By eating less calories than your body can physically use, you’ll shed excess pounds almost without trying.
But as anyone who’s tried to cut back knows, it’s hard living on a calorie deficit. Your body is so used to operating with that extra fuel that it starts craving food all the time.
This is why dieters so often give up before they see results. They’re starving, unenergized, and unmotivated… and blame their new diet.
We know that there are negative effects of a low-calorie diet, but before we condemn calorie counting, it’s not all doom and gloom here. Eating less calories can be healthier for you and it doesn’t have to feel like an uphill struggle.
In fact, if you add a few delicious low-calorie foods to your meal prep, you’ll feel healthy, drop pounds fast, and never feel those hunger pangs.
How’s this possible?
These foods have killer nutritional profiles filled with good qualities like protein, fiber, antioxidants, and other all-star nutrients to help you feel your best.
Here are the 8 best low-calorie food options packed with nutrition:
The Magic Three
To keep yourself feeling full all day, look for the magic three nutrients in everything you eat:
- Lean protein
- Water content
According to Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Eat Your Way to Sexy, “All three or any one of these will fill you up before they fill you out, so you push away from the table before you’ve overeaten.”
Plus, if you’re full, you won’t crave those high-calorie, sugary sweets after meals either.
Let’s talk about why these three are important when you’re cutting calories.
The Best Lean Protein
You can’t skimp on protein when you’re cutting calories. Protein is what’s going to build lean muscle tissue so you become a fat-burning machine.
When you get rid of excess fat and replace it with lean muscle mass, you’ll be burning 6–10 calories per pound of muscle just when you’re at rest!
Studies have shown that “people who eat more protein have more lean muscle mass.”
Another benefit of protein is that it takes more energy for your body to digest than other macronutrients.
See, the thermic effect of food (TEF) is the measurement of energy your body takes just to process the food you eat. Different macronutrients have different thermic effects.
For example, our bodies use about 5–15% of the calories in carbohydrates to digest them. But it uses a whopping 20–35% of the calories from protein!
Add these three lean protein sources to your diet:
1. Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast
The Stats: 124 calories; 1.4g of fat; 26g of protein in one 4 oz. serving
There’s a reason lean poultry meat like chicken breast will be your best friend: it’s a complete protein with fewer calories than red meat per serving (almost 200 less in fact!) and almost zero fat.
For slightly over 100 calories, you’ll be sending close to 30g of protein to your muscles to repair and create lean muscle mass. That’s a big chunk—if not close to half— of your daily protein requirement!
Prep Tip: Make a bunch of chicken breasts on Sunday and bring them to work for lunch during the week. You can literally find hundreds of easy chicken breast recipes online.
The Stats: 94 calories; 10g protein; 5g fat in 4 oz.
Tofu is a staple in the diets of vegans and vegetarians alike because it’s a clean, plant-based source of protein, but that doesn’t mean it can’t fit into your diet as a meat-eater.
Firmer tofu has more protein than softer varieties. It’s not uncommon to see close to 1g of protein for every 10 calories of tofu. That’s not a bad ratio.
Additionally, since tofu is made from soybeans and soymilk, it’s a naturally cholesterol-free food.
If you replace 4 oz. of beef with tofu in just one of your meals, you could save over 100mg of cholesterol (34% of your RDA) and lower your chances of hypertension, high cholesterol, and heart disease.
We discussed a few more healthy benefits of soy in this article.
Prep Tip: Tofu is a blank canvas. Check out these 12 fantastic tofu recipes for inspiration!
3. Pork Tenderloin
The Stats: 122 calories; 3g fat; 22g protein in 3 oz.
This extra lean cut of the “other” white meat delivers tons of protein in a low-calorie package.
Plus, a serving of pork tenderloin has at least 20% of all your B vitamins (except folate). The health benefits of B vitamins include:
- Converting food to fuel our body can use
- Providing long-lasting energy
- Fighting free radicals
- Boosting good cholesterol
- Regulating stress and sex hormones
- Maintaining moods and sleep patterns
According to Men’s Fitness, “Tenderloin also packs three times as much zinc, a vitamin essential for muscle repair and DNA production” than boneless, skinless chicken breast.
