Any dieter's number-one obstacle: hunger! Load your plate with these super-satisfying foods and watch the pounds melt away
If the theme song for every diet you’ve tried would be “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” you should keep reading. “One of the biggest challenges when you’re trying to lose weight is combating hunger and the desire to eat,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, and Health’s contributing nutrition editor. The simple solution: eat filling foods that stick with you. “Foods that contain fiber, protein, and plant-based fat tend to be the most satiating,” Sass says. These nutrients slow down digestion and the absorption of nutrients, a process that helps you feel physically full for longer, and also means no blood sugar or insulin spikes.
While you might find some of the research that follows surprising, there are no magic potions or super bars on this list. They’re all nutrient-rich whole foods, which a recent study revealed increase calorie burning by roughly 50% compared to processed foods, adds Sass. Eating less without feeling like you’re on a diet and burning more calories? We’ll take it.
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“Many people still think that because potatoes have a high glycemic index they will induce cravings and weight gain, but research shows this isn’t the case,” says Joy Dubost, PhD, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In fact, potatoes ranked number one on the famous satiety index, which was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1995. During the low-carb years, they fell out of favor, but lately there’s been a renewed interest in studying their effect on diet and weight loss. After all, even though a potato is carb-heavy, it is a vegetable—one medium spud contains 168 calories with 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. Some experts argue that they are particularly satisfying because of they contain resistant starch—complex starch molecules that we can’t digest.
Try this recipe: Mashed Potatoes
Apples and pears
With a satisfying crunch—or in the case of certain softer varieties, a sweet, juicy bite—pears provide a lot of bang for your buck (the dollar kind and nutritional kind). For less than $1 and around 100 calories, you get between 4 and 6 grams of appetite-suppressing fiber, plus lots of antioxidants. A recent study from Washington State University suggests that Granny Smiths are the most beneficial for our gut bacteria due to their high content of non-digestible compounds, including dietary fiber. Researchers believe that re-establishing a healthy balance of bacteria in the colon stabilizes metabolic processes, helping to increase satiety and reduce inflammation, which has been associated with chronic health problems like heart disease and diabetes.
Try this recipe: Cranberry-Poached Pears
If you’re looking for the perfect on-the-go snack, almonds might just be it. Several recent studies have found that snacking on them helps you stay satiated throughout the day, and eat less at meals. A small handful is the ideal portion size (about 1 ounce, or 22 almonds)—for 160 calories, you get a healthy dose of monounsaturated fat, 3 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein. Bonus: they’re loaded with vitamin E, which is essential for healthy hair, skin, and nails.
Try this recipe: Honey-Glazed Marcona Almonds
No surprise here. People have been filling their belly with hearty lentils for thousands of years, and staying full for hours thanks to 13 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber per serving (3/4 cup). A recent study published in the journal Obesity reviewed nine randomized controlled trials that measured the effect of pulses (such as lentils, black beans, and chickpeas) on post-meal satiety. Participants felt 31% fuller after eating one serving of pulses compared to the control meals of quickly digested foods such as bread and pasta. One study published earlier this year in The FASEB Journal even found that beans were as satisfying as beef.
Try this recipe: Lentil and Chickpea Salad
You’ve probably heard that dark chocolate is heart-healthy and packed with antioxidants. But why is it so satisfying? It contains happy-making brain chemicals such as serotonin. Its health benefits come from cacao beans, but most chocolate also contains sugar. That’s why some experts advise eating the beans themselves, in the form of less-processed cacao nibs (crunchy, broken up bean bits), which offer 9 grams of fiber per ounce (compared to none in 1 ounce of a typical milk chocolate bar). “I recommend cacao nibs or dark chocolate with more than 70% cacao to my clients,” says dietitian Ashley Koff, RD, a New York-based dietitian. “You get a natural energy boost from its theobromine, a bitter alkaloid of the cacao plant, plus magnesium, which is mother nature’s anti-stress mineral,” she explains.
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Also known as shelled hemp seeds, these have only recently made their way into mainstream grocery stores. Hemp—a relative of marijuana—is perfectly legal, and packs more protein than chia or flax, in addition to fiber. Since it contains a complete essential amino acid profile and is rich in essential fatty acids (EFAs) such as omega-3, it’s a great option for vegans who want to add more staying power to their meals. These deliciously nutty little seeds can be eaten as a topping on oatmeal, yogurt, and salads, or blended into smoothies.
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In addition to adding a satisfying complexity to meals, foods that have been fermented, like kimchi and sauerkraut, contain probiotics that aid digestion, says Koff. And when you keep your gut happy, it has vast positive effects on your health. One recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that maintaining healthy bacteria levels in the gut improve the functioning of the gut lining, and may help reduce fat mass, inflammation, and insulin resistance. Another study from the Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism at Ajou University School of Medicine in Korea, which focused specifically on kimchi, had similar findings.
Try this recipe: Spicy Beef and Kimchi Stew
Add the juice and pulp of this citrus fruit to pump up the flavor of everything from your ice water to salads, smoothies, and cooked fish, for almost no calories, recommends Koff. In addition to making the food taste better, the pectin fiber in this citrus fruit may help you fight off hunger cravings. “Lemons are also an alkaline-forming food that helps promote an optimal pH in the intestines,” she explains, which some say can help with digestion and aid in weight loss, though these claims have not yet been proven with scientific research.
Try this recipe: Halibut with Lemon-Caper Sauce
Dubost recommends dairy foods of all types to her clients, but especially higher protein options like Greek yogurt and cottage cheese. The satiating effects of yogurt are especially well researched. In one study published last year in the journal Appetite, participants were given a 160-calorie yogurt snack three hours after lunch that contained either low protein, moderate protein, or high protein. Those who ate the high-protein yogurt (a Greek yogurt containing 24 grams of protein) felt full the longest, and ate dinner later than the other subjects. Some studies also suggest that the acids produced during yogurt fermentation increase satiety.
