Contrary to popular belief, calorie counting is not just for weight loss. This simple behavior of tracking how much food energy you consume per day can help with weight loss, weight gain, and weight management. It also comes in handy for muscle building as even competitive athletes and bodybuilders find it helpful to keep track of their food energy intake.
We all love food. However, as much as we would like to eat and say that calories don’t matter, we know that it’s not true. Consuming more food energy than we burn will lead to weight gain, which may not be desired. This is where zero-calorie foods and drinks come in handy.
Having a zero-calorie foods list is a neat trick that allows you to eat more without going over your recommended energy intake for the day – and who wouldn’t like that?
In this post, we’re going to answer some frequently asked questions such as ‘what are zero-calorie foods?’ and ‘are zero-calorie foods myth or fact?’ in addition to telling you 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 contain zero calories. So how can foods be zero-calorie if they have some food energy in them?
Also known as negative or near-zero-calorie foods, they are fruits and vegetables that supposedly take more energy to digest than they provide to your body. This will burn more calories than you gain from them through the simple acts of eating, digesting, and processing them (13).
Are Zero-Calorie Foods Myth Or Fact?
It depends how you look at it. As stated above, all foods provide some amount of food energy at varying rates. For example, 1 slice of pan-crust pizza has 280 kcals while a stalk of celery (40 g) has approximately 5.6 kcals.
Unlike a slice of pizza, celery has very few calories, which means that during digestion, the body uses up a larger portion of the energy from the stalk of celery than it does from the slice of pizza. Therefore, celery is considered an example of zero-calorie foods.
However, it should be noted that while such theories are quite popular, there are no reputable scientific sources or studies that prove these kinds of foods actually take more calories to digest than the amount of calories they contain.
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List of the Best Zero-Calorie Foods and How You Can Consume Them
This zero-calorie foods list outlines which fruits and vegetables are sometimes 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.
When looking up zero-calorie food lists, apples are among the top options you’ll find. One cup (125 g) of this fruit contains approximately 76 cals. Apples are considered to be great for weight loss due to their low food energy count and because they’re high in fiber and water.
A controlled 10-week study from 2008 revealed that in 50 overweight women, the participants who added apples or pears to their diets ended up consuming fewer calories overall than those who ate oat cookies with the same amount of fiber and total calories as the fruit (3). Apples are also good for your heart health as the fiber they contain can help lower blood cholesterol levels.
They’re also said to help reduce the risk of Type II diabetes, and they contain probiotics that promote gut health, may prevent cancer, promote bone health, and help fight against asthma (7). Apples can be consumed as snacks or added to salads for some extra crunch, sweetness, or tartness.
One cup of kale contains 8.75 calories. It’s a popular vegetable that is often eaten in salads. This dark leafy green is full of antioxidants that help counteract oxidative damage caused by free radicals in the body (16).
Kale is also high in nutrients and vitamins such as:
- Vitamin C, which supports your immune system
- Vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting and helps prevent heart disease and osteoporosis
- Magnesium that may protect against type II diabetes
- Calcium that’s essential for bone health
- Potassium, which has been linked to reduced blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease.
The consumption of celery juice has taken the world by storm with everybody claiming how good it is for your body. However, despite its claimed benefits, juicing is not often recommended for weight loss or optimal nutrition. Instead, consuming the vegetable whole gives you only 5.6 cals and a slew of vitamins and minerals, in addition to fiber.
The vegetable is rich in antioxidants, which protect your cells, blood vessels, and organs from oxidative damage. It contains compounds that protect against inflammation, which has been linked to many chronic illnesses, and supports digestion (8).
Celery is often consumed in salads, added to recipes, and eaten as snacks with nut butter or hummus.
Berries are near-zero-calorie foods that are eaten as snacks, added to salads, and to breakfast foods such as oats for some sweetness (20).
- Blueberries. Half a cup contains about 40 cals and is full of antioxidants, which may support your immune system and help protect you from illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and dementia.
- Blackberries. 100 g of them contains about 43 calories and is full of polyphenols, which may help reduce inflammation and prevent heart disease, cancer, and type II diabetes.
