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Nutrition 101: Eat to Burn Fat

Weight loss is more complex than calories in/calories out. Eating the right things matters more than you think. Here are 18 satisfying foods and a full meal plan that can speed up your fat-loss efforts.

Some foods are worth more than the sum of their calories. These nutrient-dense picks will go a long way toward keeping you full, revving your metabolism, and speeding your weight-loss efforts. And no, you don't have to live off of celery and cucumbers. Go shopping with this list of fat burning foods you'll actually be stoked to eat, or use the full fat-burning meal plan

18 Best Fat-Burning Foods

1. Beets

This earthy-tasting nutritional powerhouse is loaded with compounds called nitrates. Nitrates help increase vasodilation (the widening of blood vessels) and boost your performance in the gym. The harder you work in the gym, the more calories you'll burn, and the leaner you'll get.

Top a salad with roasted or boiled beets, or toss them with feta cheese as a great side to your favorite protein.

2. Mussels

These shellfish are loaded with lean protein, which is crucial for managing your weight. Steam them in water with a little white wine for a fast meal—the alcohol will burn off.

Plus, mussels take a while to eat. This means your internal satiety sensors have more time to register the food you're eating, so you end up eating less.

3. Pumpkin

Though mainly thought of as a seasonal dessert indulgence, pumpkin is packed with fiber, which slows digestion and keeps you feeling full longer. Canned pumpkin—which contains no added sugar—is available year-round and can be used to make treats that fit your diet: low-carb pancakes, a protein-packed pumpkin pie, or tossed in a smoothie with some whey, walnuts, and cinnamon.

4. Avocados

Avocados are high in monounsaturated fats, which has been shown to help people lose deep abdominal fat when used to replace dietary saturated fat. Avocados are also a good source of fiber.

You don't need to be fancy with your avocados: Slice one in half, sprinkle on a little salt, and eat with a spoon. Or, fill it with tomato salsa for a hit of vitamin C.

5. Cheese Sticks

Arnold once said that milk was for babies but men drink beer. You may think the same is true for cheese sticks, but they're not a childish snack. They're portable, pre-portioned, and are an easy way to raise your protein intake. Pair them with a small piece of fruit for a great fat-loss snack on the go.

6. Kefir

This fermented hybrid of milk and yogurt delivers a powerful combination of protein and probiotics. It's 99 percent lactose free because the beneficial bacteria in kefir pre-digests the lactose for you, making it a good alternative to milk for the lactose sensitive.

7. Sardines

If you don't like cooking fish, pick up some sardines—they're ready to eat straight out of the can. They also have an extended shelf-life and are very portable.

A Spanish study found that eating oily fish like sardines three times per week while dieting led to improvements in leptin. Leptin is a hormone released from fat cells that regulates appetite and body-fat levels, helping you lose weight.[1]

This may be due to the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in this fish. A can of sardines has about 1.4 grams of omega-3 fats, comparable to the amount in a fish oil capsule. Getting a gram or two of omega-3s each day has all kinds of health benefits, including helping you feel full during weight loss.

8. Apples

Apples are satisfying, low in calories, and can help make your diet plan more effective. The pectin in apples can limit how much fat your cells absorb. They also contain plenty of antioxidants and soluble fiber to aid in digestion.

But don't eat too many—their high natural sugar can cause you to crash and burn like other carbs, although the fiber helps slow it down to a degree. However, this fiber, along with the fruit's natural acids, can cause intestinal upset if eaten in large quantities. Stick to an apple a day.

9. Prunes

Add a few prunes to your breakfast oatmeal to support your weight-loss efforts. Prunes contain soluble fiber, which helps with blood sugar control and satiety. They're also loaded with anthocyanins—powerful antioxidants most commonly found in pomegranates and blueberries.

While anthocyanins can be poorly absorbed by your digestive tract, that isn't necessarily bad news, as unabsorbed anthocyanins are used to fuel the healthy bacteria in your gut. Curating the best bacteria in your gut is key for being healthy and losing fat.

10. Cold Cooked Potatoes

Cooking and then cooling potatoes—potato salad, anyone?— leads to the retrograde formation of resistant starch, which can help you lose weight. Resistant starch can help improve insulin sensitivity and enhance satiety, two important factors in optimizing fat loss.

While sweet potatoes hog the spotlight, regular potatoes are healthy, too, providing potassium, vitamin C, and other nutrients, as well as clean carbs.

It sounds weird but baked, cooled potatoes are tasty right out of the fridge. Pair them with hardboiled eggs for a super quick breakfast.

11. Soy Protein

Again, protein is your best friend for fat loss. It burns more calories to digest than other foods. It fuels muscle growth, which itself can fast-track weight loss. The more lean muscle your body has, the more energy it takes to fuel those muscles, thus increasing metabolism. Protein also helps keep your blood sugar stable.

