25 Shockingly Low-Calorie Foods

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

November 18, 2011

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 (check out its nutrient contents). It's also thought that certain phytochemicals, called phthalides (what are these?), 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 (shop for it).

Skip ahead to read about:

- A pepper loaded with vitamin C
- A nutrition-packed shellfish
- A fiber-filled stone fruit

Related: See our list of 125 Best Foods For Men

green tea leaves
Green Tea (Unsweetened)

Check out the calories in green tea.

Green tea is high in an antioxidant called ECGC (what is this?), 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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What is the calorie count in 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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How many calories are in 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 (what disease prevention shows promise with this?), spinach 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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What is the calorie count in kiwi?

Here's a fun fact: Kiwis are actually giant berries (what defines a berry?) 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

Check out the calories in 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. How do you cook Swiss chard? Find some recipes.

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cottage cheese
Cottage Cheese

How many calories are in 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 (what is the maximum adult daily requirement?), so you'll want to stick with low-sodium versions.

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green bell pepper
Green Bell Pepper

What is the calorie count in green bell pepper?

In just one cup of chopped bell pepper you'll get more vitamin C than you would from an orange (how much vitamin C does it contain?), 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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Check out calories in purslane.

This broad-leaved 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 (how do you cook this?). 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.

broccoli rabe
Broccoli Rabe

What is the calorie count in broccoli rabe?

You could chow down on an entire pound of this veggie (find out how it differs from broccoli) for about 100 calories. A seven-calorie serving gives you more than a day's worth of vitamin K, which helps our livers function. It also contains vitamins A and C, calcium, folate, iron and as much protein as spinach.

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bok choy
Bok Choy

What is the calorie count in bok choy?

For slightly more calories than a stick of gum (how many calories are in one stick?), 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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Find out how many calories are in a serving of 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 (what does this protect against?). Even better: cooking them in red wine, which contains the antioxidant resveratrol and magnifies their immunity-boosting power.

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summer squash
Summer Squash

How many calories are in 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 (what is this?)--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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How many calories are in a serving of 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.

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Check out the calories in a 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 (see a photo of a daikon radish), but in general all varieties share an abundance of vitamin C and help facilitate the digestive process.

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star fruit
Star Fruit

How many calories are in star fruit?

Sweet as candy and lower in calories (a piece of fruit contains fewer calories than two Jolly Ranchers), this exotic Asian fruit (where does it grow?) 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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What is the calorie count of 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 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. What makes cabbage smell?


How many calories are in 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 (what do they look like in the shell?) offer a great calorie value for the nutrition they provide, including plenty of cancer-fighting vitamin B12 and selenium.

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What is the calorie content of 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 turmeric (see recipes). 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.


Check out the calories in 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 and reduce your risk of obesity.

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How many calories are in a plum?

Plums may be nutritionally weaker than other stone fruits (what are these?), 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.

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Find out how many calories are in a tomato.

Tomatoes are a good source of lycopene, the phytochemical that makes them red, and they are a prostate 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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What is the calorie count in 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.


How many calories are in 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.

Video: Whip up a healthy fish fry!


Find out how many calories are in a serving of strawberries.

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. 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.

Next up: The 10 Best Foods You Aren't Eating

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