Low and zero calorie foods can be paired with calorie and nutrient-rich foods as part of a healthy weight loss plan. Some surprising swaps may taste great and improve your overall health.
A healthy diet should contain calorie-dense foods, as well as those that are lower in calories.
For example, foods high in healthy fats, such as eggs, nuts, seeds, and avocados, are much higher in calories than foods like fruits and vegetables but still very nutritious.
Pairing calorie-dense foods like the ones listed above with lower calorie foods, especially fruits and vegetables, can make meals more filling and satisfying.
Plus, swapping out some high calorie foods with lower calorie foods can help promote healthy weight loss and may improve other aspects of health as well.
If you normally have eggs and a donut every morning, for example, replacing the donut with an apple or some sautéed vegetables not only reduces the calorie content but also packs in many more nutrients and protective plant compounds.
Fortunately, many low calorie foods can be paired with more filling foods to make a complete meal.
Here are 33 foods that are very low in calories.
Apples are highly nutritious and one of the most popular fruits in the United States (1).
One cup (109 grams) of apple slices provides 62 calories and almost 3 grams of dietary fiber (
Apples are not only low in calories but also a good source of nutrients, such as fiber, vitamin C, and potassium, as well as antioxidant compounds like the flavonoid quercetin (
Arugula is a dark leafy green with a peppery flavor.
It’s commonly used in salads and rich in vitamin K. Plus, it contains folate, calcium, and potassium.
One cup (20 grams) of arugula has only 5 calories (
Asparagus is a flowering vegetable that comes in green, white, and purple varieties.
All types of asparagus are healthy and contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory plant compounds.
For example, studies show that asparagus contains phenolic compounds like flavonoids, as well as sulphur-containing compounds like asparagusic acid (
A cup (180 grams) of cooked asparagus has only 38 calories and is rich in vitamin K and folate, providing 67% and 21% of the Daily Values (DVs), respectively (
Beets are root vegetables that come in a range of vibrant colors, including red and orange.
They’re a good source of nutrients like folate and manganese, and they contain phytonutrients like betalains and phenolic compounds, which may have heart-health-promoting properties (
A 1-cup serving of cooked beets (170 grams) contains 74 calories and provides 17% of the DV for folate and 12% of the DV for manganese (
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that’s incredibly nutritious. Studies show that people who consume high amounts of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli may be at a lower risk of developing conditions like heart disease and certain cancers (
A cup (155 grams) of cooked broccoli has only 54 calories and over 100% of the amount of vitamin C that most people need per day (
Brussels sprouts resemble mini cabbages and can be eaten raw or cooked.
Like broccoli, Brussels sprouts are part of the cruciferous vegetable family. They’re an excellent source of vitamin C, a nutrient that functions to protect cells against oxidative damage (
One cooked cup (155 grams) of these nutritional powerhouses contains just 70 calories and 129% of the DV for vitamin C (
Cabbage is another cruciferous vegetable that comes in a variety of colors including green, red, and white. It’s a common ingredient in slaws and salads and a star ingredient in fermented dishes like sauerkraut and kimchi.
It’s very low in calories with only 22 per cup (89 grams) (
Carrots are slightly sweet, crunchy, and highly nutritious. Even though orange varieties are most popular, carrots come in an array of colors, ranging from white to purple.
Carrots are rich in compounds called carotenoids, including lutein and beta carotene, which are important for healthy vision, immune function, and more. Some carotenoids, including beta carotene, are converted into the active form of vitamin A in the body (
A 1-cup serving (122 grams) of sliced carrots has only 50 calories and over 100% of the DV for vitamin A (
Cauliflower is typically seen as a white head inside green leaves. Less common varieties have purple, orange, and yellow heads.
In recent years, cauliflower has become very popular as a substitute for higher carb vegetables or grains. For example, cauliflower “rice” and cauliflower pizza crusts are popular among those on lower carb diets.
