Weight Loss Foods: What Women Should Eat — And Avoid

Written by: Erin Coleman,

B.S. - Nutritional Science, R.D., L.D.

Writer, The Fit Mother Project

Written by: Erin Coleman,

B.S. - Nutritional Science, R.D., L.D.

Writer, The Fit Mother Project

weight loss foods

Choosing the right weight loss foods will help curb your junk food cravings and help you reach your goal weight.

Don't focus on all the stuff you can't eat; think about all the healthy and delicious things you can eat!

While counting calories works well for many women, especially those beginning new weight loss programs, simply choosing the right foods and controlling portions is most important when it comes to shedding pounds.

A general rule for weight loss in women is to eat 300 to 500 fewer calories than your usual intake to drop about 1 to 2 pounds per week.

This rate is safe and effective for long-term success. For many women, eating 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day for weight loss is a good rule of thumb, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Another weight loss strategy is to boost energy expenditure (increase exercise) by about 500 calories daily.

Regardless of which method you choose, finding the right weight loss foods (ones you'll actually eat and enjoy) is the key to long-term success.

When you’re trying to shed pounds, a Perfect Plate looks like this:

  • 1/2 plate of non-starchy vegetables.
  • 1/4 plate of nutritious proteins.
  • 1/4 plate of fiber-rich starches.
  • About 4 teaspoons of healthy fats mixed in.
  • 2-3 cups of low-fat dairy foods or plant-based, calcium-rich alternatives.

When creating a healthy plate for weight loss, focus on protein, fiber-rich foods, and healthy fats to keep you full longer and reduce sugar cravings.

Ready to start building perfect plates with weight loss foods you'll actually enjoy?

Learn how to portion your meals with the Perfect Plate strategy!

The Ultimate Weight Loss Foods List

Below is a list of healthy weight loss foods from different food groups.

Choose foods from each category when planning weight loss meals and menus.

And remember to divide your plate!

Protein-Rich Foods

Fill about 1/4 of each plate with healthy protein, such as:

  • Chicken without the skin
  • Turkey without the skin
  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Lobster
  • Other seafood
  • Lean grass-fed beef
  • Pork
  • Eggs
  • Salmon, tuna, and other omega-3-rich fish
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Soy, pea, or egg protein powder
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Hummus

Consuming about 25 grams of protein (up to 30 grams) during meals boosts satiety, decreases appetite, increases calorie expenditure, and aids in healthy weight management, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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Dairy Foods

Dairy foods are rich in protein too!

You can count these foods as proteins if you want, or use 2-3 servings (2-3 cups) of foods from the list below as part of your daily dairy food group allotment.

Plant-based dairy equivalents count!

  • Nonfat Greek yogurt
  • Low-fat cottage cheese
  • Low-fat milk
  • Protein fortified almond milk
  • Soy milk
  • Soy yogurt
  • Whey, casein, or soy protein powder

Calcium and protein-rich plant-based dairy alternatives work just as well as dairy foods for weight loss when you don’t tolerate milk products well, or if you’re following a vegan diet.

If you choose almond milk, opt for varieties fortified with extra protein.

Non-Starchy Vegetables

Non-starchy veggies are loaded with fiber and help fill you up without the extra calories.

These veggies do contain carbohydrates but are much lower in carbs (providing about 5 grams of carbs per serving) compared with starchy veggies, whole grains, and fruits.

Examples of non-starchy veggies (fill 1/2 your plate with these foods) include:

  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Artichokes
  • Celery
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Peppers
  • Green beans
  • Asparagus
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Zucchini

Aim to eat at least one non-starchy vegetable during each meal and most snacks.


Adding starches to meals helps fill you up, and choosing fiber-rich starches (such as starchy vegetables, whole grains, and legumes) is beneficial when you’re trying to drop weight.

The following fiber-rich starchy foods make good additions to weight loss meal plans when used in moderation.

Fill about 1/4 of each plate with combinations of one or more of the following:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Squash
  • Corn
  • Green peas
  • Chickpeas
  • Carrots
  • Black beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Navy beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Lentils
  • Quinoa
  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • Wild rice

These fiber-rich foods take longer to digest than simple sugars, so you’ll feel full for longer time periods.

Legumes, such as dried peas and beans, are examples of foods rich in protein and carbohydrates (especially fiber).

Avoid white bread, white rice, and other refined grains.

Healthy Fats

When eating 1,200-1,400 calories a day, which is an effective weight loss calorie allotment for many women, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest taking in about 4 servings (1 teaspoon equates to one serving) of healthy fats daily.

