Trying to stick to a low-cal diet? It may seem like fewer is better, but sticking to this religiously can backfire bigtime when it comes to staying healthy while you slim down. Not only does the body need a minimum number of calories to supply energy to the body and obtain important nutrients, but you might also end up avoiding nutrition-packed high-calorie foods that are actually really good for you.
Even if you’re trying to lose weight, these are foods you’ll want to budget for in your diet.
1. Nuts and nut butters: 200 calories in two tablespoons of peanut butter
Don’t fear the fat. Almonds, cashews, walnuts, and pecans are nutrient-dense foods loaded with protein, monounsaturated fat, and vitamin E. Snacking on pistachios or peanuts at 3 PM might hold you over until dinner, without spiking blood sugar or causing a sugar crash. The key is to be mindful of portion sizes: stick to two tablespoons for nut butters and 1/4 cup for nuts. Measure them out the first couple of times you munch, and then you’ll be able to eyeball the right portion.
2. Sweet potatoes: 120 calories in one medium sweet potato
Compared to veggies like kale, broccoli, and bell peppers, sweet potatoes may seem heavy on the calories. Sweet potatoes also contain more starches, a type of carbohydrate. (Find out how much you actually know about carbs here.)
But focusing only on the calories and starch content would grossly oversimplify the perks of this orange spud. Sweet potatoes are full of fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium. In fact, one sweet potato contains more potassium than a banana.
3. Olives and olive oil: 120 calories in one tablespoon
Experts have found that diets that incorporate olive oil (such as the Mediterranean diet) as a swap for butter or lard tend to result in better heart health. That’s because olive oil is mostly monounsaturated fat, which doesn’t raise LDL cholesterol the way that saturated fat does, according to the American Heart Association. (Learn more about the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats here.)
You can use olive oil when roasting your veggies, dress salads in extra virgin olive oil, or drizzle it on pasta. And of course, you can also just enjoy olives themselves.
4. Avocados: 114 calories in half an avocado
You guessed it: Avocados are yet another incredible source of healthy fats. This fruit-that-seems-like-a-vegetable doesn’t just dress up your toast. It also provides your body with fiber, potassium, and vitamin K. Learn more about the calories in avocado here.
5. Quinoa: 222 calories for one cup of cooked quinoa
Quinoa has been enjoyed for over 3,000 years in Peru and Bolivia, but Americans only started to fall in love with this nutty, grain-like seed less than a decade ago. But some may be hesitant to opt for quinoa, say, over brown rice. Not only is quinoa challenging to order at a restaurant (it’s pronounced “keen-wah,” by the way), but it’s also higher in calories than rice.
Don’t let the calorie count deter you. Quinoa is denser in nutrients than brown rice, offering protein, fiber, iron, magnesium, folate, and more. Because of the extra protein and fiber, quinoa may even satisfy you more than the same amount of brown rice would. (Check out this quinoa variation of a Spanish pilaf.)
6. Bananas: 105 calories for a medium banana
A banana may be more caloric than berries and melons, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good for you. Bananas are superfoods that contain magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and fiber. Here are more reasons to eat bananas.
7. Whole-wheat bread: 110 calories per slice
Ordering lettuce wraps instead of sandwiches? You’ll save some calories, but you’ll miss out on insoluble fiber, iron, and protein. Repeat after us: Not all breads are empty calories. To get the most out of your calories, choose a bread that says “100% whole wheat,” or lists a whole grain as the first ingredient. Learn more about choosing a nutritious kind of bread here.
8. Plain Greek yogurt: 170 calories for one cup
The dairy aisle has tons of “diet” and “light” yogurt options that boast of being only 100 calories. Unfortunately, these tasty cups of “key lime” and “French silk pie” yogurt often contain artificial sweeteners, or they add stabilizers to keep the yogurt consistency despite “watering” it down.
If you make the switch to true yogurt—namely plain, unsweetened, Greek yogurt—you might get sticker shock from the nutrition label. But the jump from 100 to 170 calories is worth it: Plain Greek yogurt contains protein, calcium, and potassium (without all the sugar and extra stuff in the “light” yogurt).