Photograph courtesy of Syddicraw/lucie haspeklova/Rachel Howell/Alyssa Cohen/Instagram
With so many Instagram-inspired Food trends out there, it's safe to say we can't get enough of pretty eats. Sure, some trends are more about how they look in the snapshot and less about how healthy they are (here's looking at you, unicorn foods), but putting more effort into how your food looks might help you master the whole shedding-pounds thing, too.
Looking at photos of bright, beautiful vegetables or artful smoothie bowls may encourage you to nosh on nutrient-dense eats more often, says New Jersey-based registered dietitian Alyssa Cohen. Being creative with your food can also promote a healthier, more mindful (and fun!) approach to eating, which can leave you more satisfied and less likely to crave unhealthy grub.
But which Instagram-worthy food trends are actually good for you? We asked the experts to find out, and here are their picks from least to most effective.
Blue Majik is an extract of spirulina, a blue-green algae that contains plant-based protein, making it a convenient satiety-booster to add to any diet. You can pretty much add this fishy-tasting stuff to anything. Smoothies, water, cake pops, whatever.
However, research on both spirulina and Blue Majik shows it hasn't been proven to impact weight loss, says Harbstreet. While its bright blue hue is totally Instagram-worthy and its nutritional composition can do a body good, be cautious of what you add it to. Putting it in calorie-packed coconut milk or all-fruit smoothies can negate your weight-loss efforts in the long run, says Vetere.
Mermaid toast may be pretty, but it kind of sucks for your waistline. That's because this gorge food is just food coloring mixed with cream cheese on top of any old toast.
But if you adjust the ingredients a bit, it might not be so bad. "At its core, mermaid toast is a serving of grains plus the topping, and if not done in a way that boosts nutrition, it could be the equivalent of a bagel with cream cheese or breakfast sandwich," says Harbstreet. If you just can't help yourself, using whole-grain or sprouted bread and swapping traditional cream cheese for almond milk cream cheese can slash calories and give you a solid dose of complex carbs and healthy fats to stave off hunger, suggests Cohen.
"In my experience, these snacks haven't made a significant difference for clients interested in weight loss," says Harbstreet. They're very dense, both in texture and nutrients, so a serving size may be up to three energy balls—which can be hard to stick to. And depending on the recipe, they may be high in sugar or low in protein, triggering cravings instead of sapping them. Vetere recommends using energy balls as a snack before an intense workout for quick energy, but not for your weight-loss routine.
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Smoothie bowls are a super-convenient way to incorporate more nutrient-dense (translation: low-calorie) fruits and veggies into your diet, not to mention increase your fiber intake and keep you hydrated, says Cohen. All of those factors can help keep hunger pangs and cravings at bay. Just try to include a mix of different foods (greens, veggies, Greek yogurt) in your smoothie bowl. "An all-fruit bowl can send your body into a state of fructose overload and increase insulin output, which is a fat-storing hormone," says Vetere. And remember: The bowls you see on Instagram are usually three to four servings (or more!), so make sure to keep your portions in check. (Check out our Big Book of Smoothies & Soups for great smoothie bowl recipes to help you lose weight.)
These mesmerizing layers of chia and fruit are made by first creating chia seed pudding. Step one: Put chia seeds in a mason jar. Step two: add milk. Step three: wait. After your seeds have exploded in size, you can top them with fruit, nuts, or whatever you want.
Most of the carbs in chia seeds come from fiber, the zero-calorie component of carbs. That means even though we don't digest them as energy, they help increase satiety, says Vetere. Those two things are key when it comes to weight loss. "Just be wary of how many chia seeds you're adding to your jar," says Cohen. "One serving (two tablespoons) contains roughly 150 calories, so the servings can add up quickly." You may also want to add an additional protein source to your jar (such as old-fashioned oats), since one serving of chia seeds only has about four to five grams of protein, she adds. Aim for five to 10 grams of protein per snack, and about 20 grams of protein per meal.
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The fiber and fat combo will help you feel full with just one slice of toast rather than two, ultimately decreasing your overall carb intake per meal, says Vetere. And adding an egg on top can provide extra protein to keep you full even longer. Be mindful of portions, however, as avocados aren't exactly a low-cal fruit—one whole avocado can provide about 300 calories, says Cohen, so try to stay within one-quarter of an avocado per meal or snack, she suggests.
Check out these 11 delicious ways to eat avocado toast:
One of the newest cool-kid foods on the Instagram scene are these eggs made by whipping egg whites into a fluffy bed, baking them, adding the yolk to the center, and baking them some more. The result is a cloud of egg whites, hence the name. And since this is, essentially, just a fancy way of making eggs, it's pretty freaking great for weight loss. Eggs contain protein, which amps up satiety and helps build lean muscle mass, keeping your metabolism revved, says California-based registered dietitian Gabriella Vetere. Meanwhile, the yolk provides the healthy fats necessary to keep you full well until lunch.
Consider grain bowls your new go-to when trying to shed pounds. Similar to salad, these "Buddha bowls" (as referenced in the book Buddha's Diet: The Ancient Art of Losing Weight Without Losing Your Mind) include a whole grain, lots of green veggies, and protein. Basically, these contain the ultimate satiety trifecta: protein, fiber, and healthy fats. They're also nutrient-dense, meaning you can eat a larger portion (you know, within reason) without going overboard on calories, says Kansas City-based registered dietitian Cara Harbstreet. "Plus, when you cook them at home, you're in control of portion sizes and salt content, which can help with weight loss and fluid retention from too much sodium," she says. Aim for at least one to two cups of leafy green veggies in your grain bowl, along with one to two cups of non-starchy cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli), and a half to one cup of whole grains.