Contrary to popular belief, many low-calorie foods have a lot of nutritional value and can make up a rich and balanced diet.
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"It's important to note that low-calorie foods do not necessarily translate to a food item being lower in nutrients," dietitian Tiffany Ma, RD, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "In fact, many of these diet staples are high in important nutrients that keep us healthy."
These 10 foods are all under 10 calories, are easily accessible and packed with essential nutrients that can help keep you lean and healthy for life.
You know it makes for a great salad, but did you also know that the nutrients in spinach are linked to improved eyesight?
Spinach contains carotenoids, including beta carotene and lutein, which are linked to protecting against age-related vision diseases, such as macular degeneration, Ma says.
"Spinach is high in antioxidants, which can reduce our overall oxidative stress, thus potentially reducing our risk of developing cancer," Ma says. No wonder Popeye was such a big fan!
9.5 calories per half-cup, raw
Mushrooms are very popular among poeple on a plant-based diet since they deliver the umami taste and filling texture of meat. Plus, there are plenty of different types of mushrooms to add to your diet for variety.
Ma recommends white, cremini and cooked shiitake mushrooms for a dose of copper, which supports healthy bones. Meanwhile, "white enoki, oyster and maitake mushrooms are high in niacin, a B vitamin that's used by your body to turn food into energy."
6 calories per cup, raw
Great in salads and sautéed in stir-fries, kale is a fixture in any healthy diet, and for good reason.
"Kale is a leafy green high in vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium and fiber," Ma says, adding, "it plays a role in heart health, skin health and bone health." That's a triple winner right there!
5 calories per cup, raw
A staple of the Mediterranean diet, arugula is a leafy green we could all benefit from. Its fresh, peppery flavor can make it an excellent garnish for virtually any dish.
Ma says that because arugula is high in vitamin K, calcium, folate, fiber and antioxidants, it also plays a role in improving bone health and supporting our immune system and nerve functions.
4 calories per clove, raw
In addition to adding a little bit of a kick to any meal, garlic has long been associated with helping to beat colds and the flu thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.
However, it's also high in potassium and antioxidants and therefore linked to reducing blood pressure levels, Ma says.
Garlic has also some great anti-inflammatory properties that are associated with staving off cancer, especially when it's crushed prior to use, according to the Mayo Clinic.
6 calories in one medium stalk
You've probably heard that celery has "negative calories," meaning that your body burns more calories by chewing on it than it actually absorbs. (Spoiler alert: The answer isn't so clear-cut.)
What's certainly true is that celery is low in calories and great for weight loss. Ma says that celery can also fulfill our hydration needs since it's so high in water content and it contains compounds that help reduce inflammation.
7. Romaine Lettuce
8 calories per cup, raw
Like its good friend celery, romaine lettuce is also great for hydration, as one cup of shredded lettuce is 94 percent water.
Despite being mostly water, romaine is high in vitamin K, vitamin A and folate — and these nutrients help contribute to good heart health, Ma says. Not too bad for everyone's favorite leafy green!
5.5 calories per half-cup
A core component to any soup, broth is a versatile ingredient that can lend itself well to a variety of hearty dishes. But Ma says that it's also high in calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, all of which promote healthy bones and skin.
As a bonus, having a little broth before your main meal can help you lose weight by filling you up with liquid.
In fact, drinking soup regularly is associated with weighing less and having a healthier diet filled with more satiating protein and fiber, an April 2014 British Journal of Nutrition study of more than 10,000 adults found.
9. Swiss Chard
One of the lesser-known leafy greens, chard's slightly bitter taste lends itself better to sautéed dishes than eaten raw. But what it lacks in flavor, it makes up for in health benefits.
Like some of the other foods on this list, it's high in antioxidants, but it's also got plenty of vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, copper and vitamin E, which help promote bone, skin and heart health, as well as give your immune system a boost, Ma says.
8 calories per half-cup, raw
Nothing feels quite as refreshing as that first bite of crunchy, juicy cucumber.
It's high in water, which means it's good for hydration and the many benefits that yield.
Bonus: It also boasts some potassium, fiber and vitamin K, a nutrient that plays a role in blood clotting and potentially heart health, according to the National Institutes of Health.
- USDA: "Spinach"
- USDA: "Mushrooms"
- USDA: "Kale"
- USDA: "Arugula"
- USDA: "Garlic"
- USDA: "Celery"
- USDA: "Romaine Lettuce"
- USDA: "Vegetable Broth"
- USDA: "Swiss Chard"
- USDA: "Cucumbers"
- British Journal of Nutrition: "Soup Consumption Is Associated With a Lower Dietary Energy Density and a Better Diet Quality in US Adults"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin K"
- Mayo Clinic: "Healthy food, lifestyle can help prevent cancer"