Nutrition

Clean Cheating: 9 Down and Dirty “Cheat Foods” to Help You Power Through A Hard Diet!

9 Cheat Foods for clean cheating

This isn't an article about superfoods.

Your mother would not approve of the foods on the following list.

And I definitely would NOT feed any of this stuff to my daughter.

But the zero calorie and low calorie foods listed below WILL help keep you sane during a tough diet.

These tasty and, in some cases, filling foods can be life savers when your stomach feels like a bottomless pit and all you want is to enjoy something sweet.

Essentially, these foods can help you scratch that annoying dietary itch that's threatening to send you into a tailspin of chocolate cake and Doritos.

WARNING – These foods should not make up the bulk of your diet!

Most of the items below were created by men in white lab coats and offer no health benefits, other than helping you achieve and maintain really low levels of body fat!

Isn't real food best?

Sure.

To someone eating near or above their maintenance calorie level, opting for something like zero calorie ketchup may seem trivial and pointless.

And of course, whole foods are more nutritious.

But anyone in the trenches of a tough diet knows that “spending” their macros as wisely as possible is the key to staying sane.

So if you can save 60g of carbs and 20g of fat throughout the day by using low calorie condiments, you'll go to bed happy and satisfied rather than ravenous and demoralized.

Hell, switching to fat-free salad dressing and sugar-free BBQ sauce could add up to an extra peanut butter sandwich.

Of course, you could just forgo condiments and sweets all together, but that can get really mundane and make dieting harder than it has to be.

For that reason, I prefer to supplement my otherwise healthy diet with some zero calorie goodies to help me feel normal during times of voluntary deprivation.

Just to be clear, I DO NOT think that a longterm, super low calorie diet comprised of “diet foods” is the way to a muscular and ripped physique.

But there's no denying the need to control overall calories to have lower than normal body fat.

Best low or no calorie diet foods

Vegetables aside (of which you should already be eating PLENTY), here are the foods I use to give me maximum satisfaction for my allotted macro budget during a significant caloric deficit.

1. Sugar Free Jello

diet foods sugar free jello

Serving Size1/2 cup
Calories10
Fat0
Carbs0
Protein1

I'm going to start this list off strong with my go-to nighttime snack!

I don't make this very often when I'm eating sufficient calories, but it's an amazing treat to look forward to during lean times.

When I'm dieting, I'll make an entire package (or 4 cups) of Sugar Free Jello in the morning and pop it in the fridge for my after dinner snack.

The shear size (when you eat the whole box) and the time it takes to eat makes it that much better. And at only 80 calories, it's an incredibly satisfying treat with very little caloric commitment.

Since the first (and best) thing I did to clean up my diet nearly a decade ago was to cut out sugary junk food, I can't even detect the artificial sweeteners.

Not consistently indulging in the regular kind means I don't have anything to which to compare it.

Buy Sugar Free Jello in bulk here

2. Diet soda

diet foods diet soda

Serving Size12 oz.
Calories0
Fat0
Carbs0
Protein0

There's something about the carbonation, sweetness, and volume of liquid that makes diet soda one hell of an appetite suppressant.

It also helps you feel surprisingly “normal.” Simply sipping on a sweet carbonated beverage can temporarily make you forget about the rigors of a bodybuilder's diet.

And I know, people will cry all day about artificial sweeteners being terrible for you.

But those same people are usually just trying to justify their habit of drinking regular soda by convincing themselves that the less tasty stuff is the real enemy.

Funny how the average mind works.

In reality, neither is a health food. But no one should be drinking regular soda and a few diet drinks to help keep you in a caloric deficit won't hurt you in the long run.

When I'm super hungry, I like to chug a pint of water and then follow it up with a diet soda. That nearly always holds me over until my next meal.

3. Kelp and Shirataki noodles

diet foods shirataki noodles

Serving Size3-4 oz.
Calories0-5
Fat0
Carbs1
Protein0

Kelp and Shirataki noodles look like pasta but have the nutrition profile of iceburg lettuce.

Kelp noodles have a texture that I can best compare to bean sprouts. They're kind of crunchy, moist, and not at all starchy or chewy.

