The Best Approaches to Weight Loss

A Q&A With Joel Fuhrman, MD

Healthy grain avocado bowl
Natasa Mandic/Stocksy United

Despite all the noise about calories we hear these days, the reality is: Yes, they count! But do you need to count them if you want to lose weight?

I have always maintained that while the quantity of calories matters, it is the quality of foods you choose that matters most to weight and health alike. One of the many virtues of highly nutritious foods is they help fill us up on fewer calories, so we don't need to go hungry to be lean.

Here, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, six-time New York Times best-selling author and President of the Nutritional Research Foundation, makes much the same argument, providing many helpful tips about dialing down your weight by trading up your food choices.

Q: Is it necessary to track calories to lose weight?

Some people find tracking calories and portions helpful, but for most people I recommend eating a nutrient-rich diet, where most calories come from unrefined plant foods that are naturally low in calories.

Calorie counting and eating tiny portions of calorie-rich foods is difficult to maintain and can lead to yo-yo dieting. The more raw and cooked vegetables, beans, mushrooms and fresh fruits eaten, the easier it is to lose weight.

These foods crowd out the more caloric dense foods that are not weight loss favorable. Once you remove or minimize the processed grains, flours, sweeteners, and oils from your diet, there are only a few caloric dense foods that would need to be monitored for calories.

These foods could include nuts and seeds, oils, and animal products.

Reducing animal protein has lifespan benefits, so I recommend animal products be restricted to under 10 percent of calories, or 10 ounces a week. I also recommend oils be avoided as much as possible, since nuts and seeds are healthier and more favorable to weight loss.

Nuts and seeds are about 175 calories an ounce, so they still should be restricted to a few ounces a day.

Q: What's the one dietary change you think most reliably helps facilitate weight loss?

I recommend that people eat for health. Eating for health means eating a variety of anti-cancer plant foods, such as G-BOMBS (G-BOMBS are Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, Berries, Seeds) almost every day. Eating in this manner ensures that your body gets adequate phytonutrients and fibers, while naturally reducing appetite and addictive drives to overeat.

I have demonstrated with hundreds of study participants that when overweight people focus on eating more healthful, nutrient-rich plant foods, their drive to over-consume calories is reduced.

Q: Are dietary priorities different for weight management and health promotion?

Not really, when you eat truly healthfully, your weight gravitates towards your most favorable weight for long-term health and remains there without much effort.

Eating to reduce later life cancer and prevent dementia means a diet with an adequate portfolio of high nutrient, high antioxidant, colorful plants, which are generally low in calories and filling. A micronutrient adequate, lower calorie diet slows the aging process and prolongs lifespan in general.

Q: Which is the better approach for weight management: an emphasis on foods or nutrients? Why?

When you eat a variety of healthful foods, by default you emphasize nutrients. High nutrient foods such as vegetables and beans are the most favorable for healthy and successful weight management as well as overall health. If you don’t eat enough high nutrient foods, you can develop symptoms that induce eating, sabotaging efforts to lose weight.

At the same time it is important for long-term health to make sure your diet includes all of the nutrients needed for health and longevity—if not entirely through food, the gaps need to be addressed through supplementation.

These include nutrients such as B12, vitamin D3, and DHA, which are not supplied in optimal amounts from plant-rich diets.

For the best results that are sustainable, people should achieve and maintain a favorable weight through eating healthful foods that are by nature nutrient dense, not by gimmicks or supplements. Effective weight control and eating to achieve protection from heart disease and cancer should be married together with nutritional excellence.


Fuhrman J, Sarter B, Glaser D, Acocella S. Changing perceptions of hunger on a high nutrient density diet. Nutrition Journal. 2010 Nov 7;9:51.