By Lucy Gornall
Looking to cut calories from your daily diet? Happily, it doesn't have to mean you need to cut out the foods you love.
From cutting down on portion sizes to changing the way you cook (perhaps using one of the best health grills), there are plenty of simple ways to reduce your caloric intake. It’s all about making a few little tweaks here and there.
But why would you want to cut calories? If you’re on a weight loss mission, calories are king. You can do all the exercise in the world, but if you’re still consuming more than you burn, you will not lose weight.
Of course, the number of calories you burn in a day varies from person to person. You may be wondering how many calories you should eat in a day, and there is a simple equation to work this out.
Once you’ve sussed out your calories, you might want to consider tracking everything you eat on a calorie counter app such as MyFitnessPal. Doing this for just a couple of weeks can help you notice where the bulk of your calories may be coming from, and where you could make some little changes to knock some of these calories on the head.
Alternatively, making small changes to cut calories could be all it takes to trigger weight loss.
1. Swap your dressing
Love coating your salads in olive oil? However, one tablespoon of olive oil can contain around 120 calories. And who stops at one tablespoon?
‘Dressings are an easy way for calories to stack up without you realising it,' says Hope. 'Olive oil is a great source of healthy fats but for those looking to manage their total energy intake it can be easily overdone!’
Her advice? 'Switch olive oil for balsamic vinegar and save over 100 calories per tablespoon.'
Balsamic vinegar also provides health benefits. One study found that balsamic vinegar from red grapes contains antioxidants that could help decrease the risk of cancer.
2. Sauté instead of frying
Sautéing is a healthier way to prepare food. It essentially involves using a shallow pan over a high heat, with - crucially - a relatively small amount of oil or fat.
‘Sautéing food requires far less oil than frying and as a result you’re able to save on calories,’ says Hope.
‘Additionally, frying foods can create trans fats which can increase bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) and reduce good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol).’
So switching to sautéing not only cuts calories, but also promotes good health. Too much bad cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits building up in the arteries, which the British Heart Foundation say can lead to stroke or even heart attack.
Of course, eating well is all about moderation, and it's ok to enjoy fried foods every now and then. If the thought of giving up on frying altogether is too much to take, then consider investing in an air fryer. These clever machines use just a fraction of the oil typically needed for frying (as little as one tablespoon), making for a healthier fry. Take a look at our pick of the best air fryers to get started.
3. Choose vegetable-based sauces over creamy sauces
‘Opting for vegetables sauces over creamy sauces is another way to help reach your 5-a-day and reduce your total calorie intake,' advises Hope.
'Typically tomato based sauces contain around 50 calories per 100g and creamy white sauces contain around 125 calories per 100.'
So, if calorie reduction is your mission, ditch the carbonara sauce for now and go for a tomato-based marinara sauce instead.
4. ...and make those sauces yourself
That little pot of pasta sauce might seem like a quick and easy win, but it'll only add to your daily calorie intake.
‘Shop bought sauces often contain added oils and sugars, which increase total calories,' explains Hope.
'Shop bought pasta sauce can contain around 100 calories per serving [not per pot or jar]. But when you make your own fresh sauce from chopped tomatoes, fresh or dried herbs and garlic, it can contain around 50 calories per serving' - effectively halving the calories.
What's more, you can throw in a load of diced (and sautéd!) vegetables such as carrots and mushrooms to increase the nutritional value of the sauce too. Win-win.
5. Fill up on vegetables
Speaking of veggies, it’s time to load up during your next supermarket haul. Why? Vegetables typically contain few calories but provide big volume.
As Hope explains: ‘Ensuring that half your plate is full of non-starchy vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, courgette, kale, spinach, tomatoes and peppers is a great way to load up on fiber, which keeps you fuller for longer without adding extra calories to your meal.’
What's more, studies have found that fiber can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and potentially play a role in preventing obesity.
6. Opt for DIY ice cream
Like sauces, ice-cream is another food where homemade is best - and it's so easy to make!
‘Ice cream can contain around 150 calories and a staggering 15g of sugar per 100g,’ says Hope, who recommends making your own healthier version to save on calories.
