Low-Calorie Filling Foods to Eat While Dieting
When dieting for weight loss, you may think ‘I should be hungry…’ Most people think that cutting calories means taking in less food. However, that is not necessarily the case. You must create a calorie deficit to lose weight, but many foods are naturally low in calories, allowing you to eat them in greater ‘volume.’ Eating low-calorie, filling foods helps you feel satiated (full) for a longer period of time, making calorie restriction less of a chore.
Fruits and Vegetables
Gram for gram, many fruits and vegetables are low in calories but provide plenty of volume. Because of their natural sugar content, fruits are usually higher in calories than veggies. Fruits and veggies have a high water content, which enhances their ‘filling’ factor. However, they are not all equal in calorie content. Choose wisely and you can have a larger serving size than you may think. You can nosh on one whole cup of cantaloupe or honeydew melon chunks for about 60 calories, a whole grapefruit (white, pink or red) for fewer than 80 calories, three apricots for 60 calories and a whole pear or cup of watermelon (cubed), strawberries or raspberries for 50 to 60 calories. Though bananas are slightly higher in calories (90 to 110 per whole fruit) they are quite filling.
The options for vegetables are almost endless with most offering fewer than 20 calories per 100 gram serving. Some low calorie, filling options include cabbage, asparagus, summer squash, all lettuce, spinach, snap/green beans, cucumbers, sweet bell peppers, radishes, broccoli, beets, cauliflower, carrots and tomatoes (really a fruit but associated with vegetables). Starchy vegetables, while not as low in calories as their non-starchy counterparts, are very filling. Some examples include potatoes (all varieties), rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, yams, corn and peas.
Grains and Cereals
Whole grains are high in dietary fiber and are a good source of protein. For example, a whole cup of cooked oat bran provides 88 calories, plus a whopping 6 g of dietary fiber and 7 g of protein. Popcorn, the ultimate low-calorie whole grain, is your best bet at about 50 calories per 3 cup serving (for air-popped). Other low-calorie, filling options include hot cereals, such as instant oatmeal, cream of rice, farina and cream of wheat cereals. You can even enjoy the chocolate-flavored variety (3 tbsp to 1 cup of water) for fewer than 120 calories and only 8 g of sugar and 0 g of fat. If you prefer, you can have cold with skim milk. Low-calorie options include plain bran flakes, oat cereals, such as Cheerios and puffed rice or Kasha cereals.
Soups are a diet-friendly choice because they have a high water content, are hot (which tricks your stomach into feeling full) and are usually full of vegetables, beans, lean meats and other healthy ingredients. Calories vary but, in general, one cup of a broth-based soup will run you about 100 calories. Some examples include chicken noodle, chicken and rice, tomato-vegetable, beef barley, turkey noodle, vegetarian vegetable (with beans), lentil, minestrone and split pea soups.
Lean Protein & Dairy
Very lean meats can be filling and low in calories. The best choice is turkey (light meat). It is even leaner than skinless chicken. A 3 oz. serving of roasted turkey breast meat offers about 110 calories and a filling 24 g of protein. Make a sandwich of it by stuffing the turkey into a small whole-wheat pita (4” diameter) with lots of raw vegetables (such as lettuce and tomato) and a bit of mustard for a filling, nutrient-packed sandwich that weighs in at slightly less than 200 calories. Fish is another low-calorie, nutrient-rich lean protein option that you can eat more of…for fewer calories. For example, cooked Atlantic cod fish offers only 29 calories per ounce (baked, broiled or poached). Since it is a bland fish, you can spice it up by serving it topped with a chunky salsa. Light tuna, canned in water, is diet and budget-friendly. A 3 oz. serving offers fewer than 100 calories.
Yogurt and cottage cheese are other low-calorie, filling foods, particularly when paired with fresh fruit. A 4 oz. serving of 1% milk fat cottage cheese offers only 80 calories and 1 g of fat. The calorie content of yogurt varies but choosing non-fat or low-fat yogurt, plain or flavored with artificial sweetener (“light”) varieties ensures you won’t be taking in too many calories, usually fewer than 80 per 6 oz. serving.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library (October 2002) – Nutritive Value of Foods
- Drummond, K.E. & Brefer, L.M.: Nutrition for Foodservice & Culinary Professionals, 7th ed. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, New York, 2010.