7 Best Low-Calorie Foods for Weight Loss
What if I told you that you could eat a lot of food, feel more satisfied and weigh less? No, it's not a gimmick. That's the power of low-calorie foods.
It comes down to the energy density of your food choices. Energy density refers to the amount of energy—calories—in a given weight of food.
Choosing low-calorie foods that are less energy-dense, or pack fewer calories per serving, means you get a bigger portion that has a smaller effect on your waistline.
How does the energy density of foods work?
Studies show that people tend to eat the same amount of food regardless of the number of calories in a meal.
For example, Pennsylvania State University researchers gave women three meals a day and allowed participants to eat as much as they wanted. Despite researchers increasing the total calories of each meal by 28 percent later on in the experiment, women ate just as much food as they did when eating the low-calorie version of each meal.
As a result, the women consumed 30% more calories—between 241 and 322 more calories—each day.
So even though they ate the same total amount of food (their intake was the same), they ended up consuming more calories in the long run because the food was more energy-dense.
How eating more low-calorie foods can help you lose weight.
There's a growing body of research to suggest it's the amount of food that fills us up, not the calories alone. And that's good news for appetite control.
Multiple studies show that consuming large portions of low-calorie foods can actually lead to eating fewer total calories over the course of an entire meal compared to not eating these low-calorie foods at all.
For example, eating a large salad before dinner can help fill you up so you don't overeat your main meal. In one study, it even helped participants eat fewer calories when paired with a pasta dish than simply eating a pasta dish alone.
The nutritional composition of the best low-calorie foods.
There are many low-calorie foods under 100 calories per serving, but which of these are the absolute best for satiety and weight loss?
The best way to increase satiety without increasing calories is by choosing foods that contain higher levels of fiber and protein and low levels of fat. Fat is the most calorically dense macronutrient, containing 9 calories per gram of fat. Carbohydrates (like fiber) and protein both contain 4 calories per gram.
Not only are protein and fiber low in calories, but they're also proven to help you feel fuller.
Dietary fiber intake is associated with lower body weight in many studies. The evidence isn't clear, but certain types of fiber—particularly beta-Glucan (found in oats), whole grain rye, rye bran, and a mixed fiber diet with soluble and insoluble fiber—may increase satiety.
The water content of food will also help with satiety.
Ways to add low-calorie foods to your diet to lose weight.
The following low-calorie foods can be eaten alone as a snack or added to your favorite meals to decrease the total calories.
Simple strategies to use low-calorie foods to lower the energy density of meals include:
- Starting your meal off with water-rich foods, such as soups and vegetables
- Replacing carb-heavy pasta with low-calorie veggies
- Reducing high-calorie fatty meat portions, like steak, and add beans in its place (For example: Steak tacos becomes steak and black bean tacos.)
- Subbing out desserts like ice cream and cookies for fresh fruit and yogurt
What are the best low-calorie foods for weight loss?
Here's a list of the 7 best low-calorie foods for weight loss that will actually leave you satisfied.
What's the secret ingredient to a low-calorie snack that satisfies? Air. And popcorn takes top honors. Dieters reported feeling more satisfied after eating six cups of popcorn than they did after munching on one measly cup of potato chips, despite consuming 33 percent fewer calories, according to one study. A generous six cups of popcorn has only 180 calories, plus two servings of waist-whittling whole grains.
Fat cells fear fruit — especially watermelon. At less than 40 calories per cup and 90 percent water by weight, the summer staple is almost impossible to eat in quantities large enough to support their belt-busting growth. What's more, noshing on the juicy fruit has shown to increase blood levels of L-arginine, an amino acid that's like kryptonite for belly fat. One group of women who supplemented with L-arginine dropped an average of 6.5 pounds and two inches from their waists in just 12 weeks, according to a recent study.
OK, so they're not Pringles. But if you can get over the fact baked kale will never be an exact substitute for deep-fried potatoes, you can pop, not stop, and fear not about popping a pants seam. Four heaping cups of kale chips has just 120 calories — what you'll find in just 12 potato chips. Go green, and you'll be fueling your metabolism with thylakoids — compounds found in leafy greens proven to suppress the appetite and speed up weight loss.
Edamame is one of Mother Nature's greatest gifts to dieters. Even the wrapping has weight-loss potential. The act of podding the beans is a slow-down dining ritual that amounts to an average 41 percent calorie savings per snack sesh, according to one study. One cup of pods has just 130 calories and 12 grams of satiating plant protein. In fact, compounds in the soybeans mimic the effect of leptin, a satiety hormone that signals to the brain when to stop eating, according to new research.
You've heard of noodles: high-carb, high-calorie, highly likely to pack on the pounds. But what about zoodles? The noodle-like strands, carved from zucchini with a gadget called a "spiralizer," have just 66 calories and 12 grams of carbohydrates per 2-cup serving. Compare those stats to the 440 cals and 86 grams of carbs you'll find in the same amount of cooked pasta, and you can see why fit foodies are so "inspiralized." Swapping just half a serving of noodles for the veggie variety can turbocharge weight loss. Dieters who cut daily carb consumption by just 20 percent burned 209-278 more calories per day, according to a recent study.
The more salad you eat, the lower your daily calorie intake. Women who pre-gamed lunch with a one-and-a-half-cup salad of lettuce, veggies, and low-fat dressing ate 50 fewer calories than when they didn't eat the leafy starter, according to a recent Penn State trial. And when the salad doubled in size to 3 cups, so did the calorie savings. Yes! Pass go and cut 100 calories with a 3-cup snack of lightly dressed leafy greens, any hour of the day.
Most appetizers, even the small "gourmet" ones, add calories to your meal. But miso? Not so! The traditional Japanese soup has the magic ability to slash more calories from a meal than the 35-per-cup it serves up—especially when slurped before dinner. People who eat soup as a "preload," consume an average 20 percent fewer calories over the course of a meal, research shows. Any broth-based soup qualifies as a low-cal belly filler. But miso has the added benefit of being steeped in alginate, a compound in sea kelp that may slow the absorption of dietary fat, according to a recent study.