Jim clicks the side of his iPhone, and the screen immediately comes to life.
His finger swipes left and then taps the MyFitnessPal app.
“Only 25 grams of carbs, 15 grams of protein, and 10 grams of fat remaining … wow, dinner is going to be incredibly boring.”
He clicks the iPhone off and tosses it on the couch.
Counting calories can be boring, tedious, and confusing. Some people feel stuck living by the numbers every day, while others never feel they can branch out and try new foods due to the low-calorie requirements.
However, a few simple food swaps allow you to use food science and biochemistry to trick your taste buds and brain into eating well while still saving calories. Try these options the next time you need a lower-calorie alternative that tastes great and provides more dietary flexibility.
Berries Instead of Bananas (Savings: 80 calories a cup)
Did you know that over 114 million metric tons of bananas are consumed yearly?
If you were thinking about getting into the banana industry, now would be as good a time as ever. While tomatoes are technically the world’s most popular fruit (you knew they were a fruit, right?), bananas come in a close second. You won’t find a more popular snack anywhere else.
While bananas offer a host of nutritional benefits, they also pack a caloric punch, which adds up if they’re your main source of fruit throughout the day. Most medium-sized bananas have anywhere from 25-30 grams of carbs (~100-120 calories). Compared to bananas, cup for cup, berries offer a much more complex and dense array of micronutrients, along with fiber, antioxidants, and polyphenols.
Now obviously, these recommendations depend on the person. For example, males have more caloric leeway, which allows them to eat more calorie-dense foods without as much concern. On the other hand, females might want to consider fruit swaps because berries will enable them to eat a larger volume of food for fewer calories, which improves fullness while boosting micronutrients.
Salsa Instead of Guacamole (Savings: 15 calories a tablespoon)
Before you send me a strongly-worded hate mail, please understand that I love guacamole just as much as anyone else. I love Mexican food, so I make this recommendation very carefully because it will hit a few sensitive spots.
While avocados are one of the most nutritionally rich foods known, they also pack a hefty dose of calories (~320 calories per fruit). Ideally, we want to eat large quantities of avocados for the fiber, micronutrients, and monounsaturated fatty acids. But in an ideal world, we’d all be able to consume 4,000 calories and still be able to lose weight. Alas, this is not the case for most of us.
So, when looking to limit caloric intake, opt for salsa instead. Salsa is also a nutritional powerhouse, but it usually only has 10-15 calories per tablespoon because of the veggies it contains.
The next time you make tacos, pause on the guacamole, and pass the salsa!
Zoodles or Shirataki Noodles Instead of Pasta (Savings: 200 calories a serving)
If you don’t own a spiralizer, I can generally jump to one of 4 highly judgmental conclusions:
- Your kitchen is seriously lacking quality gadgets.
- You don’t care about cooking good food.
- You don’t care about eating well while also losing weight.
- You don’t have the time/energy to bother spiralizing zucchini.
I feel you on number #4! Sometimes, we just need to cook something easy and veg out on the couch after a long day and hard workout. In that case, 90-second rice coupled with frozen veggies and an organic pre-cooked rotisserie chicken fit the bill.
But if your brain says pasta and your MyFitnessPal says veggies, perhaps it’s time to combine the best of both worlds. Start spiralizing and then google. They’re relatively simple to prepare and cook and save you literally hundreds of carbs if you have a large appetite. If you are new to this, zoodles are zucchini noodles, and shirataki noodles are Japanese noodles made from konjac yams.
Don’t get me wrong… You won’t be imitating your favorite Italian restaurant with these bad boys, but with the right sauce and spice combination, you might be surprised at how good veggies work as a pasta substitute.
Yogurt-Based Salad Dressings Instead of Ranch (Savings: 80-100 calories a serving)
If you haven’t taken the time to look through the salad dressing section of the supermarket lately, you’re missing out. Most salad dressings are heavily laced with canola, soy, or cottonseed oils, leading to an abundance of nutritionally empty calories. If you’re in the business of health and fitness, this is the very last thing you want.
