October 2, 2022

Filling half of your plate with vegetables is one of simplest and most effective things you can do to lose weight. Vegetables are nutrient dense, meaning they have a lot of nutrients but not a lot of calories. In order to lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit—but not feel restricted, deprived or hungry, otherwise you won't be able to stick with it. Enter: vegetables. Low in calories and high in water and fiber, 1 cup of vegetables has only 20 to 50 calories. Contrast that with 1 cup of pasta or rice, which has about 200 calories. This is not to say that carbs don't also have a place on your plate but just to put the calorie difference into perspective. (See here for the six carbs you should be eating for weight loss.)
Related: The #1 Habit You Should Break to Lose Weight, According to a Dietitian
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is key for weight loss because it moves through the digestive tract slowly, keeping you full longer. We don't absorb calories from fiber, so it just provides satisfying volume. This helps to suppress your appetite throughout the day, making it easier to eat fewer calories. Fiber also slows the spike of blood sugar and insulin, which can slow fat storage.
If you eat more calories than your body needs, the extra calories are stored as fat. But excess fiber is not stored as fat. Fiber passes mostly intact into the large intestine, where gut bacteria feed on it and produce beneficial compounds like short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). Emerging research shows that SCFA have fat-burning properties.
Now that you're convinced to eat your veggies, here are 12 of the best vegetables for weight loss.
From cauliflower pizza to cauliflower rice, cauliflower is here to stay—and for good reason! One cup of chopped cauliflower has only 27 calories with 2 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein. It's filling and versatile, says Elysia Cartlidge, M.A.N., RD, a registered dietitian at Haute & Healthy Living. "My favorite way to prepare cauliflower is to chop it up, drizzle it with some olive oil and a generous sprinkle of garlic powder and nutritional yeast and then roast it in the oven until lightly browned and crispy along the edges. Roasting the cauliflower brings out so much flavor and makes it totally crave-worthy, so it's a great way to incorporate more vegetables and fiber, especially if you're not a veggie lover." (Try our recipe for Balsamic & Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower.)
Not a fan of roasted cauliflower? Make cauliflower rice, like registered dietitian Moushumi Mukherjee, M.S., RDN (or buy it pre-riced in the frozen section of your grocery store). Pulse chopped cauliflower in a food processor to achieve a rice-like texture. "Then freeze it and use it in smoothies, soups, curry and fried rice," says Mukherjee. Because cauliflower has a mild flavor, it can be mixed into just about any dish. To save 100 to 400 calories, swap regular pizza crust for cauliflower crust and white rice for cauliflower rice.
1 cup chopped raw cauliflower contains …
Calories: 27
Total fat: 0g
Total carbohydrates: 5g
Dietary fiber: 2g
Sugar: 2g
Protein: 2g
Get the Recipe: Spaghetti Squash with Herbs & Garlic Breadcrumbs
"All winter squashes are low-calorie foods effective for weight loss. But spaghetti squash is my personal favorite," says Cheryl Mussatto M.S., RD, LD, author of The Nourished Brain. "It's the perfect low-calorie alternative—only 42 calories in 1 cup—for anyone wanting to cut back on conventional spaghetti. It's also low-fat and provides fiber that's both filling and nutritious. And for those with diabetes and needing to limit their carbohydrate intake, it won't spike blood sugar the same way pasta might. So, not only is spaghetti squash a great go-to weight-loss food but you'll also still retain that 'spaghetti' mouthfeel we all love."
Cook up a spaghetti squash or two and use as a substitute for any pasta dish, or use half noodles, half spaghetti squash. Remember to pair it with other colorful vegetables and protein for a balanced meal.
1 cup cooked spaghetti squash contains …
Calories: 42
Total fat: 0.5g
Total carbohydrates: 10g
Dietary fiber: 2g
Sugar: 4g
Protein: 1g
Yeah, yeah, we know avocados are technically a fruit, but we had to include them for their fat-burning properties. That may sound like a contradiction since avocados are high in fat. However, they are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, which keeps you full because it is digested slowly. "According to a recent study, eating half [an] avocado helps reduce overall belly fat," says Christa Brown, M.S., RDN, a New Jersey-based dietitian. "You also get the heart-protective benefits of lowering your LDL ('bad') cholesterol!" says Brown.
