After a holiday season of rich food and drink, it’s tempting to say “I’ll never eat ______ (insert offending foods here) again.” Unrealistic? You bet! Unhealthy? Definitely. Crash dieting actually slows metabolism and often ends in more weight gain than weight loss in the long term, according to diet lore. Your best bet is to start slow and trim excess calories from places you won’t even miss. All foods are not created equal, so the key is to know your lower calorie options. For example, protein and carbohydrates both contain about four calories per gram, while fat has more than twice that amount – there are nine calories for every gram of fat!
You’d be surprised how quickly skipped calories add up. To lose one pound per week, you’ll need to shave about 3,500 calories weekly or 500 per day, according to the Calorie Control Council. Better yet, cut 300 calories by choosing lower calorie options at the supermarket – and burn up to 300 more with a brisk hour-long walk every day.
Choose lean cuts of meat
Buy skinless, boneless chicken breasts, lean pork tenderloin or extra-lean ground beef and slash dozens of calories. If you’re used to eating roast chicken with the skin on, go naked! Removing the skin will reduce the calorie count from 218 to 156. Trim the calories further by removing any excess fat before cooking. When shopping for beef, choose top sirloin or inside round – they’re the leanest cuts. While 100 grams of regular ground beef has 24.1 grams of fat and a flank steak has 7.4 grams, a sirloin has 3.8 grams of fat per 100-gram serving and the same amount of inside round has 5.2 grams. If you’re choosing pork, go for tenderloin. This cut has 3.6 grams of fat per 100 grams, while one 3-ounce (90-g) centre cut chop has 6.9 grams of fat.
Real life choice Instead of loading up your breakfast plate with fatty bacon strips, choose meatier and leaner peameal bacon. Ounce for ounce, cooked peameal has 2 grams of fat versus 13 grams in crispy side bacon. Psst! Try our New Eggs Benedict on peameal bacon – it’s also low cal!
Develop a (low-fat) dairy habit
Slash fat and calories from your diet by choosing lower fat dairy products all day long. Order your latte or cappuccino with skim milk: one cup (250 mL) of skim milk has 90 calories, while the same amount of homo (3.3% M.F.) has 158 calories. Take another chance on low-fat cheese for your lunch sandwich – my favourite is light swiss. For dessert, use light yogurt instead of whipped cream to dress up a bowl of berries.
Real life choice Top a baked potato with low-fat cottage cheese instead of full-fat sour cream. A 1/4 cup (50 mL) of cottage cheese (2 per cent M.F.) has 53.5 calories, and a 1/4 cup (50 mL) of regular sour cream (14 per cent M.F.) has 92.5 calories. Swap a bowl of Häagen-Dazs Cookie Dough Chip ice cream (1/2 cup/125 mL) at 310 calories and 20 grams of fat for Häagen-Dazs Chocolate Fudge Brownie low-fat frozen yogurt at 200 calories and 2.5 grams of fat – that’s a savings of 110 calories and 17.5 grams of fat.
Try a meatless meal every now and again
Use soy products such as tofu for protein at dinnertime, or pair up beans or legumes with a good dose of healthy brown rice. Both are excellent sources of low-fat plant protein and will help slash calories. A 4-ounce (125-g) portion of firm tofu has only 164 calories, while only 4 ounces (90 g) of cooked sirloin steak has 183 calories. Try a vegetarian chili sprinkled with feta or goat cheese or a hearty soup packed with lots of veggies, cubes of tofu and lots of noodles. For a quick snack, spread hummus on whole wheat bread and top with roasted peppers, light cheese, lettuce and tomato slices.
Real life choice Indulge and have pizza – but go meatless. Top with a load of veggies such as mushrooms, colourful peppers and broccoli. When possible, choose a whole wheat crust and skip dipping sauces. A 9-inch (23-cm) pizza with pepperoni has about 1,000 calories, whereas a vegetarian one has about 700 calories. Tempted? Try our Fast-Fix Greek Pizza or our 8-Vegetable Bean Ragout.
In general, sugars are considered “empty” calories since they have minimal nutritional value. Most sugars have about 50 calories per tablespoon (15 mL). That doesn’t sound like much – but many processed foods and drinks are loaded with sugar. For example, soft drinks are little else than pure sugar. A 12-ounce (355-mL) can of cola usually has about 150 calories with 10 teaspoons (50 mL) of sugar. If you do drink pop, try the diet versions in moderation. Don’t be fooled and think juice is a healthier alternative. Most are loaded with sugar, so make sure you read the label!
Real life choice When you want a snack, have a whole piece of fruit instead of a glass of juice. One orange has 62 calories and fibre, while one cup (250 mL) of orange juice has 116 calories. For recipe ideas, scour diabetes cookbooks. They often have great ideas for dinner as well as sweet treats that don’t overdose on the sugar.
Don’t go overboard on booze
Basically, alcohol is a fermented product of carbohydrates – sugar and starch. But unlike the carbohydrates in food (with four calories per gram), there are seven calories for every gram of alcohol. Yikes! It’s recommended that women drink no more than one alcoholic beverage a day and two for men. A 1/2 cup (125 mL) of red wine has 90 calories and the same amount of white wine has 85 calories – so if you skip a glass every now and then…well, you do the math!
Real life choice Choose light beer at 95 calories per bottle over regular beer, which has 151 calories. Or spread out your daily dose of wine into one or two spritzers and opt for low-calorie mixers where possible. A gin and tonic made with two tablespoons (30 mL) gin and 1/2 cup (125 mL) regular tonic has 93 calories, but when made with diet tonic water it only has 53 calories.