Ever have those days when you feel hungry all day long? Us, too! The good news is there are plenty of healthy foods and meal combinations you can enjoy to help you feel full without breaking your calorie bank. The key is prioritizing the following three components for weight loss: low-calorie protein, water and fiber. According to Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Eat Your Way to Sexy, “All three or any one of these will fill you up before they fill you out, so you push away from the table before you’ve overeaten.”
But before you start rooting through your fridge and cupboards, be sure to drink a glass of cold water and wait 15 minutes. Since people often mistake thirst for hunger, you may find the craving to eat subsides, Somer says. But, if you truly are hungry, reach for these weight loss-friendly foods when you need more substance for fewer calories.
8 Low-Calorie Foods That Will Fill You Up
1. Choose Filling Grains
To maximize that feel-full factor, choose 100 percent whole grains such as brown rice and oatmeal. The filling fiber in oats helps balance blood sugar levels, unlike the roller coaster ride caused by sugary breakfasts, says Somer. Looking for an especially satiating whole-grain breakfast? Cook whole oats in milk for a protein, water and fiber-packed meal that will help prevent overeating later in the day.
2. Go Back to Black
You’ve swapped white rice for brown — but what about black? This lesser-known grain packs a hefty dose of fiber and antioxidants, with fewer carbs and calories than its white and brown counterparts. (A half-cup of cooked black rice is 90 calories compared to the 102 calories in white rice and 108 calories in brown rice.) Try sprinkling the flavorful grain on salads, in burritos or as a hearty side dish, suggests Manuel Villacorta, RD, author of Peruvian Power Foods.
3. Eat Energy-Burning Greens
Veggies that burn calories? Now there’s a reason to eat your vegetables! According to Foods That Cause You To Lose Weight: The Negative Calorie Effect, one cup of broccoli contains just 25 calories and requires up to 80 calories to digest in the body, meaning you’ve burned 55 calories just by eating it! Not a broccoli fan? Try asparagus, cauliflower, celery or zucchini when you want an energy-efficient snack.
4. Go All in With Watermelon
Half of every plate or snack should be colorful produce, which is a combo of fiber and water to fill you up on fewer calories, says Somer. This summer, try satisfying your sweet tooth with water-logged watermelon. Two cups contain less than 100 calories and nearly half the recommended daily value of vitamin C! Plus, on a hot day, a watermelon slushie like this one really hits the spot.
5. Hit Bean Town
“Legumes [provide] the perfect combo of weight loss ingredients,” says Somer. They’re excellent sources of fiber and may help prevent against disease, studies have found. Beans specifically are a great food for waistline watchers as they also contain fiber, complex carbs and a host of antioxidants and nutrients. Consider stocking up on chickpeas, black beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, fava beans, red kidney beans and edamame. From soups and stews to salads and wraps, the possibilities are endless!
6. Soup for You
Studies show that people who include broth-based soups (even the low-calorie ones) in their diets consume fewer calories at mealtime. So if you’re at a restaurant, try a broth-based soup with fiber-filled veggies (like this one!) to help you eat less and keep your hands out of the bread basket. Pro tip: Ask the server to put half of your main dish in a to-go container before you see it on your plate. Voilà! You’ll shave off calories, fat and you’ve got lunch for tomorrow!
7. Add More Moo
You haven’t had milk with dinner since you were a kid, but you might want to reconsider. Research has shown that regularly consuming low-fat or fat-free dairy products is a habit that can help you stay satisfied and slim. To get the recommended three servings per day, try starting your day with a cottage cheese- or yogurt-based breakfast, drink a glass of low-fat milk with your afternoon snack, or opt for low-fat chocolate milk post-workout (which may also help with exercise recovery!).
8. Drink Green
If you haven’t tried green smoothies yet, you’ve been missing out on a seriously nutrient-dense snack. Made with spinach, kale, collard, mustard or any other greens, green drinks are rich in vitamins and minerals, while providing feel-full fiber for very few calories (and no, they don’t quite taste like salad). For a nutrient-packed protein shake that’ll keep hunger in check, combine 2 scoops protein powder, 1/2 banana, 1/2 cup frozen pineapple, 1 cup fresh kale and 1 cup unsweetened almond milk. Add a 1/2-cup of ice and blend until smooth. Bottoms up!
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Originally published August 2013. Updated July 2016.