Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(1):153-154

What should I eat when trying to lose weight?

Eat healthy food for most days of the week. Try to limit fats, oils, sweets, salt, and alcoholic drinks. Some healthy food choices are listed below. Try to eat at least the number of servings per day listed for each food group. You can get variety by regularly eating different foods from each group.

Breads, Cereals, Rice, and Pasta (the Grain Group)

Daily servings: 6 to 11. What counts as a serving?

  • 1 slice of bread

  • 1 tortilla

  • 1/2 of a hamburger bun or English muffin

  • 1 small roll, biscuit or muffin

  • 3 to 4 crackers

  • 1/2 cup cooked cereal, rice, or pasta

  • 1 small bowl of cold cereal

Whole-grain breads are low in fat; they're also high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. Choose these breads for sandwiches and as additions to meals.

Avoid rich bakery foods such as donuts, sweet rolls, and muffins. These foods can contain more than 50 percent fat calories. Snacks like angel food cake and gingersnap cookies can satisfy your sweet tooth without adding fat to your diet.

Hot and cold cereals are usually low in fat, but granola cereals may have high-fat oils and extra sugars. Instant hot cereals with “cream” may also have high-fat oils or butterfat.

Vegetable Group

Daily servings: 3 to 5. What counts as a serving?

  • 1/2 cup cooked vegetables

  • 1 cup raw, leafy vegetables

  • 1 small potato

  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of vegetable juice

Vegetables are naturally low in fat, and they add flavor and variety to your diet. They also contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Cheese, margarine, butter, mayonnaise, and sour cream add unnecessary fat to vegetables. Try using fat-free or reduced-fat versions of these products instead.

Fruit Group

Daily servings: 2 to 4. What counts as a serving?

  • 1 whole medium fruit

  • 1/2 cup canned fruit

  • 1/4 cup dried fruit

  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup juice

Fruits, like vegetables, are naturally low in fat. They also contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Dairy Group

Daily servings: 2 to 3 for men; 3 to 4 for women; 2 for children; 4 for teens and pregnant women. What counts as a serving?

  • 1 cup (an 8-ounce glass) milk.

  • 1 cup yogurt.

  • 1 and 1/2 ounces of cheese (the size of one dice).

Adults should drink skim milk rather than 1 percent, 2 percent, or whole milk. Milks other than skim milk contain a lot of unnecessary fat. But most children and teenagers should drink whole milk.

When cooking, you can substitute evaporated skim milk or fat-free half-and-half for cream in recipes for soups and sauces.

Try low-fat or fat-free cheeses, as well as low-fat or fat-free yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese. Eat low-fat or reduced-fat versions of your favorite ice cream and frozen yogurt.

Meat or Meat Alternatives Group

Daily servings: 2 to 3. What counts as a serving?

  • A serving of meat weighs 2 to 3 ounces and is about the size of a deck of cards.

    These meat alternatives are the equivalent of 1 ounce of meat:

  • 1 egg (limit egg yolks to 4 a week)

  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter

  • 1/2 cup cooked dry beans.

Select low-fat, lean cuts of meat. Chicken and turkey breasts are low in fat. Lean beef and veal cuts have the word “loin” or “round” in their names. Lean pork cuts have the word “loin” or “leg” in their names.

Baking, broiling, and roasting are the healthiest ways to prepare meat. Lean cuts can be pan-broiled or stir-fried. Use a nonstick pan or nonstick spray coating. Trim the outside fat from the meat before cooking. Trim any inside fat away before eating. Cut away the skin from chicken.

Poaching, steaming, baking, and broiling are the healthiest ways to prepare fish. Fresh fish should have firm, springy flesh, a clear color, a moist look, and a clean smell. Most seafood is low in saturated fat. The omega-3 fatty acids that are in some fatty fish, like salmon and cold-water trout, may help lower the risk of heart disease.

Use herbs, spices, fresh vegetables, and nonfat marinades to season meat. Avoid high-fat sauces and gravies.

Dry beans, peas, and lentils fit in the meat-alternatives group or the vegetable group. They make tasty, low-fat main dishes that are good sources of water, fiber, and protein.

Fats, Oils, and Sweets

Limit these foods as much as possible, or choose the low-fat and low-sodium alternatives. These foods include croissants, snack crackers, chips, cookies, gravies, sauces, most salad dressings, margarine, butter, cream cheese, pies, cakes, sweet rolls, donuts, ice cream, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and processed lunch meats.

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