Twelve Must Have Foods for Dieters

Stocking your kitchen with these foods may help slash calories

By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD

Make no mistake about it; losing weight can be downright difficult, especially if your diet excludes your favorite foods and beverages and you are hungry all the time. But don't despair, there are so many foods that are healthy, taste great and may help you trim your waistline. Supermarket shelves pay witness to the explosion of lower calorie and portion-controlled options.

Here are just a few of the best foods for dieters:

  1. 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. Eat them plain or toss into cereal, yogurt, waffles or batters. Some convenient favorites include frozen berries, dried cranberries and canned mandarin oranges. Whole fruits are usually best because of their fiber content, but if you prefer juice, be sure it's 100% juice, and enjoy it in small portions.

  2. 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 cinnamon, salt and pepper. If fresh vegetables tend to become science experiments in your refrigerator, try plain 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.

  3. Calorie-Controlled Snacks. 

    Little harm may be done to your diet if you choose calorie-controlled snacks. While these foods might not be the ultimate health food, sometimes you need a cookie and these packs help you limit your portion. They eliminate the chance of mindless eating so you can enjoy an indulgence without sabotaging your diet.

    Check the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel and try to find snacks that offer some nutritional benefits. The most nutritious calorie-controlled snacks will have less than 3 grams of fat, less than 140 milligrams sodium, 15 grams of sugar or less and made from whole grain with about 2 to 3 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein.

  4. Healthier Fast Food. 

    Every fast food restaurant usually has healthy options. Fast food restaurants don't have to spell disaster for dieters. Making the choices even easier are the nutrition numbers posted on the menus. Opt for grilled chicken, salads with light dressings, baked potato with chili or sub sandwiches with 6 grams of fat or less.

  5. 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. Some portion packed light cheese has only 35 calories per individually wrapped wedge, and many yogurts provide a satisfying snack with around 100 calories. Greek yogurt has more protein that other types and can be even more satisfying. Lighten your coffee with low-fat milk instead of cream for a calorie savings that will add up daily. Lower-fat and fat-free cream cheese and sour cream can easily pitch-hit for their fattier counterparts, particularly in recipes where no one will ever notice.

  6. Diet-Friendly Desserts. 

    Lower-calorie and portion-controlled sweets mean that desserts can usually be part of any weight loss diet. Dieters who crave ice cream love novelty ice cream cones, ice cream bars, frozen fruit bars and portion controlled treats ranging from 75 to 150 calories. Cookie lovers can enjoy portion controlled packs or simply choose plain cookies such as graham crackers, fig bars, 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.

  7. Flavored Mustards and Vinegars. 

    These add sizzle to foods with very few calories. Try honey, tarragon, ginger, garlic, wasabi or Dijon mustards. In the vinegar department, experiment with balsamic, wine, herb, cider, champagne, fruit-flavored or sherry vinegars. Drizzle vinegars over steamed veggies, use mustards in place of mayonnaise or butter in recipes. When making salad dressings, use an equal amount of vinegar to oil for a calorie-saving and delicious vinaigrette.

  8. Frozen Entrees. 

    This is another grocery category that has grown tremendously, as consumers look for quick and easy meals. Choose the light varieties of frozen foods that usually include filling foods so the small portion is satisfying. Read the label and look for entrees with about 300 to 400 calories, less than 600 milligrams of sodium, at least 4 to 5 grams of fiber and less than 5 gram fat.

  9. 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 mixed into bottled water; green, herbal or exotic teas; coffee; sparkling water mixed with a splash of 100% fruit juice; vegetable juice or diet soft drinks. Low-calorie alcohol options include light beer, wine spritzers and cocktails mixed with club soda.

  10. 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, such as oatmeal.

  11. 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 (such as flank steak and sirloin); and pork tenderloin. When choosing meat, go for lean cuts, trim off all visible fat and control your portions. Rotisserie chicken is a dieter's staple. Remove the skin and enjoy the lean poultry meat. You can serve one as is, shred the leftovers for tacos, pasta dishes, soups, stews, quesadillas, casseroles or chop it for an entree salad. Not ready for chicken the next night? Debone it and freeze the leftover meat for a quick meal later in the week.

  12. Whole Grains. 

    Most whole grains are a good source of fiber, which helps fill you up. Try the wholegrain pasta blends or brown rice ready-to-serve. Another dieter's favorite is fat-free popcorn – crunchy, filling and a whole grain!