When you're trying to shed a few pounds, the inventory in your pantry (and the weight loss tools and gadgets) will be the deciding factor to whether or not you'll succeed. While fresh fruits and vegetables too often come and wilt before the week is up, there are healthy items that you can stash away without having to think twice about.
So, forget pastas and processed sauces—keep these diet-friendly picks stocked at all times and you'll have no option but to craft healthy, slimming meals come dinnertime. For more ideas on how to whip up healthier, happier meals at home 15 Homemade Swaps for the Worst Ultra-Processed Foods.
There are so many ways to add flavor to meals without using salt, sugar or calorie dense fix-ins. "Seasonings such as cinnamon have great nutrient properties and flavor without added calories. If you're trying to cut back on your weight you might want to try adding cinnamon to your coffee in the morning instead of sweetener," says Jessica Crandall, a Denver-based RD, Certified Diabetes Educator, and National Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Bonus: Cinnamon is one of 12 D.I.Y. Flavors to Boost Your Coffee at Home!
The healthiest way to pump up the taste of your meal is by reaching for herbs and spices like cayenne pepper. Not only is cayenne calorie free, but according to a study published in Physiology & Behavior, consuming cayenne pepper—especially if you haven't been doing so regularly—can help curb appetite and encourage your body to burn more calories overall.
Forget the ginger ale—unless it's homemade of course. Fresh ginger root is full of nutrients that can benefit your body and make your weight loss journey much more enjoyable. Ginger is a popular digestive aid and can help relieve gassiness and bloating caused by certain foods and may help your tummy appear a little flatter as a result. Steep your own ginger tea or try grating this flavor-rich, calorie free root over stir-fries, into baked goods or marinades. Make the most of the benefits from tea with The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse! Test panelists lost up to 10 pounds in one week!
If you haven't caught on to the trend yet, keeping spices handy will make your weight loss and culinary efforts much easier because they add flavor without adding calories. Not to mention, pepper has also been found to be a natural decongestant, so not only will you kick up the taste of your food, but you can kick your sniffles to the curb all in one shot.
Mustard seed is a good source of the mineral selenium, which can encourage proper thyroid function and as a result could assist with weight loss. Furthermore, these small seeds have also been found to have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, which can help ease joint pain from all that time you've been spending at the gym. Their robust flavor lends them best to cooked rice dishes and curries. Lastly, mustard is great for pairing with certain veggies so that you get the most nutrition from them. Intrigued? You should be! Find out more with our exclusive report on How to Prepare and Cook Food to Get the Most Nutrition.
While lemon does not have any magical weight loss powers, using it as a flavor enhancer can certainly help your efforts. Lemon is an easy way to boost the flavor of drinks and dishes without adding any calories. Adding it to water may also encourage you to consume more H20 throughout the day in place of sugary, more artificial drinks, which has been found to assist with weight loss.
Quinoa is one of those superfoods that's here to stay, and for good reason. "Quinoa is really a nutrient powerhouse and is also very versatile. You can eat it for breakfast in the morning as a hot cereal, on salads at lunch or as a side with dinner. It contains fiber, protein and is still a complex carb, all of which can contribute to greater feelings of fullness," says Crandall. Try one of the 30 Best Quinoa Recipes to start reaping the benefits ASAP!
Scoop into smoothies, mix into breakfast bowls or spread over toast and sliced fruit for a healthy, filling supplement to your meals and snacks. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders found that participants who consumed almonds over the course of the study lost more weight than those who followed a low-fat diet. The protein and healthy fats contained within almonds are responsible for helping to promote greater satiety.
Made from sesame seeds, this spread is great to have on hand to create nutrient-dense salad dressings, stir fry sauces, hummus, and marinades. Tahini is also very easy for your body to digest because of its high alkaline mineral content and, as a result, will help with weight loss. It's also a great source of minerals like potassium and iron which can aid healthy muscle functioning and growth. Speaking of muscles and bodies, find out The Best and Worst Protein Powders.
Though eating bars of chocolate won't help you achieve your goal weight, working it's main ingredient—cocoa—into your diet may help. The flavanols found in cocoa have been found to help lower blood sugar and also decrease body fat according to the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Add raw cocoa powder into oatmeal, baked goods, smoothies and even chili.
