When people bring up zero calorie for weight loss, the first things I think about are plain water and coffee. Though they’re technically drinks, they’re also the most glaring and real examples of ingesting something with absolutely no calories.
But you can’t really live off of just water and coffee, can you? Nor is it the answer you’re looking for.
Having said that, these “zero calorie foods for weight loss” — or negative calorie foods as some people would call them — are actually foods that require equal, if not more energy to digest compared to the very few calories they hold.
Which brings us to the question…
What foods burn calories when you eat them?
Or, more specifically, what foods burn more calories than they actually have?
Basically, you’re looking at 3 things:
- Water content
- Fiber content, and
- Metabolism boosting compounds
According to research, eating foods with high water content can effectively help you eat less calories — perhaps even more so than just drinking water alone — because it promotes fullness and reduces hunger.
Fiber, on the other hand, has less calories than other forms of carbohydrates like starches and sugar. In the words of one research, some of these fibers even have “less than zero” calories.
Furthermore, the same study says that the metabolizable energy content in these fibrous foods are often lower than average — which pretty much means that most foods with high fiber content have less calories than what’s written on the label. Plus, they help with satiety, so you eat less calories throughout the day.
Lastly, some compounds that naturally occur in certain foods help boost your metabolism. Like EGCG in green tea or the capsaicin in chilli peppers, for example. We’ll get to more detail about these later but for now, let me bust one more myth for ya.
Do zero calorie drinks help you lose weight?
I see it all the time now. Athletes with Gatorade Zero; Gym buffs with some sort of low-calorie energy drink; People at a restaurant ordering Coke Zero to go with their food.
But, is Coke Zero really zero calories? Do these other drinks have less calories, too?
Well, yes, because they’re using artificial sweeteners with little to no calories instead of real sugar. When used sparingly, I do believe these drinks help people lose weight.
However, the problem is when you abuse them.
Multiple studies have associated the artificial sweeteners used in these low-cal drinks to be just as bad, if not worse than natural sugar when it comes to weight gain because it messes up your body’s chemistry.
One theory is that artificial sweeteners can’t fully satisfy your cravings because they can’t completely engage your brain’s reward systems due to their lack of calories.
Another theory is that they desensitize your taste buds to sweets. After all, artificial sweeteners are sweeter than sugar. So, when you do eat non-diet foods, you want them sweeter than usual. Ultimately, you’re left unsatisfied or you add more sugar (and calories) to an already calorie dense treat so you can fulfill those cravings.
Also, these sweeteners still trigger insulin release — and without any actual sugar to process, you may just be putting yourself at a higher risk of being insulin resistant.
With that being said, it’s finally time to answer the question you’re really here for:
“What can I eat that has zero calories?”
Take a look at the list below. I’ve categorized them into either fruits, vegetables, drinks, and others to make things easier.
Zero calorie vegetables for weight loss
Celery is probably one of, if not the most commonly cited example of negative-calorie foods — and for good reason.
The vegetable is about 95% water and has 1.6g of fiber for every 100g. Along with carrying only 16 calories, it’s definitely weight loss friendly.
Moreover, several studies say that celery is the most important natural source of several phytochemicals and antioxidants (i.e. vitamin C, vitamin A) which help reduce oxidative stress.
I think this is important because oxidative stress has a negative impact on your gut. So, albeit indirectly, celery helps you lose weight through a healthy gut as well.
With 2.6g of fiber and only 34 calories per 100g, there’s a good reason why broccoli is one of the more common vegetables in almost every gym buff’s meal. It’s also 89% water which can help you feel fuller.
A study says that consuming fruits and vegetables with more fiber helps you lose and maintain a healthier weight while specifically identifying broccoli as one of these foods.
I always thought cauliflower was just pale broccoli because, you know… they look really similar. When it comes to fiber, water, and calories, they’re quite alike as well with cauliflower being 92% water while holding 2.5g of fiber at only 25 calories per 100g.
Plus, the same study that identified broccoli as a vegetable for weight loss also mentioned cauliflower. They’re packed with antioxidants, too.
However, I suggest not boiling your cauliflower (and broccoli) as research says that this method takes off quite a big percentage of the vegetable’s antioxidants; potentially reducing its weight loss and health benefits.
Steaming, stir-frying, and microwaving are other cooking options.
