- To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn during the day.
- Low-calorie foods that are high in protein and fiber will help you feel fuller for longer.
- Apples, whole grains, eggs, nuts, and fish are some filling, low-calorie options to reach for.
In order to lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than your body burns. One way to lower the number of calories that you eat is by focusing on low-calorie foods.
“A diet with mainly low-calorie foods can create a caloric deficit that may result in weight loss,” says Cesar Sauza, a registered dietitian with AltaMed Health Services.
However, not all low-calorie foods are created equal. In general, low-calorie foods — which are usually carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables — won’t leave you as satiated, or satisfied, as more calorie-dense foods that contain protein and fat.
“Protein, fiber, and fats tend to be most satiating, while the carbohydrates usually leave us feeling hungry shortly after eating,” Sauza says. “Choosing lower-calorie, nutrient-dense foods should be the goal.”
Here are 15 healthy low-calorie foods that you should incorporate into your diet.
Apples have lots of fiber and are just sweet enough to satisfy cravings.
“Low-calorie natural foods will almost always be bulky and will provide a lot of satisfaction when you eat them,” says Brian Quebbemann, MD, bariatric surgeon and weight loss expert with The NEW Program. “They require a lot of chewing which is part of the thing that satisfies us when we eat.”
Make sure to eat apples with the skin, as that’s where most of the fiber is located.
It’s no surprise that vegetables are low-calorie and nutrient-rich foods that are closely associated with a healthy weight.
To really feel satisfied with your vegetable-based snack, choose crunchy veggies like broccoli, carrots, celery, cucumbers, or bell peppers.
“All of these vegetables provide a crunchy texture and serve as a great snack or side dish to a meal,” says Sauza.
Eating whole grains — like oatmeal, 100% whole-grain bread or pasta, and brown rice — will keep you feeling full longer.
That’s because whole grains have high fiber content and take longer for your body to break down than white grains like refined flour.
Nuts aren’t typically considered a low-calorie snack, because they’re very nutrient-rich.
A single serving of 10 to 12 almonds is about 100 calories, Sauza says. But eating those 100 calories can keep you feeling full and reduce the likelihood that you’ll consume more calories later in the day and keep from eating more sugary snacks, which may contribute to diabetes.
“A recommended serving of nuts keeps calories down,” he says. It’s no wonder that eating nuts is associated with weight loss and diabetes prevention.
Like nuts, seeds are calorie-dense, but super healthy since they’re high in healthy fats, fiber, and nutrients like vitamin E.
Try sprinkling sunflower seeds on top of a low-calorie salad to add a nutritious crunch.
Eggs are high in protein and low in calories, making them one of the healthiest breakfast options to enhance weight loss.
Sauza recommends hard-boiled eggs for their convenience. They can be eaten on their own or added to salads or other dishes.
Grapefruit has high water content and plenty of fiber and nutrients to make you feel satisfied. In addition, the complex sweet-yet-tart flavor makes grapefruit feel like a treat, Quebbemann says.
A small 2006 study of obese individuals found that people who ate fresh grapefruit three times a day before meals lost more weight over 12 weeks than people who didn’t eat grapefruit.
Fish is packed with protein, which has been linked to weight loss, in part because it keeps you feeling full and you digest it more slowly.
One small 2006 study found that people who ate a fish meal were satiated and consumed fewer calories than people who ate a beef-based meal.
Quebbemann suggests eating white fish, like cod, and fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids, including salmon and sardines.
If you’re not comfortable cooking fish, canned tuna can provide the same benefits with less hassle. Avoid high-calorie mayo, and mix your tuna with healthier options.
“It tastes great with chopped vegetables like tomato, onion, cilantro, and peppers, or by itself with a little bit of lime and salt added,” Sauza says.
Consuming yogurt has been linked to increased weight loss and reduced body fat. Greek yogurt is a particularly good choice because it’s naturally low in fat and high in protein.
Greek yogurt can be used as a base for lower calorie salad dressings and dips, Sauza says.
Tomatoes are a versatile, low-calorie vegetable that make a great snack. “Tomatoes are very low calorie but surprisingly satiating,” says Sauza. Their robust flavor, high water content, and fiber content will help you feel satisfied.
Add a tiny drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of pepper for extra hunger-fighting power. Although olive oil is calorie dense, the added fat can help you stay fuller for a longer time, Sauza says.
Chicken breast is a low-fat, low-calorie source of protein. Consuming poultry, like chicken breast, is associated with overall health. A 100-gram serving of chicken has about the same amount of protein as the same-sized serving of beef, with about 25% fewer calories and half the fat.
Sauza recommends shredding chicken breast and adding it to salads or making low-calorie tacos by using a lettuce wrap.
Soup has a lot of liquid volume, without many calories. Because of that, it can help fill you up and reduce the amount that you eat later in the day.
Skip the creamy soups and reach for a chunky, vegetable soup with a clear broth, which is the most filling.
Air-popped popcorn without any oil or butter has just 31 calories per cup, making it a very low-calorie snack perfect for when you’re craving something salty and crunchy.
A 2012 study of 25 normal-weight individuals found that snacking on popcorn kept people feeling fuller longer than snacking on potato chips, and ultimately could be beneficial for weight loss.
Water has zero calories and is critical for health. Research suggests that drinking water before a meal can help you feel more satisfied and consume fewer calories.
Drinking water rather than sweetened beverages is also linked with weight loss. Men should drink 3.7 liters of water a day, while women should aim for 2.7 liters. Try lemon water instead of sugary beverages.
Counting calories can be tedious and hard to maintain long-term. Don’t automatically reach for the lowest-calorie snack, Sauza says. Instead, choose a snack that is low calorie, but that contains lots of fiber, water, and nutrients.
“I suggest choosing foods that are nutrient-dense and provide less calories overall; usually these tend to be whole foods,” Sauza says. “Reducing processed foods and increasing whole foods are the simplest dietary recommendations I could give, but probably the most valuable.”