Shopping for a 1,200-calorie diet doesn't need to be difficult or overwhelming. The bulk of your choices should be natural foods from all the food groups, including fruits, vegetables, proteins, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Be sure to read the packaging labels, as this will help you choose foods low in calories while avoiding foods with the high levels of sodium and trans fats that are often found in processed foods.
Fruits and Vegetables
Many fruits and vegetables are among the least calorically dense foods available. Some vegetables that have the fewest calories are broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, kale, collards, and bok choy. You can also try beetroot, asparagus, lettuce, mushrooms, tomato and turnips for some variety. All these options have fewer than 50 calories per serving, and have the added benefit of having high amounts of fiber, which will help keep you feel satisfied after eating. Note that starchy vegetables, like sweet potato, corn and pumpkin, while still healthy, are higher in calories than non-starchy vegetables. Low-calorie fruits include cantaloupe, grapefruit, nectarines, pineapple, strawberries and tangerines.
Dairy and Eggs
Other fresh produce to include on your 1200-calorie shopping plan includes eggs and small servings of dairy. Eggs are very nutritious, without being calorically dense. One large egg has around 91 calories, and gives you healthy fats and protein. You can also opt to have egg whites only to keep the calories down. An egg white has only about 15 to 17 calories, but does not have all the nutrition that the yolk provides. You can also include dairy products, like yogurt and cheese, in small amounts, as snacks to curb cravings and help you feel satisfied. Choose low-fat options without added sugar, as these have fewer calories and lower amounts of saturated fat.
Protein is an important part of any diet, and comes from several sources. One of the easiest protein-rich food sources is lean meat, which is lower in calories than fattier meats, chicken and turkey, lean beef, pork and veal, as well as seafood and shellfish. You can also find protein in eggs, dairy and soy products, such as tofu and tempeh. Again, choose low-fat, no-sugar dairy and soy products to limit your caloric intake. Legumes, such as black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans and lentils are all good sources of protein, as well.
Go for Grains
Grain foods, such as wheat, oats, rye, bulgur, sorghum, rice, quinoa and amaranth tend to be higher in calories and carbohydrates than other natural food sources, such as fruit or vegetables. It is, however, important to include small amounts of whole grain foods in your diet. They are high in fiber, and will help keep you full while aiding your digestive system. They also contain important minerals and will lead to a steady release of energy into your bloodstream. Choose whole over refined grains, such as white bread, white rice and white pasta, as refined grains have fewer nutritional benefits.
- USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov: What Foods Are in the Vegetable Group?
- FDA: Fruits: Nutrition Facts
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Egg, Whole, Cooked, Scrambled
- USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov: Dairy: Health Benefits and Nutrients
- USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov: What Are Protein Foods?
- What's Cooking America: Eggs Whites vs. Whole Eggs
- Minnesota Dept. of Health: Nutrition Facts; Whole Grains