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10 Kinds of Diet Food Your Grandmother Probably Ate—and You Should Too

"Old" diet tricks are new again—because they work! Here's what you need to know to rediscover your grandmothers' waist-whittling wisdom.

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Drink seltzer water

Attention Millenials: Sparkling water was a thing long before you discovered La Croix. Grandmothers know it as seltzer water or mineral water, and they understood its power to add interest and flavor without adding pounds. This is a diet “trick” we should all steal from older generations, says Jill Weisenberger, MS, a registered dietitian and author of The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition, adding that sparkling water is a good alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages, helping you stay hydrated and satiated between meals. “At parties, alternate alcoholic beverages with seltzer water,” she says. “To make it more ‘fun,’ ask for a twist of lime, but always start with water and end with water.” Hint: Not only will this help you slash empty calories from booze, but it is also one trick to avoid binge drinking.

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Serve shrimp cocktail as an appetizer

Children of the 70s will remember the ubiquitous cups of shrimp salad or cocktail served before any “fancy” meal. While the presentation left something to be desired—what was that mystery matter stuffed in the bottom of the glass anyhow?—the idea is a good one, Weisenberger says. “Fill up first on lower-calorie foods, like steamed shrimp,” she explains, adding that it’s high in satiating protein, which will keep you from gobbling everything in sight when the main course is served. Just be sure to skip the high-cal, sugary dipping sauces that are often served with shrimp. (And you’ll probably want to steer clear of this 70s style shrimp cocktail served… in green Jell-O.) Or incorporate shrimp into your main dish with these recipes just like Grandma used to make.

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Snack on cucumbers and baby carrots

Cucumbers, carrots, celery, and other staples of veggie platters are a dieter’s classic for a reason. “Eating volumetric foods—foods you can eat a lot of for relatively few calories—is a way to create a feeling of satiety, or fullness, while keeping the calories low,” says McKenzie Flinchum, a registered and licensed dietitian and founder of The Flexible Dietitian LLC. “The physical volume of food is what fills us up, regardless of calories, so eating vegetables allows you to get full off of fewer calories.” In addition, fruits and veggies are packed with fiber, another nutrient that fills you up—just one of five major health benefits from fiber.

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Sub beans for meat

Beans, beans, the magical fruit; the more you eat, the more you… lose weight and save money. While our grandmothers likely used beans as a way to make the food budget stretch further, legumes are also a great diet tool. Tossing beans into a dish, like a pasta salad, adds more volume for fewer calories than meat and ups the nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and fiber. “It will also take much longer to eat, which will result in a greater feeling of satiety,” Flinchum explains. “This strategy is helpful for those who are looking to consume fewer calories without cutting back on the actual amount (volume) of food eaten.” Interested in using more beans? Check out these five health benefits and five risks of beans first.

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Eat cottage cheese on lettuce

We doubt there was ever a sadder looking diet “meal” than a scoop of cottage cheese on iceberg lettuce, yet this was standard dieting practice several decades ago. But don’t discount cottage cheese or iceberg lettuce just because they’re not beautifully plated. There’s actually some serious nutrition in there—especially if you eat it before noon. “Eating some protein, like cottage cheese, in the morning increases your metabolism, reduces hunger in the evening, and results in the burning of fat,” says Robert Ziltzer, MD, a doctor certified in obesity medicine and weight-loss specialist. And the lettuce isn’t just a garnish. It’s full of water, which can help keep you hydrated and fill up your stomach for almost no calories (check out our list of the most filling fruits and vegetables). Cottage cheese is a great way to start your day or get in a high-protein snack, but if you still find it unappealing, Ziltzer also recommends egg whites or a low-carb, low-fat yogurt (just make sure it’s not packed with sugar).

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Eat a grapefruit for breakfast

Grapefruits were so popular as a diet food that they even became the basis for The Grapefruit Diet fad that swept kitchens in the 1970s and 80s. We’re definitely not saying you should eat grapefruit and only grapefruit, but it does have some serious benefits when it comes to weight loss. Compounds in grapefruits were shown to help prevent obesity in a 2009 study, and the fruit was linked with weight loss in a 2014 study. In addition, grapefruits helped stabilize blood sugar, another key component in weight loss. One grapefruit a day, as part of a balanced diet, is enough to provide these health benefits. Just check with your doctor first as grapefruits are known to interfere with some medications.

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Scoop out the inside of bagels

Bagels are many things—delicious, aromatic treats—but one thing they definitely aren’t is diet food. The combination of high-calorie density and low nutritional value in white varieties puts them firmly in the “sometimes food” category. But if you love bagels there’s still a way you can eat them and lose weight, says Barbara Cady, president of TOPS/ (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), a nonprofit weight-loss support organization. Take a cue from grandma and scoop out the inside of the bagel before eating it or, as Cady recommends, simply eat one half and save the other half for later. This tweak shaves off about 100 calories.

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Say yes to a baked potato for dinner

Potatoes have gotten a bad rap recently for being high in carbs, but our grandmothers may have been on to something when they ate one for dinner. Potatoes (yes, even the white ones!) are a primary source of resistant starch, a type of fiber linked to weight loss and other health benefits. People who ate resistant starch ate significantly less food overall, according to a study done by the University of Liverpool. The scientists say it helps you feel fuller longer. The trick with potatoes is to skip all the fattening toppings, says Cady, who recommends using salsa and Greek yogurt for flavor instead of butter and sour cream.

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Sip cabbage soup

The old-fashioned Cabbage Soup Diet routinely makes the “worst diets” lists—and with good reason, as it is dangerously low in calories. (It even made our “worst diet advice nutritionists have heard” list!) But when eaten as part of a balanced diet, cabbage soup can be a great weight-loss tool. It works in the same way as other high-volume, low-calorie, veggie-packed foods do. The water in soup helps fill you up, and the vegetables provide satiating fiber and nutrients, all for minimal calories, says Flinchum. A bowl of vegetable soup before dinner can help you eat less overall. Just make sure it’s not the only thing you’re eating! Think you don’t like cabbage soup? That’s because you haven’t tried our Thai Coconut, Quinoa, and Cabbage soup yet!

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Munch on rice cakes

Eating crunchy foods may help you lose weight, as hearing the noise of yourself eating subconsciously prompts you to eat less, according to a recent study done by Brigham Young University. The only problem is that many crunchy foods are high-cal diet busters—think chips, crackers, and cookies. But not all crunchy foods are created equal. Rice cakes, the dieting staple of the 80s, provides a satisfying crunch and flavor without all the fat and sugar. Other crunchy options include celery, apples, air-popped popcorn, and pickles. Still craving something specific? Try one of these 49 healthy snacks to satisfy your every craving.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen has been covering health and fitness for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 13 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She teaches fitness classes in her spare time. She lives in Denver with her husband, four children, and three pets.