Soy is one of the best types of clean protein for promoting healthy weight loss. If you're not big on tofu, try creamy soy milk with coffee or your breakfast cereal.

12. Green Tea

Green tea can help improve metabolism by as much as 4 percent in a 24-hour period. That might not seem like much, but if you have it with breakfast every morning it can keep your metabolism in a higher gear throughout the day.

Green tea is also known to reduce appetite. Learn more about how it can help you lose weight in the article, "Your Expert Guide to Green Tea."

The Classics

Variety is the spice of life, but don't forget to include these weight-loss food standbys. They're famous for a reason.

13. Grapefruit

While the grapefruit diet is a waste of time, grapefruit itself can be a legitimate addition to a well-rounded weight-loss diet. A study conducted at the Nutrition and Metabolic Research Center at Scripps Clinic found that eating half a grapefruit with meals accelerated fat loss.[2]

Grapefruit is high in fiber, water, and flavor, and has very few calories (half a grapefruit is only about 40 calories). It's also a great source of vitamin C and other micronutrients.

Fresh grapefruit is the healthiest option. Try combining half a grapefruit with your breakfast and the other half with your lunch. Make sure to eat the white parts of the grapefruit as well, as this pith contains high amounts of soluble fiber. The next best thing is 100 percent grapefruit juice with no added sugar. Look for a grapefruit juice with a high amount of pulp.

14. Chicken Breast

Unless you're vegetarian, chicken breast should always be part of your diet. It's one of the best weight-loss foods you can eat. Chicken is a high-quality protein source that helps you maximize your lean muscle weight and minimize your fat weight.

15. Eggs and Egg Whites

Egg whites are low in calories and high in protein. This equals energy for fat burning and building muscles.

But what you may not know is the yolks are good for you, too. If you're concerned about keeping your calories low, combine whole eggs with egg whites, or alternate them.

And eggs aren't just for breakfast! A frittata with plenty of veggies makes a satisfying lunch or dinner.

16. Almonds

Almonds offer the satiating trio of fiber, protein, and dietary fat. Research has also shown that almonds have 20 percent fewer calories than was initially thought.[3]

Sprinkle chopped almonds on your (low-sugar) breakfast cereal or oatmeal. They're also great to keep in your car or gym bag for hunger emergencies.

Whole Grains

Whole grains like oats and rice contain an abundance of phytochemicals and antioxidants similar to those in fruits and vegetables. Use them along with potatoes and sweet potatoes to bolster your carb intake.

Whole grains are a great source of B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, and fiber—which helps regulate digestion, hunger, and metabolism, keeping extra pounds at bay.

Common whole grains:

  • Wild Rice
  • Brown Rice
  • Whole Wheat
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole Oats
  • Barley
  • Whole Rye
  • Bulgur
  • Popcorn (yes, popcorn—just skip the butter and cheese flavors)

An easy improvement when you're trying to lose weight is to replace refined grains (like white flour) with whole grains whenever possible. For instance, swap your sugary breakfast cereal for oatmeal or a less-sweet cereal made with whole grains. Even healthy-sounding cereals can have a lot of sugar, so read the labels.

17. Oatmeal

Among whole grains, oatmeal is one of the healthiest and most convenient to add to your diet. Aside from being easy to cook, oatmeal can help with weight management because it is rich in insoluble and soluble fiber.

Read the label on those pre-measured instant oat packets, though—most of them have lots of sugar. You can make your own instant oatmeal using "quick oats" bought in bulk. Sweeten with fruit or stevia and add a good fat like almond butter to make high-octane oatmeal that will keep you full for hours.

18. Brown Rice

In addition to oats, brown rice is another powerful whole grain for weight loss. Packed with fiber and essential nutrients, its carbs absorb slowly into the bloodstream, keeping you full. You can't go wrong with this fat-burning complex carbohydrate.

Fat-Burning Meal Plan

Use this diet plan as a guide, but feel free to swap in other healthy foods you like better. Adjust the amounts up or down if needed - the most important thing is that you're getting plenty of nutrient-rich fuel.

