Reducing your calorie intake can be an effective way to lose weight.
However, not all foods are equal when it comes to nutritional value. Some foods are low in calories while also low in nutrients.
When limiting your calorie intake, it's important to choose nutrient-dense foods, which contain ample nutrients for the number of calories they provide.
What's more, a diet full of whole, nutrient-dense foods may help you feel more satisfied while cutting calories (
Here are 42 nutritious foods that are low in calories.
Because they’re high in protein, lean meat and poultry are good foods to eat when you're trying to cut calories.
Meats that are lowest in calories are the ones that are very lean. Fat is calorie-dense, so fattier cuts of meat have a higher calorie count.
1. Eye of round steak
There's no reason you can't still enjoy a steak while cutting calories. Beef is nutritious and a good source of vitamin B12 and iron (4).
Iron is an essential nutrient that helps transport oxygen throughout your body, while vitamin B12 is necessary to form red blood cells (
However, note that eye of round is a very lean cut of beef. Be sure not to overcook it, or it will be tough and dry.
Calories: 138 per 3-ounce (86-gram) serving
2. Boneless, skinless chicken breast
You can keep the calorie content low by trimming all skin and visible fat.
Calories: 92 per 3-ounce (86-gram) serving
3. Turkey breast
Calories: 93 per 3-ounce (86-gram) serving
4. Pork tenderloin
Tenderloin is one of the leanest cuts of pork, making it a great low-calorie option.
Pork is rich in several B vitamins and an excellent source of high-quality protein (8).
Calories: 122 per 3-ounce (86-gram) serving
Most fish and seafood are highly nutritious and excellent choices if you’re restricting calories.
Like meat, fish and seafood are high in protein. They also provide important nutrients like vitamin B12, iodine, and omega-3 fatty acids (
Cod is a lean, white fish that is high in protein but low in calories.
It's also rich in vitamin B12, iodine, and selenium, and contains a decent amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Iodine is important for proper brain and thyroid function, but many people do not get enough of it (11,
Calories: 70 per 3-ounce (86-gram) serving
This is important, as vitamin D deficiency is a common problem around the world. It’s is associated with various health issues, such as osteoporosis, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and high blood pressure (
Calories: 99 in a 3-ounce (86-gram) serving
Scallops are a low-calorie shellfish with a sweet, mild flavor (16).
Make sure to skip the high-calorie sauces and enjoy scallops steamed, broiled, or grilled.
Calories: 26 in 5 small scallops (30 grams)
Just 1 oyster provides over 100% of the daily value (DV) for vitamin B12 and over half of the DV for zinc and selenium (17).
Calories: 41 per oyster (50 grams)
Most vegetables are low in calories yet high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. This makes them excellent for weight loss.
Many veggies are also high in both water and fiber, which help you feel full without consuming a lot of calories (
Starchy vegetables like potatoes and winter squashes are higher in calories but still very nutritious.
9. Chinese cabbage
Chinese cabbage, which includes napa and bok choy, ranks at the top of the list when it comes to nutrient density. This cabbage is high in vitamins C and K and contains a decent amount of folate (20).
Sautéing Chinese cabbage gives it an excellent flavor and retains its nutrients.
Calories: 12 per cup (75 grams)
Watercress is a spicy, leafy green that's one of the most nutrient-rich vegetables you can eat.
It's very low in calories yet contains large amounts of vitamins A, C, and K. You can toss watercress into a salad or stir-fry it alongside other scrumptious vegetables (21).
Calories: 4 per cup (36 grams)
Cucumbers are low in calories because they consist mostly of water.
Calories: 45 per cucumber (300 grams)
Radishes are a peppery, cruciferous vegetable that is low in calories yet full of flavor.
They provide a decent amount of vitamin C and a small amount of folate (24).
Calories: 1 per radish (6 grams)
Calories: 6 per stalk (38 grams)
Kale is an extremely nutritious veggie. You can get over 100% of the DV for vitamins A, C, and K1 by eating just 1 cup (68 grams) of kale.
In fact, this serving provides seven times the amount of vitamin K you need in a day. Vitamin K is crucial for blood clotting (27).
Calories: 34 per cup (68 grams)
Starting your meal with a salad made from spinach or other leafy greens might help you feel fuller and eat fewer calories overall (
Calories: 7 per cup (30 grams)
16. Bell peppers
Bell peppers are naturally sweet and high in fiber, vitamin C, and carotenoids (30).
Calories: 37 per pepper (119 grams)
Calories: 15 per cup (68 grams)
Fruits tend to be higher in calories than vegetables. However, most fruits are nutrient-dense and deserve a place in your low-calorie diet.
Calories: 46 per cup (144 grams)
It’s also a rich source of beta-carotene, which is important for healthy eyes and skin.
