Using more fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, lean meats, nuts and beans, is a safe and healthy way to lose or maintain weight. In addition, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and other chronic diseases. Fruits and vegetables also provide important vitamins and minerals, fiber, and other substances important for health.
To lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than your body
This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to eat less. You can create low-calorie versions of some of your favorite dishes by replacing low-calorie fruits and vegetables with high-calorie ingredients. The water and fiber in fruits and vegetables increase the volume of the food, so you can eat the same amount of food with fewer calories. Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and are satiating.
Easy ways to save calories and eat more fruits and vegetables throughout the day
Breakfast: Start the day right
- Replace the egg or half the cheese in your morning omelet with spinach, onions or mushrooms. Vegetables add volume and flavor to dishes and have fewer calories than eggs or cheese.
- Reduce the amount of grains in your bowl to make room for some chopped bananas, peaches or strawberries. You can still eat a full bowl, but with fewer calories.
Extend your lunch
- Replace 2 ounces of cheese and 2 ounces of meat with vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber or onions in a sandwich, wrap or burrito. The new version will fill you up with fewer calories than the original.
- Replace 2 ounces of meat or 1 cup of pasta in a broth-based soup with 1 cup of chopped vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, beans or peppers. Vegetables will help fill you up so you don't miss those extra calories.
- Add 1 cup of chopped vegetables such as broccoli, tomatoes, squash, onions or peppers while removing 1 cup of rice or pasta from your favorite dish. A dish with vegetables will be just as satisfying, but will have fewer calories than the same amount in the original version.
- Take a good look at your plate. Vegetables, fruits and whole grains should take up most of your plate. If not, replace some of the meat, cheese, white pasta or rice with legumes, steamed broccoli, asparagus, greens or another favorite vegetable. This will reduce the total calories in your meal without reducing the amount of food you eat. BUT remember to use a regular or small plate - not a plate. It's the total number of calories you consume that counts, even if much of it comes from fruits and vegetables.
Most healthy eating plans include one or two small snacks a day. If you choose most fruits and vegetables, you can eat a snack that contains only 100 calories.
About 100 calories or less:
- a medium-sized apple (72 calories)
- one medium banana (105 calories)
- 1 cup steamed green beans (44 calories)
- 1 cup blueberries (83 calories)
- 1 cup grapes (100 calories)
- 1 cup carrots (45 calories), broccoli (30 calories) or peppers (30 calories) with 2 tablespoons hummus (46 calories)
Instead of a high-calorie snack from the vending machine, bring some chopped vegetables or fruit from home. A single bag of corn chips has as many calories as a small apple, 1 cup of whole strawberries and 1 cup of carrots with 1/4 cup of low-calorie dip. Replace the chips with one or two of these options and you'll have a satisfying snack with fewer calories.
Remember: substitution is key
It's true that fruits and vegetables have fewer calories than many other foods, but they do contain some calories. If you start eating fruits and vegetables in addition to what you usually eat, you will gain calories and may gain weight. The key is substitution. Eat fruits and vegetables instead of other high-calorie foods.
More tips on how to incorporate fruits and vegetables into your weight management plan
Eatfruits and vegetables the way nature provided them - or with fat-free or low-fat cooking techniques.
Try steaming vegetables, using low-calorie or low-fat dressings and seasoning with herbs and spices. Some cooking techniques such as breading and frying or using high-fat sauces or dressings greatly increase the amount of calories and fat in a dish. And eat your fruits raw to enjoy their natural sweetness.
Canned or frozen fruits and vegetables are also a good option.
Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh varieties. However, be sure not to use sugar, syrup or cream sauces, or other high-calorie ingredients.
Choose whole fruits before fruit drinks and juices. Fruit juices have lost the fiber from the fruit.
It is better to eat the whole fruit because it contains added fiber, which promotes satiety. A 6-ounce serving of orange juice has 85 calories, compared to only 65 calories for a medium-sized orange.
You get a bigger snack with whole fruit than with the same dried fruit - for the same amount of calories.
A small box of raisins (1/4 cup) has about 100 calories. For the same amount of calories, you can eat 1 cup of grapes.