(Note: this was written in 1997. Many of the tips probably still apply, but anything referring to what I eat is probably way out of date.)The food we eat directly impacts our weight. This may seem like common sense, but many people don’t realize this. A piece of buttered toast seems innocent enough, until you stop to think about how many calories are in the butter.
Labeling foods as forbidden is a mistake for anyone trying to lose weight. Instead, you should just be aware of foods that you should eat less of. Once you start eating less fattening foods, you can increase your intake of healthy foods. What I’ve found is that I eat just as much, or maybe even more, now than before I started trying to lose weight. Again, the difference is in the type of foods that you eat.
I have organized this page into a few general type of food. In each food type, I try to give specific examples of foods from that type, and recommendations on how much or how little should be consumed. Remember, these are just suggestions, not guidelines. They are intended to give you a little insight into the foods you eat.
To quickly jump to the type of food you are looking for, select it from the
Obviously, anyone wanting to lose weight should reduce their intake from this food group as much as possible. But it is important not to completely cut this group out of your diet. Fat is a necessary nutrient which our bodies need. The trick is to eat only what our bodies need, and nothing more.
It is estimated that 60% of calories in an average American’s day come from fat. This is more fat than our bodies could possibly need, and much more fat than should be eaten for someone trying to lose weight. I have set my maximum fat grams per day at 30g, and try to come in below this.
What foods are high in fat? It might surprise you. First, ANYTHING which is deep fried will be high in fat. It doesn’t matter if it is meat or vegetable. French fries, breaded shrimp, breaded mushrooms, cheese sticks, and onion rings are all high in fat. When something is deep fried, it absorbs a large amount of fat. It is best to almost eliminate deep fried food from your diet if you are trying to lose weight.
Buttery foods are also high in fat. Toast, pancakes, popcorn and oatmeal are all good, low calorie snacks, until you add butter to them. Remember, both butter and margarine have 36 calories per teaspoon, or per pat if you are eating in a restaurant. You can easily double the amount of calories for a slice of toast by buttering it. As with deep fried foods, try to eliminate as much butter from your diet as possible. When you do have to use butter, substitute margarine. But remember that margarine only changes the type of fat you are using. Both butter and margarine have the same amount of calories. Switching from butter to margarine will not help you lose weight.
Skillet or pan fried foods can be high in fat, but don’t need to be. It is just as easy to fry something in water or wine as it is to fry something in oil. Unfortunately, we’ve been frying in oil for so many years that the habit is hard to break. When eating out, avoid fried foods. When cooking for yourself, try frying in water, or using cooking spray and letting whatever you are cooking fry in its own juices. Either way, you get all of the flavor, but with just a fraction of the calories.
We’ve spent a bit of time talking about fats, and it is an important subject. But I also want to touch on sweets.
By sweets, we mean a food that has a high sugar content. This can be candy, baked goods, soda, etc. When most people think of starting a diet, they think that they’ll never be able to eat sweets again. And this is not always true.
Now it is true that, if you are trying to lose weight, you should not have large amounts of sweets. But you can have enough to satiate your hunger for sweets and not “blow your diet.” For example, 1/12 of an angel food cake only has 160 calories. Add a tablespoon of fat-free CoolWhip and a half cup of fresh strawberries, and you have a delicious, sweet, and filling dessert which contains less than 200 calories.
In other words, just because you are trying to lose weight does not mean that you have to deny yourself dessert. You will probably have to do some searching to find alternatives to your normal desserts, but it’s worth the effort.
As a general rule, lean towards items which are low-fat (or non-fat) and, for baked goods, light. For cakes, you’ll want light cakes, like angelfood, chiffon, or sponge. A great alternative to ice cream is low-fat frozen yogurt. Rice Krispie treats are also very tasty, but don’t have a lot of calories.
Fruits are a very important part of a diet. They provide essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, which your body needs to function properly. They also tend to be sweet, so they make a great dessert. Fruits can have a lot of calories, so be sure to take this into account. For example, comparing equivalent amounts of cherries and grapes, grapes have almost twice the calories.
One other thing needs to be mentioned here. Calories from different types of food are not necessarily equal. For example, one banana has around 100 calories, as does 10 ounces of soda. Does that mean that either one is just as good for you? Of course not! The soda provides your body with water, sugar, and nothing else. The banana provides your body with sugar, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Just remember that even though fruit has a fair amount of calories, they are good calories.
I prefer a mixture of fruit. I like to start out breakfast with a banana chopped into my cereal. If you aren’t a banana fan, then try a glass of fruit juice (make sure it’s 100% fruit juice, not the fruit drinks which have added sugar) with your breakfast. I usually have either grapes or a plum for a mid-day snack. Bananas and apples also make convenient snacks. For dessert, I prefer something like cantaloupe or bing cherries.
