10 Non-Diet Foods That Help You Lose Weight (and 5 That Make You Gain It)

Updated: Feb. 22, 2021

You won't find cottage cheese or rice cakes anywhere on this list—just real foods that keep you fuller longer.



Kick off your weight-loss efforts beginning with breakfast. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that eating a serving of yogurt daily was associated with weight loss over the four-year study span. It may be that the good bacteria in yogurt gets your gut in shape, which may protect against weight gain. For best results, stick to plain, unsweetened yogurts and add your own healthful yogurt toppings—chopped-up fruit and nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla. Besides yogurt, these foods can boost your good gut bacteria even more!



When you want something pleasantly sweet, grab a handful of strawberries and blueberries. These fruits are rife with antioxidants called anthocyanins, which can keep the numbers on the scale from rising. Research from a 2016 issue of the British Medical Journal suggests that people who ate the most of these flavonoid-packed foods gained the least amount of weight over a 24-year period. You’ll get all you need in a half-cup serving of berries a day. For a bigger boost, don’t forget to eat peaches, grapes, and these eight other fruits packed with nutrients.



You probably know the prescription to eat a rainbow of fruits and veggies every day—and that includes white cauliflower. In a 2015 PLOS Medicine study, eating more of this non-starchy veggie was linked to weighing 1.37 pounds less after four years. If caulilflower leaves you uninspired, try one of these trendy new ways to cook it up: Look for bags of “cauliflower rice” at the grocery store (it’s simply ground-up cauliflower), and use it as a carb substitute. Or steam, freeze, and blend the mild vegetable into your morning smoothie. (Seriously!) Try these easy-to-follow tricks for making the most delicious — and healthiest — smoothie you’ve ever had!



Soy is high on the list of foods that can help you shed pounds, so consider a veggie-heavy stir fry for dinner tonight. In the PLOS Medicine study mentioned above, eating more tofu or soy foods helped study participants weigh 2.5 pounds less at the study’s end. One reason: It’s packed with protein (9 grams) and contains just 80 calories per serving. Tofu is a favorite for vegetarians and vegans! (Here’s what happens to your body when you eat a vegan diet.)



You may have heard of the Grapefruit Diet, a super low-cal diet that requires eating grapefruit at each meal. It’s actually not recommended because your body needs more calories than that to thrive. However, there may be something to regularly noshing on citrus fruits. In a 2006 study, people who ate half of a fresh grapefruit before each meal lost about 3.5 pounds after 12 weeks. The placebo group, on the other hand, lost only about a half pound. Researchers aren’t sure why, but it may be that grapefruit helps reduce insulin levels after eating. And grapefruits don’t just aid in weight loss, they can also combat oily skin and wrinkles, including these other surprising health benefits.



You probably know that nuts like almonds, pecans, and cashews, are nutritional superstars, but you may still be wary of them because of all the fat and calories they pack in. But worry no more! In a 2014 review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that eating a handful of nuts every day can help prevent both obesity and type 2 diabetes. The winning combo of fat, protein, and fiber may boost satiety and satisfaction to help you stick with a healthy eating plan. Follow this dietitian’s advice for the top five healthiest nuts you can snack on right now.


Okay, we admit: It’s not the most exciting choice, and you’ve probably heard it already. But until now, there hasn’t been really good evidence that H20 can help get you to a healthy weight. New research in the Annals of Family Medicine sheds some light. Per the study, adults who are dehydrated have a 59 percent greater odds of being obese compared to those who drink enough every day. Notice, though, that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to chug a gallon of water—just don’t get dehydrated. (Watch out for these unexpected signs you need to drink more water.)  You can do just that by sipping when you’re thirsty and eating a diet filled with H20-filled fruits and veggies.



Time to load up on the legumes! A 2016 analysis of 21 previous research trials discovered that people who ate one serving of beans, lentils, chickpeas, or dried peas per day lost about one pound after six weeks compared to those who didn’t pack in these pulses—whether they were dieting or not. With loads of fiber, legumes keep bellies fuller longer and may also reduce fat absorption. An added bonus? Chickpeas and these two other foods may even rev up your sex drive!


Wild rice

Wild rice, an aquatic grass seed, offers up more fiber and protein than brown rice, according to the Whole Grains Council. It’s also—you guessed it—considered a whole grain. If you’re cutting calories in an effort to lose weight, incorporating whole grains helped dieters lose more belly fat over 12 weeks compared to those who ate the same amount of calories in refined grains, per 2008 research. Thank the filling power of fiber in grains for the waist-whittling benefits. Other whole grain options include quinoa, amaranth, and rye. And if you’re still confused over what “whole grain” actually means, here’s the difference between whole wheat and whole grain.


Olive oil

Pass the fat, please. People who ate a Mediterranean-style diet (featuring fruits and veggies, legumes, lean meats, and fish) that was supplemented with about 1.5 ounces of extra virgin olive oil per day, lost more weight and belly fat compared to a control group, in new research in The Lancet. The best part? They achieved weight loss success without counting calories or worrying about how many grams of fat they were eating. Can you say food freedom? Swap out a few of your regular foods using these tricks to make your diet a little more Mediterranean.


Weight-gain food: French fries

Tell you something you don’t know—right? But in that same New England Journal of Medicine study, the fried potatoes were associated with gaining over three pounds in four years. A large serving of fries can pack in upwards of 600 calories. You’ll save more than 300 calories swapping that for a baked potato, and you’ll still get your spud fix. Just go easy on the toppings, which can add up fast. In fact, this popular restaurant serves the unhealthiest fries in America.


Weight-gain food: corn

It may be tasty on the cob, but it won’t be kind to your waistline. Researchers have discovered that people who ate more corn were two pounds heavier after four years. They suspect it may be because veggies like corn, while packed with vitamins and minerals, have a higher glycemic load, which may prompt weight gain and aren’t the best for diabetics. (These are the 15 best superfoods every diabetic should eat.)


Weight-gain food: chocolate

Sorry to break the news, but chocolate goes on the list of foods that add pounds. In a study from 2015 published in the journal Obesity, postmenopausal women who indulged in one ounce of chocolate per day were more likely to be about two pounds heavier after three years. The good news? Those findings apply to milk chocolate. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, may be one of the foods that help you lose weight. It has compounds like flavonoids that boost heart health while—bonus!—preventing weight gain and memory decline. Just make sure to eat it in moderation of course. If dark chocolate helps you de-stress, you may want to munch on these 13 other healthy foods that help ease tension.


Weight-gain food: frozen meals

They’re known for being loaded with sodium, and a high-salt diet can seriously up your risk of weight gain, reports a study in Hypertension. In fact, for every gram of additional salt you eat per day, your risk of obesity rises by 26 percent. Salty foods may push you to consume more calories in sodas, for one thing, and it’s also commonly found in highly processed junk foods. But there’s more going on than that, the researchers say. Salt may also prompt your body to store fat, especially around your waistline. Other common salt bombs include canned soups, deli meats, sandwiches, and these other surprising foods that have way more salt than you ever realized.


Weight-gain food: meat

Compared to those who ate the least amount of meat (less than one ounce per day), adults who ate the meatiest diets (18 ounces per day) were 27 percent more likely to be obese and 33 percent more likely to have excessive abdominal fat, according to research in the International Journal of Obesity. The biggest carnivores consumed about 700 more calories per day versus the plant-based eaters. Plants for the win! The only pitfall of an entire plant-based diet means you may be missing out on some key nutrients, but here’s how vegetarians can stock up on those important vitamins and minerals without taking a single bite out of a hamburger.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest