Get Something for Nothing: 25 Nearly Calorie-Free Foods
Tame cravings with very low-cal veggies, fruits, snacks -- even desserts
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
We all want to have our cake and eat it, too...oh, and we want the cake to have zero calories! While calorie-free cake remains a food fantasy, there really are foods that cost us almost nothing to eat, calorie-wise. These are what I call "free foods" and "almost free foods."
I know what you're thinking, but it's not all "rabbit food" -- some fruits, packaged snacks, and even frozen desserts make the grade. So if you're craving something to munch but can't spare any calories, check out the list below of low-calorie options -- along with some recipes to dress them up.
But first, a bit of definition: "Free foods," in my opinion, are those that have 25 calories or less per reasonable serving. "Almost free foods" have 25 to 60 calories per reasonable serving. Portion control is key here. While 2 cups of popped, 94% fat-free microwave popcorn may contain only 40 calories, if you eat the entire bag you'll end up with closer to 200 calories -- definitely not an "almost free" food situation.
You'll find these "free" and "almost free" foods in four basic areas of your supermarket.
1. The Produce Section
Many vegetables that are high in water and fiber content end up being "free" or "almost free." So if you're in the mood for something with crunch, think about these "free" options ("Free" foods, eaten in reasonable quantities, don't have to be journaled; if you like, journal 1 cup of these veggies as 1/2 cup vegetables without added fat):
You don't have to be a rabbit to enjoy these snacks -- especially if you dress them up with a "free" dip from this quick recipe:
"Free" Ranch Dip
Journal as: 1/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt
2 tablespoons fat-free sour cream
Yield: 1 serving
Per 2-tablespoon serving: 25 calories, 1 g protein, 4 g carbohydrate, 0 g fat, 0 g fiber, 230 milligrams sodium. Calories from fat: 0%.
And believe it or not, vegetables don't have the "free foods" market cornered. Some lower-calorie fruits make the cut, too (Journal each as 1/2 piece of fruit):
2. Frozen Food Section
Fresh, raw veggies aren't your only vegetable option. Here are some "almost free" veggies you'll find in the frozen food section (Journal 1 cup as 1/2 cup vegetables without added fat):
3. Packaged Products
Jell-O is basically made from water, sugar, and non-digestible gel. So sugar-free Jell-O is as "free" as it gets:
Not everyone goes for sugar-free Jell-O, but if you like it, you can jazz it up with 1/4 cup of any of the fruits listed above, or 2 tablespoons of fat-free whipped topping (adding 20 calories to the total). To keep it from being boring, try this pretty parfait:
"Free" Jell-O Parfait
Journal as: 1/2 piece fresh fruit
1/2 cup small cubes prepared Sugar Free Jell-O, chilled (flavor of your choice)
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