Another good way to add fruit to your diet is to add it in your food preparation. Sliced apples make a great addition to salads. Orange juice can make great marinade. Be creative, experiment. You would be surprised at how easy it is to make great tasting dishes.
Vegetables are another very important part of your diet. Like fruit, they contain a large amount of vitamins and minerals, and also contain dietary fiber. It is recommended that you eat 3 to 5 servings from the vegetable group each day.
As a rule, vegetables have very few calories. Yet they contain a lot of nutrition for you. So if you are trying to lose weight, it is to your benefit to eat a lot of vegetables.
The easiest way to get your vegetable servings in is to have vegetables in your meals. An easy way to get more servings of vegetables into your dinners is to reduce the amount of meat that you are cooking, and use a larger portion of vegetables. You’ll probably be surprised to find that the main dish still tastes the same!
A good example of this is spaghetti sauce. If you are like I used to be, you link big chunks of meat in your sauce. I call it “manly sauce,” because of all the meat in there. When I started trying to lose weight, though, I cut the amount of meat that I used in half. Then I added a large amount of green peppers, onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms. I ended up with sauce that was actually chunkier than my old meat sauce! It still looked “manly,” and it still had a great meat taste. But the sauce was now mostly vegetables.
If you don’t mind salads, have a salad both with your lunch and dinner. Be sure to either leave the dressing off, use lite dressing, or use very little dressing, though. A plain garden salad has much less than 100 calories. But adding a normal serving of salad dressing can double the amount of calories!
If you are not a salad person (and I admit, I don’t like salad), then concentrate on vegetables in your cooking. During the summer, fresh vegetables are available just about everywhere. Squash, corn, green peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and more all cook well into almost any type of food, and taste wonderful fresh. During the winter months, you can use frozen vegetables. Serve them as side dishes, or cook them right into casseroles, sauces, etc.
Some vegetables also make great snacks. Carrot and celery sticks are delicious, and are easy to keep with you. When you just can’t fight an urge to eat something, have a carrot stick!
Meats are an important part of our diet. They contain proteins which our body needs to function correctly. HOWEVER, we only need two to three servings of meat each day. Sometimes it is easy to get our daily servings in one meal. Be sure to watch the amount of meat you eat.
Meat tends to be high in fat. As we know, fat in general is not a good thing for most people. For someone trying to lose weight, this fat can present a direct problem. Limit your servings of those types of meat which are high in fat, especially beef and pork. Poultry has a much lower amount of fat, yet still contains the protein you need. Because poultry tends to be lower in fat, it is also usually lower in calories.
I personally try to eat only turkey and chicken. Be sure that the turkey or chicken is skinless. With some pieces of chicken, removing the skin before cooking can reduce the number of calories by 50%.
I use ground turkey in the place of ground beef in almost everything I cook. The tastes are very similar; sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. Chicken breast is good to use if you are hungry for a piece of meat. Chicken breast fries very well in water or wine (I recommend not using oil), and tastes delicious.
Another source of the protein we need is fish! Most fish tends to be low in fat and calories, but high in protein. Tuna (packed in water) is a great source of protein, and makes great low-calorie sandwiches. Trout, salmon and halibut are also excellent choices.
Nuts also have a high amount of protein. But nuts also tend to be high in fat. Use nets sparingly, or, if possible, refrain from them completely. There are healthier ways to get protein.
Eggs are another good source of protein. Eggs do have a lot of calories, fat, and cholesterol, if you eat the whole egg! The fat, cholesterol and calories of an egg are contained in the yolk. If you leave out the yolk and only eat the egg white, you still get a lot of protein (the white of an egg is almost pure protein) with almost no calories. One large egg has 79 calories, only 16 of which are in the egg white.
A good alternative to eggs if you don’t like separating the yolk are egg substitutes, like Egg Beaters or Chef’s Blend. These products are simply egg whites with yellow food coloring. There is no difference in the taste, yet they are immeasurably better for you. If you are trying to lose weight, but love to eat eggs for breakfast, simply either leaving out the yolk or using egg substitute is definitely the way to go.
Dairy products can be a confusing food group for someone trying to lose weight. There is no doubting that the dairy group is essential to our diet. They provide protein, carbohydrates, two essential vitamins (A and D) and, most importantly, calcium. Yet dairy foods are notorious for being high in calories and fat! Most dieters think they have to steer clear of the dairy group. But this is just not true.
Almost all dairy products come in low-fat or no-fat versions. The non-fat dairy products contain all of the nutrients of their fatty cousins, but with a fraction of the calories. For anyone losing weight, it should be obvious that no-fat or low-fat is the way to go.
