Calorie-Shaving Tips Worth The Effort

Last Editorial Review: 4/7/2005

Will blotting your pizza really help you lose weight?

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

Some go for the pizza blot, others favor the soup skim, and then there are those who swear by the sugared-soda switch out. But which calorie-shaving tips give you the biggest payoff for your dieting diligence? And which ones really aren't worth the effort?

Whether you're trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, there are some simple ways to cut the fat and calories without giving up the foods you love. The trick is finding places to trim calories without leaving you wanting more as a result.

For example, ordering a diet soda instead of a regular one with meals is a good place to start, and saves you about 100 calories per serving. But if you then use it as a rationale to add on a slice of apple pie, you're not doing yourself any favors, says Cindy Moore, MS, RD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

A Little Here, a Little There ...

To lose a pound a week, a person needs to lose 3,500 calories a week through a combination of diet and exercise, which translates to a reduction of 500 calories a day.

"That's a lot try to do at one meal, and some people might resort to unhealthy practices like skipping a meal," says registered dietitian Leigh Ann Kowalsky, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Instead, Kowalsky says it's usually easier and healthier to cut 100 calories here or 50 calories there to add up to about 250 saved calories at the end of the day and then work off the remainder through exercise.

"Doing a little here and there throughout the day makes a big difference if you're trying to lose weight," says Kowalsky.

When it comes to cutting calories, she says it also helps to know where to look. Protein and carbohydrates both contain about 4 calories per gram, but fat has more than twice that at 9 calories a gram, which means trimming even small amounts of fat from your diet can offer substantial calorie savings.

Cut the Fat

Perhaps the most famous fat-cutting technique with fast foods is "the pizza blot," using a napkin or paper towel to blot excess fat from the surface of a slice of pizza. The same technique can also be applied to fried foods and greasy burgers.

Although this method might save a few fat grams if there is visible grease, Moore says the problem is that you don't always know exactly what you're blotting off. It may just be moisture from the toppings on the pizza or the hamburger, and if the food has been sitting around for a while most of the fat has already been absorbed.

A more effective strategy would be to skip the fatty pizza toppings such as pepperoni or sausage and opt for a plain or veggie slice, which guarantees you at least 100 saved calories. By opting for mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, onions, or other vegetables as toppings, Moore says you'll also feel fuller longer because the vegetables provide fiber and other nutritional benefits.

Other quick fixes for cutting the fat in fast food include:

  • Have mustard rather than mayonnaise on sandwiches (savings of about 100 calories per tablespoon).
  • Skip the cheese (100 calories a slice) and opt for lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles on burgers and sandwiches.
  • Use cocktail sauce or lemon to season fish and seafood rather than tartar sauce (150 calories per 2-tablespoon serving).
  • Skim extra fat and oil off soups by running an ice cube across the surface and letting the fat stick to it (calorie savings vary).

Cutting Calories at Home

There are also several ways to shave fat and calories from your favorite recipes when cooking at home.

Investing in a good set of non-stick cookware is a good way to cut down on the amount of fat needed to cook almost anything. But Moore and Kowalsky say just about any recipe can also be made healthier and lower in fat and calories.

"I have found that for many regular recipes found in cookbooks, you can easily cut back fat and sugar by even a quarter and not notice any negative effects," says Moore. "You have to play with it, but that's a good rule of thumb."

Any recipe that calls for dairy products is also an ideal candidate for calorie cutting by using a lower-fat version of the product, such as using reduced-fat sour cream instead of the regular.

It's also possible to substitute a portion of the butter or margarine in baked goods with a fruit puree, such as applesauce or baby food, or commercial baking substitute. Just follow the directions on the package.

Other common calorie-cutting cooking substitutions include:

  • Nonfat milk instead of whole milk (60 calories per cup)
  • Broth to saute instead of butter (104 calories per tablespoon)
  • Plain nonfat yogurt instead of cream (720 calories per cup)
  • No-calorie sweetener instead of sugar (45 calories per tablespoon)
  • Cooking spray or oil mister instead of oil (about 120 calories per tablespoon)

Moore says that by tinkering with the format of the types of foods you normally eat can also yield a big calorie-saving payoff.

For example, rather than serving meat, vegetables, and potatoes at dinner, try putting those same ingredients into a soup or stew with a few cans of broth or tomato sauce. That way you save the extra fat and calories needed to cook the components of the meal separately, such as sauteing the vegetables in butter and cooking the potatoes in oil, or topping them with added butter or sour cream.

Not only will you save time by having only one pot to tend to, Moore says you may also reap other nutritional benefits.

"You may be able to incorporate more vegetables and less meat and still have that same flavor of the foods that you enjoy," says Moore.

"Research has also shown that when you eat foods that have a higher moisture content like soup, it tends to be more filling for longer amounts of time," says Moore. "So you feel fuller longer, and that would help in any weight loss attempts."

Published December 2003.

SOURCES: Cindy Moore, MS, RD, spokesperson American Dietetic Association; director, nutrition therapy, The Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland. Leigh Ann Kowalsky, MS, RD, LD, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. American Dietetic Association. American Cancer Society.

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