Easy Calorie-Cutting Tricks

Counting calories can be about as much fun as figuring out your income tax return - and you can’t even look forward to a refund! Still, you probably know by now that watching what you eat is essential if you want to reach a healthy weight and stay there. Because our brains and metabolisms adjust as we slim down, recent research at Columbia University suggests that even dieters who hit their target need to cut 300-400 calories more a day to keep the pounds at bay.

But cutting calories doesn’t have to be torturous. Whether you’re trying to pare away poundage or maintain your svelte new self, try these no-gain, no-pain tips:

Snooze to lose

Researchers at Columbia University’s Institute of Nutrition found that sleep-deprived men and women gobbled 300 more calories per day than when they were well-rested. (Their binge of choice: ice cream!) “People eat their way through fatigue,” says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, a registered dietician in New York City and a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  If you can’t get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, Cohn suggests taking a brisk 15-minute walk and drinking ice water when you start to fade, and eating a smart snack.

Measure up

A study published in the British Medical Journal shows that consumers routinely underestimate what they’re eating and drinking by as much as 500 calories.  Cohn suggests you start any diet by keeping a food journal for at least 1-2 days (use a free app like LoseIt  for iPhone or Myfitnesspal for Android). Then take your usual servings and measure them to see how much you’re really eating; , check out their calories, and memorize what smaller portions should look like.  “It’s hard to cut back when you don’t know where you’re starting,” says Cohn, herself a successful dieter, weight-loss coach and author of The Belly Fat Fix.

Fill up on fiber

Faster than you can say “Mediterranean diet,” evidence keeps mounting that a lower-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can tame your appetite, boost your health and even trim belly fat. And we’re not just talking greens; delicious fruits like pears, blackberries and raspberries pack even more fiber than broccoli!

Get a smart start

Your mom was right: Nearly 80 percent of successful dieters report eating breakfast every day, according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  That’s a sensible strategy, says Cohn, since our hunger hormones surge at 8 A.M, noon and 6 P.M., with a mini-surge around 3 in the afternoon. Try to eat about an hour after you rise, she advises, preferably a breakfast with some protein combined with carbs or healthy fats like yogurt or nuts.

Snack smarter

When the candy machine calls around mid-afternoon, keep temptation at bay by keeping healthy snacks at hand. Your best bet, says Cohn, is a combination of protein and fat, such as a dollop of peanut butter on a whole grain cracker or a low-fat cheese stick wrapped in a small wheat tortilla. (Adding a splash of hot salsa will boost your calorie-burning metabolism briefly, thanks to the capsaicin in the peppers.)

Make easy swaps

Your supermarket is full of healthier versions of your favorite treats. For instance, instead of your usual bagel with cream cheese – which can pack 400 calories or more – you can easily substitute a whole-wheat light English muffin with 2 tablespoons of cream cheese whipped with Greek yogurt. Saved: 165 calories or more.

Read the menu

By law, big restaurant chains are now required to post calorie counts on their menus, and some smaller competitors are following suit. You might be surprised at just how many calories are packed into your favorite dishes. But that doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself; just eat a small portion and take the rest to go.

Move it

Let’s face it: Exercise is still important not only for weight loss, but also for your overall health. The good news is that it’s not hard to burn an extra 100 calories per day. Just do something you enjoy for 30 minutes:  skipping home with the kids, raking leaves or planting veggies in your yard, or cranking up the GaGa or Gershwin on your iPod and dancing around the house!

The Best Exercises to Boost Your Metabolism

Can’t seem to lose those last few pounds, even with diet and exercise? Your metabolism could be to blame. Not all of us are blessed with a high metabolic rate, but by making some simple changes to your exercise routine, you can boost your metabolism and help your body burn more calories, even when you’re resting.

