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.
Are zero-calorie foods myths or facts?
It depends on how you look at it. As stated above, all foods provide some amount of food energy, all at varying rates. For example, 1 slice of pan crust pizza has 280 calories while a stalk of celery (40 g) has about 5.6 calories.
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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 food.
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.
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, their health benefits, and how you can consume them in your day-to-day life.
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 calories.
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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 fewer calories than those who ate oat cookies. 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 2 diabetes, have probiotics that promote gut health, may prevent cancer, promote bone health, and help fight against asthma.
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. Kale is a popular vegetable often eaten in salads.
This dark leafy green is full of antioxidants that 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 protects against type 2 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.
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 calories 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.
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 breakfast foods such as oats for some sweetness.
- Blueberries. Half a cup has about 40 calories 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 and are full of polyphenols, which help reduce inflammation which help prevent heart disease, cancer, and type II diabetes.
- Strawberries. A cup has 48 calories 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 and they are popularly used for preventing urinary tract infections.
Arugula is dark, leafy green with a peppery flavor.
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It’s commonly used in salads, is rich in vitamin K and also contains folate, calcium, and potassium.
One-half cup (10 grams) of arugula has only three calories.
This citrus fruit is low in calories 42 calories for every 100 g 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.
Broccoli is one of the most nutritious vegetables on the planet. It’s a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables and may help fight cancer.
One cup (91 grams) of broccoli has only 31 calories and over 100% of the amount of vitamin C that most people need per day.
Cabbage is a vegetable with green or purple leaves. It’s a common ingredient in slaws and salads.
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Fermented cabbage is known as sauerkraut.
It’s very low in calories and contains only 22 calories per cup (89 grams).
Carrots are very popular vegetables. They’re usually thin and orange, but can also be red, yellow, purple, or white.
Most people associate good eyesight with eating carrots since they’re rich in beta-carotene, which can be converted to vitamin A. Getting enough vitamin A is necessary for proper vision.
A one-cup serving (128 grams) of carrots has only 53 calories and over 400% 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.
One cup (100 grams) of cauliflower has 25 calories and only five grams of carbs.
Asparagus is a flowering vegetable that comes in green, white, and purple varieties.
All types of asparagus are healthy, but purple asparagus has compounds called anthocyanins that may help prevent heart disease.
One cup (134 grams) of asparagus has only 27 calories and is rich in vitamin K and folate, providing 70% and 17% of the DVs, respectively.
Chard is a leafy green that comes in several varieties. It’s extremely high in vitamin K, a nutrient that helps with proper blood clotting.
One cup (36 grams) of chard has only 7 calories and contains 374% of the DV for vitamin K.
Clementines resemble mini oranges. They’re a common snack in the United States and are known for their high vitamin C content.
One fruit (74 grams) packs 60% 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.
Since cucumbers are mostly water, they’re very low in calories — one-half cup (52 grams) only has 8.
Fennel is a bulbous vegetable with a faint licorice taste. Dried fennel seeds are used to add an anise flavor to dishes.
Fennel can be enjoyed raw, roasted, or braised. There are 27 calories in one cup (87 grams) of raw fennel.
Garlic has a strong smell and taste and is used widely in cooking to add flavor to dishes.
Garlic has been used for centuries as a remedy for various illnesses. Research suggests that it may decrease blood pressure and fight infections or even cancer.
One clove (3 grams) of garlic has only 5 calories.
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Beets are root vegetables that typically have a deep-red or purple color. One of the most researched benefits of beets is their potential to lower blood pressure.
Beets contain only 59 calories per cup (136 grams) and 13% of the DV for potassium.
18. Iceberg lettuce
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 lettuce, iceberg lettuce is rich in vitamin K, vitamin A, and folate.
One cup (72 grams) of iceberg lettuce has only 10 calories.
Jicama is a tuber vegetable that resembles a white potato. This vegetable is typically eaten raw and has a texture similar to a crisp apple.
One cup (120 grams) of jicama has over 40% of the DV for vitamin C and only 46 calories.
Kale is a leafy green that has gained popularity in recent years for its impressive nutritional benefits.
You can find kale in salads, smoothies, and vegetable dishes.
Kale is one of the richest sources of vitamin K in the world. One cup (67 grams) has close to seven times the amount of vitamin K that the average person needs per day and only 34 calories.
21. Lemons and limes
The juice and zest of lemons and limes are widely used to flavor water, salad dressings, marinades, and alcoholic drinks.
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Citrus does more than just add flavor. Research shows that lemon juice has compounds that can act as antioxidants to fight and prevent diseases in your body.
One fluid ounce (30 grams) of lemon or lime juice has only 8 calories.
22. White mushrooms
Mushrooms are a type of fungus with a sponge-like texture. Vegetarians and vegans sometimes use them as a substitute for meat.