Oats are not only super cheap, but they have incredible weight-loss enhancing properties. A study published in *Journal of the American College of Nutrition( found that oatmeal can, in fact, cut cravings and eating it regularly can encourage greater weight loss. You're not limited to a plain bowl oatmeal, either—make overnight oats, add oats to baked goods, pancake batter, use as a healthy substitution for bread crumbs or even grind into a flour to replace regular all-purpose flour in recipes.
Eggs are an excellent clean and cheap source of protein, so keeping a dozen in your fridge will serve both your body and wallet well. "Most americans are not consuming enough protein at breakfast and are getting an excessive amount at lunch and dinner, so better dispersing those higher protein options at breakfast time like eggs or greek yogurt would be very beneficial to help maintain a healthy weight," says Crandall.
Canned beans run for less than a dollar per can and also have a fairly long shelf life. They're one of the richest sources of plant-protein and fiber, and as a result can help promote feelings of fullness and weight loss. "Go for low-sodium beans and also rinse your beans to get off any of the added salt," says Crandall. Mix beans cold into salads, or hot into rice dishes and stir fries, or even feature them as a hearty and healthy side dish by added a few herbs and spices for flavor. Curious about What Happens When You Don't Eat Enough Fiber? It's not good, we can tell you that!
Ground Flax Seed
According to a study published in the Journal Appetite, just over one tablespoon of ground flaxseed was enough to start suppressing appetite and curb hunger in participants thanks to its fiber content. What's great about ground flaxseed is that you can virtually add it to anything with little to effect on flavor. Pour a spoonful over oats, cereal, yogurt, salads and even into pasta or stir fry dishes.
Though regular spaghetti is an easy food to stock that can be transformed into a meal in a matter of minutes, swapping the usual stuff for bean-based pastas (also known pulse pastas) will be just as easy, but rather serve your body much better. "I definitely see a rise in food manufactures utilizing beans in their productions—things like bean-based pastas and bean-based chips—I think that's great because those higher fiber foods help to decrease cholesterol, help us feel fuller, help with digestion, and they're more nutrient rich than standard chips and pastas on the market," says Crandall.
If you're on a mission to lose weight, then chia seeds will quickly become your best friends if they haven't already. They're a great source of soluble fiber, healthy fats and also a rich source of calcium believe it or not. "Especially for females who are typically not meeting their calcium needs or their iron needs—chia is a great source of calcium, fiber, iron, and protein. If we have nutrient deficiencies, which are pretty prevalent in Americans even though we eat an abundance of foods, we can sometimes stall out our metabolism by not having good nutrition on board. Chia seeds are one of those foods that have good nutrient-rich qualities," says Crandall. Sprinkle the seeds into yogurt, breakfast cereals, salads and pasta dishes for a nutrient boost.
While balsamic vinegar may not qualify as a nutrient-dense food, it's low in calories and high in flavor especially when compared to other manufactured salad dressings on the market. "I typically tell my clients to make their own salad dressings. Although balsamic vinegar doesn't necessarily have a claim to weight loss, there is a good flavor in it and when we enjoy flavor from food you're more likely to eat your vegetables and feel full," says Crandall.
Just as beans should be a pantry staple, so should lentils for similar reasons. Lentils are another cheap and clean source of plant-based protein and fiber and are easy to add to salads and side dishes. "Added fiber and protein really can create more satiety and can yield more of that weight loss you're looking for because we're fuller, so we're not eating as much," says Crandall.
When you're focusing on your diet with the intention of losing weight, calcium content likely never comes to mind as a focus. However, research from The Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville found that diets rich in calcium specifically from dairy products like yogurt yielded more weight loss than simply taking calcium supplements alone. Greek yogurt is also rather high in protein for very few calories and for that reason is great to add to sauces or to use in place of notoriously fatty condiments like sour cream or syrup.
Not only can garlic help reduce blood pressure and fight off colds (as can these 7 foods), but this potent herb may also help you lose weight, too. As with all other herbs and spices, garlic is a low-calorie way to pump up the flavor profile of your meals. It can be added to sauces, meats, pasta, bread, stir fries—you name it. For the most nutritional benefits, try to keep fresh garlic cloves on deck and crush them a few minutes before you're ready to cook.