“You absolutely can increase your metabolic rate with exercise,” says fitness expert Cindy Whitmarsh, a trainer on ExerciseTV and author of 101 Ways to Work out With Weights. “Muscle burns more calories than fat does, so the more muscle you build, the higher your resting metabolic rate will be. Every muscle cell you gain is like a little internal fire that burns calories, even while you’re sleeping.” Here are Whitmarsh’s top tips for revving up your routine, plus the best exercises to boost your metabolism.

Get Cross-training
If you’ve fallen into a predictable pattern of biking or walking every day, try cross-training to get your body out of its rut and stimulate more muscle growth. Try running on Monday, stair-climbing on Tuesday, weight training on Wednesday, boxing on Thursday, cycling on Friday and jumping rope on Saturday.

Pump up Your Heart Rate
Keeping your heart rate elevated for at least 30 minutes during your cardio routine will boost your metabolism and help your body burn fat faster. Whitmarsh recommends keeping your heart rate within 65 to 85 percent of your heart rate maximum, which you can find by subtracting your age from 220. Multiply that number by 0.65 and then by 0.85 to find this magic fat-burning range. Then, use a heart rate monitor while exercising to help stay in that range.

Try Interval Training
Interval training -- alternating high-intensity exercise bursts with lower-intensity activities -- will break up a stale workout and boost your metabolism. “You’re building muscle and increasing your heart rate so it will stay elevated for a longer time after your workout, and you’ll burn calories longer,” says Whitmarsh.

Keep It Up
The last secret to boosting your metabolism is to choose multifunctional exercises that maximize your muscle gain by working many body parts at once. Whitmarsh’s top five exercises to boost your metabolism can all be done easily at home:

1. Mountain-climbers: Start on the floor in a hands-and-knees position. Lift one bent knee close to your chest. Alternate your knees into your chest by tapping your toes to the floor and back. Repeat 20 to 50 times without stopping.

2. Eight-count Body-builder With Push-up: Start at standing pose. Bring hands to the floor, jump feet back into a high plank. Jump feet out wide, do a push-up, jump feet back together, jump feet back to hands and stand up. Repeat five to 15 times.

3. Squat Into Bicep Curls and Overhead Shoulder Press: Stand holding weights by your sides. Squat down. Stand back up while doing a bicep curl. Perform overhead shoulder press, bring weights back to sides. Repeat eight to 15 times.

4. Walking Lunges While Alternating Bicep Curls and Lateral Shoulder Raises: Stand with weights in each hand. Lunge forward with right leg while doing a bicep curl with right arm. Repeat with left side. Then, lunge forward with right leg while lifting your right arm out to the side. Repeat with left side. Repeat 10 times.

5. Medicine Ball Drop-catch and Overhead Lift: Hold a medicine ball in front of your body with arms straight and legs slightly wider than shoulder width. Lift the ball overhead, keeping arms straight and engaging your core. Then, drop the ball down to the floor as you squat so your thighs are parallel to the floor. Catch the ball at the deepest part of your squat with your arms straight. Lift ball as you stand. Repeat 10 to 20 times.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/aabejona

How to Snack the Healthy Way

Here’s the good news: Snacking isn’t inherently unhealthy, and you don’t have to quit snacking altogether. In fact, if you snack on the right foods low in fat and follow a few simple guidelines, munching between meals not only helps you stay on your diet, but it may help you maintain or even lose weight too. 

The problem, of course, is that for many people, a snack means, well, “snack foods” -- chips, cookies, cakes, candy and other processed, high-calorie, high in fat goodies. Snacking also becomes a weighty problem if you mindlessly eat all day long, says Debi Silber, a registered dietician with a master’s degree in nutrition, author of The Lifestyle Fitness Program: A Six-Part Plan So Every Mom Can Look, Feel and Live Her Best.

Check out these tricks to stop snacking on all the wrong stuff and start making smarter, healthier choices.

1. Sit down with a plate.
It’s common to graze when you prepare meals or even walk through the kitchen. From now on, promise yourself that you’ll put every morsel on a plate and sit down before eating it. By making this simple commitment, “you’ll become more aware of snacking and end up eating less,” says Silber.