Examples of 1-teaspoon serving sizes include:

  • 1 teaspoon of olive, peanut, sunflower, soybean, or other plant-based oils
  • 8 large olives
  • 1/6 of an avocado
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of nut butter (peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, etc.)
  • 1/3 ounce of nuts (almonds, pistachios, peanuts, walnuts, etc.)
  • 1/3 ounce of seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.)

Hummus, nuts, seeds, and nut butter are examples of foods rich in both protein and healthy fats.


Fruits are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and you can add up to 1 1/2 cups of fruits to menu plans when eating 1,200-1,400 calories a day, suggests the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Examples of healthy fruits to consider are:

  • Blackberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Kiwifruit
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Cantaloupe
  • Honeydew melon
  • Watermelon
  • Grapes
  • Pineapple
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Plums

Try adding fruit to protein shakes and smoothies, or eat it as energy-boosting pre- or post-workout snacks to curb sweet-tooth cravings.

Healthy Meal and Snack Combinations

Combining healthy food groups together helps you meet nutrient needs and curb junk food cravings — especially cravings for sweets, sugary drinks, and greasy or fried foods.

For best results, combine a protein with healthy fat, or a protein plus fiber-rich foods and healthy fats.

Examples of nutritious, satiating meal or snack combinations include:

  • Canned light tuna mixed with avocado slices (or pumpkin seeds) and diced tomatoes
  • Greek yogurt mixed with sliced fruit, nuts, or seeds
  • Grilled chicken breast, cooked green beans with olive oil (topped with sliced almonds), plus a side of corn
  • A taco salad made with greens, extra lean ground turkey mixed with taco seasoning and olive oil, sliced tomatoes, and avocado slices
  • An omelet mixed with feta cheese (or turkey bacon), mushrooms, and asparagus pieces
  • Grilled shrimp plus brown rice or brown beans, green beans, and avocado slices
  • A veggie or turkey burger over greens, topped with reduced-fat cheese or avocado
  • Grilled salmon with cooked broccoli, olive oil, and quinoa or brown rice
  • Grilled chicken topped with your favorite seasonings and sliced almonds, plus peas or cooked carrots
  • Tofu cooked in olive oil and sesame seeds, a side salad with Italian dressing, plus lentil soup or a cold three-bean salad
  • A blended protein shake with cow’s or plant-based milk, bananas (or fruit of your choice), protein powder, and sliced almonds or nut butter
  • Raw cucumbers, carrots, celery, or tomatoes dipped in hummus topped with pine nuts
  • Oatmeal mixed with Greek yogurt and almonds, pistachios, or walnuts
  • Smoked chicken with mushrooms, olive oil, and wild rice
  • Baked cod topped with seasonings and chopped walnuts, plus zucchini sautéed in olive oil
  • Spiraled zucchini tossed in olive oil or pesto sauce, plus sliced tomatoes, mushrooms, and grilled chicken strips
  • Salad greens topped with grilled chicken or tofu, a hard-boiled egg, veggies, sunflower seeds, and Italian dressing
  • A mozzarella and tomato salad plus basil and Italian dressing
  • Chicken chili with beans, chili peppers, and diced tomatoes

Your portion size determines whether the food combinations above make a meal or snack.

You can also eat six small meals (containing the same number of calories each) spaced unevenly throughout the day.

Doing so is an effective weight loss strategy, say researchers who conducted a study published in the International Cardiovascular Research Journal.

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Additional Weight Loss Tips and Tricks

Following a few additional tips and tricks enhances weight loss, and boosts your chance at long-term success:

  • Sleep at least 7 hours each night
  • Drink 2 cups of water before meals and snacks
  • De-stress using relaxation techniques, such as massage, yoga, or meditation
  • Avoid sitting down for prolonged periods
  • Try a sit-stand desk while working at computers
  • Stay active all throughout the day
  • Eat non-starchy vegetables and proteins first (before starches)
  • Drink water over sugary drinks
  • Avoid diet drinks and other artificial sweeteners
  • Avoid (or limit) alcoholic drinks

Another way to maximize weight loss success, especially long-term, is to join a structured weight loss plan with proven success.

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Sometimes simply having a weight loss expert keep you accountable for healthy eating and regular exercise is all it takes to stay motivated!

Erin Coleman
B.S. - Nutritional Science, R.D., L.D.

Writer, The Fit Mother Project

Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian with over 15 years of freelance writing experience.

She graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree in nutritional science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and completed her dietetic internship at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Prior to beginning her career in medical content writing, Erin worked as Health Educator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Internal Medicine.

Her published work appears on hundreds of health and fitness websites, and she’s currently working on publishing her first book! Erin is a wife, and a Mom to two beautiful children.

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