- Strawberries. A cup contains 48 cals and is full of vitamin C, folate, fiber, and antioxidants. Strawberries may help lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, help manage blood sugar, and fight the effects of aging on the brain.
- Cranberries. 1 cup of these has approximately 46 calories and they’re popularly used for preventing urinary tract infections, although they cannot replace any treatment that is prescribed by your physician.
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, and vitamins C, K, and A (25).
Cumulatively, all these nutrients help promote blood clotting and bone health, support your immunity and blood coagulation, and support eye health, cell growth, and kidney, lung, and heart function.
This citrus fruit has 42 cals for every 100 g and contains numerous minerals and vitamins. They’re low-glycemic fruits and won’t negatively affect your blood sugar levels, which makes them great for people with diabetes.
They also contain fiber, potassium, lycopene, vitamin C, and choline, which contribute to your heart health by preventing high blood pressure. They’re rich in antioxidants, which help lower your risk of cancer. Full of water and fiber, grapefruits promote regular bowel movements and help prevent constipation (12).
100 g of broccoli has only 34 calories. This vegetable is an excellent source of fiber and protein, and contains iron, potassium, calcium, selenium, and magnesium, in addition to vitamins A, C, E, K and an array of B vitamins, including folate.
Adding broccoli to your zero-calorie foods may help reduce your risk of cancer, support your immune health, improve bone health, help with digestion, and reduce inflammation. Broccoli may also help protect cardiovascular health and manage blood sugar levels in people with type II diabetes (9).
Whether they have green or purple leaves, cabbages are almost zero-calorie foods with impressive health benefits.
They’re packed with vitamin C, which can support your immune system and improve digestion, and the purple variety has anthocyanins, which makes them colorful and may also help reduce your risk of heart attack and heart disease (10).
One carrot contains 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 to a lower risk of certain cancers (4).
This vegetable may also protect against:
- Osteoporosis due to vitamin K, small amounts of calcium, and phosphorus
- Illness, as it supports your immune system due to the vitamin C
- High blood pressure – carrots have potassium, which helps relax the blood vessels and potentially reduce the risk of high blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues
- Diabetes, as they’re low in sugar and are low on the glycemic index (GI), in addition to helping diabetes patients manage their blood sugar levels
Carrots are often added to salads and stews.
As with broccoli, cauliflower makes for a super zero-calorie food option as 100 g only contains 25 calories.
The vegetable also has a high water content, which helps keep you hydrated. It’s high in fiber, which promotes satiety, and it has glucosinolates, which may help prevent cancer (23). Cauliflower can be used in salads or stews or it can be roasted or grated as a rice alternative.
100 g of cucumber has only 15 calories with 95.23 g of water, which helps keep you hydrated. Cucumbers are (14):
- High in vitamin K, which supports blood clotting and may support bone health
- Have cucurbitacin compounds, which are believed to help stop cancer cells reproducing
- High in fiber, which helps manage cholesterol and prevent related cardiovascular problems – fiber and cucurbitacin compounds are believed to help lower blood sugar
Cucumbers can be added to salads or eaten as a snack alone or with nut butter and hummus for a more filling snack option.
100 g of lettuce contains only 14 calories and 95.3 g of water. It’s 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 properties that are all attributed to the bioactive compounds found in it (19).
Lemon and lime juice
Often added to salads, the juice of lemons and limes has almost no calories.
100 g of raw spinach has 23 cals and 91.4 g of water. Classified as dark leafy green, it contains high levels of fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
The nutrients in spinach can help lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity, prevent oxidative stress, and reduce the risk of bone fracture (22). This vegetable is often added to eggs in breakfast options or to salads.
Depending on the size and variety of tomato, the calorie count may vary. For example, 1 plum tomato contains approximately 10.8 cals, while a cherry tomato has only 3.61 calories.
These near-zero-calorie foods have been linked to the prevention of the development of certain cancers and they help maintain healthy blood pressure, improve blood sugar, lipids, and insulin levels in people with type II diabetes, and protect eye health (24).