2. Make snacking unsavory.
When a craving strikes, temporarily trick your taste buds by brushing and flossing your teeth. Nothing tastes good when your mouth is fresh and minty. Likewise, scented body lotion may turn you off of the idea of eating for the time being.

3. Never skip meals.

According to a survey by the International Deli-Dairy-Bakery Association, more Americans have a snack than eat breakfast or lunch. But skipping meals is a mistake: It makes you ravenous, especially for high-fat, high-sugar snacks. “Never let yourself get too hungry,” warns Silber. “It leads to overeating every time.”

4. Choose substantial and low fat snacks.

Having a snack can stop you from getting too hungry and overindulging at mealtimes. But it only works if your snack is satisfying enough that you aren’t craving another in an hour, says Silber. The secret: Pairing foods that contain fiber-rich carbs with high-protein picks. The duo keeps blood sugar levels steady and you feeling full. Try a pear with low-fat cheese, an apple with peanut butter, yogurt with low-fat granola or whole-wheat pita bread with hummus. Whatever you eat, aim to get about 100 to 250 calories.

5. Buy healthy, portable foods.
Processed, fattening snacks are often conveniently packaged, making them an easy go-to when you get hungry. But if you stock your fridge (or purse) with similarly convenient good-for-you snacks, you’re more likely to munch healthy. Think about grab-and-go fruits, veggies and other fare while you’re shopping. Instead of buying pineapple that needs to be peeled, cored and cut, for example, stock up on bananas. Or, in lieu of carrots you must clean, peel, cut and bag, pay a little extra for baby carrots. Other options: almonds, grapes, apples, high-fiber granola bars, and individually wrapped low-fat string cheese.

6. Get more sleep.
Sweets and refined carbs give you a quick boost of energy, which means craving these types of foods could be your body’s way of saying it needs more energy. Try hitting the sack a little earlier or finding a way to push back the alarm clock instead of chasing a temporary fix. By getting more z’s, you’ll help quell cravings and feel better, says Silber.

7. Ask yourself what you really need.
When a snack attack strikes, your inner voice is communicating a need, but it might not be the need to eat, says Silber. Sometimes you just need a break. If you can, stop working, and check Facebook or take a walk. If you need to de-stress, take a shower or call a friend. You may find that what you’re really craving is comfort, not comfort food. 

5 Nutrients You Need Right Now

Busy days at work and with the kids, plus a packed social calendar means your life isn’t always conducive to eating healthy, vitamin-packed meals.

“So many women tend to be deficient in nutrients that play key roles in our health,” says Carol Haggans, a registered dietitian with the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements.

Learn more about these five important vitamins and minerals and how to get more of them in your diet. 

1. Calcium fights PMS.

You probably know that calcium prevents osteoporosis, but a diet rich in calcium is also shown to prevent PMS symptoms, according to a study from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. That’s good news if you’re one of the roughly 85 percent of women who suffer from cramps, fatigue, irritability and bloating each month.

Even if your cycle is pain-free, know that foods rich in this mineral have also been linked to a lower risk of high blood pressure and some cancers, although more studies are needed to say for sure.

Increase your intake: A staggering 78 percent of American women don’t get the recommended 1000 to 1200 mg of calcium each day. So reach for low-fat dairy foods, which are an excellent source, says Haggans. You’ll find plenty -- milk, yogurt, cottage cheese -- in single-serve, carpool-friendly containers.

2. Vitamin D boosts your immunity.

Haggans calls vitamin D the newest “wonder nutrient,” since recent research has found that the vitamin, which plays a role in your immune system, may help you ward off such respiratory infections as the flu.

Vitamin D’s main function is to help your body absorb calcium, yet it may also protect you from diabetes, hypertension and some cancers, including breast cancer, according to other studies.

Increase your intake: Milk and other dairy products fortified with vitamin D will help you consume the recommended 400 IUs. Also eat fatty fish like mackerel and salmon twice a week, says Haggans.

