PHOTOGRAPH BY TAKE BACK YOUR HEALTH CONFERENCE/FLICKR
That means the way the human body reacts to 500 calories from Little Debbie Swiss Rolls is dramatically different from how it reacts to 500 calories in the form of roasted chicken with a side of kale. In fact, in one Purdue study where researchers had men and women add 500 calories of peanuts a day to their diet for 8 weeks, they not only didn’t gain weight, but also their triglyceride levels dropped by as much as 24%.
How’d that happen? Scientists continue to work on that. But a prevailing theory is that foods rich in healthy fats and protein are more satisfying so you eat less junk that isn’t; protein-rich foods increase your digestive metabolism, so you burn more calories, and foods like nuts are high in fiber, so a fair amount of their caloric energy passes through you unabsorbed.
“One easy way to understand this is to ask yourself what would make you feel more full, 300 calories of apple juice (about 2 ½ cups) or 300 calories of apples (about 4 apples),” says the lead author of that peanut study, Richard D. Mattes, MPH, PhD, RD, director of the Ingestive Behavior Research Center at Purdue University. Metabolically speaking, getting calories from whole fruits like apples and berries protects you from weight gain and diseases like diabetes, while juice raises your risk for both.
This is all really important to understand when you’re looking at weightloss as well as overall health. If you want to count calories for health andweight loss, you need to make your calories count. Here are 15 ways to slash the empty ones and get more of the ones you need most.
Eat your juice.
You already know that the closer food is to its natural form, the better it is for your health. Well, whole foods are also better for your waistline. In a study of 450 students published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Japanese researchers found that those who regularly ate foods that required work to chew and eat had significantly leaner waistlines than those who generally consumed processed, easy to chew foods. Those findings were echoed in an animal study where mice eating softened feed actually became obese over the course of 5 ½ months, while those eating their usual hard feed saw no weight gains. Simple swaps like a steak over a burger, whole fruits and veggies rather than smoothies, and trail mix over chips can add up to hundreds of calories burned and saved over time.
Half the people in the U.S. get at least 200 calories a day from sugary soft drinks. Not surprising when you consider that a 20-ounce soda contains 240 calories in the form of 15 teaspoons of sugar. It’s flat-out awful for you, packs on pounds, and raises your risk for diabetes the more you drink. In a review of 30 studies, researchers found a link between soda consumption and weight gain and obesity in both children and adults. If you like bubbly flavored beverages, buy a Sodastream water carbonator, bubble up some plain water, squeeze in a lemon and lime and save yourself hundreds of calories a day. And don’t fall for the diet soda trap—it’s no better than the sugary stuff for your metabolic health and has been linked to weight gain.
Cooking your own meals can easily save you several-hundred calories per meal and increase the nutritional quality of your diet exponentially. Restaurants not only serve larger portions than what you’d typically eat at home, but also fill their meals with hidden fats and sugars that ramp up the calorie content. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the average chain restaurant meal delivered a whopping 1,128 calories—nearly half a day’s worth. Even lunches tipped the caloric scales at over 1,000. You can make an abundance of healthy, delicious lunches for 600 calories or less at home.
Inhaling your food like an alpha wolf defending his kill from the pack isn’t just impolite (especially if you are indeed eating with others), but can also cause you to eat hundreds of extra calories throughout the day. A study published in theJournal of the American Dietetic Association found that quick eaters not only consumed more than 10% more calories, but also felt less satisfied when the meal was done—and hence more likely to keep snacking afterward. The slow eaters also drank about a half-cup more water during the meal, which helps increase metabolism and keep calorie intake in check. Take smaller bites, chew each bite twice as long as you usually do, and put down your utensils between bites.
Regularly shortchanging your sleep packs on pounds as your stress hormones like cortisol rise, and your body goes into fat-storage mode—and that’s just half of the double-whammy too little sleep delivers to your waistline. You’re also likely to eat more—like 300 calories a day more. When a team of researchers took a group of men and women who regularly slept a healthy 7 to 9 hours a night and had them cut their shut-eye time in half for five days, the sleep-deprived volunteers responded by increasing their calorie consumption from 2518 calories a day to 2814 calories, much of it in the form of fat. Keep your calories and cortisol in check by getting at least 7 hours of quality sleep a night.
Delay breakfast until after your ride or workout. You’ll fire up your fat burning and ultimately become a better fat burner not just while you exercise, but all day long. In a study published in EBioMedicine, Japanese researchers found that when you exercise before breakfast you can burn between 260 and 280 more calories throughout the day than when you exercise at other times.
Meaty mushrooms like shitakes, portobellos, and white buttons make good substitutes for beef in pasta dishes, soups, and even sandwiches and burgers. They also save a ton of calories without leaving you hungry. In a study published in Appetite, Johns Hopkins researchers found that men and women who chose mushroom-based lunches over beef-based afternoon meals ate 444 fewer calories while still feeling just as satisfied.
Mindful eating sounds new-agey, but it’s more important than ever in our modern-day distracted lives, where we are eating over our cell phones while inadvertently bingeing on a block of cheese while binge-watching the latest dish from Netflix. Asking yourself questions like why you’re eating (are you just bored?), what you’re eating (is it the best choice to fuel your active body?), and how much you should eat (do you need three slices of Sicilian or will 2 or even 1 do?), and then tuning into the taste of your meal. It can help you slash hundreds of calories a day. In one study, people with binge-eating disorders were actually able to reduce their weekly binge episodes from more than 4 per week to 1 ½ through mindful eating practices. Even if you don’t chronically binge eat, chances are you mindlessly toss back more than you intend to at least now and then.
Pour yourself a pint (of water) and drink it before your next meal, and you may eat about 90 fewer calories by the time you push away from the table, according to a study by researchers at Virginia Tech. Practice it three times a day, and you may not only spare yourself close to 300 calories, but also will automatically get the fluid you need to stay well hydrated. Find plain water kind of blah? Spice it up with these tricks.
When most Americans think grain, they think wheat, rice and corn. But there are some rising stars like amaranth, kamut, freekeh, farro, teff, millet, and, of course, quinoa that are blasting out of the past and nudging their way onto mainstream supermarket shelves. These so-called ancient grains are well worth a try because they tend to be higher in fiber and protein—both of which fill you up faster and stoke your metabolism higher—than the typical wheat and rice staples in our diet. Research shows that eating the recommended amount of daily fiber—38 grams a day for men, 25 grams a day for women—significantly reduces the risk of gaining weight over time.
Resistant starch is a type of starch your body doesn’t absorb from foods like rice, beans, pasta, bananas (and their peels), and other starchy foods. You can actually manipulate the amount of this calorie-saver in your rice dishes with a simple cooking trick: Just add a teaspoon of coconut oil to the boiling water. Then add a half a cup of rice. Simmer for 40 minutes or boil for 25. Then—and this is key—refrigerate it overnight (or 12 hours). You reduce the calories in a given serving by up to 60%, which means you get just 100 calories versus 200 calories per cup for white rice.
Now that the USDA recommended dietary restrictions on these nutrition-packed portable orbs is over, you can—and should—eat them more often, especially if you’re looking to lose weight. In a study published in theInternational Journal of Obesity, researchers from Louisiana State University found that men and women who ate two eggs for breakfast lost 65% more weight after two months than their peers who ate a bagel breakfast that contained the same number of calories. That’s likely because, as other research points out, eggs improve satiety, so you’re likely to eat fewer calories the rest of the day. They’re also a lower-calorie option than many breakfast foods. Two large eggs contain just 150 calories, while one large blueberry muffin comes in at 385—twice as much.