Reducing your calorie intake can be an effective way to lose weight.
However, not all foods are equal when it comes to nutritional value. Some foods are low in calories, but also low in nutrients.
When limiting your calorie intake, it’s important to choose nutrient-dense foods, which contain a lot of nutrients for the number of calories they provide.
What’s more, a diet full of whole, nutrient-dense foods may help you feel more satisfied while cutting calories (1).
Here are 42 foods that are low in calories — and most of them are highly nutritious.
1–4: Meat and Poultry
Because they are high in protein, meat and poultry are good foods to eat when you’re trying to cut calories.
Meats that are lowest in calories are the ones that are very lean. Fat is calorie-dense, so fattier cuts of meat have a higher calorie count.
1. Eye of Round Steak
There’s no reason you can’t still enjoy a steak while cutting calories. Beef is nutritious, and it’s a good source of vitamin B12 and iron (4).
Iron is an essential nutrient that helps transport oxygen throughout your body, while vitamin B12 is necessary to form red blood cells (5).
However, note that eye of round is a very lean cut of beef. Be sure not to overcook it, or it will be tough and dry.
Calories: 138 calories per 3-ounce serving, or 168 calories per 100 grams.
2. Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast
You can keep the calorie content low by trimming all skin and visible fat.
Calories: 92 calories per 3-ounce serving, or 110 calories per 100 grams.
3. Turkey Breast
Turkey breast is high in protein, vitamin B6 and niacin. B vitamins help your body break down the food you eat and metabolize it into energy (7).
Calories: 93 calories per 3-ounce serving, or 111 calories per 100 grams.
4. Pork Tenderloin
The tenderloin is one of the leanest cuts of pork, making it a great low-calorie option.
Pork is rich in several B vitamins, and it’s also an excellent source of high-quality protein (8).
Calories: 122 calories per 3-ounce serving, or 143 calories per 100 grams.
5–8: Fish and Seafood
Most fish and seafood are highly nutritious, and they are excellent choices when you are restricting calories.
Like meat, fish and seafood are high in protein. They also provide important nutrients like vitamin B12, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids (9).
Cod is a lean, white fish that is high in protein but low in calories.
It’s also high in vitamin B12, iodine and selenium, and it contains a decent amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Iodine is important for proper brain and thyroid function, but many people do not get enough of this nutrient (11, 12).
Calories: 70 calories per 3-ounce serving, or 82 calories per 100 grams.
This is important, as vitamin D deficiency is a common problem around the world.
Calories: 99 calories in a 3-ounce serving, or 116 calories per 100 grams.
Scallops are a low-calorie shellfish with a sweet, mild flavor (16).
But make sure to skip the high-calorie sauces and enjoy scallops steamed, broiled or grilled.
Calories: 26 calories in 5 small scallops, or 88 calories per 100 grams.
Just one oyster provides over 100% of the RDI for vitamin B12 and over half of the RDI for zinc and selenium (17).
An adequate intake of selenium may reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men (18).
Calories: 41 calories per oyster, or 81 calories per 100 grams.
Most vegetables are low in calories yet high in vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. This makes them excellent for weight loss.
Many veggies are also high in both water and fiber, which help you feel full without consuming a lot of calories (19).
Starchy vegetables like potatoes and winter squashes are higher in calories but still very nutritious.
9. Chinese Cabbage
Chinese cabbage, which includes napa cabbage and bok choy, ranks at the top of the list when it comes to nutrient density. This cabbage is high in vitamins C and K and contains a decent amount of folate (20).
Sautéing Chinese cabbage gives it an excellent flavor and also retains the nutrients.
Calories: 12 calories per cup, or 16 calories per 100 grams.
Watercress is a spicy, leafy green that’s one of the most nutrient-rich vegetables you can eat.
It’s nearly calorie-free yet contains large amounts of vitamins A, C and K. You can toss watercress into a salad or stir-fry it along with other yummy vegetables (21).
Calories: 4 calories per cup, or 11 calories per 100 grams.
Cucumbers are low in calories because they consist of mostly water.
Calories: 45 calories per cucumber, or 15 calories per 100 grams.
Radishes are a peppery, cruciferous vegetable that is low in calories yet full of flavor.
This crunchy vegetable provides a decent amount of vitamin C and a small amount of folate (24).
Calories: 1 calorie per radish, or 16 calories per 100 grams.
Calories: 6 calories per stalk, or 16 calories per 100 grams.
Kale is an extremely nutritious veggie. You can get over 100% of the RDI for vitamins A, C and K by eating just one cup of kale.
In fact, one cup of kale provides seven times the amount of vitamin K you need in a day. Vitamin K is a very important nutrient that is crucial for blood clotting (27).
Calories: 34 calories per cup, or 50 calories per 100 grams.
Starting your meal with a salad made from spinach or other leafy greens might help you feel fuller and eat fewer calories in your meal (29).
Calories: 7 calories per cup, or 23 calories per 100 grams.
16. Bell Peppers
Bell peppers are naturally sweet peppers that are high in fiber, vitamin C and carotenoids (30).
Calories: 37 calories per pepper, or 31 calories per 100 grams.
Mushrooms are actually a fungus, but they are often classified as a vegetable. They contain several B vitamins and a good amount of potassium and selenium (33).
Calories: 15 calories per cup, or 22 calories per 100 grams.
18–23: Fruits and Berries
Fruits tend to be higher in calories than vegetables. However, most fruits are nutrient-dense and deserve a place in your low-calorie diet.
Calories: 46 calories per cup, or 32 calories per 100 grams.
Cantaloupe is a melon with pale, orange flesh that is high in vitamins A and C (39).