Mushrooms contain several important nutrients and have only 15 calories per cup (70 grams).
Onions are a very popular vegetable. Varieties of onions include red, white, and yellow, as well as spring onions or scallions.
Even though the taste differs depending on the type, all onions have very few calories — one medium onion (110 grams) has approximately 44.
Peppers come in many colors, shapes, and sizes. Popular types include bell peppers and jalapeños.
Research shows that bells peppers are particularly high in antioxidants and may protect the body from the damaging effects of oxidation.
There are only 46 calories in one cup (149 grams) of chopped, red bell peppers.
Papaya is an orange fruit with black seeds that resembles a melon and is typically grown in tropical regions.
It’s very high in vitamin A and a good source of potassium. One cup (140 grams) of papaya has only 55 calories.
Radishes are crunchy root vegetables with a somewhat spicy bite.
They’re typically seen in grocery stores as dark pink or red but can be grown in a variety of colors.
Radishes have several beneficial nutrients and only 19 calories per cup (116 grams).
27. Romaine lettuce
Romaine lettuce is a very popular leafy vegetable used in salads and on sandwiches.
The calorie content of romaine is very low since it’s high in water and rich in fiber. One leaf (6 grams) of romaine lettuce has just a single calorie.
Rutabaga is a root vegetable also known as swede.
It tastes similar to turnips and is a popular substitute for potatoes in recipes to decrease the number of carbs.
One cup (140 grams) of rutabaga has 50 calories and only 11 grams of carbohydrates.
Strawberries are an extremely popular fruit. They’re very versatile and appear in breakfast dishes, baked goods, and salads.
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Studies show that eating berries may help protect you from chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.
There are less than 50 calories in one cup (152 grams) of strawberries.
Spinach is another leafy green that is loaded with vitamins and minerals and very low in calories.
It’s high in vitamin K, vitamin A, and folate and has more protein than some other leafy vegetables.
A one-cup (30 grams) serving of spinach has only 7 calories.
31. Sugar snap peas
Sugar snap peas are a delicious variety of peas. Their pods are entirely edible and have a sweet flavor.
They’re typically eaten raw on their own or with a dip, yet can also be added to vegetable dishes and salads.
Snap peas are highly nutritious and contain almost 100% of the DV for vitamin C for only 41 calories in one cup (98 grams).
Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables in the world. They can be served raw, cooked, or pureed in a tomato sauce.
They’re also highly nutritious and contain a beneficial compound called lycopene. Research has shown that lycopene may protect against cancer, inflammation, and heart disease.
One cup (149 grams) of cherry tomatoes has 27 calories.
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Turnips are white root vegetables with slightly bitter flesh. They’re often added to soups and stews.
Turnips have several beneficial nutrients and only 37 calories per cup (130 grams).
Watercress is a leafy vegetable that grows in running water. It’s typically used in salads and tea sandwiches.
Even though watercress is not as popular as other greens, it’s just as nutritious.
One cup (34 grams) of this vegetable provides 106% of the DV for vitamin K, 24% of the DV for vitamin C, and 22% of the DV for vitamin A — and all for a meager 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.
Watermelon contains almost every nutrient and a high amount of vitamin C. There are 46 calories in one cup (152 grams) of diced watermelon.
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 18 per cup (124 grams).
37. Beverages: Coffee, herbal tea, water, carbonated water
Some beverages are very low in calories, especially when you don’t add anything to them.
Plain water contains no calories. Most herbal teas and carbonated waters have zero to very few calories, while black coffee has only 2 calories per cup (237 grams).
Choosing these drinks over beverages with added sugar, cream or juice can help you reduce your calorie intake.
38. Herbs and spices
Herbs and spices are used to add flavor to foods and are extremely low in calories.
Common herbs that are eaten fresh or dried include parsley, basil, mint, oregano, and cilantro. Some well-known spices are cinnamon, paprika, cumin, and curry.
Most herbs and spices have fewer than five calories per teaspoon.
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 to 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.
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.
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This is not true. Such foods have very few 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:
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 to restore energy balance and stop you from losing any more weight.
A stall in your metabolism puts you at a higher risk of abnormally low blood pressure, slow heart rate, gallstones, anemia, brittle bones, and depression, among other undesirable side effects.
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.
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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 – consists of the five major food groups. These food groups include:
- Vegetables and legumes
- Lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, and seeds
- Dairy products and/or alternatives for vegans or lactose-intolerant people
- Whole grains, bread, cereals, rice, pasta, and noodles
Without all these food groups in your diet, you end up being malnutrition 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.
Eating too few 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,
Can weaken your bones
When you consume too few 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.
Why do 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.
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.
Suggested read: 12 healthy foods that are high in ironLast updated on January 24, 2022, and last reviewed by an expert on September 27, 2021.