25 Shockingly Low-Calorie Foods

Load up on these ridiculously low-cal options that are packed with tons of antioxidants, fiber, protein, and more.

June 7, 2016
celery

Behold the ultimate low-calorie food, the celery stick. Many would relegate this simple stalk to rabbits and rabid dieters, but that would be a mistake. In addition to being one of nature's lowest-calorie foods at about five calories a stem, it packs a ton of nutrition.

More: 50 Foods You Should Never Eat

It's also thought that certain phytochemicals, called phthalides, found in celery may relax muscle tissue in artery walls, increase blood flow and thereby help lower blood pressure. Read on to discover other surprisingly low-cal foods that offer big nutritional payoffs, based on information from The Men's Health Big Book of Food & Nutrition:

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Green Tea (Unsweetened)

Green tea is high in an antioxidant called ECGC, which may reduce the risk of most cancers and promotes fat burning. According to studies, consuming two to four cups of green tea a day may torch an extra 50 calories. That translates into about five pounds a year!

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Watercress

The next time you order a sandwich or a salad, don't be shy about piling on these peppery greens. You could eat a pound of watercress and take in a meager 53 calories. But don't let its lack of calories fool you; it's loaded with vitamins A, C and K. A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also found that eating 3 ounces daily increases levels of the cancer-fighting antioxidants lutein and beta-carotene.

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Spinach

You'd have to eat 15 cups of Popeye's favorite snack just to crack 100 calories. In addition to being rich in vitamin K, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and selenium, spinach (one of the best leafy greens out there) contains a hormone that allows muscle tissue to repair itself faster, according to a test tube study conducted by Rutgers University researchers.

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Kiwi

Here's a fun fact: Kiwis are actually giant berries, and consistently make the EWG's list of Clean Fifteen fruits. They pack fiber, potassium and vitamin E, as well as more than a day's worth of vitamin C and more than one-third of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin K. For maximum nutritional benefit, consume them whole—skin and all.

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Swiss Chard

Swiss chard, a close relative of the beet, delivers substantial amounts of 16 vitamins and vital nutrients for a number of calories you can count on both hands. For these calories, you get more than triple the recommended daily intake of bone-strengthening vitamin K, half your vision-boosting vitamin A and 16% of the hard-to-get vitamin E, which studies have shown may help sharpen mental acuity. Figuring out how to cook Swiss chard can be a challenge, but the health bonuses are worth it.

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Cottage Cheese

Containing about one-fifth of the calories you'll find in most cheeses, cottage cheese is a clear low-calorie winner in the dairy department. Sure, you won't get as many vitamins as you will with fruits and vegetables, but cottage cheese still makes a good low-calorie, high-protein snack, packing 3 grams of protein per ounce. Just be careful: A regular version also contains about 20% of your day's salt requirement, so you'll want to stick with low-sodium versions, especially if you're making the dish your post-workout protein meal.

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Green Bell Pepper

In just one cup of chopped bell pepper you'll get more vitamin C than you would from an orange, at about only a third of the calories. Not to mention that green peppers are cheaper than their red, yellow and orange counterparts. A green pepper also packs dietary fiber, a little bit of protein and some vitamin A.

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Purslane

This broad-leaved edible weed, which is classified as a vegetable or herb in other countries, has the highest amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fats of any edible plant. Scientists also report that this herb has 10 to 20 times more melatonin—an antioxidant that may inhibit cancer growth—than any other fruit or vegetable tested. Think of purslane as a great alternative or addition to lettuce.

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Broccoli Rabe

You could chow down on an entire pound of this veggie for about 100 calories. A seven-calorie serving gives you more than a day's worth of vitamin K, which helps our liver's function. It's one of the top foods for your liver and also contains vitamins A and C, calcium, folate, iron and as much protein as spinach.

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Bok Choy

For slightly more calories than a stick of gum, a cup of bok choy delivers a potent vitamin cocktail, including a big dose of rare cancer-fighting nitrogen compounds called indoles, as well as folic acid, iron, beta-carotene and potassium. Potassium keeps your muscles and nerves healthy while lowering your blood pressure, and research suggests that beta-carotene can reduce the risk of both lung and bladder cancers.

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Mushrooms

Small mushrooms contain only two calories each, which means you could eat dozens of them before putting a real dent in your diet. Wild mushrooms are rich in the antioxidant ergothioneine. Even better: cooking them in red wine, which contains the antioxidant resveratrol and magnifies their immunity-boosting power.