Several brands have managed to produce absolutely terrific yogurt-based ranch dressings, with half the calories and 80-100 fewer calories than popular ranch manufacturers.
Sure, you could just use a ranch packet in light or fat-free sour cream and that works in a pinch, but this stuff is leaps and bounds above that.
Granted, it’s not dairy-free, so this option isn’t for lactose-intolerant people. But for those calorically conscious individuals who need a macro-friendly dipping sauce for homemade chicken nuggets, this is an absolute GAME CHANGER.
Veggie Omelet Instead of Cold Cereal (Savings: A few calories, but better macros)
Sure, milk and cereal make a quick-and-easy breakfast, and you’ve probably eaten it most of your life. But you can do better, and it honestly doesn’t take that much time. Research suggests that eating eggs promotes fullness, reduces cravings, and lowers short-term caloric intake.1 Not only that, but eggs are also the richest source of dietary choline, which is needed for optimal cognitive function.
So, wake up 10 minutes early and make yourself an omelet with an ounce of cheese and some veggies. Add a cup of berries, and you have a complete meal.
Let’s compare the two and see…
Eggs and berries offer about:
- 2x the protein
- ⅓ the sugar
- ¼ the carbs
- 2x the fiber
- Slightly fewer calories and almost triple the food volume
- Balanced macronutrient composition
However, the most important takeaway is the micronutrient values of the two meals. The egg breakfast offers exponentially more nutrition – vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. When you dive deeper, it’s simply incomparable from a health standpoint.
Not to mention, most people have a hard time being full from only 2 cups of cereal and 2 cups of milk. If you’re young and even slightly active, you probably need at least half a box to feel satiated. Therefore, when comparing foods based on the total volume required to feel full, you’ll find eggs always have the advantage over cereal.
Thin Crust Instead of Thick Crust Pizza (Savings: 400-500 calories, depending on the size)
Where are my deep-dish pizza pie lovers?!
I love a good thick crust – I mean, what’s not to love? It’s basically a breadstick after you finish eating each piece. Unfortunately, a thick crust tends to pack in the calories. If you compare a thin crust to a thick crust at a national pizza chain, you’ll find a difference of 400-500 calories, depending on the pizza style.
That’s crazy! For some, that’s literally an entire meal, simply by changing the crust on your pizza. Don’t be afraid to call an audible on your order if you’re calorie counting!
Powdered Instead of Preserved Peanut Butter (Savings: 130-150 calories a serving)
If you haven’t noticed, powdered peanut butter is taking the fitness industry by storm. Companies now sell it in 5-pound buckets for the diehards who need their daily fix.
Simply combine 2 tablespoons of powdered peanut butter with a slight amount of water and mix until you get a pseudo peanut-butter-like texture. If you substitute this on a sandwich or in a recipe, you’ll save 130-150 calories per day mostly from fat.
If you love 4-6 tablespoons on your sandwich or smothered over an apple or banana, then powdered peanut butter will be an awesome option for you to save calories, while still enjoying that salty, savory flavor you love.
Cold Brew Instead of Venti Mocha (Savings: 300 calories a serving)
It seems coffee shops have turned into a religion in America. It’s part of most individual’s morning routine, but often they have no idea what they’re drinking or how many calories it contains.
For an average venti mocha, this is about 350 calories. Most people couple that with a cheap 2-day old muffin to begin their morning with 600 calories of nutritionally devoid garbage.
Instead, opt for a cold brew with a splash of almond or liquid vanilla sweetener. This saves an average of 300-350 calories per drink, depending upon your sweetener of choice.
Liquid calories are the death of nearly every dieter, and coffee habits are often some of the hardest to break. Rather than forcing yourself to give up your morning cup of joe, just make some simple swaps and watch the pounds melt off.
Stop & Swap
Remember, the name of the game is calories – calories in vs. calories out. The food industry has done an excellent job of supplementing popular foods with hyper-palatable ingredients, such as sugar, salt, and fat, that enhance customer appeal, mouthfeel, and neural response.
These food swaps aren’t magical replacements with half the calories. Instead, they are just better choices that allow you to eat close replicas of your favorite foods. Not only that, but many