Come dark and cold December, there’s nothing like a gooey cinnamon bun, creamy chowder, or breadcrumb-topped casserole to warm the body and spirit. That said, if you’re looking for weight loss-friendly winter foods, those definitely aren’t on the list.
The good news: You can have your cinnamon bun and eat your veggies too. It’s called balance.
Keep your health goals and taste buds on the same page by loading up on any of the below weight loss-friendly winter foods. From roasted butternut squash to refreshing citrus salads, there’s much nutrition to nom on when it’s not mac ‘n’ cheese night.
You may not have loved it as a kid, but hopefully, by now, you’ve come around to this crunchy green stalk.
“Broccoli is excellent for weight loss,” say The Nutrition Twins Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D.N., C.D.N., C.F.T., C.L.T., and Lyssie Lakatos, R.D.N., C.D.N., C.F.T., C.L.T. “One cup of raw broccoli has only 31 calories, is 89 percent water, and is a good source of fiber with 2.3 grams.”
“Both higher fiber intake and higher water content foods are associated with decreased total calorie intake and increased weight loss,” they explain. “You’d have to eat many cups to consume a significant number of calories, and you’d likely feel very full before you reach that point.”
Another neat fact about this fiber-filled veggie? 2017 research published in Diabetes found that the phytochemical sulforaphane found in broccoli (and especially broccoli sprouts) activates brown fat cells, which burn calories. Basically, this gives your metabolism a boost, Lakatos and Lakatos Shames explain. This compound may also promote a healthy gut microbiome.
Since it has higher sulforaphane content, raw broccoli offers more metabolism-boosting benefits. However, the stalk is good for you and your waistline, no matter how you eat it.
Lakatos and Lakatos Shames love sprinkling cooked broccoli into pasta dishes or omelets, or atop baked potatoes.
2. Sweet Potatoes
You already knew sweet potatoes were good for you, but did you know they could help keep you svelte, too? “Already recognized as a nutritional powerhouse, the sweet potato is also a weight-loss warrior’s friend,” says Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N., a dietitian for The Vitamin Shoppe. (You can book a free consultation with her here).
“Studies have shown the incorporation of sweet potatoes in the diet can help lower body weight and body fat,” Blakely explains. “They’re a high-fiber starchy veggie that helps you meet your carbohydrate needs for energy, but in a way that’s balanced for blood sugar control.”
Read More: Is There A Best Time Of Day To Eat Carbs?
For a nourishing and weight loss-friendly meal, Blakely says to avoid frying these tubers and stick to baking, steaming, or roasting them. Her go-to uses? Dice them up and cook in some coconut oil with eggs and spinach for a healthy breakfast. Or, fashion a hearty dinner by topping a baked sweet potato with seasoned ground turkey (taco seasoning works great), salsa, greens (broccoli, spinach, or kale work well), and plain Greek yogurt.
“I also like to keep leftover cooked sweet potatoes in the fridge to add to salads,” she says. “Just make sure to eat the skin too for additional fiber and nutrients.”
3. Broth-Based Soups
In the winter months, with the ol’ Netflix fireplace aglow, there’s nothing quite like a bowl of comforting soup. And while chicken soup keeps the soul happy and all, don’t sleep on mushroom broth loaded with fresh ‘shrooms, scallions, and other veggies, or vegetable-based broth with mirepoix (carrots, celery, and onions) and red chili pepper flakes.
Both your taste buds and your waistline will thank you for expanding your soup game. “Various studies have shown that eating soup at the beginning of a meal can help increase satiety and decrease total calorie intake for that meal,” shares Blakely. “Soups are also so easy to make in bulk and serve at every meal. You can make a large pot, serve some immediately, keep a couple of days’ worth in the fridge, and freeze the rest.”
Looking for culinary inspiration? See these 11 nutritious winter soups dietitians love.
Craving something sweet to cap off a meal? Turn to pears to stay fit but still satisfy your hankering. “Pears are a great winter dessert,” says dietitian Amanda A. Kostro Miller, R.D., L.D.N., advisor for Fitter Living. “They can be served warm or cold and are delicious on their own so you don’t need to add tons of whipped cream, sugar, or fat to them.”
And if you’re concerned about whether fruit is weight loss-friendly, check out this small Nutrition study. It found that women who ate more fruit throughout the day experienced greater weight loss and healthier blood sugar levels than those who did not eat as much fruit.
Read More: The 5 Fruits With The Most (And Least) Sugar
“A simple dish of sliced pears and spices works great for a low-calorie snack or dessert,” says Kostro Miller. Try ground cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, or even a touch of cayenne if you like spicy-sweet flavor profiles. Or, for a simple, elegant dessert, poach pears in red wine and a few cinnamon sticks and top them off with a drizzle of honey.
Get that pot of water boiling; it’s quinoa time, folks. Swap it into any recipe that calls for refined grains, rice, or pasta, and enjoy a mildly nutty flavor and loads of fiber.
“Quinoa is a highly nutritious ancient grain,” states Kostro Miller. “Observational research shows that replacing refined grains with more whole grains like quinoa is associated with weight loss, increased satiety, and lower risk of chronic disease.”
Yep, the stuff really is all it’s cracked up to be. “Even though brown rice and whole-grain pasta are also nutritious, quinoa contains even more valuable nutrition than these options,” Kostro Miller says. Though lower in carbs, quinoa actually offers more fiber and protein than brown rice. It’s also richer in a few important nutrients, like magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus, she says. One cup provides 30, 13, and 28 percent of your daily needs, respectively.
Plus, quinoa is gluten-free and provides complete protein, which is hard to find in plant-based sources.
6. Butternut Squash
At just 63 calories per cup, cubed, this winter squash comes in right behind sweet potatoes for its fiber and vitamin A content, says Blakely. Basically, it’s an even lower-calorie way to get the fiber you need to feel more satiated and support weight loss, without sacrificing any flavor.
Prep butternut squash for a healthy, metabolism-friendly meal by roasting it in the oven and sprinkling it with a bit of cinnamon before serving. “Much like sweet potato, you can serve butternut squash cubed or mashed, but the skin is much tougher,” says Blakely. (Yes, you can technically eat the skin after it’s roasted, but many prefer not to.)
Lakatos and Lakatos Shames are obsessed with this popular wintery citrus fruit—and for good reason. “Oranges are the perfect weight-loss food because one medium-sized orange is only 60-calories and has the filling combination of fiber and water,” they explain. (Oranges are an impressive 85 percent water.)
“Plus, they’re rich in vitamin C and research shows that people with adequate vitamin C in their diets and bodies burn about 30 percent more fat while exercising than people low in vitamin C,” they add. How? Animal research out of the University of Western Ontario suggests that a flavonoid found in oranges called nobiletin may work against obesity.
In addition to snacking on oranges, you can also incorporate them into meals. For a satisfying winter salad, toss your favorite leafy green with orange segments, toasted nuts like pecans or walnuts, a protein like lentils or chicken, and balsamic vinaigrette. “We also like to make salsa using chopped oranges, tomatoes, green onions, walnuts, and lime juice,” say Lakatos and Lakatos Shames.