Olive oil may be known for its heart-healthy benefits, but thanks to its healthy fat content it can also help promote greater feelings of fullness. "[Healthy fats are great to incorporate into your diet] because they cause increase satiety and help us absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Olive oil is a great option to use on things like salads and veggies. [For portion control], I usually recommend an oil mister or if I'm broiling vegetables I'll put about a tablespoon of olive oil in a Ziploc bag and shake up my veggies in there and then put some seasonings like black pepper and garlic and then broil my veggies, which creates a lot of good flavor," says Crandall. Do you know what the worst oil is to use? Find out in our exclusive video.
Fresh fruit is great and all, but buying frozen allows you more freedom to eat at your convenience. According to research published in the journal BMJ, people who ate a diet high in flavanoid-rich foods like berries gained less weight over time than those who didn't. Frozen fruit is easy to toss into smoothies, baked goods, breakfast cereal, oatmeal and can also be thawed out for a tangy salad topping.
Raw pumpkin seeds—sometimes called pepitas without the outer shell—are an excellent source of protein and fiber, which are key components to helping with weight loss. Spoon these crunchy little seeds over salads, into stir-fries and breakfast bowls—or eat them straight out of the bag for a surprisingly filling, diet-friendly snack.
Low Sodium Broth
Often when we set our frying pans on the stove, the next step is to reach for the oil—but, refrain! Especially if you're paying close attention to your weight, it would serve you better to cook up your veggies in a low sodium chicken or vegetable broth rather than a calorie-dense oil.
Rich in fiber and high in protein, chickpeas are sometimes the forgotten legume. They're sold by the can, and only require a quick rinse before consuming. However, introduce these beans back into your diet over time and be sure to check out these 20 Amazing, Surprising Ways to Eat Chickpeas! "Any time you add fiber to your diet you want to gradually go up, you don't want to ramp it up overnight because it will cause indigestion, gassiness, and bloating. Consistency is really important with fiber as well, so try to incorporate it routinely so you don't cause digestion inconsistencies as well," says Crandall. Toss chickpeas in salads or pastas for a belly-filling, waist-whittling boost.
If you're one of those people who put ketchup on practically everything, it's time to make a healthier, more curated switch. "Sometimes ketchups and tomato sauces have a lot of added sugars in them, so instead try using a tomato paste, which has a lot of nutrients and is lower in sugar. Seasoning it with garlic, pepper and water to thin it out to make your sauce is a good way to make sure you don't have all that added sugar and calories," says Crandall.
While mints may save your breath from offending your desk mate, incorporating fresh mint leaves into your cooking can help sneak in more nutrients to your diet and help your stomach appear flatter. The health benefits of mint are numerous, and a biggie is that fresh mint leaves encourage better digestion. And when you're more regular, you'll know you're on the track to slimmer days. Chop up mint leaves and toss in salads or mix into meatballs.
Though this brightly hued spice is traditionally used in curries and mustards, its culinary use and nutritional benefits span far beyond its regular gig. Turmeric can be blended into smoothies, soups, rice and pasta dishes, marinades, eggs, hummus, and bean or lentil side dishes. It not only boosts flavor for zero calories, but this spice has also been found to have anti-inflammatory properties to help ease joint pain and stiffness in the body.
Though you may get your annual dose of miso when you go out for Japanese, it could be worth stocking this paste in your home. Miso is an excellent source of iron, calcium, potassium and protein. However, miso, which is made from fermented soybeans, is most well-known for promoting a healthy gut. Beyond just soup, miso paste can be used as a condiment in place of butter on corn or toast. See the 14 Fermented Foods to Fit Into Your Diet for more inspiration and info in this area.
Though you may love a tall glass of milk, sometimes it just doesn't love you back. If a food is hurting or hindering your digestion, it may also hold you back from your weight loss goals. "I believe about 25 percent of America is lactose intolerant and if you feel gassy or bloated after you consume milk products, you could consider switching to a lactose-free version or milk alternatives. Just make sure they're still fortified with the same nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and protein that we know are essential in helping us to maintain a healthy weight," says Crandall. Unsweetened almond and coconut milks, or even milk brands labeled as lactose-free are all good options—so long as you read the label.