When it comes to weight loss and weight management, we all know how helpful it can be to keep tabs on every calorie that goes into your body. Unlike what many people believe, calorie counting is not just for those looking to lose weight, even competitive athletes and bodybuilders have to keep track of their food energy intake. In light of this, zero calorie foods can come in handy, as it means that you can consume as much of them as you would like without going over your recommended energy intake for the day – and who would not like that?
We all love food. However, as much as we would like to eat and say that calories do not matter, we know that it is not true. Consuming more food energy than we burn will always lead to weight gain. But what if there was a zero calories foods list that you could refer to helping you make guilt free and healthy choices?
In this read we are going to expound more on frequently asked questions such as ‘what are zero calorie foods?’, ‘zero calorie foods myth or fact’, as well as list down some zero calorie foods that will fill you up, and more.
What Are Zero Calorie Foods?
Contrary to what the name suggests, these foods do not have zero calories. So how can foods be zero calories if they do have some food energy in them? According to health experts, these foodstuffs, -also known as negative or near zero calorie foods -, are vegetables and fruits that supposedly take more energy to digest than they provide to your body (6).
Are Zero Calorie Foods Myth Or Fact?
It depends on how you look at it. As stated above, all foods provide some amount of food energy in it, all at varying rates. For example, 1 slice of pan crust pizza has 280 cals (24) while a stalk of celery (40 g) has about 5.6 cals (12). Celery, unlike a slice of pizza, has very few calories meaning that during digestion, the body is bound to use up all the energy given from the stalk of celery.
In light of this, celery might be considered as an example of zero calorie foods. However, it should be noted that while such theories are quite popular, so far, there are no reputable scientific sources or studies that prove that these kinds of foods have such an effect (31).
List Of The Best Zero Calorie Foods And How You Can Consume Them
This zero calorie foods list will outline which fruits and vegetables can be considered as negative or near zero calorie foods, how much energy they have (according to the USDA), their health benefits and how you can consume them in your day to day.
When looking up zero calorie foods lists, apples are among the top options that you will find. One cup (125 g) of this fruit has about 65 cals (7). Apples are considered great for weight loss not only because of their low food energy count but also because they are high in fiber and water.
A 2008 10-week study in 50 overweight women revealed that the participants who ate apples ended up consuming less calories than those who ate oat cookies (4). They are also good for your heart health as they can help lower your blood cholesterol levels.
They are also said to help reduce your risk of Type II diabetes, have probiotics which promote gut health, may prevent cancer, promote bone health, and help fight against asthma (4). Apples can be consumed as snacks or added to salads for some extra crunch, sweetness, or tartness.
One cup of kale has 8.75 calories (20). Kale is a popular vegetable often eaten in salads. This dark leafy green is full of antioxidants which help counteract oxidative damage by free radicals in the body.
Kale is also high in nutrients and vitamins such as vitamin C which boosts your immunity, vitamin K which is critical for blood clotting and helps prevent heart disease and osteoporosis, magnesium that protects against type II diabetes, calcium that is essential for bone health, and potassium which has been linked to reduced blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease (3).
The consumption of celery juice has overtaken the world by storm with everybody claiming how good it is for your body. However, juicing, despite its claimed benefits, is not often recommended. Instead, consuming the vegetable whole gives you only 5.6 cals (12) and a slew of vitamins and minerals.
The vegetable is rich in antioxidants, preventing your cells, blood vessels, and organs from oxidative damage. It contains compounds that protect against inflammation, which has been linked to many chronic illnesses, supports digestion, and is low in sodium which helps control your blood sugar (1). Celery is often consumed in salads, added to recipes, and eaten as snacks with nut butter or hummus.
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Berries are near zero calorie foods that are eaten as snacks, added to salads, and to breakfast foods such as oats for some sweetness (9).
- Blueberries. Half a cup has about 40 cals and is full of antioxidants which may boost your immune system and help protect you from illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and dementia.
- Blackberries. 100 g of them have about 43 calories (10) and are full of polyphenols, which help reduce inflammation which helps prevent heart disease, cancer, and type II diabetes.
- Strawberries. A cup has 48 cals (27) and is full of vitamin C, folic acid, fiber, and antioxidants. Strawberries may help lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, help you manage blood sugar, and fight the effects of aging on your brain.
- Cranberries. 1 cup of these has about 46 calories (14) and they are popularly used for preventing urinary tract infections.
