When you think about cutting calories, you may picture a life of deprivation and misery. After all, who wants to give up foods they love? And who really believes that spaghetti squash (topped with whatever sauce) tastes remotely like a piping hot bowl of the real thing?
Luckily for you, there’s another option.
By making a few food swaps you’ll hardly even notice (3 to 5 100-calorie swaps a day) you can lose a half to a full pound each week, according to Jennifer McDaniel, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.
Small tweaks are more sustainable (and therefore much more effective) than big sweeping changes to your diet. And you know how a few handfuls of M&Ms suddenly cause your pants to feel a bit snug? The reverse is also true: Cutting back in small ways can slim your waistline down. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.
The bottom line is, you won’t take off weight without cutting some calories. So why not check out these breakfast-to-dinner food swaps, guaranteed to put a dent in your daily calorie count without offending your taste buds? What do you have to lose?
Swap a large blueberry muffin, around 450 calories, for 2 pieces of rye toast with blueberry jam, around 200 calories. Save: 250 calories.
Swap a cinnamon roll with icing, about 360 calories, for 2 slices of raisin bread (or toast) with 1 tbsp of cream cheese. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon, about 260 calories. Save: 100 calories.
Swap a large bagel, up to 500 calories, for a toasted English muffin, around 120 calories. This super swap can save you almost 400 calories!
Swap a burrito (which includes meat, cheese, salsa, lettuce, sour cream, rice, and beans), about 1,000 calories, for a burrito bowl (white rice, black beans, chicken, fresh tomato salsa, sour cream, and lettuce), about 625 calories. Save: 375 calories.
By passing on the tortilla wrap you’ll cut around 80 calories. If you also skip the cheese it’s close to 300 calories. The rice should satisfy your carb craving. And the protein, beans, and veggies will fill you up so you won’t walk away hungry.
Choose mustard (3 calories per tsp) over mayo (99 calories per tbsp) and save another 96 calories.
Chilled potatoes pack more resistant starch than any other kind of spud, according to a 2013 USDA Agricultural Research Service study. Resistant starch is not absorbed in the small intestine, making you eat less and feel fuller longer. Use mustard in place of mayo to cut calories even more.
Afternoon coffee run
Swap a small bag of potato chips, about 160 calories, for 2 cups of air-popped popcorn, about 62 calories. Save: About 100 calories. That’s about 500 calories per week, if it’s your daily salty-crunchy fix!
Swap a standard steak for grass-fed steak. Save: 92 calories.
Whichever cut of meat you choose, grass-fed steak has 92 fewer calories and up to a third less fat per serving. And the fat they do have is higher in omega-3s and more similar to that found in seafood.
According to Eatwild.com founder Jo Robinson, who spent the past decade examining scientific research comparing grass-fed and grain-fed animals, “If you eat a typical amount of beef per year … which in the United States is about 67 pounds, switching to grass-fed beef will save you 16,642 calories a year.”
Swap spaghetti carbonara, around 820 calories, for pasta with oil, garlic, hot pepper and a garnish of grated parmesan, if desired, about 450 calories. Save: 370 calories.
While nutrition information and calorie content will vary by restaurant (and home chef), carbonara calls for pancetta, cheese, and cream. None of which, unfortunately, is a recipe for slimming down.
Swap milk chocolate for dark chocolate. Save: No calories saved, but you get a bunch of health benefits!
Okay, so this was a trick item. Chocolate, a favorite indulgence for many, may not be such a guilty pleasure after all — as long as you choose a darker variety.
A recent Harvard study found that dark chocolate, which is rich in plant chemicals called flavanols, may help protect the heart, relax the blood vessels, and improve blood flow, thereby lowering blood pressure. Look for chocolate that’s 70 percent cocoa (or higher).
Note: Calories noted are approximate and may vary by product, ingredient, or preparation.