4. Romaine lettuce
All types of lettuce are actually high in fiber and water but I personally prefer romaine lettuce, so I’m highlighting it here. From what I’ve read, it’s supposedly more nutritious than other types, so there’s that, too.
100g of romaine lettuce has 17 calories 2.1g of fiber and is nearly 95% water. Its rich nutritional profile also embodies the saying less is more, because you get a bunch of vitamins and minerals without having too many calories.
In particular, a cup of shredded romaine lettuce gives you 82% of the vitamin A you need in a day. Per research, vitamin A may help prevent obesity because it helps boost your metabolism.
Speaking of vitamin A, just 1 medium-sized carrot will give you nearly 2x the amount of vitamin A you need per day. To me, that alone makes it great for weight loss.
Plus, it’s packed with fiber (nearly 3g per 100g) and is around 88% water. If you haven’t caught on yet, that’s an amazing low-cal combo.
Carrots also have a positive effect on digestion and have been used as a natural diuretic.
I’ve honestly never had jicama (a.k.a yam bean) but my goodness does it look great for weight loss.
Every 100g of this root vegetable gets you nearly 5g of fiber at only 38 calories. It’s actually one of the most fiber-packed produce on this list. And, it’s 90% water!
At the same weight, it also has 34% of your daily vitamin C needs, making it well capable of helping you fight against the fattening effects of oxidative stress.
Asparagus is something else I see on most athletes’ diets, especially when it comes to healthy meal preps.
100g of asparagus only carries 20 calories but it also has 2g of fiber and is 93% water. Apart from that, it also has 2.2g of protein — which is pretty high for a vegetable. The fiber, protein, and water content are largely why it’s so satiating despite being such a lightweight vegetable.
Asparagus is also a diuretic which is great for detoxing. What I don’t like about it though is that it makes the smell of pee even worse. But, hey, that’s why you flush after using the toilet.
If you take a look at its fiber, water, and calories per 100g (50 calories, 2g fiber, 84.5% water), it probably doesn’t all that impressive compared to the previous vegetables. What makes it such an amazing vegetable for weight loss, however, lies in its micronutrients.
Specifically, it gets you 200% of your daily vitamin C needs, over 300% vitamin A, above 1000% vitamin K, and 39% manganese, along with several other vitamins and minerals.
I’ve already told you about the metabolism-boosting and antioxidant benefits of both vitamin A and C, but vitamin K is probably just as good. In fact, research has associated increased vitamin K intake with lower body weight and fat.
Manganese, on the other hand, is involved with the production of thyroxine — a thyroid hormone that helps balance your appetite, weight, and bowel movements.
The more I look at the profiles of these zero calorie foods for weight loss, the more I understand why they’re in almost every fitness dude/dudette’s plate on almost every meal.
100g of spinach, for example, only has 23 calories and 91% of that is water, making it weight-friendly. And, with that same amount, you also get 2.2g of fiber and a lot — and I mean a lot — of nutrients, including:
- Vitamin A (188%)
- Vitamin C (47%)
- Vitamin K (604%)
- Folate or vitamin B9 (49%)
- Manganese (45%)
- Magnesium (20%)
- Potassium (16%)
- Omega-3 fatty acids (138mg)
And several others more.
These same vitamins and minerals can be found in Kale. Kale even has more vitamin A, C, and K where spinach edges kale out is its manganese
Another nutrient dense vegetable is arugula, otherwise known as rocket. There’s 25 calories and 1.6g of fiber for every 100g of this herb but I think it makes most of its money from its protein (2.6g), water (nearly 92%), and fatty acid content.
In particular, arugula has 170mg of omega-3 and 130mg of omega-6.
These fatty acids are important because you can only get them from food or supplementation.
Thing is, you might already be getting more than enough omega-6, as do most other people who follow the typical wester diet. So, I urge you to focus your attention more on omega-3.
Although watercress isn’t the most fiber-packed vegetable out there, it also has some of the highest percentages of water (95%). Furthermore, it packs 2.2g of protein per 100g. That’s actually fairly high considering how it only holds 11 calories.
A cup of this vegetable also gives you more than 100% of your daily vitamin K needs, making it even better for your weight.
Negative-calorie fruits for weight loss
Let’s start this off with something you might not have thought of as a fruit.
You might have already noticed this when you bite into a juicy slice of cucumber but the fruit is over 95% water.