1 cup (20 g) of this dark leafy green has about 5 calories. Arugula is often used in salads and when consumed it provides your body with numerous nutrients such as calcium, potassium, folate, Vitamin C, K and A all which, cumulatively promote blood clotting and bone health, boost your immunity and blood coagulation, while supporting eye health, cell growth, as well as kidney, lung, and heart function (34).
This citrus fruit is low in calories 42 cals for every 100 g (17) that has numerous minerals and vitamins. They are low glycemic fruits and thus will not negatively affect your blood sugar levels making them great for people with diabetes.
They also have fiber, potassium, lycopene, vitamin C, and choline which contribute to your heart health by preventing high blood pressure. They are rich in antioxidants which help lower your risk of cancer. Full of water and fiber grapefruits promote regular bowel movements and help prevent constipation (35).
100 g of broccoli has only 34 calories (11). This vegetable is a good source of fiber and protein, and contains iron, potassium, calcium, selenium and magnesium as well as the vitamins A, C, E, K and a good array of B vitamins, including folic acid.
Adding broccoli to your zero calorie foods will help with reducing your risk of cancer, boosting your immune health and improving bone health, aiding digestion, and reducing inflammation. Broccoli may also help protect your cardiovascular health and manage blood sugar levels in people with type II diabetes (28).
Whether of green or purple leaves cabbages are almost zero calorie foods with impressive health benefits. They are packed with vitamin C which can boost your immune system, improve digestion, have anthocyanins which not only make them colorful but also reduce your risk of heart attack and heart disease (5).
One carrot has about 25 calories and is rich in vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, and minerals. Carrots are praised for their benefits toward better vision, and their antioxidants have linked them towards a lower risk of leukemia, prostate, and lung cancer (33).
This vegetable also protects against:
- Osteoporosis due to vitamin K, small amounts of calcium, and phosphorus
- Diseases as it boosts your immunity because of vitamin C
- High blood pressure. Carrots have potassium which helps relax the blood vessels, reducing the risk of high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues
- Diabetes because they are low in sugar and have a low on the glycemic index (GI), they can help diabetes patients manage their blood sugar levels
Carrots are often added to salads and stews.
Like broccoli, cauliflower makes for a super zero calorie food option as 100 g of it only has 25 calories. The vegetable is high in water which helps keep you hydrated, is high in fiber which promotes satiety, and has glucosinolates which may help prevent cancer (33). Cauliflower can be used in salads or in stews, roasted, or grated as a rice alternative.
- High in vitamin K which supports blood clotting and may support bone health
- Have cucurbitacin nutrients which have been suspected to help stop cancer cells from reproducing
- High in fiber which helps manage cholesterol and prevent related cardiovascular problems. Fiber and cucurbitacin nutrients are suspected to help lower blood sugar and stop blood glucose from rising too high
Cucumbers can be added to salads, eaten as snack alone or with nut butter and hummus for a more filling snack option.
100 g of lettuce has only 14 calories and 95.3 g of water (21). It is a good source of fiber, iron, folate, and vitamin C. Several studies have shown that this near zero calorie vegetable has anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-lowering, and anti-diabetic activities all attributed to the bioactive compounds in lettuce (23).
13. Lemon and lime juice
Often added to salads the juice of lemons and limes have almost no calories.
100 g of raw spinach has 23 cals and 91.4 g of water (26). Classified as dark leafy greens they contain high levels of fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium and calcium. Spinach can help lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity, and prevent oxidative stress and reduce the risk of bone fracture. This vegetable is often added to eggs in breakfast options or in salads.
1 plum tomato has about 10.8 cals while a cherry tomato has only 3.61 calories (30). These almost zero calorie foods have been linked to the prevention of tumor cancer development, help maintain a healthy blood pressure, improve blood sugar, lipids, and insulin levels in people with type II diabetes, and improve eye health (16).
What foods are zero calorie or negative calorie?
All the fruits and vegetables mentioned above on this list can be classified as zero or negative calorie foods. However, as you can see none of them will register as having zero food energy when added onto your calorie counting app. Instead they are rather low-calorie options that should be included in any healthy diet for weight loss and weight management (31).
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What happens if I only eat zero calorie foods?
If you want to lose weight, you may think that eating only the vegetables and fruits on the zero calories foods list can help you shed those extra and stubborn pounds. This is not true. Such foods have very little calories to begin with and when digested they end up not giving you any food energy, you end up having little to no calories in your system.
Some effects of eating too few calories include:
1. A stall in your metabolism
Metabolism is the process by which our bodies convert food and drink into energy for it to use throughout the day and even when we are asleep. During weight loss, a high/fast metabolism is desired as it helps you burn off food so it may not be converted and stored as fat in the body.