Calories: 60 per cup (176 grams)
Calories: 46 per cup (153 grams)
Calories: 84 per cup (147 grams)
Calories: 57 calories for half a fruit (136 grams)
Calories: 46 per fruit (75 grams)
Legumes are one of the best plant-based sources of protein and very high in nutrients.
24. Black beans
Black beans are a versatile and inexpensive protein source.
Calories: 114 calories per 1/2 cup (86 grams)
Compared to other legumes, lentils are quick and easy to prepare. They're also high in protein, fiber, folate, thiamine, iron, potassium, and manganese (49).
Calories: 165 per 1/2 cup (142 grams)
When it comes to dairy products, the calorie count varies with the fat content.
If you're trying to keep your calorie intake low, stick to low-fat or nonfat dairy options.
26. Skim milk
Skim milk is a low-calorie source of high-quality protein. Milk also contains calcium, and most milk manufacturers supplement their products with vitamin D (51).
Calories: 86 per cup (240 ml)
27. Plain non-fat yogurt
Choose plain, unsweetened yogurt because flavored varieties tend to contain high amounts of sugar and calories. Add fresh fruit or berries for flavor and natural sweetness.
Calories: 137 per cup (245 grams)
28. Low-fat cottage cheese
Cottage cheese is a soft, creamy, fresh cheese that is low in calories and high in protein.
Most grocery stores carry cottage cheeses with varying fat contents. For the lowest calorie count, choose cottage cheese with 1% milkfat (54).
Calories: 82 per 1/2 cup (114 grams)
Eggs are an inexpensive and nutritious source of high-quality protein.
Calories: 72 per large egg (50 grams)
The healthiest grains are those that have not been processed or refined.
Popcorn is a type of corn that expands and pops when it's exposed to heat.
It’s a healthy, low-calorie snack, as long as you don't smother it with butter or unhealthy toppings. Air-popped popcorn is a good choice.
Calories: 31 per popped cup (11 grams)
31. Shirataki noodles
Shirataki noodles are Japanese noodles made from a yam-like tuber called konjac. They are nearly calorie-free and high in fiber.
Calories: 5 per 3.5 ounces (100 grams)
32. Oats and oatmeal
Calories: 124 in 3/4 cooked cup (175 grams)
33. Wild rice
Wild rice is cooked and eaten much like regular rice. However, it's slightly lower in calories than white or brown rice.
It also provides fiber, protein, some B vitamins, zinc, and manganese (61).
Calories: 166 per cooked cup (164 grams)
Quinoa is a gluten-free pseudocereal often marketed as a superfood due to its nutrient and antioxidant content.
It packs more protein than most grains and also provides several B vitamins, alongside iron, magnesium, and manganese (62).
Calories: 222 per cooked cup (185 grams)
In general, nuts and seeds are high-calorie foods. Still, they're also highly nutritious and should be included in your diet even if you're restricting calories.
35. Unsweetened almond milk
Almond milk is made from ground almonds and water.
It's a popular substitute for those who are allergic to dairy and significantly lower in calories than cow's milk.
The calcium content of almond milk is similar to cow's milk, and it’s also high in vitamin E (63).
Calories: 38 per cup (240 ml)
Chestnuts are lower in calories than most other nuts. They're also high in fiber, vitamin C, and folate (64).
Calories: 63 per ounce (28 grams)
Sugar-sweetened beverages are the enemy of weight loss. Alternatively, most sugar-free drinks are low in calories.
Always check the label to make sure your drink does not contain added sugar. Additionally, fruit juices are high in sugar and should be avoided.
Water is the best beverage you can consume, and it’s always calorie-free.
38. Unsweetened tea
39. Black coffee
Sugary drinks from coffee houses are loaded with calories. On the other hand, black coffee is a calorie-free beverage.
40. Sparkling water
Sparkling water is a refreshing and healthy alternative to sugary soft drinks.
Most sparkling waters are simply water infused with carbon dioxide, but check the label of your favorite brand to be sure that sugar has not been added.
Some condiments are full of sugar and can add calories to your meal. However, plenty of flavorful condiments are very low in calories.
41. Herbs and spices
Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to your food. Several may even benefit your health.
Cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, ginger, and cayenne pepper are spices that are particularly rich in antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds.
42. Low-calorie condiments
- Vinegar: 3 calories per tablespoon (15 ml)
- Lemon juice: 3 calories per teaspoon (5 ml)
- Salsa: 4 calories per tablespoon (15 grams)
- Hot sauce: 0.5 calories per teaspoon (5 ml)
- Horseradish: 2 calories per teaspoon (5 grams)
A low-calorie diet does not have to be boring or bland. In fact, plenty of healthy foods are full of flavor but low in calories.
Consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods will ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs — and may also increase your satisfaction with your diet.
Notably, whole, unprocessed foods tend to contain the most nutrients.