How full and satisfied you feel after eating is largely determined by something called the satiety cascade. "This is a series of behavioral and physiological events that happens after you eat and inhibits you from eating more until your hunger signals return," says James Stubbs, Ph.D., research specialist with Slimming World, Britain's leading weight loss organization.
Stubbs combed through a database of 40,000 foods to determine which ones keep dieters fullest for longest. The 10 that follow all have the same waist-slimming combination: they're high in protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, and moisture, and low in energy density, meaning few calories in a large volume of food. Bonus: This list even includes some of your favorite carbs that you may have thought were off-limits.
Poultry is high in protein, the most satisfying of all of the macronutrients. (Search: What is a macronutrient?) "Protein takes longer to digest than fats or carbohydrates," Stubbs says. Studies also indicate that protein generates more satiety signals than other macronutrients. Choose skinless versions to keep the fat content down. (Looking for a new way to cook chicken? Try one of these 50 protein-packed dinners.)
Although slightly higher in fat than chicken, lean cuts of pork and beef offer concentrated sources of protein. Plus, much of the muscle tissue in lean meat consists of water, making them incredibly satisfying. Just watch your portions. One serving is 2 to 3 ounces--about the size of a computer mouse--and you shouldn't exceed 6 total ounces in one day, according to the American Heart Association. Lean cuts of beef include tenderloin, sirloin, round, and chuck; tenderloin, chops, and leg are the least-fattening pork cuts.
Related: As of 2012, the USDA requires meat and poultry products to display nutrition labels. Get the details here.
Turns out what's good for your heart is also good for your waistline. Fresh fish like tilapia, cod, and haddock, as well as canned tuna in water, are high in protein and virtually fat-free, Stubbs says. Just be careful with condiments--stirring in oil or mayonnaise can quickly turn your healthy food into a fat bomb. (Not sure which canned tuna to buy? Check out our guide to the healthiest canned tuna.)
Legumes include lentils, chickpeas, beans, and split peas. Research backs their slimming effects: Bean-eating individuals not only consume more nutrients like fiber, potassium, and iron, they also weigh less and have smaller waist circumferences than people who avoid beans, according to a study from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
Thought pasta was a dieter's worst enemy? Not when you choose whole-wheat versions and toss it with an oil-free sauce and veggies or lean meat. "All of those ingredients activate the satiety cascade," Stubbs says. Even more surprising, when you boil pasta, it naturally absorbs water. When water is absorbed into the structure of the food, that food then becomes more satisfying.
Call it another wonder of water; when you cook rice in water, the moisture content of the rice increases, which makes you feel fuller. Choose wild rice over white rice, and you'll get a bigger dose of fiber--1 g in a third of a cup in wild versus only .2 g in the same amount of white rice.
Eggs have cracked the bad reputation they once had, as they're now considered a healthy food, especially for dieters. Studies show that eating eggs for breakfast can help you eat less throughout the day, largely because they're packed with 6 g of protein (and only 70 calories per egg). They're so versatile they can fit into any diet. Just avoid cooking them in fattening add-ons like oil, butter, or margarine.
Give these dairy products the nod, and you'll bid farewell to that weight. Several studies have found that dairy can help people slim down. Lowfat versions of yogurt and soft cheeses (like cottage cheese and cream cheese) are high in protein and moisture content, and also a good source of calcium.
If there's one department in the grocery store you should hit hard, it's the produce section. "From carrots to spinach, bananas to watermelon, filling up on amounts that satisfy hunger and add bulk to a meal or as snacks between meals make fruits and vegetables the slimmer's best friend," Stubbs says. They lower the energy density of your meals, increase fiber intake, and are packed with vitamins and minerals.
No matter how you say it, the potato deserves a role in your weight loss efforts. "Potatoes are full of starches, which the body digests and absorbs slower than simple sugars," Stubbs says. Plus, when boiled, they absorb water, making them more filling. And if you leave the skins on, you'll get a bigger dose of fiber than if you ate them naked. But here's the rub: Avoid loading them with sour cream or butter, both of which add an unhealthy dose of fat.