According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health, the obesity rate in America is expected to reach 44% by 2030. Obesity can be calculated by measuring a person’s body mass index (BMI), a number derived from weight and height which provides a reliable indicator for inferring potential health problems. A BMI above 25 is considered overweight, and anything higher than 30 is considered obese, both of which are at-risk categories.
If you’re obese, the prospect of losing the weight needed to drop to a healthy BMI can seem like a daunting task. However, simply trimming 5 or 10 pounds can go a long way toward improving your overall health, reducing your chances of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and lowering your healthcare costs.
If the journey ahead seems too tough to achieve, start out with baby steps. Make very small adjustments, one at a time, to what you eat. A simple, effective, and very satisfying way to do this is to introduce “zero-calorie” foods into your diet.
What Are Zero-Calorie Foods?
A food is considered “zero-calorie” when the calories burned through its consumption and digestion are less than or equal to the total calories in the food itself. Put simply, if a mushroom only has five calories but your body expends 10 calories digesting it, it’s a zero-calorie food.
Such foods can not only help you lose weight, they can also help you save money. Most are fairly inexpensive, especially if you purchase them at a local farm or farmers’ market. Also, eating these healthy foods can naturally boost your immune system and, over time, your body is likely to reward you with fewer trips to the doctor, which can be a big money saver.
If you think of your dinner plate as a pie chart, start adding a few zero-calorie foods in there. Eventually work your way up to a 30% to 50% content in your meals and you’re going to see drastic improvements to your health. This simple rule alone can limit your consumption of fatty and caloric foods and can go a long way toward helping you lose that extra weight.
There are a wide range of fruits and vegetables that are zero-calorie – and by increasing your daily consumption, you can start down the road toward better overall health.
Grapefruits, Apricots, Oranges, Tangerines, Strawberries, Watermelon, and Apples
Many fruits, including those listed, are excellent sources of dietary fiber, which naturally helps your body break down any sugars contained within the fruit itself. Because dietary fibers are more difficult than other food matter for your body to digest, you expend more energy in the digestion process which, in turn, means that more calories are burned.
All of these fruits are great sources of vitamin C which promotes a healthy immune system and acts as an antioxidant, and a couple (grapefruits and apricots) are excellent sources of vitamin A, which improves vision and skin health. Furthermore, while these seven fruits are all part of a healthy, balanced diet, citrus fruits provide an added benefit in that they may help reduce your risk of stroke. According to a study published in the medical journal, “Stroke,” a higher intake of the flavonoids found in citrus fruits correlates with a reduced risk of ischaemic stroke.
Of course all fruits are good for you, but that doesn’t mean that all are zero-calorie. For instance, bananas, grapes, pears, figs, and avocados are all more caloric than the fruits listed above. Don’t shy away from eating any of them, however, as the nutrients they provide are all heart-healthy and essential. Just be aware that those with more fructose are going to put your calorie intake in the positive.
Eaten as a side dish, in a salad, or simply as a snack, there are plenty of good reasons why so many health professionals urge you to eat your veggies: they’re low in calories, high in fiber, and loaded with essential vitamins. Like fruits, all vegetables impart certain health benefits, so it’s hard to go wrong with them. And the following veggies are all considered to be zero-calorie:
Spinach and Leafy Greens, Carrots, Red Bell Peppers, Tomatoes, Celery, and Onions
These six vitamin-rich veggies have an enormous amount of vitamins A and C, and good levels of folate, which aids in cell growth and the synthesis and repair of DNA. They also contain potassium, which is an important electrolyte key in efficient nerve transmission.
Surprisingly, celery packs a serious vitamin punch. It’s high in fiber, vitamins A and C, folate, potassium, manganese (an antioxidant that promotes a healthy nervous system, among many other health benefits), and vitamin K, which strengthens bones and aids blood clotting in cases of injury. If you can afford a few calories, pair it with some peanut butter and you’re good to go.
