Counting your daily calorie intake has long been the golden standard of weight loss and maintenance. But recognizing low calorie foods isn’t as straightforward as reading food labels. In fact, almost 50% of food labels inaccurately list their calorie content (1). Below is a list of low calorie fruits and vegetables that will support your weight loss, but calories content isn’t everything.
The Truth About Calorie-Counting
Calories are essentially energy that your body uses to perform all of its tasks: from digestion to blood circulation, and other mechanisms of survival (2). While keeping track of calories ingested and burned can help you lose weight, there’s more to it. Calories from modified foods that contain unhealthy fats and excessive sweeteners are not as satisfying as nutrient-rich foods like avocados and leafy greens. These natural foods help your body burn fat through the digestion of their natural fibers. They also fill you up to make you less likely to overeat.
On the other hand, calories from processed foods are less nutritious, and therefore, less satisfying. This means you are more likely to crave sweets later in the day.
“…counting calories leads to failure 95.4% of the time—and often leaves people fatter,” insists Jonathan Bailor, author of The Calorie Myth. He’s isn’t wrong either.
“Food produces hormonal effects in the body,” explains Jonny Bowden, PhD., CNS, a board-certified nutritionist.”Some hormones say ‘store that fat’; others say ‘release sugar’; others say ‘build muscle.’ Study after study shows that diets based on the same amount of calories, but different proportions of fat, protein and carbohydrates, result in different amounts of weight loss.” (3)
Instead of counting calories, make your calories count by eating smaller portions of protein, fat, or carbohydrate-rich foods and fill up on the low calorie fruits and vegetables below.
14 Low Calorie Foods You Can Eat Every Day
One of these low calorie foods should make its way onto your plate every day.
Cooked onions contain roughly 44 calories per 100g. They’re also packed with phosphorous, potassium, vitamin b6, and vitamin C (4).
Onions are a part of the same family as chives, garlic, scallions and leeks. As such, it contains powerful compounds such as quercetin and sulfur (5). These compounds come together to give onions chemopreventive properties. In fact, researchers believe their rich organosulfur compounds inhibit tumor growth and mutation and fight free radicals.
Additionally, onions contain folate, which fights depression by controlling homocysteine levels in the body. Homocysteine stall nutrient flow to the brain and interferes with the production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. They hormones affect mood, sleep, and appetite.
Onions add plenty of flavor to sauces, stir-frys, soups, and salads,
At 8 cal per ½ cup of chopped cucumber, the vegetables is as close as you can get to a zero calorie food. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin K and electrolytes (6).
Plus, cucumber contains the anti-inflammatory flavonol fisetin, which protects your brain. Among other things, it protects nerve cells against age-related decline and progressive memory and learning impairments such as with Alzheimer’s disease (7).
Lastly, flavonoids and tannins found in cucumbers fight free radicals and relieve pain.The Journal of Young Pharmacists even writes: “Traditionally, this plant is used for headaches; the seeds are cooling and diuretic, the fruit juice of this plant is used as a nutritive and as a demulcent in anti-acne lotions.” (8)
Celery isn’t a classic diet food without reason. 1 full cup of celery contains only 16 calories (9).
It actually requires more calories to digest than what it contains. Best of all, celery doesn’t lose its rich content of vitamin K, A, C, folate, potassium, and antioxidants after being cooked (10).
Fresh celery juice even has the ability to reduce the activity of inflammatory proteins tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-A) and nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-KB) (11). Celery also contains plenty of fiber and water, which improves digestion and hydration. However, celery has much more sodium than other vegetables, so sodium-conscious individuals might want to avoid eating too much celery.
4. Brussels Sprouts
These notoriously avoided vegetables only contain 38 calories per cup. Best of all, they supply 125% of your daily value of vitamin C and 195% of your daily value of vitamin K. They’re also surprisingly high in protein (12).
As a cruciferous vegetable, Brussels sprouts contain glucosinolates, which lower the risk of lung and colorectal cancer in some individuals (13).
Properly cooked, Brussel sprouts have a sweet, slightly nutty and subtlety bitter taste. They make a great side dish when baked to a crisp and combined with pecans, goat cheese, and dried cranberries (14).
