Are there magic foods that we can eat all day and still lose weight? Not really. But there are some foods that are relatively low in calories yet have high nutritive value, either because they are high in fiber, phytonutrients such as antioxidants, or high in protein. These are foods to keep handy in the pantry, refrigerator, or garden and eat daily. Train your family – particularly children – to snack on these top ten foods rather than chips and sodas and you’ll be ahead of the nutrition curve before you know it!
To pick these top ten foods, I looked at nutritional value, energy density, and volume. I want to focus on foods that provide a lot of bang for the buck (i.e., keep us full and have high nutritional value with fewer calories than other choices). Fruits and vegetables with lots of water are often lower energy density , but my primary criteria for the list is fiber. Why? Fiber is critical. Remember your grandmother telling you to eat more “roughage”? Well she was right! We need at least 25 grams a day, and ideally 35 grams a day, for a healthy bowel. I think the correlation between high fiber diets and lower cancer rates is not just from fiber but is synergistic, since most high fiber diets are high in fruits and vegetables, which are also high in antioxidants and other phytonutrients. But, fiber is clearly also very important and few Americans get enough.
Here is my current top ten list of high fiber low calorie foods:
- Raspberries rank as one of the highest high fiber low calorie foods, at 8.0 grams of fiber and just 64 calories per serving (1-cup) (1 calorie per raspberry!)[3, 4]. They are delicious and we can grow our own here in Oregon! Yay!
- Pears have about 5.1 grams of fiber and only 51 calories for a medium sized pear. They are easy to pack in a lunch and store well. They are also easy to grow here in Oregon.
- Apples provide about 4.4 grams of fiber, at roughly 55 calories for a small apple. Choose organic as apples are on the EWG dirty dozen list 2012. Apples are easy to grow here in Oregon and many parts of the US, with the newer columnar varieties letting you grow pounds of fruit in a small garden or even a container!
- Blueberries provide about 3.5 grams of fiber, and roughly 40 calories for 50 berries. Choose organic as blueberries are on the EWG dirty dozen list 2012. Again, blueberries grow well here in the Pacific North West, although take a few years to fruit well. Mulch with wood chips as they love acidic soil.
- Strawberries provide about 3.3 grams of fiber and average about 2 calories per strawberry. Choose organic as strawberries are on the EWG dirty dozen list 2012. Grow even a few strawberry plants in a barrel or tuck them into ornamental garden beds where the foliage stays a lovely dark green throughout the summer while providing you with berries!
- Black beans – 1 cup has 15 grams of fiber – along with 15 grams of protein – and just 227 calories
- Whole-wheat spaghetti weighs in at 6.3 g of fiber per serving and approximately 174 calories per 1-cup serving (always check the label as brands vary)
- One cup of oatmeal provides 4.0 grams of fiber and about 60 calories per serving
- Whole wheat or multigrain breads offer 1.9 grams per slice and about 65 calories per slice (always check the label as brands vary)
- Cooked peas, at a whopping 8.8 g of fiber and a low 67 calories per cup serving size. Turn a cup of peas into instant soup with a stick blender and some vegetable stock.
So that’s our top ten, but there are some other notable additions:
- Boiled turnip greens, which offer about 5.0 grams of fiber per cup sized serving and about 48 calories
- Raw carrots offer 1.7 grams of fiber and 21 calories for a small carrot. Raw, fresh carrots are about 88 percent water.
- Broccoli has 5.1 g of fiber and about 52 calories per cup. Steamed broccoli is best for cholesterol lowering benefits. 100 calories of broccoli gives you 10 grams of fiber!
- Grapefruit is about 90 percent water, and one contains approximately 3.4 grams of fiber – more than 13 percent of your daily fiber needs – and about the same amount as a cup of strawberries, cabbage, cauliflower or beets. The amount of fiber in one grapefruit exceeds that found in a banana or in 1 cup of celery or bell peppers. An entire grapefruit has just 78 calories. Grapefruit also contains vitamin C and pectin. Good news too – grapefruit is on the EWG clean fifteen list – meaning they are one of the 15 produce items lowest in pesticides!
- Raisins, which provide 1.6 grams of fiber per 1.5 ounce serving and roughly 42 calories for a 5-ounce box. Note that grapes have more volume for the same fiber and calories so are an excellent choice! Grapes are another dirty dozen item so choose organic!
- Just one cup of barley has 13.6 grams of fiber in 270 calories – add a cup of barley to your vegetable soup for a hearty winter way to increase fiber! Plus barley is a great source of selenium!
What are foods to leave out?
- Canned baked beans – a favorite in New Zealand and the United Kingdom – pack a lot of fiber per serving, but also lots of sugar and sodium.
- Processed foods – yes a processed food with added fiber is better than one without, but stick to the foods that mother nature made high in fiber for optimum health.
- Act: Using your favorite app (mine is MyFitnessPal available on the app store and at myfitnesspal.com) track your food intake and see how much fiber you’re really getting! Try a fiber day and see how much you can pack in!
Share: What are your favorite foods? Check their fiber and calorie content and add a comment!
Read more: Aedín Cassidy, Immaculata De Vivo, Yan Liu, Jiali Han, Jennifer Prescott, David J Hunter, and Eric B Rimm. Effects of fiber on telomere length? Associations between diet, lifestyle factors, and telomere length in women. Am J Clin Nutr May 2010 vol. 91 no. 5 1273-1280 http://www.ajcn.org/content/91/5/1273.long
There are many papers on nutrition and fiber at pubmed.org – find your favorite and post a comment to share it with others!
- The World's Healthiest Foods by George Mateljan http://www.whfoods.com/
- Environmental Working Group http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/
- Changing Shape http://www.changingshape.com/high-fiber-diet/
 According to the Mayo Clinic: “Simply put, energy density is the number of calories (energy) in a specific amount of food. High energy density means that there are a lot of calories in a little food. Low energy density means there are few calories in a lot of food.” From http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/weight-loss/NU00195 accessed on 7/16/12
 Keep in mind that this concept is useful for more than just weight management: If you are hiking, you want to choose foods that are high energy density, such as trail mix and high fat foods.
 Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/27530-list-highfiber-lowcalorie-foods/#ixzz20oS6PXmx
 Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/27530-list-highfiber-lowcalorie-foods/#ixzz20oSDSh7g
 The World's Healthiest Foods: Grapefruit In-Depth Nutrient Analysis: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrientprofile&dbid=54