So no, they don't taste like wheat pasta. But kelp noodles are a great stand in for regular noodles when you just don't have an extra 200 calories per cup to spare.

Since these noodles are pretty crunchy, I think they're best when combined with Asian flavors in a stir fry or as a salad topping. Think soy, ginger, sesame oil, and wasabi with plenty of other vegetables.

Shirataki noodles are MUCH closer to wheat or rice noodles. I use them as a direct replacement for ramen noodles.

Since shirataki noodles are extremely low in calories, you have plenty of room to play with fattier cuts of meat and rich sauces.

I prefer to crisp both varieties in a nonstick skillet rather that following the package instructions. It helps remove some of the moisture and results in a better texture.

Buy Shirataki noodles here

Buy Kelp noodles here

4. Walden Farms peanut spread

diet foods walden farms cinnamon raisin peanut spread

Serving Size2 Tbsp
Calories0
Fat0
Carbs0
Protein0

Walden Farms makes a peanut spread in regular, chocolate, and cinnamon raisin.

All three have a weird gelatinous texture, which makes sense because they're mostly made of insoluble plant fiber (cellulose gum) and water.

Two out of the three flavors taste like shit, while the other is surprisingly good. The only one I can confidently recommend to you is the Cinnamon Raisin.

To me, the other two have an acidic taste that's just too off-putting to enjoy. Not to mention the fact that they taste almost nothing like peanuts or chocolate.

But even the decent tasting Cinnamon Raisin Peanut Spread isn't exactly a direct peanut butter replacement. I wouldn't necessarily want to eat it on a sandwich, for example.

But it is good when you have a sugar craving. I just grab the jar and eat a few spoonfuls at at time to quiet my stomach.

The upside of it not being the best tasting stuff on the planet is that you probably won't be tempted to eat the entire jar at once.

But at zero calories, you could if you wanted to and it wouldn't affect your macros at all.

Buy Walden Farms Cinnamon Raisin Peanut Spread here

5. Walden Farms Pancake Syrup

diet foods walden farms pancake syrup

Serving Size1/4 Cup
Calories0
Fat0
Carbs0
Protein0

I've been using sugar-free syrup for years. And although it's “sugar free,” it still contains sugar alcohols and thus calories. And overall calories is the factor that matters most.

For that reason, I decided to try the zero calorie syrup from Walden Farms. And it tastes really good!

(I haven't tried the Blueberry Pancake Syrup, but have heard good things. Let me know what you think in the comments if you're tried it).

Pair this zero calorie syrup with some whole grain waffles and 8oz of egg whites with a couple whole eggs tossed in and you have a massive plate of food that's high in protein, low in calories, and completely delicious.

Just to illustrate how much of a savings this stuff can provide, I'll use the Kashi 7 Grain waffles I recently picked up as an example.

These hearty waffles have 25g of carbs and 5g of fat for a serving size of two waffles. Compare that to regular maple syrup which has 53g of carbs per serving.

Armed with this knowledge, it's clear that by skipping the butter and using zero calorie syrup you can literally have FOUR EXTRA WAFFLES FOR FREE!

Doubling the size of your meal without increasing calories is a dieter's dream.

Buy Walden Farms Pancake Syrup here

6. Walden Farms Dips

diet foods walden farms marshmallow chocolate caramel dip

Serving Size2 Tbsp
Calories0
Fat0
Carbs0
Protein0

Walden Farms makes a dip in caramel, chocolate, and marshmallow.

I read some pretty bad reviews of the marshmallow dip before trying it, so I can only imagine the horrified look on my face when I had my first taste.

Pretty sure I was cringing as my shaky hand brought the spoon uncomfortably close to my mouth.

But after the first bite, I exclaimed “WOW!”

This isn't disgusting at all! Which is really saying something for a zero calorie food.

The caramel and chocolate are also very good. The chocolate does have a little bit of an alcohol taste, but I never expected it to be perfect.

I like to use these dips to change regular ol' fruit into a dessert replacement.

I usually cut up an apple, banana, and some strawberries into thin slices, spreading them out to cover an entire plate.

Then I take my time eating the fruit with a fork, using as much Walden Farms dips as I please.

