Step 2: What and when to eat for weight loss

What to eat

What to eat for weight loss

After many decades of research, studies are starting to agree on what works best for weight loss. It is a diet that is low in carbohydrates, high in vegetables/fruits, with reduced fat and increased protein.  How do you achieve that? For lunch and dinner, make sure at least half of your plate or more is vegetables (not including starchy vegetables like potatoes). Proteins should form 30-40% of your plate and carbohydrates should be limited to 10-20%. Have a look at the table below and the picture on the right to get an idea of what this looks like on your plate:

What to eatExamplesPercentage
VegetablesAny vegetable except potatoes50%
ProteinsFish, Chicken, Turkey, Egg whites, Lentils, Beans, Nuts, Seeds, Chickpeas, Hummus, Tofu, Soya30-40%
CarbohydratesFruits, potatoes, if eating wheat products have wholegrain only (reduce or avoid bread)10-20%

Eat vegetablesPeople lose more weight on a low-carb diet than a low-fat diet [R1 ,R2 ,R3]. This is due to the way the endocrine system metabolizes fats and carbs. Carbohydrates, protein and fat provide 4, 4 and 9 calories per gram respectively. So, a reduced fat diet can still help you lose weight [R1]. The problem is combining a low carb diet with a reduced fat diet. This can be done by grilling or baking your food rather than frying.  Make sure you limit red meat, cheese, butter, full-fat milk and mayonnaise. Remove the skin from chicken, as it is high in fat. Instead of creamy salad dressings, try a vinegar-based one instead. The table below gives further suggestions about food choices.

Food GroupsBetter choiceTry to reduce or avoid
CarbohydratesWholegrain Oats, Branflakes, carbs from vegetables and low-sugar fruitsBread, rice, pasta, noodles, fruit smoothies, soda, candy, deserts, fruit juices, granola, granola bars
ProteinFish, Chicken, Turkey, Egg whites, Lentils, Beans, Nuts and Seeds, Chickpeas, Hummus, Tofu, SoyaBeef, pork, bacon, lamb, ham, mutton
FatsOlive oil, sunflower oilCheese, butter, mayonnaise, creamy salad dressings, egg yolks

We all know that increasing vegetable and fruit consumption helps with weight loss [R1]. If you don’t like them, it’s time to get creative! Start with the vegetables and fruits you do like. Then explore further. Try new recipes. Eat the fruits and vegetables you’ve never tried before. Eat them in ways you’ve never tried before. You will be surprised!

For proteins, white proteins such as chicken, fish, turkey and egg whites are better than red meat proteins such as beef, pork, or lamb. In fact, red meat has been directly associated with obesity [R1]. Avoid bacon as it is very high in fat. If you are vegetarian, you can try protein sources such as soya, tofu, beans, chickpeas (hummus) among others.

Oats for breakfast helps you to lose weightWhat should I eat for breakfast?

Try to avoid hi-carb breakfasts that include bread or breakfast cereals. One option is to have oats with nuts, seeds or low-sugar fruits (see the table at the bottom of this page to learn which fruits are low in sugar). Wholegrain oats have a low glycemic index (more about this below) as they have a different type of carbohydrate compared to bread. Other good options include Bran Flakes or All-Bran. If none of these breakfast options appeal to you, try egg white omelettes with vegetables or fruits.  Adding protein to your breakfast helps you to reduce your hunger throughout the day. Whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast! You will tend to eat more later in the day if you miss breakfast as it worsens food cravings.

Eat fruitsGlycemic index

Glycemic index is basically a number which tells you how quickly or how slowly food raises blood glucose levels. The higher the number, the quicker that food will raise your blood glucose level and the higher the glycemic index for that food. Click here to see a list of the glycemic index of 100 common foods.

Eating food with a low glycemic index helps with weight loss [R1]. So when deciding your meals, try choosing foods with a lower glycemic index.

Food labels: nutritional information

Reading nutritional food labels is important as it will help you achieve a low carb and reduced fat diet. The table at the bottom of this page will also help you by showing you the carbs, protein and fat in many common foods (source of information: US Department of Agriculture). You can see that some fruits are high in carbohydrates, so opt for low carb fruits instead. You can also access this table by clicking here.