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Summer Squash

With a fraction of the calories contained by other squash varieties—you could eat 3½ cups of summer squash for the same number of calories you'd get from one cup of butternut squash—this vegetable also manages to serve up substantial vitamin C (about one-third of your daily requirement in a cup), as well as vitamin B6, which helps our immune and nervous systems function efficiently, and a little bit of protein.

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Shrimp

This tasty, low-calorie shellfish makes for a smart protein selection. For fewer calories than you get in a 4-ounce chicken breast, you could eat 16 large shrimp. In each serving you'll get a healthy portion of protein, selenium, and vitamin D, as well as some omega-3 fatty acids. When possible, opt for wild-caught varieties, which are lower in pesticides and avoid the nasty parts of shrimp.

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Radish

These small and spicy orbs make a great snack eaten whole. You could gobble up nearly six cups of radishes for fewer calories than are in an ounce of baked potato chips. The appearance and nutritional benefits vary among the many types of radishes, but in general all varieties share an abundance of vitamin C and help facilitate the digestive process.

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Star Fruit

Sweet as candy and lower in calories (a piece of fruit contains fewer calories than two Jolly Ranchers), this exotic Asian fruit is high in vitamin C and contains three grams of dietary fiber. It's also a great source of polyphenols, antioxidants that fight cardiovascular inflammation.

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Cabbage

To match the number of calories in four ounces of its St. Patrick's Day companion, corned beef, you'd have to eat more than eight cups of chopped cabbage. But you don't need that much cabbage (or its cousin, sauerkraut) to reap major nutritional benefits. One cup is loaded with a type of isothiocyanate called sulforaphane, which increases your body's production of enzymes that disarm cell-damaging free radicals. Sulforaphane actually boosts your levels of these cancer-fighting enzymes higher than any other plant chemical, according to Stanford University scientists.

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Scallops

With fewer than half the calories you'd find in a piece of flank steak, and 14 grams of protein per three ounces, sea scallops offer a great calorie value for the nutrition they provide, including plenty of cancer-fighting vitamin B12 and selenium.

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Cauliflower

The florets in this ivory cluster contain detoxifying compounds called isothiocyanates, which offer protection against forms of prostate cancer. To boost your defenses even more, pair cauliflower with powerful turmeric. The spice protects the prostate on its own, and it becomes even more effective against cancer there when it's paired with cauliflower, according to a Rutgers University study.
 

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Asparagus

A whopping 2 pounds of asparagus—probably more than you could eat in a single sitting—comes in under 200 calories. Each serving is loaded with bone-protecting vitamin K, and it's rich in folate, which may help ward off heart disease, reduce your risk of obesity, and it can even help fight hangovers

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Plums

Plums may be nutritionally weaker than other stone fruits, but they're also the lowest in calories, containing about half the amount you'd find in peaches, apricots and nectarines. And they contain antioxidants as well as small amounts of fiber and vitamins A, C and K, and can help keep your gut happy.

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Tomato

Tomatoes are a good source of lycopene, the phytochemical that makes them red, and they are a prostate and breast protector and help eliminate skin-aging free radicals caused by ultraviolet rays. Cooking tomatoes (which, like avocados, are technically a fruit) helps concentrate their lycopene levels, so tomato sauce, tomato paste and even ketchup pack on the protection.

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Broccoli

A single stalk of this cancer-fighting cruciferous vegetable packs 3 grams of protein—about as much as an ounce of chicken breast. Eat a cup and you'll get a hearty dose of calcium, as well as manganese, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. And that's in addition to its high concentration of vitamins, including A, C and K. Translation: Eat broccoli and you'll live longer.

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Flounder

This whitefish is one of the lowest-calorie proteins around. In addition to hooking you up with 20 grams of protein, a serving contains half your recommended daily amount of selenium and substantial vitamin B12. You'll also get 286 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids. As an added bonus, flounder tends to be less expensive than most fish.

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Strawberry

Packed with antioxidants, which protect you against cancer and memory loss, and immunity-boosting vitamin C, these little rubies make for a perfect low-calorie sweet treat, as long as you reach for an organic pesticide-free berry. You could eat an entire pound of succulent strawberries for roughly the same number of calories you'd get in a measly half-cup of vanilla ice cream.

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