If you haven't noticed, part of being satisfied on fewer calories involves visually tricking your brain into thinking that you're eating mass quantities of food.

And an entire plate covered in fruit with assorted dips on the side does the trick very nicely.

Buy Walden Farms Dips here

Marshmallow

Caramel

Chocolate

7. Walden Farms Condiments

diet foods walden farms dressing

Serving Size1-2 Tbsp
Calories0
Fat0
Carbs0
Protein0

The best thing you can eat in your efforts to get shredded is vegetables and protein.

But you can quickly negate the benefits by dousing a healthy salad in fatty salad dressing and dipping your baked chicken in sugary BBQ sauce.

That's where zero calorie dressings, ketchup, and BBQ sauce come into play.

I truly don't mind eating baked chicken year after year after year. But even though I'm not tired of it, there's no denying that a little BBQ sauce makes for a more satisfying meal.

The problem is that most BBQ sauces, Sweet Baby Ray's for example, contain about 17g of carbs for just 2 Tbsp. Since most guys are likely to use at least two servings, you're essentially losing 34g of carbs from your daily total.

That's a frivolous spend for guys aiming for a lower carb intake of maybe 100 – 200g per day. Those 34g of carbs could've been a couple slices of bread, a large apple, or even a cup of oatmeal.

Then you have to consider salad dressing, like regular Hidden Valley Ranch which has 14g of fat per 2 Tbsp.

Switching to a Walden Farms salad dressing will give you the savings to have an additional 3 whole eggs or a serving or two of beef instead of fish or chicken.

And we all know that beef and whole eggs are much more satisfying and contribute more to a muscular body than ranch dressing.

I really like the Raspberry Vinaigrette but the Honey Dijon was pretty disgusting. These dressings are hit or miss, but I think you're safe if you stick to the sweeter flavors.

The Walden Farms ketchup doesn't offer as much savings over the regular kind, only 5g carbs per serving, but every little bit helps. And it really doesn't taste too bad, just a little watery.

Buy Walden Farms condiments here

Salad Dressing

BBQ Sauce

Ketchup

8. Sugar free gum

diet foods orbit sugar free gum

Serving SizeOne piece
Calories>5
Fat 0
Carbs0
Protein0

I'm partial to Orbit and have been chewing it almost exclusively for years.

Just tasting sweetness and giving your jaw something to do works wonders for keeping hunger at bay.

Mint is also a well known appetite suppressant, so it's the best flavor to choose.

I like to chew a piece of mint gum as soon as I finish my meal which provides a two-fold effect on halting further eating.

One, gum allows you to jaw away without taking in any more actual food.

And two, the breath freshening effects of gum make you think twice about putting more food in your mouth once the cleaning process has begun.

Mint gum is also great for holding you over during that last hour before your next meal.

This is my favorite Orbit Flavor

9. BCAAs

diet foods BCAAs

Serving Size1 Scoop
Calories0
Fat0
Carbs0
Protein0

Similar to diet soda, flavored BCAAs satisfy your sweet tooth without adding any (or very few) calories to your daily total.

But unlike diet soda, they help build and maintain muscle by keeping blood amino acid levels elevated.

I find that these are perfect for taking before an early morning workout when I don't want to tap into my macros 16 hours before I go to sleep.

Starting that early causes me to have to spread my food VERY THIN over the course of the day.

Not only are BCAAs good for delaying breakfast, they're also great for extending the time between meals so you can eat more satisfying portions.

For example, rather than eating 5 small meals 3 hours apart, I like to have 3 large meals that are 5 hours apart.

To keep my sanity and to help protect my muscle mass on a low calorie diet, I drink 10g of BCAAs in roughly 30 oz of water about midway between meals.

I recently stocked up (for the third time) on my favorite BCAA supplement, ErgoBCAA by ErgoGenix.

For being a zero calorie drink, this stuff tastes great and gives me the peace of mind that I'm not sacrificing muscle mass in order to drop a couple pounds of body fat.

Buy EgroBCAA here

Realistic expectations

It wouldn't be fair (or wise) to compare the taste of zero calorie foods to the full calorie counterparts because they're in completely different leagues, nutritionally.

