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The Best Foods for Women to Stay Lean

By Jill Corleone, RDN, LD ; Updated July 18, 2017

When women diet, they often skimp on food to save calories. But if your goal is to stay lean, eliminating foods or entire food groups may backfire. Eating a variety of healthy foods from all the food groups is the best way to stay lean. It not only ensures you get all the nutrients your body needs for adequate nutrition, it may also prevent you from falling off the healthy eating wagon. Consult your doctor or dietitian to help you design a meal plan that can help you stay lean.

Energize With Carbs: Fruits, Veggies and Whole Grains

Carbohydrates are not bad; not all carbs, however, offer the same nutritional value. To feel energized for your workout and everyday activities in your lean body, skip junk food carbs such as soda, crackers and cookies. Instead, fill your diet with healthy carbs such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends women aim for six servings of healthy whole grains a day. Good options include whole-wheat bread, steel-cut oats, quinoa, barley, whole-wheat pasta and brown rice.

According to a 2011 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, women who eat more fruits and vegetables gain less weight than women who eat unhealthy carbs such as chips and white bread. Fruits and veggies are low in calories and full of nutrients that nourish your body with nutrients such as vitamins A and C, folate and fiber. You can stay lean eating 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables every day.

Stay Lean With Healthy Protein

Don't skip the protein portion of your meal to save room for other foods. Protein not only helps you maintain your muscle mass to keep you looking lean, it also curbs your appetite. Non-exercising women should get 0.35 grams of protein per pound of body weight -- for example, 46 grams of protein for a 130-pound woman. Women who exercise need 0.5 to 0.8 grams, or 65 to 104 grams for a 130-pound woman. A 3-ounce portion of chicken, fish or lean read meat has about 21 grams of protein. Eggs are also a good source of protein, with 7 grams in each whole egg. Adding milk, nuts and beans to your diet can also help you meet your protein needs.

Women Benefit From Eating Yogurt

Not only is yogurt a good source of calcium -- which you need for your bones -- it may also help you maintain a healthy weight. The 2011 NEJM study found that yogurt may help prevent weight gain in women. A 2015 study published in Food Science and Nutrition found that consuming nonfat yogurt helped women lose fat weight and preserve lean body mass while following a low-calorie diet with 20 percent of their calories from protein and three servings of nonfat dairy a day. Choose nonfat varieties of yogurt in your diet, to get all the goodness without the added calories. Have the yogurt plain and add your own ingredients, such as fresh fruit, nuts and seeds, to limit your intake of unnecessary sugar.

Nuts Help Keep You Lean, Too

Yes, nuts are a concentrated source of calories. But as with people who eat fruits, vegetables and yogurt, people who eat nuts regularly tend to be leaner than non-nut eaters, according to a 2008 study published in The Journal of Nutrition. Getting nuts in your diet more often is not only good for your figure, it may also reduce risk of heart disease, diabetes and the development of gallstones. Keep calories under control by limiting your portion of nuts to an ounce a day, which is equal to 24 almonds, 18 cashews, 35 peanuts or 14 walnuts.

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