By mixing yoghurt with fresh berries in your best blender and then freezing it, you can save a third of the calories. Plus this mix contains far less sugar.
Yoghurt is also a rich source of protein, whilst the berries are packed with antioxidants to help support immune function too.
7. Add protein to every meal
If you’re a pasta-with-sauce fan, it’s time to mix things up. Protein has a far higher satiety value than fats and carbohydrates, so if you want to resist snacking later in the day, be sure to include a good portion of protein in each meal.
Good protein examples include lean meats (see below) such as chicken and turkey, fish, tofu, tempeh, beans and legumes, as well as eggs.
So how much protein do you need? The average person needs about 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight a day, and a healthy portion of protein is typically the size of the palm of your hand. However if you exercise regularly - particularly resistance training - then you may need more to help muscles repair and grow.
A good way to eat more protein is by keeping some chunks of cooked chicken in the fridge and snacking on these when you feel peckish. You could also try adding protein powder to your smoothies and morning porridge. See our guides to the best protein powders for weight loss and the best protein powders for women for more information.
8. Choose reduced-fat hummus
We’re a fan of hummus and chips at the weekend as much as the next person, but it’s easy to over consume, especially if you’re eating mindlessly whilst chatting to friends.
Hope explains that reduced fat foods often contain more sugars or sweeteners, meaning they're not always the 'healthy' option they appear to be.
However that's not the case with humble hummus, where the fats are replaced with water in reduced-fat versions. ‘As a result, it’s a great way to reduce calorie intake without increasing sugar intake,’ says Hope.
Whilst you're making healthy swaps, ditch the chips for carrot sticks and cucumber slices instead - you’ll get the crunch without the high fat content. If you simply cannot resist, opt for 'baked not fried' varieties of chips, which contain less fat and therefore fewer calories.
9. Eat your fruits and vegetables instead of drinking them
If you start your day with a homemade fruit juice, then you may be missing out on valuable nutrients and consuming more than you would by eating the ingredients.
‘Ensure you’re eating the whole fruit rather than juicing them,' advises Hope.
'Consuming the whole fruit increases satiety due to the fiber content, meaning you’ll consume less than if you throw all your fruit into a juicer,’ explains Hope. This is backed up by a 2009 study, which confirmed that solid fruit affects satiety more than pureed fruit or juice.
Try adding chopped fruit to porridge or cereal in the morning to help ensure you're getting your all important five portions of fruit and vegetables each day.
10. Add beans and pulses to dishes
Making a chilli for dinner? Try swapping half the mince for lentils instead.
According to Hope, 100g of 15% fat beef mince contains 209 calories whilst 100g of lentils contains 96 calories. Plus, lentils and beans pack in far more fiber, with 100g of boiled lentils containing a whopping 8g of fiber.
11. Opt for leaner cuts of meat and poultry
If you're a meat eater, make smart choices when it comes to the type and cuts you consume.
Look for lean mince over full fat mince, whilst healthier cuts of beef include sirloin or tenderloin (or eye fillet), both of which have low fat content.
When it comes to chicken, choose breast as your default, as this is the leanest cut. A chicken leg with skin can contain around 180 calories as well as 12g of fat, whilst 100g of chicken breast can contain 165 calories with only around 3-4g of fat.
With pork, swap chops for medallions and you'll save around 270 calories per 200g serving.
And remember to think about your preparation method, too. When it comes to meats, grilling is generally the healthiest way to go.
Lucy is Health and Fitness Editor at various women's magazines, and also Editor of Woman&Home Feel Good You. She has previously written for titles including Now, Look and Cosmopolitan. She lives and breathes all things fitness; she works out every morning, and mixes it up with runs, weights, boxing and endless box jumps. She is also a Level 3 personal trainer and teaches classes at various London studios, primarily Digme Fitness. Lucy is pre- and post-natal trained and helps new mums get back into fitness after the birth of their baby. Lucy claims that good sleep, plenty of food, and a healthy gut (seriously, it's an obsession) are the key to maintaining energy and exercising efficiently. Saying this, she's partial to the odd Negroni on the dance floor with her friends.
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