When it comes to what is high-calorie and what is low-calorie, it’s all relative depending on which food group the food in question comes from. This means that when you’re trying to cut calories, you can’t necessarily just cut out meat, dairy or grain because they’re high in calories, but you can select low-calorie options within each group. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “A healthy eating plan will show you how much you need from each food group to stay within your calorie needs and promote good health.” Plan out how much you need in each group, and then consider selecting these surprisingly low-calorie foods from each.
Grains and starches. These are often among the highest-calorie foods in general, but within the group are surprisingly low-calorie grains and starches. Wild rice, for instance, has significantly fewer calories than wheat or its white rice counterparts. If popcorn is to be counted in with starches, it weighs in at just 30 calories per cup — it’s the salt and butter that is commonly added to this food that makes it a high-calorie junk food.
Meat. Fish and poultry are the traditional low-calorie meat choices, but what about even lower-calorie replacements for these favorites? On average, wild meats are leaner and lower in calories than meat from domestic animals — namely because they weren’t raised by someone who gets paid by the pound for them. Wild poultry such as turkeys and quail boast about 30 percent fewer calories than domestic poultry, while elk contains about one-fourth the calories of a traditional ground beef burger. The winners for least calories? Turtles and frog legs.
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Dairy. By definition, dairy is meant to be high in calories because it’s produced to nourish young that grow rapidly. For those of us who aren’t babies, low-fat or skim options will give all the same nutrients but with significantly reduced calories.
Fruit. Most fruits are considered relatively low-calorie, though they are generally a bit higher than vegetables, and some (such as bananas) can be fairly high in calories. There are a few low-calorie winners, however, such as apricots or lemons, which have just over 15 calories per piece of fruit on average.
Vegetables. You already expect vegetables to have a low calorie count and may have even heard of “zero calorie” foods that purportedly contain fewer calories than it takes to consume them. But even in this group, there are surprisingly low-calorie foods — take the radish, for instance, a vegetable that has about one calorie each.