Foods You Can Eat Without Gaining Weight
These healthy options are light on calories and fat, plus they fill you up
January 20, 2023
Cutting is critical when you’re trying to lose weight. You cut calories. You cut fat. Basically, anything that’s crammed with carbs, sweetened with sugar or dipped in a deep fryer is suddenly off-limits.
But dieting doesn’t have to require deprivation. Many delicious (and healthy) foods can still be part of your dining repertoire. Some members of the produce family are so light in calories and fat that you can eat them with (relative) abandon.
The one category of foods that you can eat loads of without suffering the consequences of weight gain are nonstarchy vegetables, says Alexis Supan, an outpatient dietitian with the Cleveland Clinic Center for Integrative & Lifestyle Medicine. “Mostly any vegetable besides potato, corn and peas, you can eat endlessly,” she says.
10 healthy foods you can eat without gaining weight
Indulge in these to your heart’s content, along with a balanced diet.
- Broccoli and cauliflower
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries)
- Spinach and kale
A cup of chopped broccoli or a grilled portobello mushroom contains just 30 calories and less than 1 gram of fat. You can chow down on two entire cups of lettuce and consume less than 16 calories. Because of its high water content, a whole tomato has a mere 22 calories. Cauliflower, kale, carrots and sprouts are similarly nutrient-dense and light in calories.
These produce mainstays bring a few other things to the table. “What makes them so incredible and so beneficial for weight maintenance and weight loss is they are high in macronutrients [such as carbohydrates] and micronutrients [vitamins and minerals]. And they’re rich in fiber,” says Beata Rydyger, a registered nutritionist based in Los Angeles. Fiber keeps your blood sugar levels stable, which helps you avoid sudden attacks of the munchies that might otherwise make you crave junk foods.
If vegetables aren’t your favorite foods, you might be thinking how unappealing this way of eating sounds. But there are ways to spice up your veggies to make them more palatable.
Roast them in olive oil spray, then add a blend of garlic and other herbs and spices, Supan suggests. If you love dip, which tends to be high in fat, use salsa instead to add even more vegetables into the mix. Or blend a ranch flavor packet into plain Greek yogurt. “Now you have a really high-protein, very healthy dip that you can use along with your vegetables,” she says.
What about fruit?
Fruits are a different story. With most of them, you don’t want to go overboard. “Grapes are a perfect example. A lot of people love to snack on grapes and could eat the whole bag in an afternoon without really thinking about it. But grapes are a high-sugar food,” Supan cautions. “Keeping most fruits to a cup-and-a-half for the day is a good goal to have.”
The exceptions are berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries), kiwi and grapefruit. These fruits are high in fiber and low on the glycemic index — which means they won’t boost your blood sugar too much. Just be careful before eating grapefruit to make sure it doesn’t interact with any medications (such as statins) you take. And don’t load it up with sugar to make it taste sweeter.
Filling up the healthy way
If you’re looking for all-you-can-eat foods, it may be worth revisiting your entire diet to make sure it’s satisfying. “When people eat the right meals throughout the day, that tends to fill them up much more, and they don’t have that constant hunger,” Supan says.
Many other foods pack a powerful nutritional punch for their calorie count. Examples are healthy proteins such as fish, chicken, tofu or beans, which should be part of each meal. You also want to add healthy fats from nuts and olive oil, vegetables and whole grains such as quinoa or brown rice to your meals. “These foods will create satiety, and you can go longer without feeling that urge to snack, so you won’t overindulge,” Rydyger says.
Snacking on other high-protein, high-fiber foods will help to hold you over until dinnertime. A can of tuna, an apple with a tablespoon of peanut or almond butter, a handful of nuts, a cup of plain air-popped popcorn, a half-cup of cottage cheese or a hard-boiled egg all make excellent options. Though they do contain calories, they’re high in protein, so you won’t be tempted to overeat at your next meal.
Drinking a glass of water or having a cup of bone broth (which contains protein in the form of collagen) might also help fill you up before a meal
Revamping your diet
When you’re used to eating a certain way, making large-scale changes to your diet can feel overwhelming. “That’s why I recommend for clients to start very slow. Make a few swaps each week, and see if that works. Maybe add one vegetable into a meal once a day,” Rydyger suggests. “Starting very small and building your way toward a lifestyle change is important.”
When it comes to dieting, the aim is not “How low can you go?” Your body needs calories for energy. Try to focus less on the numbers and more on the overall quality of your diet. The most important thing is to eat whole foods — ones that aren’t processed in a factory.
Eating nothing but low-calorie foods could rob your body of the nutrients it needs, such as the calcium that keeps your bones strong. Plus it could leave you starving and have the opposite of the intended effect.
“Those low-calorie diets lead to blood sugar instability and harsh crashes,” Rydyger says. “You’re bound to crash at some point and overcompensate with even more food than you had originally planned to eat.”
When making changes to your diet, you don’t need to go it alone. It’s preferable to get some help from your primary care doctor or a dietitian. Your doctor can check your vitamin and cholesterol levels to make sure you safely embark on your new way of eating. A dietitian can assess your needs and create a meal plan that’s not only tailored to your goals but also sustainable over the long term.
Can Foods Have ‘Negative’ Calories?
Some fruits and veggies, notably celery, grapefruit and cucumber, have been touted as “negative-calorie foods.” The premise is that these foods are so low in calories that the very act of chewing and digesting them burns more calories than the foods contain.
It might seem a logical assumption. After all, celery is mostly water, and a whole stalk contains less than 6 calories. For a while, drinking celery juice on an empty stomach was all the rage with dieters. But what limited research exists on the subject has pretty much debunked the negative-calorie claim. Researchers tested out the negative-calorie hypothesis by feeding celery to humans, as well as to bearded dragon lizards, and in most cases, it was a bust.
Bottom line: Celery certainly won’t make you gain weight, but it won’t take weight off, either.
Stephanie Watson is a freelance writer with more than two decades of experience covering consumer health. Her work has appeared in WebMD, Time, Harvard Health Publications, Healthline, HealthCentral and many other publications. She also served as executive editor of Harvard Women’s Health Watch.