Best Healthy Diet For Weight Loss


The best healthy diet for weight loss can often be rather tricky to find, and this is because nobody really knows what the best healthy diet for weight loss is. There are lots of plans that claim they will melt the fat away and make you lose weight fast, but you will soon realize that most diets cause the side effects such as constipation, diarrhea, bad breath, dehydration, fatigue and nausea.

Popular diets

For people wanting to lose weight, the Ministry recommends reducing total energy (calorie) intake by reducing intake of foods and drinks that are energy dense and nutrient poor, for example, sugar-sweetened drinks, alcohol, confectionery and fast food.

For any dietary change to be effective it needs to be sustainable long-term, which usually means making small changes that fit your lifestyle. Physical activity is an important component of any weight loss plan and can help you achieve your weight loss goal and improve your health too.

Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet emphasises eating plenty of plant-based foods, such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes (like lentils, split peas, chickpeas and cooked dried beans, eg, kidney beans and baked beans) and nuts; replacing butter with monounsaturated fats, mainly from olive oil; and eating a moderate amount of fish, poultry and dairy products, with little or no red meat.


A Mediterranean diet is effective for weight loss when a person follows it for 12 or more months. The diet is consistent with the Ministry of Health’s Eating and Activity Guidelines for New Zealand Adults. Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, and improves glycaemic (blood sugar) control in people with type 2 diabetes.





Commercial weight loss programmes

Commercial weight loss programmes, such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, provide people with eating plans, pre-packaged meals, guidance and support. Programmes typically offer a 1000–1500 calorie-per-day portion-controlled diet plan that produces weight-loss of about 0.5–1 kg per week.  


Research has found that on average commercial weight loss programmes result in greater weight loss than self-directed programmes do. Many provide counselling, peer support and monitoring.


Many commercial weight loss programmes exist, and some are better than others. These programmes cost money. To ensure they are effective in the long term, people need to continue to make healthy lifestyle choices after they leave the programme.


A commercial weight loss programme may provide a more intensive intervention for a person who wishes to achieve more rapid weight loss. It may also provide a more motivating and sustainable option.

Intermittent fasting diets, including the 5-2 diet

Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating that involves periods of fasting (restricting your energy intake) and non-fasting. The most common example is the 5-2 diet, in which a person eats normally for five days, and then takes in much less energy (usually 500–600 calories per day, which is 25% of recommended requirements) on the remaining two days of the week. Over time, the diet reduces a person’s total energy intake, which leads to weight loss.


Intermittent fasting diets can be as effective as other energy-restricted diets, and some people may find them easier to stick to.


Possible side effects from ‘fasting days’ include hunger, low energy levels, light-headedness and poor mental functioning. You still need to make healthy food choices on ‘non-fasting’ days. There has been little research about the long-term effect of intermittent fasting on a person’s weight or health.


The 5-2 diet may be suitable for some people. Talk to your GP to develop a weight management plan that is best for you. The Ministry does not recommend the 5-2 diet for people with insulin-dependent diabetes.

Very low calorie diets

A very low calorie diet (VLCD) is a medically supervised diet in which you eat 800 calories or less a day for a short time (usually 6–12 weeks). It usually involves replacing most of your meals with low-calorie, specially formulated shakes, soups or bars. Health professionals sometimes recommend VLCDs to promote rapid weight loss among adults who are obese (that is, those with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 kg/m2) in special circumstances; for example, in preparation for surgery. Most people who need to lose weight should not use a VLCD.


VLCDs can be effective for weight loss over short periods, under the supervision of a health practitioner.


VLCDs are hard to follow. They can leave you feeling hungry and low on energy; other side effects can include hair thinning, tiredness, dizziness, cold intolerance, headache, constipation and diarrhoea. Most people tend to put weight they have lost on a VLCD back on soon after coming off the diet as they return to their previous way of eating. VLCDs are not suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women, children (aged under 16), older people (aged over 65) and those with serious medical and psychological conditions.


Not recommended without professional advice.

Detox diets

Detox diets claim to rid your body of ‘toxins’ resulting from poor diet and lifestyle, improve your energy levels and result in rapid weight loss. They often involve expensive supplements, and require you to cut out whole food groups, typically dairy foods. Some eliminate food all together and allow juice only. The concept of detox diets is unscientific. The body has its own built-in mechanisms to remove waste and toxins. Organs such as the skin, gut, liver and kidney continually ‘detoxify’ the body.


Cutting out or having a break from alcohol, caffeine or junk food and eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods is good for your health.


Detox diets can be expensive. There is no evidence that they actually remove toxins, and they can be harmful. You may lose weight quickly on a detox diet, but this is likely to be because you are losing water and your carbohydrate store, rather than stored fat. You are likely to regain the weight as soon as you start eating normally again.


Not recommended.

