What are Zero-Calorie Foods? A Guide to Lowering Calorie Intake on Keto

Apr 4, 2023
Elina Balode
, nutritionist
What you’ll learn

    Starting a new diet plan can feel overwhelming. One of the most popular diet plans is the ketogenic diet, which relies on low-carb and high-fat foods to help induce a metabolic state known as ketosis. As part of this diet plan, individuals are encouraged to limit their overall calorie intake and focus on eating whole foods that provide healthy fats and proteins.

    However, many people are confused by the concept of zero-calorie foods and question if it is possible to stay on a keto diet and still consume these types of products. This guide will explain what zero-calorie foods are, the fundamentals of cutting calories while on keto, and tips for incorporating low-calorie foods into your diet.

    What is the keto diet?

    The keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet plan designed to promote the body’s state of ketosis. In this state, the body begins using fatty acids for fuel instead of glucose from carbohydrates. This process provides more sustainable energy than carb-heavy diets and helps individuals lose weight quickly and sustainably.

    A keto diet plan typically involves limiting your carbohydrate intake to just 5-10% of your daily calories. Most people increase their fat consumption to around 70-80% to replace carbs, while the remaining 10-20% comes from protein. This forces the body into ketosis and helps reduce hunger, maintain satiety, and prevent cravings for unhealthy snacks.

    Image defining a keto diet.

    The types of food consumed on a keto diet depend heavily on the individual but generally include healthy fats like olive oil, grass-fed butter, and coconut oil, as well as high-protein foods such as eggs and fish. Low-carb vegetables, along with nuts and seeds, are also standard components of the diet. Because most fruits tend to be high in carbohydrates, they are usually avoided or consumed in moderation.

    However, many individuals on the keto diet focus not only on healthy food choices but also on reducing overall calorie intake. Data shows that in the US, nearly 42% of all calories consumed are carbohydrates from lower-nutritional-quality foods such as refined grains and cereals, added sugars, and fruit juices. This means that reducing calorie intake from these sources and replacing them with low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods can help individuals reach their health goals.

    It is important to note that the keto diet does not necessarily mean restricting calories. Instead, it simply involves being mindful of food choices and eating natural, whole foods. With that in mind, let’s now turn to the concept of zero-calorie foods.

    Do zero-calorie foods exist?

    The concept of zero-calorie foods can be confusing for many because, in reality, all foods contain some number of calories. However, certain types of food are considered to have such a low energy density (the amount of energy per gram) that they can be classified as ‘low-calorie’ or ‘zero-calorie’ foods.

    Examples of zero-calorie foods include celery, cucumber, lettuce, cauliflower, spinach, radish, and mushrooms. These types of vegetables are all packed with essential vitamins and minerals but contain very little energy per gram compared to other high-calorie foods like nuts.

    There are still limitations to these types of foods when it comes to the keto diet. Many fruits and vegetables are high in carbohydrates, which can quickly push individuals over their daily carb limit. As such, it is important to track your macros (carbs, fats, and protein) and be mindful of the carbs you consume daily.

    Image on zero-calorie foods.

    In addition to vegetables, some other zero-calorie or nearly zero-calorie foods include sugar-free flavored water, sparkling water, tea, and fruit, berry, cucumber, or herb-infused water. These beverages are all calorie-free or very low in calories, but it's helpful to track any additives or extras that could add extra calories. For example, adding milk or sugar to your coffee could quickly push you out of ketosis.

    Despite these limitations, zero-calorie foods offer a great way to fill up on key nutrients and vitamins while keeping calories in check. Combined with other low-calorie, high-protein, and fat sources, they can be a valuable part of any successful keto diet plan.

    Risks of extreme calorie restriction

    Calorie restriction is one diet method that many people have tried. In fact, about 45 million Americans go on a diet every year. While dieting can be beneficial for achieving a healthier lifestyle, extreme calorie restriction can cause the body to enter a state of starvation.

    When on an extremely low-calorie diet, individuals are not giving their bodies the calories it needs to function and may put themselves at risk of nutrient deficiencies, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances. Additionally, such diets can disrupt the body’s metabolism and lead to fatigue. Let's look at these risks in more detail.

    Nutrient deficiencies

    Nutrient deficiencies are a primary risk associated with extreme calorie restriction. When calories are drastically cut, the body cannot get the crucial vitamins and minerals to function correctly. This can lead to problematic symptoms such as fatigue, muscle weakness, and decreased bone density.

    Electrolyte imbalances

    Extreme calorie restriction can also lead to electrolyte imbalances and dehydration. When the body is deprived of energy, it will start to break down fat stores for fuel. This process is called ketosis, which can cause potassium and sodium levels to drop. Low levels of these electrolytes can cause confusion, nausea, headaches, and even heart palpitations.

    Americans who diet every year

    Metabolic disruption

    One of the long-term risks associated with extreme calorie restriction is metabolic disruption. When individuals severely restrict their caloric intake for extended periods of time, their metabolism slows down as a way to conserve energy simply because of their reduced body size, especially lean muscle mass. This leads to weight gain when the individual starts to eat normally again, as the body stores more energy than it is expending.

    Lowered immunity

    Finally, extreme calorie restriction can lead to a weakened immune system. When the body is deprived of energy, it struggles to produce enough white blood cells to fight infections. This means that individuals on extremely low-calorie diets are more susceptible to illnesses and other health issues.

