20 Zero Calorie Foods

Medically Reviewed By Adrienne Seitz, MS, RD, LDN
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Many people try to lose weight by simply eating less. This may not be sustainable for most people. Instead, consuming more low calorie, nutritious foods that fill you up and keep you feeling satisfied may be a better tool for successful weight management. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 73% of adults over the age of 20 are overweight or obese in the United States. Obesity is correlated with an increase in risk for many serious diseases and health conditions.

If you find it difficult to maintain a moderate body weight, you may benefit from adding more nutritious, low calorie foods to your diet. This helps ensure that you meet your nutritional needs while reducing your calorie intake.

Read on to learn more about foods with zero calories or that are very low in calories.

What does “zero calories” mean?

greens in a bag
Sergey Narevskih/Stocksy United

Calories refer to the energy in food and beverages, which are present in chemical bonds. Zero calories technically means there are no calories you can use as energy. It can also mean there is little to no impact from the small amount of calories present.

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What are foods that have zero or low calories?

Most foods do not contain truly zero calories.

The foods with zero calories listed below either contain virtually no calories, are very low in calories, or most of the calories are not absorbed. Overall, these foods have little to no caloric impact.

All of these foods have less than 40 calories per serving.

1. Black coffee

Coffee is rich in polyphenols, such as chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid. Research shows that coffee is linked to many health benefits. A 2021 review found that coffee may even have protective effects on the brain.

Black coffee is essentially calorie-free, with just 2 calories per 100 grams (g), or about 5 calories per cup. However, the catecholamines released from coffee consumption may actually expedite fat burning, so you can consider black coffee a zero calorie beverage.

2. Cabbage

Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable that comes in various forms and colors. There is purple cabbage, green cabbage, and napa cabbage.

It contains only 25 calories per 100 g but is rich in folate, vitamin K, and vitamin C. Purple cabbage is rich in a phytochemical called anthocyanin, which has shown many health benefits.

3. Mustard

Mustard is a very low calorie condiment that you can use to add flavor to food.

A typical serving of 1 teaspoon (6 g) contains 3.66 calories on average, depending on which mustard you choose.

You can try using it as a condiment for sandwiches, in salad dressings, or as a replacement for mayonnaise in tuna salad.

4. Pickles

Pickles are a great low calorie snack. You may also enjoy them sliced up as a topping for sandwiches.

There are only 12 calories per 100 g of pickles. Fermented pickles are also rich in probiotics, which are the beneficial bacteria in your gut.

Read more about probiotics.

5. Peppers

Peppers come in various forms and colors, such as bell peppers, shishitos, chili peppers, poblanos, and jalapenos. They are all low in calories, and each type has different health benefits.

Red bell peppers contain just 27 calories per 100 g and are rich in vitamin C and lycopene.

6. Grapefruit

Grapefruit is a citrus fruit that you can enjoy on its own. You can also eat it on top of salads or yogurt, for example. It contains 37 calories in a 100 g serving yet is high in vitamin C and phytochemicals, which are beneficial plant compounds.

Grapefruit is a common contraindication for certain medications, like statins. Be sure to check with your doctor first to ensure it is safe for you to eat.

7. Celery

Celery has a high water content, making it low in calories. It is also high in fiber.

There are only 14 calories in 100 g of celery. You can chop it up in a salad for some added crunch. You can also top it with some nut butter for a snack or add it to a chicken salad.

8. Cucumbers

Cucumbers are predominantly water, so they are very low in calories. You can try them as a hydrating snack or add them to salads and protein-rich dishes.

There are only 15 calories in 100 g of cucumbers. The peel is rich in silica, which is an important component of your hair, skin, and nails.

9. Kale

Kale is an exceptionally nutritious dark leafy green vegetable that is low in calories.

It contains just 35 calories per 100 g serving. Kale is very high in vitamins and minerals such as:

  • calcium
  • beta carotene
  • vitamin C
  • vitamin K
  • folate
  • manganese
  • potassium
  • magnesium
  • copper

The predominant carotenoids in kale are lutein and zeaxanthin, which concentrate in the macula of the retina. They may help protect your eyesight.

You can have kale in salads, smoothies, or added to many savory dishes.

10. Asparagus

Asparagus is a flowering vegetable that comes in green, white, and purple varieties. Asparagus contains only 20 calories per 100 g.

It is a good source of vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin K, and glutathione.

Asparagus contains various phytochemicals. It is notably rich in quercetin and kaempferol, which are flavonoids that may be beneficial to heart health.

Read more about heart health.

11. Arugula

Arugula, also known as “rocket,” is a cruciferous vegetable with a peppery flavor. It contains 25 calories per 100 g serving.