Half of an avocado has a whopping 5 grams of fiber, half the amount to aim for at each meal. Avocados are versatile, making it easy to get them into your diet on a regular basis. Mix a quarter to one-half of an avocado into a green smoothie for a creamy treat, add sliced avocado to a salad, or make guacamole for a snack. Avocados are also delicious on tacos and in tuna salad. Stick to a serving size of a quarter to a half of an avocado. One medium avocado has 240 calories, so it is possible to have too much of a good thing if your goal is to lose weight.
½ of an avocado contains …
Calories: 120
Total fat: 11g
Total carbohydrates: 6.5g
Dietary fiber: 5g
Sugar: 0g
Protein: 1.5g
Get the Recipe: Simple Cabbage Salad
"Cabbage is low in calories and high in fiber," says registered dietitian Jinan Banna, Ph.D., RD. "Consuming enough fiber is an important part of a diet for weight loss, as it helps you to stay full and provides little in the way of calories." Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable, along with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale. Cruciferous vegetables contain potent phytonutrients that can help fight off cancer and reduce inflammation. With only 22 calories and 5 grams of total carbs per cup, cabbage is diabetes- and weight-loss-friendly. Plus, it's versatile. You can roast it, create a coleslaw or throw on fish tacos. "It also can be used to make fermented dishes such as kimchi, which promote a healthy gut," says Banna.
1 cup chopped raw cabbage contains …
Calories: 22
Total fat: 0g
Total carbohydrates: 5g
Dietary fiber: 2g
Sugar: 3g
Protein: 1g
"Zucchini is a great way to add fiber, volume and nutrients with very little calories," says Anya Rosen, M.S., RD, LD, CPT, a functional medicine practitioner based in New York City. One cup of sliced zucchini has only 20 calories and 3.5 grams of total carbohydrates. "It has a neutral taste that easily adapts to other more flavorful ingredients—both sweet and savory. You can grate it into oatmeal, add it to a smoothie or sub it for pasta," Rosen says.
Zucchini is also delicious roasted, and it cooks quickly on the stove, making it easy to add to stovetop dishes like pastas and stir-fries. In fact, you can swap out noodles for zoodles, also known as zucchini noodles, that are made by using a spiralizer to create noodles from the zucchini. And don't forget zucchini makes delicious baked goods too. From zucchini muffins to zucchini chocolate chip bread, you won't even taste this fiber-filled addition to your sweet treats.
1 cup sliced raw zucchini contains …
Calories: 19
Total fat: 0.5g
Total carbohydrates: 3.5g
Dietary fiber: 1g
Sugar: 3g
Protein: 1.5g
Get the Recipe: Caesar Salad with Grilled Steak
If you're looking for one of the lowest-calorie vegetables, look no further. Romaine lettuce has only 8 calories per cup. The downside is that it is pretty low in fiber too, with just 1 gram per cup. But it's a great "catch-all" vegetable, says registered dietitian Jennifer Fiske, M.S., RDN, LD, "Meaning you can toss a lot of things in and have a great dish. You can also use romaine hearts for lettuce wraps and to add crunch to sandwiches. I recommend buying a 3-pack and prepping as needed; they last much longer than pre-cut lettuce. Romaine lettuce is a low-calorie food rich in a variety of nutrients, such as folate, and has a mild flavor. It's not fancy or flashy, but it's versatile, affordable and great for weight loss," she says.
1 cup shredded romaine lettuce contains …
Calories: 8
Total fat: 0g
Total carbohydrates: 1.5g
Dietary fiber: 1g
Sugar: 0.5g
Protein: 0.5g
Peas are a starchy vegetable, meaning they have more carbohydrates than nonstarchy vegetables (potatoes and corn are also starchy vegetables). But green peas pack a punch of fiber and protein, something other vegetables can't boast about. One cup of peas has 8 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein. Similar to fiber, protein promotes satiety and high-protein diets are associated with weight loss. The body burns twice as many calories digesting protein compared to carbs and fat. So don't be afraid of peas' 10 extra grams of carbohydrates compared to their non-starchy counterparts.
From snap peas to snow peas, there are many varieties to choose from. Peas can be enjoyed plain or mixed into a variety of dishes like fried rice, pasta or soup.