3. Iron increases energy.

Forget pumping iron: Eating iron can help you feel strong too. Iron is necessary for blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. Getting enough iron keeps you energized, whether you’re on a power walk or running to a parent-teacher conference.

Iron also helps ferry oxygen to your brain. Adequate amounts of the mineral may help you stay more alert, think clearly and concentrate.

Increase your intake: Attain your 18 mg a day by eating beef, turkey and oysters. Also try lentils, beans and tofu, but eat them with vitamin C-rich foods, such as red peppers. (Vitamin C helps your body better absorb plant-based iron.) “Women who are menstruating or pregnant can have trouble getting enough iron,” says Haggans.

4. Folate protects your breasts. 

You may do self-exams and have a doctor check you annually. But getting enough folic acid is also healthy-breast behavior. Women who eat foods high in folic acid and vitamin B-6 have a lower chance of breast cancer, report Harvard University researchers.

A lack of folate may also cause birth defects, so adequate intake is essential for women of childbearing age, even if you aren’t actively trying for kids. “It’s key to have enough folate in your system since birth defects can form before you even know you’re pregnant,” says Haggans.

Increase your intake: Hit your recommended 400 mg with fortified cereals and bread, spinach, asparagus and beans. Eating plenty of these foods are especially vital for women who drink alcohol. Even moderate drinking may interfere with your body’s absorption of the nutrient.

5. Fatty acids keep your heart healthy.

“Low fat” used to be the diet term du jour. Now experts encourage “good” fats, particularly omega-3 fatty acids. These fats protect against heart disease by reducing the presence of triglycerides (a fatty substance in blood linked to coronary disease), lowering blood pressure and preventing artery blockages, according to research from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Other studies have linked omega-3-rich diets with a decreased risk for depression and certain cancers, although more conclusive evidence is needed, says Haggans.

Increase your intake: There’s no specific amount recommended, but Haggans suggests eating fish such as salmon, mackerel or sardines twice a week.  

“You can get enough vitamins, fatty acids and minerals from a balanced diet,” says Haggans. “But if you need assistance meeting your requirements, talk to your doctor before turning to a supplement.” Some supplements can interfere with medications or put you at risk for a vitamin or mineral overdose.

Photo: Corbis Images

Swapping Ingredients Never Tasted so Good

It’s tempting to jump on the latest diet bandwagon in the hopes of losing weight fast. But as you may know from trial and error, fad diets often set you up for failure. Think about it: Any regimen that bans your favorite foods (or entire food groups) and makes it difficult to share meals with friends and family is ultimately impossible to stick with over time.

Experts agree that the most effective way to lose weight -- and keep it off -- is to make smart changes to your everyday eating habits. One of the best ways to do this is by swapping ingredients -- taking out high-fat and high-calorie ingredients and replacing them with similar-tasting healthier alternatives. 

“You’d be amazed how many calories and fat grams you can shave off your meals -- and not miss any of them,” says Jason Graham, executive chef at Cal-a-Vie Health Spa near San Diego.

Check out Graham’s smart swaps below and lose weight happily. 

1. Use fat-free yogurt for dips and dressings.
You can substitute plain, fat-free yogurt for sour cream or mayonnaise in almost any recipe. Think veggie dips, creamy salad dressings or toppings for tacos, fajitas, chili and baked potatoes. Not only will you get a tangy taste with less fat and fewer calories, yogurt is also a great source of protein.

Greek-style yogurt works best for dips and as a topping because it’s as thick as sour cream. When making creamy salad dressing, use regular yogurt.

Bottom line for your waistline: A few dollops (a quarter cup) of fat-free yogurt contain about 30 calories, which saves you 93 calories and 11 grams of fat compared to sour cream.

2. Swap more egg whites for egg yolks.
Whether baking or making breakfast, using egg whites instead of whole eggs can significantly cut the fat content of your favorite dishes. A good guideline for recipes: Substitute two egg whites for every whole egg, says Graham. For example, instead of a three-egg omelet or scrambled eggs, use one whole egg and four egg whites. When baking, however, replace no more than half the number of eggs with egg whites for best results.