While it doesn’t have as much fiber as most of the foods on this list, it’s still largely considered as one of the best zero calorie foods for weight loss because of its very low calorie content (i.e. 15 calories for every 100g).
Is it just me who thought pumpkins were vegetables? My mom always used to force me to eat her pumpkin soup so I’d grow up with better eyesight. Being the dumb kid that I was, I thought the only thing you can add to soup was vegetables. But, apparently, they’re fruit!
Anyhow, pumpkins are packed with vitamin A. In fact, a cup of this fruit will get you 245% the vitamin A you need. And, not only is vitamin A great for weight loss, it’s great for your vision, too. My mom was right!
It’s also about 94% water, so it’s definitely filling.
I don’t know about you but I love tomatoes. Their versatility in the kitchen is simply incredible to me. But, perhaps the best part about them is that they’re light (only 18 calories per 100g) but also very satiating. Its water content, 94.5%, is probably the biggest reason why.
Another reason might be because it has a lot of active compounds, including the well-known lycopene, that assist in weight loss. Research even says that tomatoes were associated with significant weight loss.
Apples are about 85% water. On average, a medium-sized one (about 182g) would get you 95 calories and 4.4g fiber.
Per research, eating apples will help you eat less calories because it promotes satiety.
However, even before I got scientific about what I eat to stay relatively fit, I’ve always felt like apples were a great snack because it kept me full until my next big meal. The science and the nutritional profile of the fruit simply confirms it.
1 whole orange gets you 100 calories. Now, while that may seem like a lot, you have to know that it also has a whopping 7.2g of fiber, 2.1g of protein, and is about 82% water, so that number should really be less than what it is.
Plus, the fruit is one of the most well-known sources of vitamin C, packing nearly 200% of the daily recommended dosage. If not for weight loss, it’s still going to be great for your immune system.
I mean, just from the name alone, you’d expect this fruit to be almost overflowing with water, right? With 91.5% of its weight coming from H20, you’d be right. More than that though, a wedge of watermelon (about 286g) is going to fetch you 1.1g of fiber and 1.7g of protein.
All these factors considered, research shows that eating watermelon on a daily basis can make you feel less hungry, leading to lesser calories, weight and BMI reduction, and even a better blood pressure.
So, rather than cookies or chips, snack on a couple wedges of watermelon instead.
Speaking of snacks, I want to specifically highlight strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Here’s a look at what their calories, fiber, and water content per 100g all look like:
These berries are some of my favorite keto snacks for weight loss because they’re all low carb and low calorie. But, they’re great even outside of keto because they’re also loaded with water as well as a bunch of vitamins and minerals.
Blueberries are pretty good, too, but they have slightly more sugar and calories.
First of all, yes, zucchinis are fruits. I always thought they were a vegetable, too, you know?
Anyhow, zucchinis are about 95% water with 1g of fiber, 1g of protein, and only 17 calories per 100g.
However, I think the true strength of zucchinis when it comes to weight loss is its versatility. You can add them to almost anything — snacks, main dishes, side dishes, you name it!
They’re a great substitute for pasta, too. With a good spiralizer, you can easily make several types of zucchini pasta, including flat pastas for lasagna and several types of string pasta for spaghetti, fettuccine, or noodles.
Per the CDC, using watery and fiber-rich produce like zucchini in your recipes lowers their caloric content.
When they’re in season, I always make sure to stock up on pineapples. I mean, they taste so good! And they’re just as good for weight loss.
100g of pineapple will get you 50 calories and 1.4g of fiber. It’s also 86% water, so it’s pretty darn watery, too.
This fruit is also a good source of vitamin C and manganese which only adds to its already impressive weight loss properties.
Grapefruits are about 91% water and have 1.1g of fiber for every 100g. And, with only 32 calories for the same amount, it’s definitely weight loss friendly.
One study even shows how grapefruit and grapefruit juice are effective for weight loss and body fat reduction.
Furthermore, grapefruits have 34mg of vitamin C which is about half of what you need per day.
1 medium-sized peach carries 58.5 calories with 2.2g of fiber and 1.4g of protein. Of that weight, about 89% is made up of water.
Moreover, peaches also have epigallocatechin gallate (or just EGCG for short) which also helps you lose weight.
Although, there’s significantly more EGCG in green tea, so we’ll circle back to this when we talk about green tea a bit further down.