Arugula is rich in vitamin K as well as beneficial plant compounds, including indoles and isothiocyanates.

12. Collard greens

Collard greens are dark leafy green vegetables with a high nutritional profile despite their low calorie content. There are only 32 calories in 100 g of collard greens, yet they are rich in calcium, vitamin K, vitamin C, and folate.

You can try collard greens as a wrap replacement, in salads, or added to savory vegetable dishes.

13. Broccoli

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that is very nutritious and low in calories. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in beneficial plant compounds called isothiocyanates. Among all cruciferous vegetables, broccoli and broccoli sprouts contain the highest amount of these compounds. Isothiocyanates have been shown to have a wide range of health benefits.

Broccoli is also high in vitamin C, folate, vitamin K, potassium, fiber, and iron. It contains just 34 calories per 100 g.

Heat destroys the vitamin C, folate, and enzyme needed to convert the isothiocyanates into their active forms. Therefore, try including raw, fresh broccoli in your diet to maximize the benefits.

14. Cauliflower

Cauliflower is an incredibly versatile cruciferous vegetable that you can have in various ways. It is highly nutritious and very low in calories and carbohydrates, making it an excellent swap for many dishes. Cauliflower also comes in different colors, including purple, white, and orange. Each color is caused by different phytochemicals.

The calorie content in cauliflower is just 25 calories per 100 g. It is high in vitamin B6, vitamin C, fiber, biotin, and folate.

15. Spinach

Spinach is a dark leafy green with more of a neutral flavor.

There are just 23 calories in 100 g of spinach. It is high in magnesium, potassium, vitamin K, folate, and beta carotene.

Spinach is also rich in the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which may help protect eyesight.

16. Beet Greens

Beet greens have high concentrations of nitrates, which help to lower blood pressure.

They are another low calorie, highly nutritious dark leafy green. Beet greens contain 22 calories in a 100 g serving. Furthermore, they are high in vitamins and minerals such as:

  • vitamin B6
  • magnesium
  • potassium
  • copper
  • beta carotene
  • vitamin C
  • folate
  • vitamin E
  • manganese

You can try adding them to stir-fried meals, smoothies, or salads.

17. Lemons

Lemons are citrus fruit rich in bioflavonoids, such as limonins. Limonins are found mostly in the juice, but the pith is also concentrated in bioflavonoids.

There are 29 calories in 100 g of lemon. One average lemon, which is about 58 g, contains an estimated 50% of your daily value for vitamin C. Vitamin C protects against free radical damage and plays an important role in collagen formation.

You can try adding lemon to smoothies, use them as a marinade for fish, or as a salad dressing component.

18. Zucchini

Zucchini is another low calorie, nutritious fruit with high versatility due to its neutral flavor. There are just 17 calories in 100 g of zucchini. It is also a good source of magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and folate.

You can try preparing zucchini in a number of ways. You can spiralize them to emulate noodles or add them to smoothies. They can add volume to any dish without additional calories.

19. Shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms are the reproductive bodies of fungi. They are low in calories, with just 34 calories per 100 g.

Shiitake mushrooms are also rich in beta-glucans, which are a prebiotic that may help lower cholesterol. They also have several other health benefits. Additionally, they are a good source of selenium, B vitamins, amino acids, and vitamin D2. Read more about prebiotics.

20. Watercress

Watercress is a dark green leafy vegetable that is highly nutritious and low in calories. It is also a member of the cruciferous family, so it boasts beneficial plant compounds that are exclusively found in cruciferous vegetables.

There are just 11 calories in 100 g of watercress. It is also notably high in vitamin K, vitamin C, folate, potassium, and calcium.

What are the benefits of zero calorie foods?

All of the foods mentioned here are nutrient-dense and low in calories. Vegetables and fruits have been shown to reduce the risk for chronic diseases, including:

Including more of these foods in your diet can also help you successfully maintain a moderate body weight over the long term.

Summary

Many people try to lose weight by eating less overall. Not only is this unsustainable for most people, but you may also miss the adequate nutrients you need for optimal functioning and chronic disease prevention.

Prioritizing nutritious foods that are lower in calories may be a healthier, more sustainable approach for long-term weight management and better health.

The nutritional content of food and how it impacts your hunger and satiety cues plays a critical role in successful, long-term weight management.

If you have been struggling to maintain a moderate body weight, you may want to try including more of these foods with zero calories in your diet. Contact your doctor or a licensed nutrition professional for more individualized advice on diet and body mass reduction.

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Medical Reviewer: Adrienne Seitz, MS, RD, LDN
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 10
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