Other low-calorie foods you can add to this list include bell peppers, fennel, chili peppers, asparagus, lettuce, chard, radish, and watercress (1).
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What Happens If I Only Eat Zero-Calorie Foods?
Only eating zero-calorie foods is not as good as you may think, even when your goal is weight loss. As seen from the examples in the above section, such foods have very few calories to begin with.
When consumed, they’ll end up giving you very little energy, which makes it harder for you to perform tasks throughout the day. Consuming too few calories also has more damaging side effects, particularly in the long term, including:
It may slow down your metabolism
Metabolism is the process by which our bodies convert food and drink into energy to use throughout the day and even while we are asleep.
During weight loss, a high/fast metabolism is desired as it helps 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 you’re starving and slips into starvation mode.
Here, it reduces calories spent in an effort to restore energy balance and stop you from losing any more weight. Eating too little also places you at a higher risk of abnormally low blood pressure, slow heart rate, gallstones, anemia, brittle bones, and depression, among other undesirable side effects (17).
Can cause nutrient deficiencies
This happens when your body doesn’t get or absorb enough nutrients from the food you consume. These deficiencies or malnutrition can also happen when you only consume near-zero-calorie foods.
These types of foods are only fruits and vegetables, but a balanced diet – one that gives you all the nutrients you require – is one that consists of the five major food groups:
- Vegetables and legumes
- Lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, and seeds
- Dairy products and/or alternatives for vegans or those who are lactose intolerant
- Whole grains, breads, cereals, rice, pasta, and noodles
- Healthy fats
Without all these food groups in your diet, you risk nutrient deficiencies, which puts you at risk of anemia, eye and reproductive problems, short-term memory loss, diarrhea, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, and skin problems.
Eating too few calories by only consuming zero-calorie foods increases your risk of infections and illnesses. Several studies on athletes have suggested that reducing your calorie intake too much can reduce your immunity and increase your risk of infection, which makes you more likely to fall sick (21,11).
Can weaken your bones
When you consume too few calories, this may lead to a reduction in estrogen and testosterone levels in your body. When your reproductive hormones are low, this can lead to reduced bone formation and increased bone breakdown, resulting in weaker bones (2, 18).
As eating only zero-calorie foods leaves you with little to no energy, this can prevent you from working out, which can also lead to bone loss, potentially increasing your risk of fractures.
Is 0 Calories Good for Weight Loss?
Yes and no. Natural zero-calorie foods are only great for weight loss if they’re eaten as part of a healthy and balanced calorie deficit diet, and not eaten just by themselves.
However, zero-calorie drinks, particularly soft drinks and energy drinks, and foods, particularly those that are sweetened with popular zero-calorie sweeteners, may not be the best for you. While zero-calorie sweeteners were once believed to be better for you than sugar, recent research has shown that this may not be the case.
Some studies have suggested that choosing to rely on a zero-calorie sweetener may worsen blood sugar control, promote insulin resistance, and even go as far as to change both the function and composition of your gut microbiomes, the communities of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the intestines.
They may also worsen sugar cravings or increase food cravings, contributing to obesity, and have also been linked to an increase in cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks, strokes, and coronary heart disease (15).
What foods are zero-calorie or negative-calorie?
All the fruits and vegetables mentioned above can be classified as near-zero or negative-calorie foods. However, as you can see, none of them will register as having zero food energy when added in your calorie-counting app.
Instead, they’re rather low-calorie options that should be included in any healthy diet for weight loss and weight management.
Why do greens count as zero-calorie foods?
Greens are usually listed as zero-calorie foods because many of them contain so few calories that a serving of them barely counts toward your daily macros. You can consume huge amounts of them without making any recognizable dent in your daily recommended calorie intake.
This makes them perfect for weight loss, weight management, and improved overall health as they’re rich in numerous nutrients and antioxidants.
Is 0 calories really 0 calories?
No, it isn’t. Unless you only drink and survive on water alone – which is virtually impossible – everything you consume has calories. Some foods (and drinks) have negligible amounts which classifies them as ‘zero-calorie foods’.
Are apples zero-calorie?