A more accurate comparison would be putting these foods up against water and iceberg lettuce because that's just about the only other things you can consume for the same caloric investment.

And let's be honest with ourselves here – there is no way in hell that pancake syrup with zero calories is going to taste as good as the real stuff which contains 53 grams of sugar (or 13 teaspoons!) per 1/4 cup serving.

If you're at a stage in your life where you eat birthday cake without giving a thought to the macros, you're going to be wholly unsatisfied with these foods.

But if you're in need of serious body composition changes, I recommend that you take a minute to think about where eating all of those “real” foods has gotten you and determine what you're willing to give up in order to build the body of your dreams.

The sooner you realize and accept the fact that these foods are temporary substitutions and shouldn't be compared to the full fat and sugar versions, the better off and happier you'll be.

You can't (or shouldn't) live on this shit!

Just like squats, broccoli, and intermittent fasting, eating low or no calorie foods is nothing more than a tool in your physique building arsenal.

They won't produce rapid results on their own, but their strategic use can contribute greatly to your overall progress.

Most of these contain minimal fiber, vitamins, minerals, and protein, so they won't do much for building muscle and keeping you healthy.

And most are loaded with chemicals you can't pronounce, so use your best judgement to consume them in responsible quantities.

The bottom line is to be smart about your diet and balance the junk food intake with about 80-90% whole foods.

With that formula in place, you can have the confidence of knowing that you're treating your body better than 90% of the developed world.

Not only that, but you're eating “normal” foods and getting shredded at the same time!

All the best,

Nate

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    BT
    August 12, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    Nice article about Walden Farms haha

  • Reply
    Alex
    August 14, 2016 at 8:20 am

    Great post, maybe you can suggest Walden Farm to make some BCAA’s. In that way you could name the post “Walden Farms helps you getting through a diet” haha. They have great stuff though. Keep those post coming

  • Reply
    Craig
    August 15, 2016 at 12:09 am

    Your article on best cardio for bodybuilders said your favorite bcaa was amino recovery ? ? That was a quick change?

  • Reply
    Craig
    August 15, 2016 at 12:17 am

    The name of article was the best Cardio for Lifters March 28 2016, I have not yet tried bcaa’ sand I hear mixed reviews.. I am older be 52 in a month and I am getting ready to start the Cardio routine from the article. It looks like a goo routing as when I was running I always had the runners look instead of the lifters look I was looking for them knees started hurting ect ect so I stopped cardio and am gonna start your plan. So on the bcaa’s can you give me a little more information. Thanks!

    • Reply
      Nate
      August 15, 2016 at 12:07 pm

      I had been buying Amino Recovery consistently for a couple of years, but when I went to reorder one time my two favorite flavors were unavailable. I looked into other brands and found ErgoBCAA which was close to half the price for the same number of servings. I picked up a few different flavors and loved them. I’ve also been happy with the pre-workout made by ErgoGenix so I’ve been sticking with their BCAAs for a while. They both taste great and have the necessary amino acids so you really can’t go wrong with either.

      • Reply
        Jerry
        October 27, 2016 at 9:20 pm

        I just bought some ErgoBCAA then noticed that my Designer Whey has BCAAs. Do I need both?

        • Reply
          Nate
          November 2, 2016 at 11:31 am

          All foods containing protein are composed of amino acids with varying amounts of BCAAs. Taking a BCAA supplement just gives you a concentrated dose of these muscle building amino acids without the additional calories and time needed for digestion. So you don’t need both, but they’re both beneficial and fine to take together. I use both if that helps you decide.

  • Reply
    Anthony
    August 15, 2016 at 11:58 am

    The sugar free Jello is key. Thanks for the other recommendations. Going to look up those noodles for a snack during work.

  • Reply
    Stephan
    August 18, 2016 at 11:56 am

    Thanks for this nice article, Nate. Lately I have the cravings for sweets and fast food and it seems that have I destoyed my progress a little. With your tips I will get back on track.

    • Reply
      Nate
      August 19, 2016 at 9:01 am

      That Jello is a lifesaver! If you make a big batch and reserve it until before bed, it’s so much easier to ignore sweets during the day.

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