Day 1

Meal 1

oats 1/2 cup


Blueberries 1 cup


flaxseed 1 tbsp


walnuts 1/2 oz.


protein 1 scoop


Meal 2

yogurt 1 cup


eggs 6


cranberries 1 tbsp


flaxseed 1 tbsp


Meal 3

pita 1


chicken 4 oz.


orange 1


lettuce


tomatoes


almonds 1/2 oz.


mustard to taste


Meal 4

tuna 1 can


garlic 1


egg 1


mustard to taste


quinoa 1/2 cup


orange 1


Meal 5

spinach 3 cups


turkey bacon 2 strips


black beans 1/2 cup


mushrooms 1/2 cup


chicken 3 oz


carrots 1 cup


balsamic vinegar


Meal 6

cheese 1 oz.


eggs 9


Canadian bacon 1 strip


apple 1


pear 1


Day 2

Meal 1

english muffin 1


egg yolk 1


egg whites 3


grapefruit 1


Meal 2

flaxseeds 2 tbsp


Meal 3

spinach 3 cups


turkey bacon 2 strips


black beans 1/2 cup


mushrooms 1/2 cup


carrots 1 cup


grilled chicken 3 oz.


balsamic vinegar


Meal 4

apple 1


peanut butter 1 tbsp


bell peppers 1 cup


guacomole 2 tbsp


Meal 5

pita 1


chicken 4 oz.


bell peppers 1 cup


guacomole 2 tbsp


Meal 6

yogurt 1 cup


cottage cheese 1 cup


grapes 1 cup


flaxseed 2 tbsp


Day 3

Meal 1

egg whites 9


spinach 3 cups


turkey bacon 2 strips


garlic 1


grapefruits 1


apple 1


Meal 2

cottage cheese 1 cup


grapes 1 cup


flaxseeds 2 tbsp


Meal 3

walnuts 1/2 oz.


banana 1


milk 1 cup


protein 1 scoop


Meal 4

whole wheat tortilla 1


hummus 1/4 cup


spinach 1 cup


chicken 3 oz.


carrots 1 cup


Meal 5

sweet potato 1


pork 3 oz.


asparagus 1 cup


milk 1 cup


Meal 6

cottage cheese 1 cup


pineapple 1 cup


wheat germ 2 tbsp


almonds 1/2 oz.


Day 4

Meal 1

cottage cheese 1 cup


Blueberries 1 cup


flaxseed 1 tbsp


cinnamon to taste


Meal 2

shake


chocolate milk 2 cups


Meal 3

orange 1


apple 1


almonds 1/2 oz.


yogurt 1 cup


Meal 4

balsamic vinegar


banana 1


tuna 1 can


black beans 1/2 cup


Meal 5

green pepper 1


steak 3 oz.


cooked barley 1 cup


spaghetti sauce 1 cup


mushrooms 1/2 cup


Meal 6

meal replacement shake


flaxseeds 2 tbsp


Day 5

Meal 1

oats 1/2 cups


apple 1


cottage cheese 1 cups


walnuts 1 oz.


Meal 2

whole wheat bread 2 slices


banana 1/2


peanut butter 1 tbsp


protein 1.5 scoops


Meal 3

mixed bell peppers 1/2 cup


egg yolk 1


egg whites 6


broccoli 1 cup


pear 2


Meal 4

spinach 3 cups


turkey bacon 2 strips


black beans 1/2 cup


mushrooms 1/2 cup


grilled chicken 3 oz


carrots 1 cup


balsamic vinegar


Meal 5

turkey burger 4 oz.


milk 1 cup


carrots 1 cup


quinoa 1/2 cup


Meal 6

cottage cheese 1 cup


pineapple 1 cup


flaxseeds 1 tbsp


Day 6

Meal 1

yogurt 1/2 cup


cottage cheese 1 cup


grapes 1 cup


flaxseed 1 tbsp


Meal 2

egg whites 8


garlic 1


spinach 2 cups


squash 1 cup


apple 1


orange 1


garlic 1


Meal 3

oats 1/2 cup


Blueberries 1 cup


flaxseed 1 tbsp


protein 1 scoop


Meal 4

salmon 3 oz.


barley 1/2 cup


cottage cheese 1/2 cup


balsamic vinegar 1 tsp


Meal 5

sweet potato 1


pork 3 oz.


broccoli 1 cup


orange 1


Meal 6

meal replacement shake


flaxseeds 1 tbsp


Day 7

Meal 1

oat bran 1/2 cup


banana 1/2


egg yokes 2


egg whites 6


Meal 2

yogurt 1/2 cup


cottage cheese 1 cup


grapes 1 cup


flaxseed 1 tsp


Meal 3

spinach 3 cups


turkey bacon 2 strips


black beans 1/2 cup


mushrooms 1/2 cup


chicken 3 oz


carrots 1 cup


balsamic vinegar


Meal 4

walnuts 1 oz.


apple 2


protein 1 scoop


Meal 5

grilled salmon 3 oz.


brown rice 1/4 cup


swiss chard 2 cups


Meal 6

cottage cheese 1 cup


almonds 1/2 oz.


cherry tomatoes 1 cup


basil leaves


balsamic vinegar


Learn More

Hungry for more healthy foods? Check out these guides:

References