Try this recipe: Greek Yogurt Fruit Parfait
Two large hardboiled eggs only set you back 140 calories and provide 12 grams of complete protein, which means it contains all 9 essential amino acids that your body needs but can’t make itself, says Dubost (all animal proteins offer a “complete” amino acid profile). A study published in the journal Nutrition Research found that eating eggs at breakfast helped dieters feel less hungry for a full 24 hours, while also stabilizing their blood sugar levels and helping them eat fewer calories over the course of the day.
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Lean cuts of beef such as sirloin, tenderloin, and top round are high in protein and offer a complete amino acid profile, which make them extremely satiating. A healthy 4-ounce portion of as sirloin steak contains 200 calories and 32 grams of protein. Just don’t go overboard—even lean cuts of red meat are relatively high in saturated fat, and eating a lot of it has been associated with heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Limit yourself to one serving a week.
Try this recipe: Pepper Steak Fajitas
“Based on the latest research the most satiating foods pack plenty of protein and fiber, along with high water content,” says Dubost. Finding a food with all three of those can be tough, but a broth-based soup with vegetables and lentils or beans does it, she says. It’s well known that fiber-rich vegetables help you stay full longer for few calories. Many previous studies have demonstrated the satiating effect of soups compared to solid meals, but an interesting study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that smooth soups actually result in more fullness because they digest more slowly than chunky soups. Bring on the blender!
Try this recipe: Chicken and White Bean Soup with Greens
When your mom told you to eat your oats, she was right. Just make sure they’re cooked. One recent study published in Nutrition Journal found that calorie-for-calorie, oatmeal cooked with nonfat milk was more satisfying than oat-based cold cereal with nonfat milk. Participants who ate about 220 calories of the hot kind for breakfast reported less hunger and increased fullness compared to the cereal eaters—possibly because satiety is enhanced by the higher viscosity of the beta-glucan in the cooked oatmeal. Another new study suggests that its resistant starch may boost beneficial gut bacteria, which—according to mounting evidence—keep the good mood brain chemicals flowing.
Try this recipe: Banana-Nut Oatmeal
Just thinking about rich, creamy avocado is satisfying. Yes, it’s high in fat—but the good kind. Its plant-based fatty acids have anti-inflammatory benefits, which can help ease arthritis and lower risk of heart disease. Plus, half an avocado packs 7 grams of fiber. In a study published in Nutrition Journal, researchers found that adding half an avocado to lunch increased subjects’ satisfaction by 26% and reduced their desire to eat by 40% for 3 hours. Like olive oil, it increases absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, making diced avocado the perfect way to ensure your salad is delicious, filling, and fully utilized by your bod.
Try this recipe: Avocado Jewel Salad
Berries can be pricier than other fruits, which ups their indulgence factor and may cause you to slow down and savor, which can increase food satisfaction. Sun-ripened raspberries taste sweet, but are surprisingly low in sugar (5 grams for a whole cup) and high in fiber (8 grams per cup). Translation: a sweet tooth fix without the blood sugar spike. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that polyphenol-rich berries like raspberries may even reduce the digestion of starch in bread—and the typical insulin spike response.
Try this recipe: Chocolate Chip Pavlovas With Raspberries and Apricots
New research indicates that gut health—which influences mood, satiety, and metabolism—is closely related to the diversity of your gut bacteria, known as your microbiome. The bacteria in your colon need to be fed dietary fiber to flourish, but most of the fiber we eat is short-chain. Only fructan and cellulose fibers (types of prebiotics) are long enough to survive all the way down the GI tract, according to Jeff Leach, founder of the American Gut Project. Leeks are one of the top sources of fructan (10 grams per leek) and cellulose. One caveat: Cooking shortens the fiber chain, so to reap the maximum benefits, eat raw or lightly sauteed.
Try this recipe: Leek and Broccoli Tartlets with Pancetta
Even though it’s categorized as a grain, and treated like one in recipes, quinoa is technically the seed of a plant related to spinach, beets, and chard. Ever since it was first stocked at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in 2007, it has exploded in popularity as a gluten-free, vegan source of “complete” protein, with 8 grams per cup cooked. It also has almost double the fiber of brown rice, which gives it extra hunger-squashing power, says Sass.
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Fish is another very efficient source of protein. Many types of white fish are extremely lean, and fattier varieties such as salmon pack healthy omega-3 fats. Some studies suggest that fish protein may be slightly more satiating than beef protein, but more research is needed to explain why. One possible explanation is that fish are naturally high in the amino acid L-glutamate, which is associated with umami, a savory-rich taste linked to satiety.
Try this recipe: Artichoke-Parmesan Stuffed Tilapia
Did you know popcorn is a whole grain? Yep. Four cups contain 3 grams of fiber and protein each. But its biggest trick is volume. Four cups takes up a lot of room in your stomach and as long as you eat it with only a little salt and tiny bit of oil, that size serving will set you back less than 150 calories. One study found that snacking on popcorn helped dieters satisfy their hunger while staying on track with their weight-loss plan.
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“In my experience, both personally and with my clients, seeds are incredibly filling and satiating,” says Sass. One study from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark found that meals supplemented with 2.4 grams of flaxseed fiber promoted a greater feeling of satiety and fullness in men compared to meals without the fiber. One tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains 37 calories, 2 grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which includes omega-3s and 2 grams of fiber. Note: whole flaxseeds will pass through your system without being digested, so buy them ground or do it yourself using a spice grinder.
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