Eat breakfastWhen to eat

Scientists previously thought that it didn’t matter when you ate your food. All that mattered was what you ate and how much you ate. Research into the endocrine system has now shown that some of the hormones and metabolic processes that deal with weight gain also follow a biological clock. What the studies are beginning to show is that you are more likely to gain weight if you eat more food in the evening and night rather than in the morning and at noon. So eating more for breakfast and lunch and less for dinner helps people lose weight [R1, R2, R3]

What to avoid

Processed food is often packed with salt, sugars and fats. So try to limit processed food as much as possible. Instead of packaged cereals that are high in sugars, try oats and fruits instead.

Soda, fruit juices, smoothies and alcohol are all high in carbohydrates. Even diet soda has been linked with weight gain [R1, R2]. As far as possible, it is best to limit your fluid to water. If water is too bland, try adding a few drops of real fruit juice squeezed directly from fruits such as lemon, lime, oranges, berries, mango or peaches (fruit-infused water). You can even add a twist with some mint. If you have a habit of drinking soda or fruit juices, try tapering down gradually every few weeks and substituting them with water or fruit-infused water.

Eating fruits whole rather than converting them into a smoothie is far more healthy. Fruit smoothies are high in carbohydrates. Eating whole fruit instead will fill you up more than a smoothie can. So you will eat less but still get the nutritional benefits. Smoothies can also erode the enamel of your teeth [R1].

Reducing portion sizes

We all know that cutting down the amount of food you eat is crucial to losing weight. Go to Step 3 to find out ways to eat less but still feel full. To begin with, try eliminating snacks. Most people can’t do this overnight, so start by making your snacks smaller. After some days, make them less frequent. Your goal should be to reduce your total daily food consumption to two or three meals a day with no snacks in between. Having many small meals a day can cause weight gain [R1]. So it is best to limit food intake to a maximum of three meals a day (unless you are pregnant or doing high-intensity exercise for more than 30 minutes).

If there are some snacks you crave, try having them after a meal to reduce the amount you eat. If you still feel you simply have to snack between meals, avoid processed food. Try fruits, vegetables or nuts instead.

Balanced dietNutritional information for common foods

The source for the table below is the US Department of Agriculture. You can click on the small arrows at the top of each column to rearrange the table in ascending or descending order of carbs, fats etc. If you want to find information for something not listed in this table, please click here to search the US Department of Agriculture website directly.

All the values are for 100 grams of each food item and have been listed in descending order of sugar content (ie; from highest sugar content down to lowest sugar content).

Dates (pitted)72.577.530002.507.5
Honeydew Melons8.129.09360.140.540.8
Sweet corn6.2618.7861.353.272
Bread (wheat)5.7347.542744.5310.674
Whole milk5.054.78613.273.150
Plain yogurt (whole milk)4.664.66613.253.470
Sweet potatoes4.1820.12860.051.573
Green beans3.266.97310.221.832.7
Brussels sprouts2.28.95430.33.383.8
Cooked Salmon1.753.511755.2628.070
Mozzarella cheese (whole milk)1.032.1930022.3522.170
Pasta (cooked)0.6938.271961.157.192.2
Cheddar cheese0.483.0940433.3122.870
Cooked kidney beans0.3222.81270.58.676.4
Rice (brown, cooked)0.2425.581230.972.741.6
Rice (white, cooked)0.0528.171300.282.690.4
Chicken (roasted, meat and skin)0023913.627.30
Chicken (roasted, meat only)001907.4128.930
Chicken (fried, meat only)01.692199.1230.570.1
Cooked Beef001256.2519.640
Cooked Pork001254.4621.430
Cooked Bacon005334033.330
Hard-boiled Eggs-2140912-
Source: USDA

10 thoughts on “Step 2: What and when to eat for weight loss”

    • Hi Afzal,
      Unfortunately, pomegranates and figs are high in sugar so I would suggest avoiding them if possible. Try lower sugar fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, nectarines and peaches instead.
      Dr. Haiju

  1. Hi doctor,
    I have hypothyroidism. Currently working on reducing weight. I have heard it’s not good to eat cabbage cauliflower broccoli for people with this there any truth in it

    • Cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli can be eaten in patients with thyroid disease. They are healthy and only affect iodine and thyroid metabolism if you eat very, very large quantities; which nobody does.

  2. Dear Dr. Haiju,

    My blood sugar level is 5.9. If I take small portion of Mayonnaise, Butter or Cheddar Cheese in breakfast that has low sugar but high fat. Is it advice able.

    • These products won’t directly affect your blood sugar, but the high fat content can cause weight gain and high cholesterol levels. Over time, the weight gain can cause your glucose levels to rise. So it is best to avoid these products as much as possible


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