Cantaloupes are also a rich source of beta-carotene, which is important for healthy eyes and skin.
Calories: 60 calories per cup, or 34 calories per 100 grams.
Calories: 46 calories per cup, or 30 calories per 100 grams.
Calories: 84 calories per cup, or 57 calories per 100 grams.
Like many other citrus fruits, grapefruits are high in vitamin C. These fruits also get their color from the important plant compound lycopene (46).
Calories: 57 calories for half a fruit, or 42 calories per 100 grams.
Calories: 46 calories per fruit, or 61 calories per 100 grams.
Legumes are one of the best plant-based sources of protein. And for the number of calories they contain, legumes are very high in nutrients.
24. Black Beans
Black beans are a versatile and inexpensive protein source.
Calories: 114 calories per half cup, or 132 calories per 100 grams.
Compared to other legumes, lentils are quick and easy to prepare. They’re also high in protein, fiber, folate, thiamin, iron, potassium and manganese (49).
Calories: 165 calories per half cup, or 116 calories per 100 grams.
26–29: Dairy and Eggs
When it comes to dairy products, the calorie count varies with the fat content.
So if you’re trying to keep your calorie intake low, stick with low-fat or non-fat dairy products.
26. Skim Milk
Skim milk is a low-calorie source of high-quality protein. Milk also contains calcium, and most milk manufacturers supplement their products with vitamin D (51).
Calories: 86 calories per cup, or 35 calories per 100 grams.
27. Plain Non-Fat Yogurt
Choose plain, unsweetened yogurt because flavored yogurts contain lots of sugar and excess calories. Add fresh fruit or berries for flavor and natural sweetness.
Calories: 137 calories per cup, or 56 calories per 100 grams.
28. Low-Fat Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is a soft, creamy fresh cheese that is low in calories and high in protein.
Most grocery stores carry cottage cheeses with varying fat contents. For the lowest calorie count, choose cottage cheese with 1% milkfat.
Calories: 82 calories per half-cup, or 72 calories per 100 grams.
Eggs are an inexpensive and nutritious source of high-quality protein.
Calories: 72 calories per large egg, or 144 calories per 100 grams.
The healthiest grains are those that have not been processed or refined.
Fiber-rich whole grains may help you feel full for longer, which can help you eat fewer calories (50).
Popcorn is a type of corn that expands and pops when it’s exposed to heat.
Air-popped popcorn is a healthy, low-calorie snack, as long as you don’t smother it with butter or unhealthy toppings.
Calories: 31 calories per cup, popped.
31. Shirataki Noodles
Shirataki noodles are Japanese noodles that are made from a yam-like tuber called konjac. They are nearly calorie-free and are high in fiber.
Calories: 5 calories per 100 grams.
32. Oats and Oatmeal
Calories: 124 in 3/4 cup, cooked, or 71 calories per 100 grams, cooked.
33. Wild Rice
Wild rice is cooked and eaten much like regular rice. However, it’s slightly lower in calories than white or brown rice.
Wild rice also provides fiber, protein, some B vitamins, zinc and manganese (60).
Calories: 166 calories per cup, or 101 calories per 100 grams.
Quinoa is a gluten-free pseudocereal that is often considered to be a “superfood,” due to its nutrient and antioxidant content.
It contains more protein than most grains and also contains several B vitamins, iron, magnesium and manganese (61).
Calories: 222 calories per 1 cup, cooked, or 120 calories per 100 grams, cooked.
35–36: Nuts and Seeds
In general, nuts and seeds are high-calorie foods. However, they’re also highly nutritious and should be included in your diet even if you’re restricting calories.
35. Unsweetened Almond Milk
Almond milk is made from ground almonds and water.
It’s a popular substitute for those who are allergic to cow’s milk, but it’s also significantly lower in calories than cow’s milk.
The calcium content of almond milk is similar to cow’s milk, and it is also high in vitamin E (62).
Calories: 38 calories per cup, or 17 calories per 100 grams.
Chestnuts are lower in calories than most other nuts. They’re also high in fiber, vitamin C and folate (63).
Calories: 63 calories per ounce, or 224 calories per 100 grams.
Sugar-sweetened beverages are the enemy of weight loss. Alternatively, most sugar-free beverages are low in calories.
Always check the label to make sure your drink does not contain added sugar. Additionally, fruit juices are high in sugar and should be avoided.
Water is the best beverage you can consume, and it is always calorie-free.
38. Unsweetened Tea
39. Black Coffee
Sugary drinks from coffeehouses are loaded with calories. On the other hand, black coffee is a calorie-free beverage that is actually healthy.
40. Sparkling Water
Sparkling water is a refreshing and healthy alternative to sugary soft drinks.
Most sparkling waters are simply water infused with carbon dioxide, but check the label of your favorite brand to be sure sugar has not been added.
Some condiments are full of sugar and can add calories to your meal. However, there are plenty of flavorful condiments to choose from that are very low in calories.
41. Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to your food. Several even have health benefits.
Cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper are spices that are particularly rich in antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds.
42. Low-Calorie Condiments
Here are some condiments that pack a punch of flavor with very minimal calories:
- Vinegar: 3 calories per tablespoon (69)
- Lemon juice: 3 calories per teaspoon (70)
- Salsa: 4 calories per tablespoon (71)
- Hot sauce: 0.5 calories per teaspoon (72)
- Horseradish: 2 calories per teaspoon (73)
Take Home Message
A low-calorie diet does not have to be boring or bland. In fact, there are plenty of healthy foods that are full of flavor but low in calories.
Consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods will ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs, and may also increase your satisfaction with your diet.
Choose whole, unprocessed foods, which tend to contain the most nutrients.