Being on a health journey doesn’t mean you have to eat flavorless food and feel hungry all the time. There are actually a number of foods that check all of the boxes: low calorie, tasty, packed with nutrients, and satiating.
The term satiety is used to describe the feeling we get when we’re full. It also determines how long our hunger is suppressed after we eat a meal. Feeling satiated is important to weight loss and weight maintenance because it directly influences how soon we want to eat after having a meal or a snack and how much we will eat at our next meal.
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Here, we look at 20 easy to find, nutritious foods that will help you nourish and satisfy your body during mealtime and in between.
Signs a food is satiating
When we are looking for low-calorie foods that will allow us to feel full, there are three key questions to consider.
How much water does the food contain? Water contains no calories and by drinking water or consuming foods with a high water content, we feel full without consuming additional calories.
How much fiber does the food contain? Fiber provides volume, takes up space, and slows down the digestive process. It reduces our ability to overeat by keeping us feeling full for a longer period of time.
How much protein does the food contain? Protein helps us feel full for longer periods of time with less food by reducing ghrelin, our hunger hormone.
When you can identify foods with a good mix of fiber, water, and protein, while also being low in calories, you’ve got a winner.
20 low-calorie foods that are super satiating
This fiber-filled fruit ranks high on The Satiety Index of Common Foods, coming in below oranges. Fuji apple slices with almond butter are one of my favorite snacks. The fiber and water in the apple slices mixed with the protein and healthy fat from the almond butter can’t be beat for a power snack.
Arugula and Spinach
You can eat a large amount of spinach or arugula as the base for a delicious salad without adding many calories, since these power greens help keep you full by providing bulk with fiber and water and are good sources of plant-based protein. In addition, you’ll get a nice boost of calcium, magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin C, and folate.
High in fiber and protein and low in calories and fat, beans are a tasty way to stay full. Due to their high fiber content, beans slow down the digestive process and help manage blood sugar levels. They’re also a good source of folate, iron, potassium, and magnesium.
Berries, such as raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries, are excellent options for those looking for low-calorie, filling fruit. With high fiber and water content, berries are also lower in natural sugars than many other fruits. They are packed with vitamins and nutrients, are antioxidant-rich, and even provide anti-inflammatory properties.
There’s a reason your mom always wanted you to eat your broccoli—this veggie is high in fiber and low in calories. And with vitamins A, C, E, K, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, selenium, and folate, it’s considered a cancer-fighting superfood.
Cucumber, Celery, and Carrots
These water- and fiber-filled veggies can be eaten raw or with a bit of high-quality hummus or guacamole for added protein and healthy fat. Plus, you’ll get vitamins A, C, K, and potassium.
High protein, low-calorie eggs may be the perfect breakfast food. Research has shown that those who eat a higher protein breakfast have reduced hunger throughout the day, increased satiety, and reduced production of the hunger hormone ghrelin. Additionally, eggs are an excellent source of B vitamins and vitamins A, D, E, and K and are also one of the best nutritional sources of choline, a key nutrient in cell growth and maintenance and in brain and bone health.
Fatty fish like salmon, halibut, tuna, and cod are all excellent low-calorie sources of protein. In addition, these fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to combat inflammatory diseases and improve cardiovascular health, brain health, and eye health. Fatty fish ranked second overall on the satiety index, making it an important addition for anyone looking to lose or maintain weight.
Portable, delicious, and bite-sized, grapes are an excellent source of vitamins C and K and contain powerful antioxidants. Like berries, the anthocyanins (dark-colored pigments in the skin of the fruit) found in grapes have been shown to exhibit cancer-fighting properties. Grapes also scored just below oranges and apples on the satiety index.
With probiotics for gut health and more protein than regular yogurt, Greek yogurt is a refrigerator staple. However, be careful of the added sugars that may be included in flavored yogurt. Try sweetening plain Greek yogurt to taste with honey and berries, or whip up this Berry Green Smoothie, which includes some of the satiating foods on this list.
In addition to offering a hefty dose of vitamin C, oranges are a good source of potassium and they help keep you full with their high water and fiber content. In fact, oranges are the highest-ranking fruit on the satiety index, ranking fourth out of the 38 foods tested.
While popcorn may not be the most nutrient-dense choice on this list, it can be a filling low-calorie snack. Whether you’re popping your own or buying bagged popcorn, keep an eye on added oils, fat, sugar, and salt.
The humble spud has been shunned by many, but a five-ounce, plain baked potato only has about 100 calories, along with Vitamin C, potassium, and some fiber and protein. Additionally, boiled potatoes rank in the top spot on the satiety index, making this yummy starch the best low-calorie food to keep you full.
In addition to being high in iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc, quinoa is the only whole grain to also be a complete protein, making it an excellent option for plant-based diets. One half cup of cooked quinoa has little more than 100 calories. Try using it as a high-protein base for grain and salad bowls.
Steel Cut Oats
High in fiber, protein, nutrients, and antioxidants, steel cut oats are both low-calorie and extremely filling. Oats contain a type of soluble fiber called beta glucan that has been shown to slow digestion, suppress appetite, and increase satiety. Try topping steel cut overnight oats with berries and you have a low-calorie, highly filling power-breakfast.
Whole grains are a staple in many health-conscious eating plans, and for good reason. They provide an excellent source of low-calorie fiber and protein to help slow down the digestive process and help us feel full longer. The key is to make sure that you are using whole grains instead of refined grains to get the fiber and nutrients while also keeping calories low.
Wild rice is a good source of fiber and has less than 100 calories in a cooked, half-cup serving. Consider it a more filling and nutrient-dense substitute for recipes calling for white rice.
The Bottom Line
It is possible to lose weight or maintain your weight while eating delicious foods that are satisfying. When you look at the calories in the foods you eat, also be sure to check the water, fiber, and protein content as well. You’ll reduce your calories while eating healthy, delicious foods that keep you feeling full.
Julie Floyd Jones is an Atlanta, Georgia based Certified Corporate Wellness Specialist, Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Yoga Instructor. Julie is the Program Director for Excellence in Exercise where she works with corporate partners to provide wellness solutions for employees globally. She is the founder of Training & Champagning Curated Wellness Retreats and Thrive.