Thermic vegetables, also known as free or negative calorie vegetables, burn more calories than they contain:
“Your body requires on average 150-250 calories to digest your food, depending on your weight, gender and activity level. If you eat something that has a caloric content of 100 calories, you will actually burn more calories than you ingest” (wisegeek.com).
Of course not everyone agrees that these vegetables burn more calories than they are worth. In her article There Are No Negative-Calorie Foods, Dr. Nancy Snyderman states that while “chewing celery might seem like a strenuous activity, it burns about the same amount of calories as watching grass grow” (time.com).
Whether truly ‘negative-calorie’ or not, the 10 vegetables that made this list share the following characteristics in their flavor. Er, I mean… favor. They are low in calorie count and high in nutritional benefits, crunchiness, and camouflagibility. Crunchy foods like asparagus , broccoli, celery and green beans take longer to consume; you eat them slower, which allows you to feel ‘full’ so you don’ t eat as much. Camouflagible foods like mushrooms, spinach, squash and cauliflower can be added sneaked into meals to add nutrition and potentially replace higher calorie ingredients.
I’ve also selected vegetables that the average North American might actually eat in their whole state, instead of smothering them in butter or cheese or processing them beyond recognition. Sorry bamboo shoots and pumpkin, you are out.
All of the calorie counts below are based on 1 cup of each vegetable, so other thermic vegetables were disqualified due to the unwanted side effects of regularly consuming them by the cup. For example, garlic and water chestnuts are both thermic; however, regular consumption of one cup of garlic may cause indigestion for some people (and loneliness for others) and water chestnuts act as a laxative when not eaten in moderation (blog.nytimes.com).
All calories are from webmd.com’s calorie counter and are based on 1 cup of each vegetable in its raw state, unless otherwise noted.
Butternut squash: cooked and mashed. Calories: 94
Raw cubed butternut is only 64 calories, but who would eat that? A cup of fresh zucchini is 20 calories but, in my opinion, requires dip to make it tasty, so does not help the overall squash ranking.
“A good source of anti-inflammatory nutrients like vitamin C and beta-carotene, squash, especially summer squash, can help treat dozens of conditions including asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Squash is also rich in potassium, magnesium and fiber” (sheknows.com, Top 10 Healthiest Vegetables).
Most squash can be baked or roasted with some garlic and a little bit of olive oil so it’s earned a spot on this list.
Not surprisingly, information found at a website called asparagus-lovers.com focuses on the positive side of asparagus consumption as part of a healthy diet. The site describes its potential use as a diuretic, as well as its anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, anti-cancer, and even anti-hangover properties. There was one negative: “the metabolism of a sulphorous compound” found in asparagus may make your pee smell funny – it’s the same compound found in “rotten eggs, onions, garlic and skunks scent.”
Not entirely satisfied, I typed ‘the dangers of asparagus’ into Google and ended up at a story about a robin nibbling on an asparagus plant named Larry. I thought I was reading a folk tale or something until I realized that I had stumbled onto a site about an entirely different kind of asparagus lover. Yikes.
8. Bell peppers
Red and green peppers are high in vitamin C, act as an anti-oxidant and enhance your ability to absorb iron (healthcastle.com). This makes them a great plate mate for iron-rich spinach or beef (fajitas, anyone?). Chop them small enough and they are easy to sneak into stews and soups. They are also tasty raw: no dips or dressings required. If you do need a dip, try baba ganoush – it’s made out of eggplant, which is also a thermic vegetable.
7. Green Beans
According to a writer at the nytimes.com, green beans “need absolutely no embellishment.” In other words, as long as you cook them properly (not too short, not too long) and while they are young (old beans are “gnarly and tough”), you need to put anything on them. They are a good source of folate, manganese, potassium, calcium, vitamin A and beta-carotene, and vitamin K.
Even better, eat them raw … unless you are a German. Apparently some Germans think that raw green beans are poisonous. Also if you are prone to urinary stones, you shouldn’t eat green beans because they are part of the Brassica and Fagaceae family (nutrition-and-you.com).
With skin. Calories: 15
Cucumbers are 95% water so it makes sense that they would be low calorie and great for weight loss. According to naturalnews.com, cucumbers: fight cancer, cure hangovers, relieve bad breath, and stimulate hair growth. They smell pretty great, too. Instant mood enhancer.
Some people believe that rattlesnakes and or copperhead snakes smell like cucumbers, so if you’re not in the produce aisle or near a Greek salad and you suddenly smell cucumbers… run! There is also talk on the internet that we are genetically predisposed to be able to smell cucumbers, so this won’t work for all of you.
Low calorie, super crunchy, and easy to disguise – cauliflower ranks high on my top 10 list of thermic vegetables. A large head of cauliflower weighs in at only 210 calories, and there is a lot you can do with it! Alicia Silverstone recommends grilling cauliflower steaks in her book The Kinder Diet, while the author of Wheat Belly uses cauliflower to replace the evils of a wheat pizza crust. Of course, it tastes pretty good raw, too. Be warned that if you steam it, your house will smell like your gaseous Uncle Fartwell has been visiting. Other than that, it’s a pretty magnificent vegetable.
Broccoli was ranked number 13 in the top 25 most nutritious foods at prevention.com (spinach is in number 14, red peppers number 18) and in fitnessmagazine.com’s Top 10 healthiest foods on the Planet. It’s not my personal favorite, but here it is in the fourth spot due to its low calorie, high crunch and moderate camoflagibility. I can almost forgive it for its taste because it looks like a cute little cartoon tree.
Besthealthmag.ca lists 5 important health benefits of mushrooms, they: are antioxidants, produce selenium, are low in calories, and boost your immune system and your metabolism.
Mushrooms rank high for low calories and nutritional value, but who wants to eat a cup of mushrooms without dipping them in ranch dressing or frying them in butter? This has bumped them out of first place, but their ability to hide in almost any dish and act as a meat replacement secures them spot number three in this top 10 list of thermic vegetables.
“This chlorophyll-packed type of produce is an excellent source of almost every vitamin and nutrient you need. Scientists believe a diet heavy in spinach may be able to prevent everything from heart disease to colon cancer, and arthritis to osteoporosis” (sheknows.com, Top 10 Healthiest Vegetables). Impressive! It also tastes great and can be used to give almost any main dish a healthy boost.
You’re not going to argue with Popeye, are you? I thought so.
Registered Holistic Nutritionist (R.H.N.) Julie Daniluk lists 5 Surprising Health Benefits of Celery at chatelaine.com. According to her article, celery: improves brain health, prevents urinary tract infections, repels mosquitos, lowers blood pressure, and boosts male fertility.
Most surprising of all, celery may make you sexy. According to Keri Glassman, a registered and certified dietician/nutritionist writing at usnews.com, celery is “loaded with pheromones (androstenone and androstenol), and when men chomp on these stalks they give off a subtle odor that may turn women on.” Well, vegetarians, anyway.