When you eat too few calories your body thinks that you are starving that slips into starvation mode where it reduces calories spent in an effort to restore energy balance and stop you from losing any more weight. A stall in your metabolism puts you at a higher risk of an abnormally low blood pressure, slow heart rate, gallstones, anaemia, brittle bones, and depression, among other undesirable side effects (11).
2. Can cause nutrient deficiencies
Also known as malnutrition, this is a process that occurs when your body does not get or absorb enough nutrients from the food consumed. These deficiencies can also happen when you choose to only consume near zero calorie foods.
As seen above these types of foods are only fruits and vegetables, however, a balanced diet – one which can give you all the nutrients you require – is one that consists of the five major food groups. These food groups include (32):
- Vegetables and legumes
- Lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, and seeds
- Dairy products and/or alternatives for vegans or lactose intolerant people
- Whole grains, breads, cereals, rice, pasta, and noodles
Without all these food groups in your diet, you end up being malnutritioned which puts you at risk of anemia, eye and reproductive problems, short-term memory loss, diarrhea, muscle weakness, dementia, shortness of breath, and skin problems, etc. (22).
3. Lowered immunity
Eating too little calories by only consuming zero calorie foods increases your risk of infections and illnesses. Several studies done on athletes have shown that reducing your calorie intake reduces your immunity, increases your risk of infection, making you more likely to fall sick (25, 13).
4. Can weaken your bones
When you consume too little calories, it leads to a reduction of estrogen and testosterone levels in your body. When your reproductive hormones are low, it can lead to reduced bone formation and increased bone breakdown, which results in weaker bones. Because eating only zero calorie foods leaves you with little to no energy, it can prevent you from working out which can also lead to bone loss, increasing your risk of fractures (2).
Why Greens Count As Zero Calorie Foods?
If you keep up with fitness enthusiasts on social media or YouTube, you may have noticed that many of them do not often count their greens when counting their daily macros. If you have ever wondered why this is so, it is because many greens have so few calories that a serving of them barely counts towards your daily macros. You can consume huge amounts of them without them making any recognizable dent in your daily recommended calorie intake (29).
The Bottom Line
While zero calorie foods may not truly exist, there are many low calorie fruits and vegetables that when consumed may indeed require more energy to burn than they give to the body. Such fruits and veggies make fantastic food options for anyone on a weight loss journey to add to their diet.
However, it should be noted that these near zero calorie foods should only be used to supplement your meals and not eaten alone as some kind of weight loss meal plan. Doing this is unsustainable and will have you eating a very-low-calorie-diet which is not only unhealthy but also life threatening.
The above-mentioned fruits and vegetables should be used to supplement your diet; this is done by consuming them alone as snacks, adding them to hearty salads, blending (not juicing them) to make smoothies, and adding them to cooked recipes as substitutes for other high calorie options. Remember that zero calorie food that fills you up only does so if you are already consuming a well balanced and calorie conscious diet.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
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- 5 Ways Restricting Calories Can Be Harmful (2017, healthline.com)
- 10 Health Benefits of Kale (2018, healthline.com)
- 10 Impressive Health Benefits of Apples (2018, healthline.com)
- 9 Impressive Health Benefits of Cabbage (2017, healthline.com)
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- Apple, raw (2020, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Berries and Their Health Benefits (2020, webmd.com)
- Blackberries, raw (2020, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Broccoli, raw (2020, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
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- Cranberries, raw (2020, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Changes of mucosal immunity and antioxidation activity in elite male Taiwanese taekwondo athletes associated with intensive training and rapid weight loss (2011, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Cucumber, raw (2020, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Everything you need to know about tomatoes (2017, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Grapefruit, raw (2020, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Health Benefits of Cauliflower (2019, webmd.com)
- Health benefits of cucumber (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Kale, raw (2020, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Lettuce, raw (2020, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Nutritional Deficiencies (Malnutrition) (2019, healthline.com)
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- PIZZA HUT 12″ Cheese Pizza, Pan Crust (2019, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Special attention to the weight-control strategies employed by Olympic athletes striving for leanness is required (2008, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Spinach, raw (2020, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Strawberries, raw (2020, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- The health benefits of broccoli (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- The List of Veggies This Trainer Says You Never Have to Track in Your Macros (2018, popsugar.com)
- Tomatoes, raw (2020, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- We’ve heard that eating negative-calorie foods might be a good diet strategy. But what exactly are they? (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- What are the basic food groups? (2011, health.gov.au)
- What are the health benefits of carrots? (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What You Should Know About Arugula (2020, healthline.com)
- Why is grapefruit good for you? (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)