Do you hunt for ways to cut calories by using drastic dietary measures? Well, major diet changes like juice cleanses aren’t easy to stick with over the long haul and in the end leave you hungry and tired with a slow metabolism. A better, more sustainable approach to whittling the waistline is to look for simple ways to tweak everyday items like yogurt and pasta so they still deliver great flavor but with a lower calorie cost. Slashing calories never tasted so good with these smart swaps.
The Swap: Mushrooms for Beef
A 2014 study in the Journal of Food Science found that substituting up to 80% of the ground beef in a dish with cooked mushrooms not only improved flavor, but also reduced calories, cholesterol, saturated fat and sodium, while elevating levels of nutrients like vitamin D, potassium and B vitamins (Myrdal 2014). So when preparing items like burgers, meatloaf, meatballs and pasta meat sauce, try ditching half the beef for meaty chopped and sautéed mushrooms.
The Swap: Collards for Bread or Tortillas
You don’t need to follow a low-carb or Paleo diet to breathe new life into your lunch routine: Just wrap your favorite sandwich contents in sturdy and mild-flavored collard leaves. Beyond freshening up wraps and sandwiches, this switch can trim up to 200 calories from a meal while adding an extra dose of several nutrients including vitamin K and beta-carotene. To prepare a wrap, cut off the firm stalk of a large collard leaf. With a sharp knife, fillet off the thickest part of the remaining stalk that runs down the backside. Apply fillings lengthwise on the paler side along the bottom third of the leaf and tightly roll, tucking in sides as you go.
The Swap: Dried Plums for Fat and Sugar
Potty jokes aside, pureed dried plums (we used to call them prunes) make a stealth fat and sugar alternative in chocolaty baked goods. Whatever amount of oil or butter the recipe calls for, try replacing it with three-fourths as much store-bought baby food prune puree for a major calorie saving. Or make your own by soaking 1 cup pitted dried plums in 1 cup boiling water and then pureeing the mixture in a blender or food processor. Exploit plums’ natural sweetness by also reducing the sugar called for by about 25%. As a bonus, the shriveled fruit adds fiber, antioxidants and vitamin K.
The Swap: Plain yogurt and Vanilla Extract for Vanilla Yogurt
Be it traditional or Greek, unflavored yogurt can spare you upward of 15 grams of sugar, depending on the brand. So instead of buying pre-flavored vanilla yogurt that is often pumped full of the sweet stuff, choose plain and then simply add that quintessential flavor by stirring in some pure vanilla extract. If you still need some sweetness, try topping with fresh berries.
The Swap: Evaporated Milk for Cream
In dishes such as creamy pureed soups and Pasta Alfredo, canned evaporated milk offers a consistency similar to heavy cream for a fraction of the calories and fat. A fluid-ounce serving of shelf-stable evaporated milk (made by removing liquid via evaporation) delivers just 2 grams of fat compared to 11 grams in cream. It’s a 1-to-1 swap in recipes, too. Just don’t confuse it with canned condensed milk, which is a sugar bomb.
The Swap: Spaghetti Squash for Spaghetti
Given its moniker, it should come as no surprise that cooked spaghetti squash can be pulled up into strands that are similar to starch-based noodles but with significantly fewer calories. In fact, a cup of prepared spaghetti squash has just 42 calories, vs. 174 in regular spaghetti. Simply slice a squash in half, scoop out the seeds and roast in the oven until fork tender. Use a fork to scrape the flesh into veggie noodles and adorn with your favorite pasta toppings. And because the volume of food on your plate will be similar, your brain will be tricked into thinking you are eating more calories than you actually are, thereby promoting satiety.
The Swap: Bananas for Diary Ice Cream
Stealing a trick from the raw-food world, try freezing bananas and pureeing them in a food processor or high-powered blender. The result is a frozen treat with a delicious creamy consistency. The payoff is that you get a bowl of subzero goodness minus the extra fat and sugar calories in tubs of traditional ice cream. The process is simple: Freeze chunks of banana on a baking sheet and then puree until creamy but not melted. From there, feel free to experiment with add-ins like cocoa powder, cinnamon and even protein powder for a post-workout treat.
For more information on how to swap out high calorie foods for lower calorie, contact Maurie Cofman, CMES, CES, TBMM-CES, Personal Trainer, Certified Medical Exercise Specialist, Health Coach and Corrective Exercise Specialist in the St. Louis, Brentwood, and Clayton, MO area.