A cup (155 grams) of cooked cauliflower provides 40 calories and only 8 grams of carbs (
Because of its high water content, celery is very low in calories. Try pairing celery sticks with natural peanut butter and a sprinkling of raisins for a classic snacking combination that provides a filling mix of protein, fat, and fiber.
There are only 17 calories in 1 cup (120 grams) of celery (
Chard is a leafy green that comes in several varieties. It’s very high in vitamin K, a nutrient needed for proper blood clotting and bone health (
One cup (36 grams) of chard has only 7 calories and contains 249% of the DV for vitamin K (
Clementines resemble mini oranges. They’re a common snack in the United States and known for their high content of vitamin C.
One fruit (74 grams) packs 40% of the DV for vitamin C and only 35 calories (
Cucumbers are a refreshing vegetable commonly found in salads. They’re also used to flavor water along with fruits and herbs, and they can make a low calorie base for high protein dishes like chicken or tuna salad.
Since cucumbers are mostly water, they’re very low in calories — a half-cup (52 grams) has only 8 (
Fennel is a bulbous vegetable with a faint licorice taste. It’s a good source of several nutrients, including vitamin C and potassium. Dried fennel seeds are used to add an anise flavor to dishes.
Fennel can be enjoyed raw, roasted, or braised. It makes a delicious addition to dishes like roast chicken and risotto. There are 27 calories in 1 cup (87 grams) of raw fennel (
Grapefruits are citrus fruits that are well known for their tart flavor. They can be enjoyed on their own or on top of yogurt, salad, or even fish.
Citrus fruits like grapefruits are rich in nutrients and beneficial plant compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. For this reason, adding citrus fruits to your diet may help promote the health of your heart, brain, and more (
There are 37 calories in half a grapefruit (123 grams) (
Iceberg lettuce is known for its high water content. It’s commonly used in salads and on top of burgers or sandwiches.
Even though most people think it’s not as nutritious as other types of lettuce, iceberg lettuce is a good source of some nutrients, including vitamin K, provitamin A, and folate.
One cup (57 grams) of iceberg lettuce has only 8 calories (
Jicama is a tuber vegetable that resembles a white potato. This vegetable is typically eaten raw and has a texture similar to that of a crisp apple. Jicama is high in several nutrients, including fiber, vitamin C, and potassium.
A cup (130 grams) of raw jicama has over 29% of the DV for vitamin C and only 49 calories (
Kale is a leafy green that has gained popularity in recent years for its impressive nutritional profile.
You can find kale in salads, smoothies, and vegetable dishes. Kale is exceptionally nutritious, providing high amounts of provitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, and copper.
One cup (130 grams) of cooked kale contains only 49 calories and over 100% of the DV for vitamins C and K (
Mushrooms are neither a vegetable nor a type of meat; they’re the reproductive bodies of some fungi. That said, vegetarians and vegans sometimes use them as a substitute for meat.
Mushrooms contain several important nutrients like B vitamins and selenium, and they provide around 44 calories per cooked cup (156 grams) (
Onions are low calorie vegetables that have been linked to a number of health benefits.
For example, research shows that following a diet high in vegetables in the allium family, such as onions and garlic, may reduce the risk of certain health conditions like heart and kidney disease (
Even though the taste differs depending on the type, all onions have very few calories — a medium-sized, cooked onion (148 grams) has approximately 70 calories (
Peppers come in many colors, shapes, and sizes. Popular types include bell peppers and jalapeños.
Research shows that bell peppers are particularly high in antioxidants, such as vitamin C and lycopene (
There are only 24 calories in 1 cup (92 grams) of sliced red bell peppers (
The papaya is an orange fruit with black seeds. It’s typically grown in tropical regions.
It’s high in a number of vitamins and minerals, including provitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and potassium. A small (157-gram) papaya has only 68 calories (
Radishes are crunchy root vegetables with a somewhat spicy bite.
