5 Very Easy Ways to Slash Empty Calories
Whether you’re trying to reach a goal weight or just cut out some mindless grazing, there are plenty of reasons to cut unnecessary calories out of your eating routine. That's because when you switch to more whole foods (and fewer processed ones) not only is your waist size likely to shrink, but your risk of all sorts of illness, from cancer to heart disease, drops dramatically.
However, most of us know that’s often easier said than done. Between busy schedules, families with varying palates, and—let’s face it—plenty of cravings, it can be tough to eat healthy when surrounded by convenient and delicious options.
Fortunately, swapping some of those empty calories with healthy ones can be easier and tastier than you’d think. Opting for foods rich in nutrients like protein, fiber, unsaturated fats, and yes, unrefined carbs, can help you lose weight—and keep it off, as well as boost your overall health. Here are some of our favorite tips for slashing empty calories:
Switch to Seltzer
Beverages are one of the sneakiest sources of extra calories and added sugars—in fact, sugary beverages like soda, tea, and sports drinks are the largest contributor to added sugar intake in the U.S. and studies have shown that "people who drink two or more servings of sugar-sweetened drinks a day have a 31% higher risk of dying early from cardiovascular disease."
If you need to mix up your water intake during the day or can’t imaging cutting off soda cold turkey, try seltzer—like LaCroix, Waterloo, or Spindrift—to curb that craving without consuming extra sugar or chemical additives. They also make a perfect empty calorie-slashing ingredient in our easy and light strawberry daiquiri.
Cook More Meals
A whopping 90 percent of Americans don’t like to cook, but cooking most meals at home is a crucial part of any successful weight loss. A 2014 study from John Hopkins University found those who ate at home more often than not consumed fewer calories, sugar, and carbs—and they ultimately had lower weights than those who mostly ate out or only cooked one night a week.
The average restaurant meal contains approximately 1,200 calories and is higher in sodium and fat than if you’d made the same meal at home. Why? Restaurants are competing with each other to make food as tasty as possible, so you'll continue to dine there. Making the food healthy will always be a smaller concern.
Knowing how much salt, sugar, and fat is going into your food, controlling portion sizes, and ensuring you consume a variety of healthy foods is just that much easier when you’re the chef behind the dish. Plus, you can experiment with lighter versions of your favorite comfort foods you try to avoid when dining out.
Read Nutrition Labels
The front of food and beverage packaging can be deceiving. The FDA has pretty low restrictions for what the food industry can label as “healthy.” But the back of the package is another matter. That's where you can get the actual health status of a product—and it’s important to know how to digest nutrition facts labels and ingredients lists.
The first rule of thumb is to look at the serving size—it may not bear any relation to the amount you actually eat! From there, you can calculate how many calories and how much of other nutrients you’ll actually consume. It’s also important to check the ingredients list for hidden sweeteners and chemical additives. For a step-by-step guide to understanding nutrition labels, check out this article.
If you’re a regular Cooking Light reader, you know we're big fans of the Mediterranean Diet—and rightfully so! Health experts voted it the “best diet” for 2019—and the easiest to follow. Following the Mediterranean Diet has incredible health benefits, such as extending lives, improving heart health, and more. It has even shown to help stave off binge eating, as consuming more nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods helps fill you up—and keep you full.
By consuming a mostly plant-based diet, full of whole grains, legumes, fresh produce, lean protein, and heart-healthy fats, you don’t have to stress as much about occasional indulgences. In fact, they are a welcome part of the Mediterranean Diet, as it’s more about maintaining a balanced lifestyle rather than obeying restrictive diet rules. Plus, more plant-forward diets are typically lower in calories, giving you a little wiggle room for the occasional treat!
Interested in learning more about the Mediterranean diet?
Practice Mindful Eating
We love when a wellness trend is actually research-backed, and mindful eating is a proven tool for weight loss, curbing cravings, and even treating eating disorders. Putting down the phone, turning off the TV, or saving your breakfast for after the morning commute to focus on your meal allows you to dwell on how it is nourishing your body, enjoy the flavors of each bite, and better listen to your hunger cues and avoid overeating.
Ditching the “diet” mentality and choosing to practice mindful eating has also shown to help combat emotional eating—when we are extremely vulnerable to consuming processed, empty calories. Enjoying a meal with a loved one instead of a screen has also shown to improve mental health. Make a home-cooked Mediterranean meal served with seltzer instead of soda, and you’ve just hit the jackpot!