Bottom line for your waistline: Egg whites have zero fat and only 17 calories (but still retain half the protein of a whole egg). That means, for every yolk you toss, you cut nearly 5 grams of fat and 57 calories. 

3. Substitute applesauce for oil or shortening.
Many bread and dessert recipes call for vegetable oil or shortening, two diet disasters. But you can have your cake (or muffins or cookies) and lose weight too! The secret: Trade half the oil or shortening for unsweetened applesauce. For instance, if a cake recipe calls for 1/2 cup of oil, mix in only 1/4 cup oil and 1/4 cup applesauce. It will be lighter yet still meet the high standards of your discriminating taste buds.

Bottom line for your waistline: A quarter cup of applesauce is nearly fat free and has only 25 calories. The same amount of oil or shortening, by contrast, packs more than 50 grams of fat and 450 calories. Per slice of cake, that translates to a savings of about 6 grams of fat and 50 calories.

4. Cut the oil content in vinaigrette.
“Most vinaigrettes have a 3-to-1 oil-to-vinegar ratio,” says Graham. And although olive oil is healthy, it does have a high fat and calorie content. Too much of it can be a diet detriment, despite the fact that you’re eating salad. So try substituting lemon juice or more vinegar for one or two parts of olive oil, or mix either with pre-bottled oil-based dressing. You’ll get a similar taste but more diet-friendly greens.

Graham also offers Cal-a-Vie’s vinaigrette recipe: In a blender, combine 3 cups water, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 cup vinegar (red wine, balsamic or apple cider), salt, pepper and your choice of herbs and spices, plus a pinch of xanthan gum. (Xanthan gum is a tasteless corn product chefs often use as a thickener. You’ll find it at a health food or gourmet grocery store.) “A little xanthan gum goes a long way,” says Graham. “Start with a dash and check the consistency before adding more.”

Bottom line for your waistline: Traditional vinaigrettes can contain between 10 and 15 grams of fat and have about 100 to 140 calories per 2-tablespoon serving. Replacing one part olive oil with lemon juice or vinegar will eliminate about 5 grams of fat and 50 calories per serving. Graham’s Cal-a-Vie recipe, on the other hand, contains less than 2 grams of fat and has a mere 17 calories per serving.

5. Pour coconut milk in place of heavy cream.
Most creamy soups get their richness and silky texture from heavy cream, which as the name implies, is loaded with fat. But cream isn’t the only ingredient that delivers rich flavor and texture. “Omit all the heavy cream and substitute half the amount with canned light coconut milk and half the amount with chicken or vegetable stock,” suggests Graham.

Bottom line for your waistline: One tablespoon of heavy cream packs almost 6 grams of fat and 52 calories. The same amount of coconut milk and broth has only 1 gram of fat and 11 calories, a difference of 5 grams of fat and 41 calories.

6. Saute with cooking spray.
Instead of using a tablespoon or two of oil or butter to saute vegetables, spray the pan with nonstick spray and drizzle only 1 teaspoon of olive oil or less. “The oil will thin and spread out as it heats up,” explains Graham. “You still get the rich taste of cooking with oil but with fewer calories and fat.”  

Bottom line for your waistline: A tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil has a full 14 grams of fat and about 126 calories. By combining fat-and-calorie-free cooking spray with only 1 teaspoon of olive oil, you’ll purge your healthy veggies of nearly 10 grams of fat and 84 calories.

Making small changes can add up to major weight loss over time. If you cut a mere 117 calories a day, for example, you’ll lose a pound a month. To drop a pound a week, shave 250 calories from your daily meals and burn 250 calories throughout the day. (Try walking for an hour or ride your bike for 30 minutes.) Regardless of the route you take or tricks you use, you’ll be on track for successful, long-term weight loss, all while eating your favorite foods. What could be more satisfying than that?