People are always looking for the ultimate weight loss-friendly foods.
In our modern food environment, it is extremely difficult to maintain a healthy weight, so the fixation with finding the “magic pill” for weight loss is understandable.
How do we lose weight?
The main lever that you can pull to cause your body to lose weight is by changing your diet.
Even though you can burn extra calories by increasing the amount of exercise you do, you are more likely to be successful with your weight loss goals if you view your diet as the primary factor.
For best results, don’t try to “cardio” your way to weight loss — instead, find a sustainable, healthy, and enjoyable diet that will allow you to consistently eat at a caloric deficit while maintaining your overall health and enjoyment of life.
How do our food choices affect weight loss?
Many people claim that certain types of diets are superior to others in terms of weight loss.
You often hear that keto diets, for example, are inherently better for weight loss because they limit carbs.
Some people think that you can more easily lose weight by limiting your meat intake.
Other people swear that low-fat diets are the holy grail of weight loss.
But this just isn’t true.
The fact is that all diets work through the same mechanism — creating a caloric deficit, where the amount of energy burned by your body is more than the amount of energy coming in through what you eat and drink.
So the key to sustainable weight loss is to be able to maintain a caloric deficit over time without negatively affecting your overall health or making you feel so deprived and miserable so as to make your diet unsustainable.
With this in mind, your food choices when your goal is to lose weight should be primarily nutrient-dense foods that are relatively low in calories.
Empty calories — foods that are high in dietary energy (fat and carbs) and low in nutrition — should be avoided if weight loss is your goal.
Foods that have good nutrition with a low caloric “cost” should be the mainstay of your diet.
What are the best legumes for weight loss?
Let’s start by comparing the basic caloric content of a few commonly eaten types of legumes.
|Type of legume||Calories in a 4-ounce serving|
It’s obvious from looking at the chart above that peanuts are very high in calories.
Lentils, black beans, and chickpeas have much more moderate levels of calories.
Peas have the lowest amount of calories per 4-ounce serving.
But eating for weight loss requires a little bit more nuanced than simply comparing amounts of calories for different foods.
You also need to consider the concept of “hyper-palatable foods.”
As Robb Wolf puts it, “we…are hard-wired to seek ‘palate novelty.’ New tastes, textures, and combinations are rewarded via the dopaminergic centers of the brain, just like hookers and cocaine.”
Basically, modern methods of processing foods and continually coming up with new tastes, textures, and flavor combinations end up making these foods highly addictive.
Side note: this is key to engineering foods to get you to eat (and therefore buy) more and more.
That’s why the Pringles motto is, “Bet you can’t eat just one!”
Let’s take a favorite legume as an example.
Peanuts are already extremely calorically dense, as we saw in the table above.
But if you process those peanuts into smooth, creamy peanut butter, it makes those peanuts even more palatable.
And what if other flavors (chocolate, salted caramel, etc.) are added to the peanut butter?
The palatability of the food, and the likelihood that it will be overeaten, just increased greatly.
There is almost no one with the willpower to stop at just 1 tablespoon of peanut butter.
To take another example: chickpeas on their own, simply boiled with some salt added, are not all that tasty.
It might even be difficult for you to eat the entire serving, and you likely won’t be tempted to go back for more.
But chickpeas blended into a paste to make hummus, then used as a dip for corn chips — that’s a different story.
Now you could easily eat several times the amount that you would normally eat if you were just eating plain chickpeas.
Peas, on the other hand, are typically eaten plain — probably boiled, with some salt added.
In that context, it becomes much more difficult to overeat them, and they are already low in calories anyway, making them more friendly to a weight-loss program.
Can I lose weight eating lentils?
Lentils are nutrient-dense and not too high in calories, making them an ideal choice for a weight-loss diet.
Furthermore, lentils are full of fiber, making them highly satiating.
Eating satiating foods is a great idea if your goal is to lose weight, as it will help you feel full even when eating at a caloric deficit.
Of course, lentils are also high in carbohydrates. One cup of cooked lentils has 40 grams of carbohydrates.
If your preferred weight loss diet is a low carb or keto diet, lentils would not be a good choice for you.
Which lentils are best for weight loss?
The various types of lentils are extremely similar from a macronutrient perspective and have similar amounts of calories.
The primary difference is that red lentils have less fiber than other varieties because red lentils lack their outer shell (which is mostly composed of fiber).
Getting more fiber may be a good strategy for weight loss, owing to the satiating nature of high fiber foods.
However, red lentils still have a significant amount of fiber — 22 grams per cup — so the difference between lentil varieties is negligible from a weight loss perspective.
Eating only lentils for a week
Eating plain lentils for a week would likely make it easier to stay in a caloric deficit since lentils are not intrinsically highly-palatable food and they have plenty of fiber to make you feel full.
For this reason, you may certainly lose weight if you only eat lentils for a week.
However, I would not recommend this approach.
Eating only lentils is not a sustainable long-term strategy for weight loss. If you enjoy lentils, including them as part of an overall balanced diet — a diet that you can adhere to for a long period of time — is your best bet.
Benefits of eating lentils everyday
Lentils have a decent amount of protein, significant amounts of fiber and carbohydrate, and barely any fat.
Below is the macronutrient summary for 1 cup of cooked brown lentils:
Screenshots from Cronometer app
Lentils are often touted as a high-protein food, but it’s important to keep a couple of points in mind when getting protein from plant sources. First, it’s more calorically efficient to get protein from lean meats, if possible.
To get 18 grams of protein from lentils, you also have to consume 40 grams of carbs and 230 total calories. But to get 18 grams of protein from chicken breast, you would only be consuming 104 total calories.
Second, animal proteins are much richer in all of the essential amino acids, while plant proteins are usually lacking in one or more essential amino acids.
Lentils, in particular, are low in the amino acid methionine.
Lentils have high levels of folate, which is a key nutrient in pregnancy for preventing neural tube defects in fetuses.
Lentils are a bit lower in other types of vitamins and is completely missing B12, which is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies worldwide (especially in vegetarians and vegans).
As far as other types of vitamins and minerals, lentils are a good source of copper, phosphorus, and potassium.
Lentils are a nutrient-rich food but need to be consumed as part of a diet balanced with animal protein (if possible), essential fatty acids (from meat, eggs, or a fish oil supplement), and vitamins and minerals present in whole foods.