They come in a variety of colors and make a beautiful — and nutritious — addition to dishes like salads and grain bowls.
Radishes have several beneficial nutrients, including vitamin C, potassium, and folate. They contain just 19 calories per cup (116 grams) (
Romaine lettuce is a very popular leafy vegetable used in salads and on sandwiches.
The calorie content of romaine is quite low, as it’s high in water and rich in fiber. A cup (47 grams) of shredded romaine lettuce provides just 8 calories (
Rutabaga is a root vegetable also known as swede.
It tastes similar to turnips and is a popular lower carb substitute for potatoes. Rutabagas are rich in fiber and a good source of vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
One cup (170 grams) of cooked rutabaga has only 51 calories (
Strawberries are sweet and highly nutritious. They pair well with both sweet and savory ingredients, making them a versatile ingredient in the kitchen.
Studies show that regularly consuming berries like strawberries may help protect against conditions like Alzheimer’s and heart disease (
There are only 53 calories in 1 cup (166 grams) of sliced strawberries (
Spinach is another low calorie leafy green that’s loaded with vitamins and minerals.
It’s high in vitamin K, provitamin A, and folate, and it contains bioactive compounds like the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for eye health (
A 1-cup (30-gram) serving of spinach has only 7 calories (
Sugar snap peas are a cross between a garden pea and a snow pea. The pods of sugar snap peas are entirely edible and have a sweet flavor.
They’re typically eaten raw on their own or with a dip, but you can also add them to vegetable dishes and salads.
Snap peas are nutritious, with 1 cup (63 grams) providing 42% of the DV for vitamin C and just 27 calories (
Tomatoes pair well with a number of ingredients and can be served raw, cooked, or puréed in a tomato sauce.
What’s more, tomatoes are a rich source of protective plant compounds like lycopene. Studies show that eating a tomato-rich diet may help protect against stroke, heart disease, and certain cancers (
A cup (149 grams) of cherry tomatoes has 27 calories (
Turnips are white root vegetables with slightly bitter flesh. They’re often added to soups and stews.
Turnips are rich in vitamin C and contain only 34 calories per cooked cup (156 grams) (
Watercress is a leafy vegetable that’s typically used in salads and tea sandwiches.
Even though watercress is not as popular as other greens, it’s just as nutritious.
A cup (34 grams) of this vegetable provides 71% of the DV for vitamin K, 16% of the DV for vitamin C, and 120% of the DV for vitamin A — and all for only 4 calories (
As its name suggests, watermelon is a very hydrating fruit.
It tastes delicious on its own or paired with fresh mint and feta cheese.
Watermelon is a good source of many nutrients, including vitamin C. There are 46 calories in 1 cup (154 grams) of watermelon balls (
Zucchini is a green type of summer squash. It has a delicate taste that makes it a versatile addition to recipes.
In recent years, spiralizing zucchini into “zoodles” as a substitute for higher carb noodles has become very popular.
Zucchini is also quite low in calories, with only 27 per cooked cup (180 grams) (51).
Many delicious foods are low in calories. Most of them are fruits and vegetables that also contain nutrients that benefit your health.
However, just because a food is lower in calories doesn’t mean it makes a better choice than higher calorie foods. Your body needs adequate calories on a daily basis to function optimally and help you feel your best.
It’s not a good idea to choose foods based simply on their calorie content. Instead, think about choosing foods based on their nutrient density, or the amount of nutrients a food delivers in proportion to the calories it provides.
Eating a variety of lower calorie foods like fruits and vegetables alongside other foods that contain higher amounts of protein and fats (and thus calories) is a smart way to support optimal health.
Just one thing
Try this today: Being preoccupied with counting calories or restricting yourself to only low calorie foods isn’t healthy and can take a toll on your mental health.
If you think you may be overly concerned with calories and weight gain or are confused about how to maintain a healthful, guilt-free eating pattern, talk with a qualified healthcare provider like a registered dietitian or a therapist for support.