Switching from whole or 2% milk to skim milk should be your first step. Skim milk will taste strange for awhile if you’ve only drunken the higher-fat forms of milk. However, it is a taste that you get used to. For me personally, whole milk no longer tastes good. I’ve become accustomed to skim milk. And that can happen for you, too. You just have to give skim milk some time.
Most people have a harder time switching to no-fat or low-fat cheese. There isn’t a real difference in flavor, but there is a big difference in texture of the cheese. Texture plays a large part in our enjoyment of foods. Also, no-fat cheese tends not to melt very easily. As long as you are prepared for these differences, though, they shouldn’t take you by surprise. As I stated, there really isn’t much difference in the taste.
No-fat cheese usually work best when used in cooking. Slices can be used on sandwiches, too. No-fat cream cheese and no-fat cottage cheese are great replacements for cooking.
Non-fat yogurt is almost indistinguishable from it’s fatty cousin. If you are going to eat yogurt, definitely by the non-fat variety. Non-fat yogurt has many uses, my favorite of which is as a replacement for syrup on my pancakes. Plain non-fat yogurt also make a great low-calorie salad dressing, and can be used to add flavor to casseroles.
Many people trying to lose weight consider bread and pasta as foods to avoid. But breads and pasta are actually a dieters best friend! They should be used often, and enjoyed!
Complex carbohydrates are important when you are losing weight for two reasons. 1)Foods high in complex carbohydrates tend to make you feel fuller, so you eat less, and 2) your body requires more energy to digest complex carbohydrates than any other nutrient. So your body actually burns more energy when you eat these foods!
You should eat between 6 to 11 servings from the bread, rice, cereal and pasta group per day! That may sound like a lot, but it really isn’t. One slice of bread, one ounce of cereal, or 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta all count as one serving. If you think about your daily eating habits, you should fine that you fall somewhere in the 6 to 11 servings per day. If you don’t, now’s a great time to start.
For breakfast, I have a bowl of cereal. For lunch, I usually have a sandwich, or sometimes a tortilla. Either way, that’s two more servings. For dinner, I have toast with my meal, and usually have either some type of pasta, or some type of starchy vegetable.
Obviously, any type of bread will count towards your servings from this group. Be sure to be careful what type of bread you eat, though. You will want to stay away from breads which have a lot of added sugar. And, as stated in our discussion of fats, keep the butter knife in the drawer! Some examples include wheat bread, white bread, raisin bread (unfrosted), hamburger buns, hotdog buns, bagels (no cream cheese), pitas and tortillas.
What many people forget is that there are a lot of vegetables which also fall into this group. Starch is a complex carbohydrate, so any starchy vegetable will also count as one serving. My favorites are peas and lima beans, but potatoes, squash, yams, corn, peas and beans are also excellent choices!
Pasta is a big part of this group. The good thing about pasta is the variety. As long as you top the pasta with a low-fat sauce (and you can make delicious low-fat pasta sauces; check Biffster’s Healthy Recipes for couple of ideas), it will both taste delicious and be healthy for you.
With the dearth of fast food restaurants in the United States now, it is rare to find someone who doesn’t eat fast food, at least periodically. Many of us eat fast food regularly. It is quick, easy and convenient. Unfortunately, it can also be very unhealthy.
First and foremost, if you are trying to lose weight, you will want to avoid hamburgers. A small hamburger from McDonalds weighs in at 255 calories! You can have a tuna sandwich with a side salad for less calories than that!
Also, avoid anything that is deep fried. Deep frying foods can easily double the number of calories they contain. For example, let’s look at the McChicken Sandwich. As I stated in our discussion on meats, skinless chicken is an excellent meat, because it is low in calories and fat. However, a McChicken Sandwich, which has a deep-fried chicken breast fillet, has 415 calories, and 19 grams of fat! A chicken breast by itself only has only 141 calories, and 4 grams of fat. Deep frying can make something as low-fat, low calorie as a tomato into a high-fat, high calorie diet buster.
In general, salads from fast food restaurants are usually fine, as long as there is no dressing on them. McDonald’s makes a tasty chicken salad, and Hardees makes a great garden salad. Pita sandwiches are usually safe, but are better if you ask for them without the dressing.
Mexican fast-food restaurants are usually places to avoid. Most of the foods are high in fat and calories. Even something as innocent as a chicken soft taco has 220 calories. If you have a serious Taco Bell craving, order some type of soft taco with light cheese and beans or chicken instead of beef. But it’s best to avoid the restaurants all together.
An exception to this would include places like Chipolte Mexican Grill or ZTeca (now QDoba). These restaurants usually use only rice, beans, your choice of meat and salsa on a burrito. If you ask them to leave off the cheese and sour cream, you end up with a really healthy, filling meal.
Roasted chicken, whether in pieces or in sandwiches, can be good. If it is skinless chicken, then you can probably eat it without worrying too much about your diet.