Healthy drinks with zero calories (or almost zero)
23. Plain water
There’s still nothing that beats water, in my opinion, and it’s probably as perfect as it gets when it comes to negative-calorie foods for weight loss.
In fact, one study says that drinking about 2 glasses of water boosts your metabolism by about 30%. This effect lasted for 30-40 minutes, resulting in 100 kJ (or about 24 calories) burned.
And, if you want to maximize the weight loss benefits of water, research says that drinking those 2 glasses of water before each meal helps you feel fuller before eating anything solid, so you eat less calories as a result and you lose more weight.
A cup of brewed coffee gets you 2.4 calories. Not much, right?
But here’s the thing:
Studies have long shown how effective caffeine is at boosting your metabolism, controlling your appetite, and cutting down your weight.
So, those 2.4 calories? Consider those gone by the time your body reacts to caffeine.
Personally, I use pure black coffee as my pre-workout and fat burner. It’s cheap, it’s scientifically proven, and I’ve grown to love the bitter, sort of nutty taste of good coffee.
25. Green tea
Depending on the brand you get, the calories in green tea can vary. But, generally speaking, pure green tea and hot water should have less than 1 calorie.
Like coffee, green tea has caffeine, so it shares those same weight-cutting benefits.
On top of that, green tea also has EGCG — a compound in tea that, per studies, gives the drink even more metabolism boosting and fat burning properties. The way I see it, it’s why green tea embodies the meaning of zero calorie foods for weight loss.
26. Apple cider vinegar
First of all, a tablespoon (or 15mL) of ACV only has 3 calories.
According to research, this much vinegar is enough to help you lose weight, improve your BMI score, lose fat, and lower your triglyceride levels. Another study suggests that these benefits might be because of acetic acid.
Now, vinegar, not just apple cider vinegar, has acetic acid. So, they’re generally great for weight loss. However, what sets ACV apart is “the mother” — or those fibers you see floating around the bottle that also gives unfiltered apple cider vinegar its murky appearance.
The theory around “the mother” is that it makes ACV better for your digestive system and blood sugar, so they’re better for your weight and health.
If you want to know the difference between filtered and unfiltered apple cider vinegar, we’ve got an entire article dedicated to explaining just that.
Low calorie herbs and spices that boost your metabolism
Aside from fruits, vegetables, and drinks, other things you probably already have in your pantry and herbs and spices.
Used in moderation, they generally don’t hold a lot of calories and a good bunch of them even have solid weight loss benefits.
We have an entire list of spices and herbs for weight loss if you need it but here are the handful that help you burn more calories:
The thing that gives chilli peppers their heat is a compound called capsaicin. Per research, capsaicin is more than capable of boosting your metabolism to help you burn more calories, as well as suppressing your appetite and burning some of that fat.
Cayenne pepper, in particular, holds a miniscule 5.6 calories per teaspoon. It’s probably also one of, if not the most commercially available pepper powders out there.
A teaspoon of ground ginger nets you about 6 calories.
However, those 6 calories will likely be nullified because, according to a study, ginger can ramp up your metabolism and improve fat breakdown while suppressing fat production. It also helps control your appetite, making it even better for weight loss.
Cinnamaldehyde, the active ingredient in cinnamon, increases your body temperature (thermogenesis) and therefore helps you burn more calories.
Furthermore, the same research that says that also shows how cinnamaldehyde helps you burn more fat and control your blood sugar.
Like virtually everything on here, there’s proof that ginseng may very well be capable of speeding up your metabolism while keeping your hunger at bay. After all, that’s how it got its reputation as a natural weight loss wonder.
If you’re shopping for ginseng powder, however, I suggest choosing the more concentrated versions, like this Organic Ginseng Root Powder from Micro Ingredients, so you get more potent scoops.
As you can see, not everything you consume makes you fatter. I think it’s important for you to realize this because I’ve seen people who think losing weight is all about eating less food.
That’s only partly true since there are actually foods like the ones I listed here who can potentially help you burn more calories.
That being said, focus your attention on fiber, water content, nutritional density, and compounds that may help you boost your metabolism. These elements are usually found in whole foods, so keep your eye on those instead of the junk food that everyone else eats.
If you do that, then I firmly believe you’ll be well on your way to a healthier, more sustainable weight.
Oh, and don’t forget to share this with your friends! Ciao!