Filler Foods: Good for You or a Waste of Plate Space?

When it comes to vegetables, the golden rule says: “Eat dark and leafy.” But just because a vegetable isn’t a powerhouse “green” doesn’t mean it can’t bring a lot to the table. “There’s a misconception that if something isn’t dark green, then it’s not good for you,” says Jackie Keller, author, nutritionist and founding director of NutriFit. But are so-called “filler foods”—low-calorie vegetables that fill us up but aren’t known for their nutritional benefits—worth the stomach real estate? Turns out, yes. “Most ‘filler foods’ have a high water volume and make you feel full, and people who eat high water volume diets are more likely to be at a healthy body weight,” explains Keri Glassman, R.D., author of “The New You and Improved Diet,” and founder of Nutritious Life, a nutrition practice based in New York City.

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What’s more, these eats can help keep you hydrated. “By eating high water volume veggies, you add more water to your diet, and by ‘eating’ your water you get additional nutrients,” says Keller.

These low-calorie vegetables may not get top billing, but they offer a surprising nutritional bang for your buck.


It’s no surprise that cucumbers have a moisture content of 90 percent. What you may not know is that they are a source of protein, calcium and iron, and they contain vitamins C and A, fiber and beta carotene (an important antioxidant that contributes to eye and skin health and cancer prevention). Cucumber skin contains nutrients, including vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting. A few slices of this green vegetable also provide potassium, an electrolyte that helps keep the heart healthy, and manganese, a mineral that helps build strong bones.

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The crunchy vegetable’s leading claim to fame is the presence of active compounds called phthalides, which help relax muscles around the arteries and allow blood vessels to dilate, eventually lowering blood pressure. Celery’s stalks are also high in potassium (one cup provides eight percent of our daily requirement) and provide two grams of fiber. From a calorie perspective, one cup has only 16 calories (less than a piece of gum). Celery is also a good source of vitamin B and contains luteolin, which works to decrease inflammation in the brain that occurs with aging.

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When it comes to lettuce, it’s true that the deeper the color, the higher the vitamin and mineral content. However, one cup of iceberg provides some vitamin K, folate (a B vitamin that helps protect the heart, and for expectant moms, guards developing fetuses against spina bifida, a birth defect), potassium and fiber. Iceberg and other types of lettuce are about 95 percent water and practically calorie-free, making them a great fill-you-up food.

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4Hearts of Palm

These flavorful stalks contain protein, vitamin A, folic acid and almost no fat. A half cup has 115 calories. Hearts of palm earn their place on your plate because they’re a good source of potassium, which is important for heart and nerve cell function and blood pressure regulation. A great addition to salads, they’re a solid source of fiber, iron and calcium.

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A cup of these spicy bulbs has a mere 24 calories and contains potassium and vitamin C. Most importantly, radishes are moisture- and fiber-rich. Fiber is key for keeping our digestive tract healthy and ferrying the bad cholesterol (LDL) out of our system. What’s more, the crunch and distinct flavor of radishes acts as a palate-cleanser and is satisfying enough that it may prevent you from overindulging in something less than good for you.

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6Alfalfa Sprouts

This easily digestible vegetable is high in fiber and virtually calorie- and fat-free. Alfalfa sprouts add life to a boring sandwich or salad, contain a small bit of protein and are high in vitamins K and C—a powerhouse vitamin that, aside from its immune-boosting properties, is an important antioxidant that fights free radicals (the compounds that cause inflammation, heart disease, wrinkles, cancer and many other health evils). Vitamin C’s other boon is that it helps to rebuild muscle tissue, which is critical if you have an active lifestyle or are injured. Sprouts also contain folate and other B vitamins such as thiamine.

MORE: 10 Surprising Foods With Vitamin C