Don't Ditch These 'Fattening' Foods When You're on a Diet

How 'treats' like peanut butter, cheese, and pasta could actually help you lose weight.

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Most people who are trying to lose weight think they need to stay away from the foods they crave, like nuts, cheese, pasta, bread, and peanut butter. But don't be too quick to ditch these "fattening" foods when you're on a diet. They're full of good-for-you nutrients like vitamin E, calcium, fiber, and unsaturated fats, which often go missing when you cut calories. And believe it or not, these foods can actually help you slim down.

The trick to eating fewer calories without constant hunger is to choose foods that contain fiber, lean protein, and healthy (unsaturated) fats. Dieters often eliminate foods that are high in fat because these foods contain so many calories. But when foods high in fat also contain protein and/or fiber, these components work together to keep you feeling full for hours -- meaning you're less tempted to overeat.

6 'Fattening' Foods to Keep in Your Diet

Nuts are not often considered diet food because they are fairly high in calories. Yet a handful of nuts -- rich in unsaturated fat, protein, and fiber -- can tide you over for hours. These nutrients help stabilize blood sugar, and help you avoid the hunger swings that can happen when you snack on high-carbohydrate refined foods like rice cakes and cookies.

Even peanut butter one of America's favorite comfort foods, has a place on a weight loss diet. Studies have shown that snacking on controlled amounts of peanut butter or peanuts is a good way to control hunger without weight gain. One study published in the International Journal of Obesity showed that people who snacked on peanuts and peanut butter stayed satisfied for two to two and one-half hours and did not experience weight gain.

For a satisfying snack, enjoy a handful of nuts alone or with dried fruit. Pair peanut butter with celery, apple, or banana, or use it instead of butter or cream cheese on bread. Two tablespoons of peanut butter has 190 calories, 17 grams of fat, and 7 grams of protein.

Cheese is another favorite food that is often eliminated on weight loss plans. Yet cheese, like milk and yogurt, contains a package of essential nutrients, including protein, calcium, potassium, and more. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults consume three servings of low-fat dairy each day to help meet calcium, vitamin D, and potassium requirements.

Fat-free and low-fat cheeses are improving in taste and texture. Experiment with different brands to find a lower fat variety you enjoy. Or, choose full- fat cheeses but limit your portions to 1 ounce. Pair cheese with an apple, veggies or whole grain crackers to pump up the fiber and help you feel full longer. One ounce of cheese has 100 calories, 8-9 grams of fat, 7 grams protein, and 200-300 milligrams of calcium.

Many dieters avoid pasta, bread, and rice. It's true that foods high in sugar or refined carbohydrates tend to cause a spike in blood sugar, followed by a rebound drop, with hunger reappearing soon afterward. (Refined grains are those in which the outer shell or bran has been removed, resulting in less fiber.)

But if you choose whole grains that are also high in fiber, your body will absorb them more slowly, and you'll feel more satisfied. Choose toppings for your whole-grain pasta, brown rice, or whole-wheat bread that are high in fiber, lean protein, and/or healthy fats and you'll stay feeling full even longer. Of course, portion size still matters. One cup of pasta has 190 calories, 1 gram of fat and if whole grain, 6 grams of fiber.

Make Room for the Foods You Love

You've heard the saying, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder?" Well, that holds true for your favorite foods, too. When you eliminate foods you love, it can set up feelings of deprivation, sometimes to the point that all you do is think about how much you long for that special food or beverage. Eventually, this can lead to a binge and the end of your diet.

A long-term solution is to factor in your favorite foods, especially those that are rich in healthy nutrients. Some dieters find strength in just knowing that there are no forbidden foods, and as a result have more resolve to stick with their eating plans.

Just be sure to keep the portions of higher-calorie treats small so you can enjoy them without sabotaging your weight loss plan. So if you love chocolate, keep snack-sized portions on hand and treat yourself to one each day. (Choose dark chocolate to get a boost of antioxidants while satisfying your sweet tooth.)

Experts also suggest setting some time aside to slowly savor your special treat so you get the most out of every last bite.

Published August 2008.

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD and the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.


SOURCES: Kris-Etherton, P.M. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1999; vol 70: pp 1009-15. International Journal of Obesity, 2000; vol 24: pp 1167-75.

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