Apart from being a great pizza topping, mushrooms are excellent is soups, salads, and a bevy of cuisines from East to West. Their high level of vitamin D aids in the absorption of the calcium in that pizza cheese, and they also contain loads of B vitamins, which lighten your mood and give you energy and focus that lasts hours after you’ve eaten.
Kelp, a form of marine algae, may be a foreign food to many inland, but it’s truly delicious incorporated with other vegetables, used in soups, as a garnish, or even on its own. Kelp has a unique, salty, and fresh taste with a bite similar to al dente linguine noodles. The Japanese prepare it simply with rice vinegar and sesame seeds. Blanch it for a few seconds in salted boiling water to reconstitute it and mix it up with raisins and a tahini-miso dressing for a fresh salad. You can toss some strips with oil and maple syrup, bake them for about five minutes at 300 degrees, and you’ve got a crunchy snack of kelp chips.
Also, try chopping up a few stalks and cooking them with dried beans. It makes the beans more tender and digestible, and gives them a great, unique flavor. You can find kelp in noodle and powder form in most Asian markets.
Asparagus, Green Beans, Broccoli, and Cauliflower
These four veggies are all great sources of vitamin A, C, and B. Asparagus contains several anti-inflammatory compounds that can help protect you from type-2 diabetes and heart disease. The magnesium and calcium in broccoli can help regulate your blood pressure. Its glucoraphanin, which the body processes into the compound sulforaphane, is also a natural cancer fighter. Cauliflower has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and green beans are so high in calcium that they can satisfy your requirement if you happen to be lactose intolerant.
Zucchini and Summer Squash
The manganese in zucchini and squash helps the body process fats, carbohydrates, and glucose. In addition, zucchini can help lower your cholesterol and prevent prostate cancer in men with its phytonutrients. Squash lends itself to improving the health of your colon, eyes, and bones.
Low-Calorie Meal Preparation
Now that you’ve got your ingredients, here are a few quick and easy ways to prepare these amazing zero-calorie foods:
Steaming is a great way to cook vegetables with delicate flavors and still retain all the nutrients that boiling them may diminish. Steam some green beans, asparagus, broccoli, or cauliflower, and add a squeeze of lemon and unprocessed salt (full spectrum salt like Himalayan pink salt has tremendous health benefits; see below). If you want to add an Eastern flare to your dish, try steaming some broccoli and adding a bit of white pepper, diced ginger, and garlic.
Summer squash, zucchini, or asparagus grilled with a light coating of butter or extra virgin olive oil make an excellent addition to any cookout. Or, if you’re cooking in, just throw them on an indoor electric grill for a great rainy day meal.
3. Make a Salad
Any of the vegetables listed above can be combined to make the perfect salad. Just throw them together and you’ve got a power-packed lunch with plenty of necessary nutrients. Mix leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, carrots, and red bell pepper, and instead of a commercial dressing like ranch or thousand island, add some olive oil (which contains healthy fats), unprocessed salt, and black pepper or chili pepper, which is great for circulation and digestion. You can also add some natural sweetness with diced up apricots, strawberries, apples, or any of the other delicious fruits on the list above.
Keep in mind that sodium chloride (common table salt) is processed to the point that it is entirely devoid of nutrients. When spicing up your zero-calorie meals, try using Himalayan pink salt, or any unprocessed salt with a reddish-brown tint. Its 84 trace elements – including potassium, iron, and calcium – offer tremendous health benefits such as strengthening your immune system, providing relief for aches and pains, relaxation, deeper sleep, and water retention. Most grocery stores now carry unprocessed salt, so if you can find it, get it.
Developing new eating habits is not an easy task. Just keep in mind that you don’t need to become a zero-calorie food expert in one day. Take it slow, print a list of these fruits and vegetables, and carry it with you on your next trip to the grocery store. Grab a few items to try for dinner and let the experimentation begin. If you use a meal delivery service like HelloFresh or Freshly, make sure the meals you choose include some of these items. Next, work on expanding your selection, and pretty soon, you’re going to feel the effects of zero-calorie foods on your energy, waistline, and bottom line.
Have you tried incorporating zero-calorie foods into your diet?