Sure, we all know the basic nutrition rules when it comes to safeguarding our health and losing weight. In the words of best-selling nutrition writer Michael Pollan, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Sounds simple, but if you're interested in maximizing the amount of nutrients you get, you may want to be a little choosy when selecting among various options in each food group. Some fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products stand out as nutritional superstars, according to the latest research. And they're also easy on the calorie count to help you shed pounds. Consider incorporating these foods into your daily meal plan:
1. Watermelon. It's not only delicious, but packs a wallop of antioxidants like vitamins A and C. It also contains lycopene, a plant chemical found in studies to lower your risk of cancer, heart disease and age-related vision loss due to macular degeneration. Just as gratifying: One cup of cubed watermelon contains less than 50 calories, not too damaging for your waistline.
2. Avocado. This extremely versatile fruit can be used in salads, sandwiches, and guacamole. Filled with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, avocado is a healthful alternative to mayonnaise and can help lower "bad" LDL cholesterol levels. Just watch your portions. One-quarter of a medium-sized avocado contains 65 calories, so you don't want to overdo it.
3. Sweet Potato. A medium-sized sweet potato (about the size of your fist) fulfills your daily requirement for vitamin A and provides 4 grams of fiber. And you'll save half the calories compared to a white potato: A medium-sized sweet potato has only 150 calories compared to nearly 300 for a white one of the same size.
4. Salmon. This, as well as other fatty fish like tuna, mackerel, and lake trout, is a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. At only 160 calories for a 4-ounce serving, baked or broiled salmon is a great main course for those watching their weight. Add steamed broccoli and a sweet potato for a nutritious, low-cal meal.
5. Raspberries. They're a terrific dessert when paired with plain yogurt and a great natural way to tame those sugar cravings while keeping your calorie count to a minimum. A 1-cup serving of fresh berries contains just 60 calories. Raspberries are also a great source of B vitamins, flavonoids, fiber, and vitamin C.
6. Onions. A cup of chopped onions only contains 60 calories and using them in stir-fries, soups and casseroles is a great way to integrate the plant chemical quercetin into your diet. Quercetin has been found to have "anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties," according to the American Cancer Society, and may prove to be protective "against a wide variety of diseases, including cancer."
7. Greek Yogurt. At 150 calories per cup, it makes a filling snack and also provides you with a hefty dose of protein. Eating adequate amounts of protein will help boost the results of any strength-training you do, helping you put on muscle—a key component for weight management. Every pound of muscle you add burns an extra 35 to 50 calories per day.
8. Quinoa. This grain has more fiber and protein than most grains with 3 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein per quarter-cup serving. That means it's more effective at keeping your blood sugar levels stable, leaving you feeling satiated and less likely to start eating again hours later. For this reason, it's also a smarter carbohydrate option than white rice and pasta if you have diabetes. Cook quinoa with fresh herbs, an array of vegetables, and a small amount of olive oil for a complete meal.