You’ll find 2 mg of zinc in a 3 oz. serving, which equals 26% of your RDA for women and 19% for men.
Foods Full of Fiber
There’s evidence to prove that the more fiber you consume, the less overall calories you actually eat during your meals. That’s definitely cutting calories the easy way!
Do you know your target fiber goal?
Women should eat 25 grams of fiber a day; men should shoot for around 38 grams.
Here’s how to add low-calorie fiber to your diet:
The Stats: 64 calories; 10g fiber; 3g protein in one medium-sized cooked artichoke
Most people don’t bother getting to know this prickly veggie, but it’s what on the inside that counts, right?
When you cook up just one medium artichoke, you’ll have 41% of your recommended daily value of fiber and you’ll even have a bit of protein.
Prep Tip: Don’t know what to do with an artichoke? Shape magazine has 20 ways to cook these healthy, low-fat, high-fiber veggies.
5. Green Peas
The Stats: 134 calories; 9g fiber; 9g protein in one cup
Besides a whopping 9 grams of fiber, I bet you didn’t know peas had an equal amount of protein! This is one tiny, mighty veggie that works double-duty when you’re cutting calories.
Additionally, peas are an excellent source of vitamin A (26% of your DV), vitamin K (52% of your DV), folate (25% of your DV), manganese (42% of your DV), and vitamin C (38% of your DV).
Prep Tip: Use fresh peas right away as their sugar content turns to starch the longer you keep them. “Petite” peas are less starchy and have more flavor.
6. Raspberries and Blackberries
These all-star berries pack the most fiber of any other fruit on the planet.
As dietician Ursula Arens tells Daily Mail.co.uk, “A generous handful [of blackberries] contains…twice the amount of fiber found in two Shredded Wheats.”
Pretty surprising, right?
Plus, as you can tell from the deep, dark color of their skins, these tiny berries are loaded with antioxidants and anthocyanins to fight off cell-damaging free radicals.
Prep Tip: Pack a handful of berries with a few almonds for a midday snack, toss some berries in your yogurt or smoothies, or snack on them at night when sweet cravings strike.
Foods Packed with Water
According to one study, consuming just 17 oz. of water boosts your metabolism by 30% for up to 40 minutes after you drink up!
When participants in another study drank a glass of water before every meal, they lost 44% more weight than those who skipped it.
Water increases satiety so you’re never hungry or prone to overindulging. But you don’t have to guzzle down gallons to feel the effects—you can actually eat your water thanks to the hydrating properties of these last two foods.
The Stats: 16 calories; 95% water content
Don’t discount cucumbers because they don’t have a ton of fiber or protein.
Natural News says that:
“Fresh cucumbers have been shown to improve antioxidant levels within the body and inhibit pro-inflammatory substances… The combination of alkalizing elements, electrolytes, and fluid make it one of the world’s best foods for enhancing energy levels.”
Prep Tip: Cucumbers make a great snack when you’re feeling sluggish and also taste great when added to your water.
The Stats: 99 calories; 7.2g of fiber; 8.5g of protein; 84% water content in three cups
While the USDA recommends eating 1.5 to 2 cups of dark green vegetables every week, I recommend eating a serving of dark green leafies every day.
Kale is one of the best examples of a superfood green.
It has all of your essential amino acids (plus nine non-essential ones), it’s a shockingly high source of protein and fiber, and it’s full of fill-you-up water.
Just one cup of kale provides:
- 684% of your recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamin K
- 206% of your RDI of vitamin A
- 134% of your RDI of vitamin C
Kale’s also an amazing source of your most needed minerals such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
Prep Tip: Make one of these delicious kale recipes in under 30 minutes!
Choosing low-calorie foods doesn’t mean you have to cut back on healthy nutrients.
As long as you stick to lean sources of protein, high-fiber fruits and veggies, and load up on foods that pack an extra dose of hydration, you’ll never feel hungry or miss those extra calories.
Remember, cutting back just 500 calories every day will help your body shed one pound every week!
Are you going low-calorie to be healthier or shape up for a big event? Let me know how these 8 foods helped you lose weight by sharing your results in the comments!