for extra nutrition). Look for cereals with fiber and protein and not too much sugar, like oatmeal (166 calories, 6 grams protein and 4 grams fiber), Kashi Go Lean (140 calories, 10 grams fiber, 13 grams protein), or Shredded Wheat (155 calories, 5.5 grams fiber, 5grams protein).
The Basics for Dieters
Convenience foods are great, but it's hard to beat the nutritional goodness of whole, natural foods. "Eating more natural, less processed foods is usually a more nutritious option, but both can fit into a healthy weight loss diet plan," says Sandon.
Here are the four types of food that are the foundation of any healthy diet:
14. Lean protein: Lean protein is important for dieters because it helps you feel satisfied. Excellent sources of low-fat protein include eggs; skinless poultry, edamame or other beans; nuts; shrimp; crab; fish fillets; lean cuts of beef (like filet mignon); and pork tenderloin. When choosing meat, go for lean cuts, trim off all visible fat, and control your portions.
According to the Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board, you can safely take in 10%-35% of your total calories from protein. So someone on an 1,800-calorie diet could eat up to 157 grams of protein -- the equivalent of 1 cup of skim milk, 1 cup cooked black beans, 2 ounces almonds, 1 cup low-fat yogurt, 2 eggs, 10 ounces of meat or fish, and 1 cup frozen yogurt.
15. Whole Grains. Most whole grains are a good source of fiber, which helps you fill you up. Try the whole-grain pasta blends or Uncle Ben's brown ready rice. Another dieter's favorite is fat-free popcorn -- crunchy, filling, and a whole grain!
16. Fruits. They satisfy your sweet tooth and are loaded with disease-fighting nutrients, yet are low in calories. Keep a stock of fresh, frozen, canned, and dried fruits on hand, to eat plain or toss into cereal, yogurt, waffles, or batters. Some convenient favorites include frozen berries, dried cranberries, and canned mandarin oranges. Whole fruits are best because of their fiber content, but if you prefer juice, be sure it's 100% juice, and enjoy it in small portions.
17. Veggies. Keep a supply of prewashed mixed greens, shredded carrots, steamed beets, and shredded broccoli slaw on hand for quick and nutritious salads. Roast sweet potatoes for a side dish that needs no topping other than a little salt and pepper. If fresh vegetables tend to become science experiments in your refrigerator, try Birdseye Steamfresh frozen vegetables. Canned vegetables are another option; just rinse thoroughly to reduce sodium. For your lunchbox or a snack, try the convenient packs of assorted veggie sticks with low-fat dip.