Paleo diet

The Paleo diet is an eating pattern claimed to be based on the diet of our ‘hunter-gatherer’ ancestors from the Palaeolithic period (around 2.5 million to 10,000 years BC). It consists of vegetables, some fruit, nuts and seeds, naturally occurring fats and oils, meat, eggs and seafood. While different variations of the Paleo diet exist, the diet usually excludes dairy products, grains, legumes and processed foods, including processed oils, sugar and salt.


A Paleo diet includes many healthy foods, such as whole and less processed foods, vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs, nuts and seeds.


The key concern with the Paleo diet is that it excludes entire food groups that are important to healthy eating patterns, including grains, legumes and dairy products.

Also, the diet may encourage eating large amounts of meat, which can be expensive, and runs counter to the Ministry of Health’s recommendation to eat no more than 500 g cooked red meat each week.  


Not recommended.

Very low-carbohydrate diets

Some people see very low-carbohydrate (very low-carb) diets as a better way of losing weight than diets that contain more balanced amounts of carbohydrate and fat. However, research shows that it is not the proportion of macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat and proteins) in a diet that affects weight loss but the total energy (calories).


Cutting poor-quality carbohydrates (sugar-rich foods and drinks, and food made from refined grains, like white bread, cakes, muffins, and biscuits) from your diet is good for your health.


Whole-grain and high-fibre grain foods, such as heavy-grain bread and legumes, contain important nutrients, and are good for your health. People can lose weight on very low-carb diets, but they can also do so on other energy-restricted eating plans. Importantly, there is no evidence of the long-term effects or safety of very low-carb diets. The Ministry recommends diets that contain moderate amounts of carbohydrate.


Not recommended.

Science-based diet swaps you need to make for quicker weight loss results. 

Scientifically speaking, this is true. And is also the basic law of thermodynamics. But what this simplistic model fails to account for is how the various foods you put into your body actually then go about affecting these two variables.
Yes, research has shown that at the end of the day, calories are what matters most. But if you want to truly lose fat as efficiently and as quickly as possible, then you need to go beyond just calories. And, instead:

  1. Pay close attention to the types of foods that make up the calories you’re ingesting every day AND
  2. Also how you go about ingesting them

As that’s what makes all the difference. And in this article, I’ll go through 3 swaps that you’ll want to make in your diet. These swaps account for those variables and can enable you to lose fat faster. I’ll also provide you with a sample meal plan that puts this all together for you.

1: Stick To Minimally Processed Foods

The first swap you’ll want to do with your diet plan for weight loss is to stick mostly with minimally-processed foods. So, for example, foods like oats and multigrain bread. Those, as opposed to their refined counterparts, such as cereal and white bread. These have been stripped of most of their important nutrients and fiber.

There are two ways these less-processed foods are beneficial when dieting:

  1. They generally provide more nutrients and keep us fuller for longer AND
  2. Our body burns significantly more calories when digesting unprocessed foods than it does when compared to their processed counterparts

The second point has to do with something called the thermic effect of food (TEF). This refers to the number of calories that our body burns to metabolize and actually use the foods that we ingest. And as it turns out, our body just burns more calories when digesting unprocessed foods.

You Burn More Calories When Metabolizing And Using Unprocessed Foods

For instance, one study compared the caloric burn required to digest and metabolize two minimally processed sandwiches consisting of:

  1. Whole grain bread and real cheddar cheese VERSUS
  2. White bread and processed cheese

Note that both meals consisted of virtually the same amount of total calories and protein. And despite this, the more processed sandwich had a 50% lower thermic effect! As a result, the body burned significantly fewer calories digesting it than it did with the whole grain sandwich.

Similarly, a 6-week randomized controlled trial had subjects stick to a diet consisting of either:

  1. Less processed whole grain foods such as oats, brown rice, and whole-grain bread VERSUS
  2. A calorie AND macronutrient equated diet consisting of more processed refined grains instead such as cereal, white rice, and white bread
Diet plan for weight loss unprocessed foods

What they found is that the whole grain foods group burned on average roughly 100 more calories per day than the processed food group did. And note that this is just from digesting and metabolizing their food!

Swapping Out Processed Foods For Unprocessed Ones Is An Easy Way To Lose Fat

To put this into perspective, the average person burns roughly 100 calories to jog a mile. So, you’d essentially be doing the equivalent of jogging an extra mile a day JUST by choosing to incorporate whole grain, less processed foods as opposed to more processed foods for most of your meals. And, if you crunch the numbers, over 3 months this simple change would theoretically enable you to burn 2.5 lbs MORE fat just by making that switch.

Yes, calories are what matter most. And you definitely will still burn fat despite eating processed foods as long as you’re still in a calorie deficit. But you can further influence the “calories out” side of the equation by simply swapping these foods for whole-grain, less processed foods instead. Let them do the work for you! And this will then potentially speed up the fat loss process.