1 cup of chopped apples contains as little as 65 calories, making it a truly low calorie fruit (15). Plus, the fruit is chock-full of vitamin C and potassium, as well as quercetin, an anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-cancer and anti-depressant compound (16, 17,18, 19).
At 62 calories per fruit, oranges are a low calorie way to get your daily dose of vitamin C. They also contain some , folate, and potassium (26).
An orange actually contains over 170 different phytochemicals and more than 60 flavonoids. Many of these have anti-inflammatory effects as well as antioxidant properties (27). The American Heart Association actually suggests that eating plenty of citrus fruits can reduce ischemic stroke in women by up to 19 percent.
At 23 calories per 100g, cabbage is a great low calorie food that can be steamed, stir-fried, or even added to soup. The leaf contains more than your daily value vitamin k, and more than half of your daily vitamin C (28).
In fact, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating cabbage and other flavonoid-rich foods lowers your risk of death by from cardiovascular disease. Polyphenols in cabbage also prevent cardiovascular disease by reducing blood pressure and halting platelet build-up in the blood vessels (29).
1 cup of zucchini contains 20 calories and a third of your daily vitamin C requirements (30).
As a member of the squash family, the veggie contains pectin, a type of fiber. Pectin improves cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol and reducing inflammation. Its potassium content, on the other hand, lowers blood pressure to boost this effect (31).
Zucchini is wonderful steamed, stir-fried, or even barbecued. It can also be used in baking to add moisture to cakes and muffins.
At 14 calories per ½ cup, cauliflower is one cruciferous vegetable you can’t miss. With just under half of your needed vitamin C, as well as a decent amount of vitamin K, and folate, this vegetable is sorely underappreciated (32).
Sulforaphane, found in cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables, has been found to significantly improve blood pressure and kidney function. It also improves cellular function by supporting DNA methylation (33). Cauliflower also contains choline, which prevents toxin-induced brain damage during childhood and protects against age-related memory decline (34).
Kale contains 33 calories a cup as well as 684% of your daily value of vitamin K (35). Deficiency of this vitamin contributes towards bone fractures, since vitamin K plays a crucial role in calcium absorption. Also high in vitamin A, kale supports proper growth, sebum production, immune function, sight, and reproductive function (36).
1 large carrot only contains 30 calories and more than 200% daily value of vitamin A (37).
This member of the parsley family lowers your risk of coronary heart disease by 32% and lowers the risk of heart attack in women (38,39). Plus, the beta-carotene in carrots lowers your risk of colon cancer and reverses leukemia (40,41).
½ cup broccoli is only 27 calories, but that’s not all! The vegetable has more than your daily value of vitamin K and almost your daily value of vitamin C. Plus, it has ¼ of your daily value of vitamin A and folate (42).
Folate decreases breast cancer risk in women as well as colon, stomach, pancreatic and cervical cancers. That’s because the vitamin wards against DNA and RNA mutations (43).
The fiber in broccoli, on the other hand, lowers your risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and certain gastrointestinal diseases (44). It also lowers blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, boosts insulin sensitivity, and supports weight loss.
At 32 calories a cup, asparagus is deliciously low-calorie. It even contains selenium, a highly-sought after mineral (45).
Asparagus contains asparagine, an amino acid with diuretic properties. It contributes towards asparagus’ ability to treat urinary tract infections as well as kidney and bladder problems. Other uses for asparagus include treating joint pain (rheumatism), hormone imbalances in women, dryness in the lungs and throat, constipation, nerve pain (neuritis), AIDS, cancer, and diseases caused by parasites (46).
At 46 calories a cup, watermelon is a great diet snack. The fruit, related to cucumbers, pumpkins, and squash, contains lycopene. This heart-healthy carotenoid antioxidant is typically found associated with tomatoes (47).
Watermelon has plenty of uses, from preventing post-exercise muscle soreness to preventing stroke, protecting against ovarian cancer and reducing brain tumor growth and suppressing cancerous breast growths (48,49,50,51).
By increasing your intake of these low calorie foods, you won’t have to compromise satiety and satisfaction during your diet. Eat up!