    It can be tempting to try quick fixes that involve extreme calorie restriction and the promise of fast weight loss. However, it is important to remember that these diets can be dangerous and have long-term effects on health. It's never a good idea to embark on a diet that makes these types of claims, as your well-being is paramount. Our bodies work very hard to keep us healthy, and we should always strive to give them the nourishment they need.

    There are much healthier ways to achieve a balanced diet, such as eating whole, nutrient-dense foods, controlling portion sizes, and including regular physical activity. Doing so will help you achieve your goals without putting yourself at risk for the adverse health effects associated with extreme calorie restriction.

    Top ways to incorporate zero-calorie foods into your keto diet

    If you're following the keto diet, incorporating zero-calorie foods can help you meet your health and weight loss goals. Here are some top tips for using zero-calorie foods to support your keto diet plan.

    Add herbs and spices to your dishes

    One of the best ways to enhance flavor and add a boost of nutrition without adding extra calories is to add herbs and spices to your dishes. These bold and flavorful ingredients can bring subtle flavor notes that transform your meals without adding extra calories or carbohydrates.

    A few of the most popular keto-friendly herbs and spices include oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, paprika, cumin, coriander, and nutmeg. You can also experiment with herb blends to find which ones you enjoy the most.

    List of cauliflower’s health benefits

    Choose celery or cauliflower as snacks

    When hunger strikes, reach for zero-calorie snacks, like celery or cauliflower. These low-energy-density foods are packed with vitamins and minerals but contain very few calories. Celery sticks have high water content and are a wonderful option for your favorite keto-friendly dip, while cauliflower can be enjoyed raw or roasted with a sprinkle of olive oil and herbs.

    Try carbonated water

    Carbonated water is an excellent way to stay hydrated and add flavor to your drinks without the added sugar or calories. Plus, its bubbly texture can be a refreshing change from still water. There are many flavor variations available, but be sure to check the labels to ensure the product is unsweetened.

    Incorporate lettuce wraps into your meal plan

    Lettuce wraps are an innovative way to enjoy the flavor of sandwiches without the added bread or carbohydrates. Simply use a large leaf of lettuce as the sandwich ‘bun’ and then stuff it with your favorite keto-friendly fillings. Avocado, grilled vegetables, and egg salad are all great options for delicious and nutritious keto-friendly wraps.

    Add mushrooms to your dishes

    Mushrooms are a great way to add flavor and texture to your dishes without adding extra carbohydrates. They can be added to many types of soups, stews, and stir-fries for added flavor and texture. Plus, they are a great source of nutrition with very few calories. Choosing a super-low-carb variety like shiitake or porcini mushrooms is a great way to get the most out of this zero-calorie vegetable.

    Saute spinach in olive oil and garlic

    As a nutrient-dense leafy green, spinach is a great choice for adding to any meal. Saute it in olive oil and garlic to bring out the flavor of this low-calorie vegetable. You can also add it to soups, salads, and omelets to boost vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

    Enjoy steamed broccoli with lemon and pepper

    Broccoli is a great nutrient-dense addition to any meal. Steaming it with a little lemon and pepper can help bring out its natural sweetness while keeping the calorie count low. You can also add it to soups, salads, and stir-fries for a meal that is sure to keep you full, thanks to the dietary fiber levels.

    The nutritional information of kale

    Make vegetable-based soups and stews

    Choose low-calorie vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and kale to create a delicious and filling meal. Soups and stews are a great way to enjoy vegetables without adding extra calories or carbohydrates. One popular keto-friendly soup is cauliflower and broccoli cheese soup. Adding a few slices of lean chicken or turkey bacon can also increase the protein content for added satiety.

    Add citrus fruits and berries to your water

    Adding slices of fruit to your water is a great way to add flavor and make it easier to stay hydrated. Citrus fruit like lemons, limes, and oranges are all great options for adding a hint of sweetness without the added sugar. Berries like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries are also great choices for adding bold flavor.

    Use parsley, cilantro, dill, and basil as garnishes

    While adding herbs to your dishes directly is an excellent way to enhance flavor, using them as garnishes is another great way to add a pop of color and flavor. Parsley, cilantro, dill, and basil are all great choices for adding a fresh flavor without overpowering the dish. They can also be used as a finishing touch to make any meal look more appealing.

    These are just a selection of the vast array of tips and tricks available to help you make the most of your keto-friendly diet. From finding ways to add flavor without adding extra carbohydrates to enjoying zero-calorie snacks, you can ensure your meals are enjoyable while still staying within your diet's guidelines.

    Flavorful herbs on keto.

    Choosing to pursue a healthier lifestyle isn't always easy, but with a few simple tips and tricks like these, you can make the most out of your keto diet. The long-term effects of making healthier choices are well worth the effort.

    Try a personalized keto meal plan

    While the keto diet is a great tool for individuals looking to lose weight, it can be difficult to maintain if you don’t lower your calorie intake. Fortunately, there are a number of zero-calorie foods you can incorporate into your keto diet to help you stay on track without feeling deprived.

    By adding herbs and spices, vegetable wraps, and citrus fruits to your meals, you can achieve the results you want while still enjoying delicious food. If you're ready to try keto, you can learn more about our personalized keto diet plans here.

    Let's see how Certified Keto Diet can help you!