No, they’re not. As seen above, no food is actually zero-calorie. Depending on quantity, apples can have a calorie count that ranges from 15.2 kcal (for 1 slice – 25 g) to as much as 180 kcal (for 1 extra large apple – 180 g) (6).
Is 1,000 calories too low?
Yes, it is. According to the American Psychology Association, the estimated calorie intake requirements for adult women are 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day and for men, they are 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day (5).
When it comes to weight loss, we’re advised to cut just 500 calories a day to lose 1 pound a week. From this, we can see that 1,000 calories is too little for any adult, either male or female.
Remember, consuming too few calories can lead to fatigue, constipation, depression, a slower metabolic rate, mood swings, headaches, nutritional deficiencies, and much more.
What foods burn fat?
There are no specific foods that burn fat, but eating a healthy, balanced, reduced-calorie diet along with physical activity should result in fat loss.
The zero-calorie foods in this list can all be included in such a diet. Other foods that may be higher in calories but still help burn fat include:
- Complex carbohydrates such as quinoa and brown rice
- Lean protein such as turkey, chicken, and lean beef, in addition to fatty fish such as salmon
- Legumes – beans are high in both protein and fiber, which are great fat burners
- Spices such as cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, and ginseng.
Which are the best snacks with no carbs?
Snacks without carbs are best for those who are on a ketogenic diet or any other low-carbohydrate meal plan. Such snacks are often healthy and natural and include examples such as:
- Boiled eggs
- Greek yogurt
- Beef jerky and lunch meats
Vegetables and berries can also be considered ‘no-carb’ or low-carbohydrate snacks. Their carbohydrate content is so low that it is negligible.
You can use vegetables to make wraps or healthy smoothies or simply eat them raw. Berries are great on their own, but can also be used in smoothies and go exceptionally well with Greek yogurt as a snack or breakfast option.
Unsweetened tea, plain water, and unsweetened coffee are also great and healthy no-carb, no-sugar options.
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. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 20 foods that are basically calorie-free (2023, yardbarker.com)
- 5 Ways Restricting Calories Can Be Harmful (2017, healthline.com)
- A low-energy-dense diet adding fruit reduces weight and energy intake in women (2008, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- An Analysis of Health Benefits of Carrot (2023, researchgate.net)
- Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level (2018, apa.org)
- Apple, raw (2022, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Apple phytochemicals and their health benefits (2004, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- A Review of the Antioxidant Activity of Celery (Apium graveolens L) (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Broccoli: A Multi-Faceted Vegetable for Health: An In-Depth Review of Its Nutritional Attributes, Antimicrobial Abilities, and Anti-inflammatory Properties (2023, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata) Protects against H2O2-Induced Oxidative Stress by Preventing Mitochondrial Dysfunction in H9c2 Cardiomyoblasts (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.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)
- Consumption of grapefruit is associated with higher nutrient intakes and diet quality among adults, and more favorable anthropometrics in women, NHANES 2003–2008 (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Do Negative-Calorie Foods Exist? Facts vs Fiction (2018, healthline.com)
- Health Beneficial Effects of Cucumber (2021, researchgate.net)
- How fake sugars sneak into foods and disrupt metabolic health (n.d., washingtonpost.com)
- Improving the Health-Benefits of Kales (Brassica oleracea L. var. acephala DC) through the Application of Controlled Abiotic Stresses: A Review (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Metabolic Consequences of Weight Reduction (2023, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- New Insights into Calorie Restriction Induced Bone Loss (2023, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Nutritional value, bioactive compounds and health benefits of lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) (2016, sciencedirect.com)
- Recent Studies on Berry Bioactives and Their Health-Promoting Roles (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Special attention to the weight-control strategies employed by Olympic athletes striving for leanness is required (2008, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Spinach (n.d., sciencedirect.com)
- The Top 8 Health Benefits of Cauliflower (2023, healthline.com)
- Tomatoes: An Extensive Review of the Associated Health Impacts of Tomatoes and Factors That Can Affect Their Cultivation (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- What You Should Know About Arugula (2023, healthline.com)