Swap 2: Switch To “Front-Heavy” Calorie Distribution

Next, let’s dive into how you then go about distributing your meals throughout the day. Yes, your total daily calorie intake is what matters most for fat loss. But it turns out that the manner in which you distribute these calories throughout the day seems to be more important than we’ve previously been led to believe.

Illustrating this is a recent 2020 paper and another similarly designed 2015 paper that compared the effects of:

  1. Using a more “front-heavy” distribution approach by allocating more calories to breakfast VERSUS
  2. A “back heavy” approach by allocating more calories to dinner instead

What the researchers found is that subjects using the front-heavy approach experienced:

  • Significantly less hunger AND
  • Significantly fewer cravings for sweets throughout the day AND
  • Greater overall energy levels

This meant that they were able to adhere to the diet more easily. AND likely burned more calories throughout the day from fidgeting, walking, and just moving more in general. This is because of their increased energy levels.

And in fact, this protocol was also repeated in a longitudinal weight loss study which found that subjects using a front-heavy approach:

  1. Lost more weight
  2. Decreased their waist circumference to a greater degree AND
  3. Reported greater hunger control over a period of 12 weeks
Focus on front-heavy approach for diet plan for weight loss

When compared to a group that used a back-heavy approach by simply swapping the breakfast and dinner calories.

Front-heavy Approach Can Help With Better Hunger Control Over The Day

All of this indicates that there does seem to be some indirect fat loss benefits to allocating more calories to your meals early on in the day. And this is something that I’ve personally noticed as well. I used to be someone who would save a lot of my calories for my evening meal. That’s because I knew that’s when my cravings would really hit.

But then I experimented with shifting more and more calories early on in the day and in breakfast. And I found that not only did my energy levels throughout the day and gym performance improve, but I also wasn’t craving things as much at night! Why? Well, because I just wasn’t as hungry!

Now, obviously, this does vary for the individual. And may depend on when your workout takes place. Even then, I would highly suggest to at least experiment with just shifting more of your calories to your first meal of the day. Even if you’re intermittent fasting, for example. Because doing so does seem to have some unique benefits in terms of enabling you to:

  1. Control your cravings
  2. Burn more calories AND
  3. Potentially create greater fat loss results in the long run as a result

Swap 3: Choose Satiating Foods

Now the last swap is something I’ve covered in the past. You should not only choose mostly unprocessed foods to include your diet. But you should also choose the ones that are highly satiating. These are the ones proven to do the best job at suppressing your appetite. As this will enable you to better adhere to your diet and minimize any excess snacking you may be doing that’s sabotaging your calorie deficit.

Eat more satiating foods

Let’s take a look ar the findings from the satiety index, which examined the effects of 38 different common foods on hunger levels. Now, we can clearly see that on a calorie for calorie comparison, some options are much better than others when it comes to controlling your appetite.

For example, even with calories equated for, simply swapping:

  1. Whole-grain bread for oats instead – Provides a 25% greater effect on suppressing your hunger
  2. Brown rice for whole grain pasta or boiled potatoes instead – Provides a 30%, or 60% boost in satiation, respectively

So, what I’d suggest is look over the index. And experiment with swapping some of these more satiating foods into your diet. Then, see how your body and appetite respond.

Now, to put everything together for you, let’s go through a sample meal plan. You’ll find that this plan not only incorporates these various tips but also tastes great. I’ll use roughly 2,100 calories for this meal plan. But keep in mind that you’ll want to adjust the portion sizes based on what’s needed for you to be at a calorie deficit.

What to consider when choosing a diet or weight loss program

Your personal circumstances

If you already have a health condition, then make sure that your program is suited to your specific situation.

You may already follow a diet, such as a vegetarian or vegan diet, or have certain religious or cultural requirements when it comes to food; a good diet for you shouldn’t make you abandon these beliefs and preferences.

Your diet should also match your eating style and lifestyle. If a plan encourages only 2 meals per day but the 3 you eat currently still leaves you snacking inbetween meals, then it’s probably not suited for you. Similarly, if it recommends 2 hours of exercise per day and you’re a relatively sedentary person, then don’t assume you’ll be able to easily follow it.

Also consider whether your diet would accommodate eating out, and how much food preparation is involved – time-poor people may have less choice in weight loss programs.

The diet itself

Any Google search on weight loss will yield results on a bunch of popular diets, but just because a diet is popular, does not mean that it is safe, healthy, and effective.

A good diet should:

  • Meet your nutritional and health needs
  • Include a variety of foods from all the different food groups
  • Be realistic

Be skeptical of diets that:

  • Avoid entire food groups
  • Promise rapid weight loss without medical supervision
  • Recommend unusual foods or eating patterns (such as restricting food altogether)
  • Encourage the use of pills and tonics that are thought to help you lose weight

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