When a snack attack hits, all of your best diet intentions can fly right out the window — and that ice cream you bought for your kids starts to look too tempting to pass up. And because kids, spouses, and roommates can always bring unhealthy foods into your diet zone, it’s best that you’re constantly prepared with a healthy weekly meal plan and solid snack options that will soothe your cravings and fill you up, without any added weight gain. We’re not just talking about carrots and celery sticks, either — from your refrigerator to your spice rack, there are all kinds of foods you should keep on hand to support your weight-loss lifestyle. Here’s how to set up your kitchen for maximum weight loss.
Healthy Oils for Heart-Smart Cooking
Making over your pantry’s oil selection and learning to swap heart-healthy oil for butter or shortening is one of the simplest ways to start cooking more healthfully. Monounsaturated fats, such as olive and canola oil, are a great choice because they have been shown to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Polyunsaturated oils, such as corn and safflower, contain omega-3 and -6 fatty acids and have been shown to decrease blood pressure and triglyceride levels. Because oils are so full of calories, consider investing in an oil sprayer to mist oil on your food instead of pouring it straight from the bottle.
A Little Spice for a Little Weight Loss
For a little calorie-free seasoning that adds great taste to foods, no butter or cream necessary, head over to the spice aisle. The one essential spice you need in your cabinet is cayenne pepper — not only does the spicy taste add a kick to blah recipes, but also studies have shown that it may even provide a slight metabolism boost, which is critical in kicking off those extra pounds. Other healthy spice essentials include garlic, which has been found to help reduce cholesterol levels, and cinnamon, which can help control blood sugar levels.
To keep healthy meals exciting, experiment with flavorful herbs such as basil, rosemary, and oregano when planning your meals. For a vitamin C boost and some digestive benefit, add a squeeze of fresh or bottled lemon juice to marinades and drinks. When shopping the spice aisle, it can be tempting to try out new salt and herb blends, but stay away — many are extremely high in sodium, and some contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), which can trigger migraines and allergies in some people.
Diet-Friendly Freezer Essentials
Make the freezer case your next stop. Frozen veggies are also a great choice when fresh isn’t in season (or in your budget) because they have the same nutritional benefits as fresh vegetables. Frozen berries provide an antioxidant boost, so keep them handy to blend into a sweet-treat smoothie or defrost for a quick dessert.
Cupboard Cornerstones for Weight Loss
Take a tour of the canned food aisle, and stock up on your diet basics. Beans are an excellent source of soluble fiber, the type that helps to reduce bad cholesterol. They are also a very inexpensive source of quality protein and can be added to everything from salads to chili to soups and more. Canned salmon (ideally wild not farmed) and sardines are other good choices — both deliver omega-3 fatty acids and calcium. Always read labels to make sure you’re buying foods with the least amount of additives possible. Before you start cooking with canned foods, remember to rinse the foods whenever possible to rid them of the extra sodium that comes through the canning process.
High-Fiber Cereals for Filling Breakfasts
High-fiber diets have been shown to help with weight loss and to keep you feeling fuller longer, not to mention decreasing cholesterol levels and relieving constipation. That said, watch out of “high-fiber” cereals that really aren’t high in soluble fiber; per USDA regulations, a food only has to have 3 grams of fiber to be labeled high fiber — and that’s not enough to keep you feeling full all morning.
Fiber One Original is one of the best examples of a high-fiber cereal: There’s only 60 calories in a half-cup serving, along with 14 grams of fiber and 0 grams of sugar. Any cereal you buy should be 100 percent whole grain, with the first ingredient being oats, bran, or whole wheat, and have at least 5 grams of fiber per serving and more fiber per serving than sugar. In fact, if sugar is listed in the top three ingredients, run!
Plain Nuts for Snacking
Most nuts are healthy choices with their high protein content and healthy fats, but almonds may just take the cake. Almonds are a source of nutrients that can facilitate weight loss and help your heart. When individuals consumed 15 to 20 almonds per day as part of a weight-loss diet, they increased weight loss by 62 percent more than when following a standard weight loss diet. Keep in mind nuts are fairly high in calories, so you need to keep track by the nut, not the handful. But, in moderation, they can be a great healthy snack or a crunchy salad topping to replace cheese or croutons.
Fresh Fruit for Fast Snacks
For a taste of something sweet, plus a boost of fiber and vitamins, keep your kitchen stocked with a variety of fresh fruit options. All fresh fruits are great for us, as they are an excellent source of vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. Buy plenty of portable, easy-to-eat fruits that make easy snacks — berries, apples, pears, clementines, bananas, and grapes.
Low-Fat Dairy as a Diet Staple
Swing through the dairy aisle on every grocery shopping trip for a great selection of diet choices. Stock up on low-fat or nonfat Greek yogurt, which has more than twice the protein of regular yogurt. Eat it straight or with fruit, and use it in veggie dips and as a replacement for sour cream in recipes. Calcium-rich skim milk is a must for morning cereal, and low-fat string cheese makes a great grab-and-go snack.
Eggs for Easy Protein
Finally, grab a carton of eggs to add variety to meal planning, both when cooking and as snacks. Whether scrambled with cooked veggies for an easy breakfast or hard-boiled and tossed in a dinner salad, eggs are a great source of protein. One large egg has about 6 grams of protein and only 70 to 80 calories. If you’re concerned about cholesterol, limit your egg consumption to four or fewer per week. Keep in mind that egg whites have only about 15 calories each and no cholesterol, so you can use them to add to the volume of egg dishes without adding many calories.