Usually, when something sounds too good to be true, it is. Not the case here. Though chocolate and other sweet treats didn’t make the cut, we’ve got a dietician-approved list of foods you can eat unlimited amounts of without sabotaging your diet and fitness goals. Not only are they low in calories and high in fiber, but all eight foods also offer up a host of other health benefits—chomp away.
Celery is probably the most notorious "negative-calorie" food (that’s not actually a thing, by the way). What’s meant by the commonly used term? “There's this thing called the 'thermogenic effect of food'—in short, your body burns calories digesting the food you eat," says Angela Lemond, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "But it really varies by person and genetics." So, yes, it could take more energy to digest than you’re actually getting from the veggie, which is where its reputation as a negative- or zero-calorie food comes from.
Slice them up into sticks; throw them into a stir-fry; or hollow them out, stuff with lean ground beef and couscous, and bake. However you prefer to eat them, just be sure to get these flavorful veggies into your diet STAT.
Kale has found its way onto every healthy-food list, and it would be wrong to leave it off of this one. “We find that people who have a low intake of these types of vegetables have higher body weights consistently," Lemond says. "People who say they don’t like vegetables don’t realize they’re putting themselves at risk, because incorporating these foods tends to naturally lower total caloric intake for the day.”
Cruciferous vegetables are the mainstay when it comes to “zero-calorie” foods, and broccoli is one of the best ones for you. Its deep green hue is a dead giveaway that it’s full of cancer-fighting phytochemicals. Broccoli is also packed with gut-filling fiber. “Foods that are high in fiber are typically the ones that are going to make you feel full longer," Lemond notes. Eat it raw or steam a large portion for a filling snack or side.
According to Lemond, every food hue offers some kind of anti-cancer benefits. When it comes to purple veggies, “you always think of heart health and a lot of cardiovascular benefits,” she says. While you probably won’t be biting into a whole cabbage, cut off a big chunk and toss it into salads or stir-fries. The addition will make your meal more filling and help curb the need to snack as the day goes on.
We’re aware that you probably don’t crave cauliflower, per se, but when you’re in the mood to snack, this is a smart option. If you’re not so keen on the taste of raw cauliflower, Lemond offers up a few flavor-boosting suggestions: “You can make it taste wonderful with some olive oil, but every teaspoon adds about 45 calories," she says. "I recommend steaming cauliflower and flavoring it with herbs and spices or a little lemon zest."
This is the only "fruit" you’ll see on this list. “In general, fruit has about 60 calories per serving—so more than double the calorie content of non-starchy vegetables,” Lemond says. But tomatoes are on the lower end of the fruit calorie spectrum, so forgo grapes every now and then and pop cherry tomatoes into your mouth for a healthy, lower-sugar snack.
Leafy greens are always a safe bet. Aside from being very low in calories, spinach will benefit your body tremendously, especially if you’re working out intensely. “When we're breaking down muscle at the cellular level, we have to renourish our bodies with the proper foods," Lemond says. "Your body is going to repair itself in the most optimal way when you’re eating greens."