Until today, I haven’t mentioned calories on this blog. That was a conscious decision. Preoccupation with calories often leads one to make unhealthy food choices. They scan labels for the food lowest in calories, forgetting to think what they’re getting nutritionally. They cook meals with as little fat as possible, creating a healthy, but bland, boring and completely unsatisfying dish.
If you eat mostly unprocessed, plant based foods and pay attention to fullness signals, you’ll eat just the right amount of calories, no counting needed. So why bother with calories?
Because calories count. If you’re trying to lose weight, calories matter more than any other dietary factor, evidenced by the infamous twinkie diet. Burn more calories than you take in, and you’ll lose weight, regardless of where those calories come from.
Now, clearly I do not advocate a low calorie diet of ding dongs and cheetos, but if you’re trying to lose weight, it is important be conscious of your caloric intake.
The balance gets tipped in the wrong direction when a dieter has a single minded focus on calories, to the point of sacrificing nutrition and taste. Here are 20 tricks I use to cut calories, without sacrifice.
1. Always keep a carton of reduced fat, plain Greek yogurt on hand. I use it to replace mayo in chicken, tuna or egg salad. It adds a nice tang and keeps the texture creamy. I also use it to make creamy salad dressings – just add fresh garlic and spices, then thin it with buttermilk or vinegar. Yogurt can also be used to cut the amount of fat used in baking. This works especially well with biscuits! I’ve even used it to make a creamy, cheeseless sauce for pasta!
2. When baking a dessert, substitute half the fat for pureed soft or silken tofu. Doesn’t sound very appetizing, but there was actually a study that found most people preferred brownies cooked this way. Now, how do I sign up for these dessert tasting studies?
3. Use mashed banana as a substitute for some of the butter/oil and sugar when baking.
4. Bacon can be used to add flavor into an otherwise healthy dish. My general rule of thumb is no more than 1/2 slice per serving. It’s enough to add flavor without altering the nutrition too drastically.
5. With 120 calories in a tablespoon of oil, it’s easy to go overboard on fat. But sometimes it can be difficult to prevent sticking and get a good sear with a small quantity. I use a misto to spray a light coat of oil in my pan, then add a few teaspoons of oil. This creates a thin layer of oil that coats the entire pan.
6. I’ve found that I can cut the amount of sugar in many recipes for cookies, muffins, and cakes by 25-50% without altering the texture. The end product often tastes better too, with just a hint of sweetness that allows the other flavors to shine through.
7. Making your own salad dressing can save a ton of calories…if you’re doing it right. Most recipes call for more oil than vinegar or citrus. I usually cut the amount of oil in half and double up with other liquids. Not only does this cut calories, but the dressing will also have a stronger flavor, so you can get away with using less.
8. In most recipes, you can substitute half and half for heavy cream and 1% milk for whole milk without altering the taste too drastically.
9. I love trail mix, but I can easily go through 1,000 calories worth before I feel full. To make a more satisfying snack, I mix half a serving of trail mix with a cup of an unsweetened, 100% whole grain cereal.
10. Add shredded or finely diced vegetables, like carrot or zucchini to ground meat dishes like meatloaf or meatballs. This adds an additional serving, lowers the calories in each portion and adds moisture to leaner cuts of meat.
11. Half the amount of meat/poultry and double up on the veggies in recipes for mixed dishes such as soups, stews, casseroles and pasta.
12. It is easy to make a low calorie, creamy, flavorful cheese sauce. Start by heating a tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan then add 1-2 tablespoons of flour, preferably whole wheat. Whisk together and cook until it’s lightly browned. Add 1-2 cups of 1% milk, whisking to combine and cook over moderate heat until thickened. I then add a small amount (1/2 cup – 1 cup) of a strongly flavored cheese, like parmesan or blue cheese.
13. Mash cauliflower instead of potatoes. You’ll never taste the difference!
14. Turn that sandwich into a tartine! But, just eat one and not two like I did!
16. Oven frying cuts calories and all, but it rarely mimics the crunchy texture of deep fried foods. When I pan fry with a smaller amount of oil, I usually burn the crust before it cooks through. My solution – I lightly pan fry foods in a little oil, then finish baking them in the oven.
17. Substitute flour in baked goods with mashed black beans. Sounds odd, but it’s a common substitute in gluten-free baking, and if you add a little sweetener and cocoa powder, you’ll never know the difference. Just give it a try!
18. Use pureed carrots or squash to lighten macaroni and cheese. It adds a more complex flavor to the cheese sauce and cuts calories. Save time by using baby food carrots or squash. Hey, it works!
19. Eliminating sugar in coffee and tea can be difficult to do cold turkey. Wean yourself off it instead. Sweeten your drinks so they are just a little less sweet than you would prefer. Your taste buds will adjust, and over time you’ll find yourself using less and less, until you don’t need any at all.
20. Substitute honey and pure maple syrup in baking recipes. They all have less of a glycemic effect than refined white sugar, plus they taste sweeter, so you can get away with using less.