1 cup peas contains …
Calories: 117
Total fat: 0.5g
Total carbohydrates: 21g
Dietary fiber: 8g
Sugar: 8g
Protein: 8g
Get the Recipe: Superfood Chopped Salad with Salmon & Creamy Garlic Dressing
One cup of kale has only 7 calories, which means you can fill your entire plate with 4 to 5 cups of kale for under 50 calories. Not only is it low in calories, but it also "has a rougher texture than other greens, so it takes a little longer to chew," says registered dietitian Lisa Andrews, M.Ed., RD, LD, owner of Sound Bites Nutrition, LLC. Eating slowly helps you feel full on fewer calories, and eating too quickly is associated with weighing more.
Kale's rough texture isn't for everyone, but there are other ways to enjoy it. Roast kale on a baking sheet for homemade crunchy kale chips or blend it into a smoothie to add fill-you-up fiber. To reduce the roughness of raw kale, massage it with olive oil and lemon juice and let it stand for several minutes before tossing in your other salad ingredients.
1 cup chopped raw kale contains …
Calories: 7
Total fat: 0g
Total carbohydrates: 1g
Dietary fiber: 1g
Sugar: 0g
Protein: 0.5g
Spinach is always in the refrigerator of this weight-loss dietitian because there are so many ways to sneak it into your diet. It has a milder taste and texture than kale, which appeals to more people's taste buds. Nutrition-wise, spinach is similar to kale, with 7 calories and 0.7 grams of fiber per cup. Enjoy spinach in a salad, smoothie, stir-fry or pasta dish. Or sauté it up with olive oil, salt and pepper for a savory side dish. You can buy it fresh or frozen. If it's starting to wilt, add it to soup or toss the whole bag in the freezer to use for smoothies.
1 cup raw spinach contains …
Calories: 7
Total fat: 0g
Total carbohydrates: 1g
Dietary fiber: 0.7g
Sugar: 0g
Protein: 1g
Get the Recipe: Cumin Roasted Carrots with Dill Yogurt
While carrots have a little more sugar than other vegetables, they also have more fiber. One cup of carrots delivers 3.5 grams of fiber, which is three times the amount of fiber in a cup of leafy greens. And they are still low in calories with 50 per cup. Carrots are a crunchy alternative to chips, which have about 130 calories and no fiber in a serving size of just 12 to 15 chips.
Lisa Young, Ph.D., RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim, loves carrots because they are so versatile: "You can eat them raw, shredded in salads or you can roast them with different spices/sauces so you can enjoy them sweet or savory. And they are high in fiber and super healthy. You will never be bored with this veggie."
1 cup chopped raw carrots contains …
Calories: 52
Total fat: 0g
Total carbohydrates: 12g
Dietary fiber: 3.5g
Sugar: 6g
Protein: 1g
"Bell peppers are low in calories and high in nutrients. In fact one bell pepper contains more vitamin C than an orange! With research linking those with lower vitamin C levels to higher amounts of body fat, this is a vegetable that should top your grocery list!" says registered dietitian Christie Gagnon, RD.
One study found that people with adequate vitamin C stores burned 30% more fat during moderate exercise than those who had low vitamin C stores.
Red, orange and yellow peppers are sweet, making them easy to eat. One cup sliced raw peppers has just 24 calories with 2 grams of fiber. Dip peppers in hummus or tzatziki, add to a turkey wrap or cook in a skillet alongside onions for some fiber-packed fajitas.
1 cup sliced raw red pepper contains …
Calories: 24
Total fat: 0.3g
Total carbohydrates: 5.5g
Dietary fiber: 1.9g
Sugar: 4g
Protein: 1g
Get the Recipe: Lemon-Garlic Dump Chicken Thighs with Broccoli
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable with cancer-fighting compounds, specifically sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol. Broccoli also has the antioxidant quercetin, which may help lower blood pressure. When it comes to weight loss, 1 cup of cooked broccoli has 5 grams of filling fiber, plus 3.5 grams of protein. Broccoli is 90% water, which contributes to its fill-you-up factor, and it's high in vitamins C and K.
Broccoli is delicious tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper and then roasted at 400-425°F for about 20 minutes. Turn on the broiler at the end for a couple of minutes to achieve that restaurant-style crispy texture.
1 cup cooked, chopped broccoli contains …
Calories: 54
Total fat: 0.5g
Total carbohydrates: 11g
Dietary fiber: 5g
Sugar: 2g
Protein: 3.7g

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