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10 Easy Lower Calorie Substitutions for Weight Loss

10 Easy Lower Calorie Substitutions for Weight Loss

As I’ve said before, and as I’m sure you’ve heard, weight loss works according to a simple formula: burn more calories than you take in, and you lose weight. Creating a deficit of 3,500 calories results in 1 pound of weight loss. 

This doesn’t mean losing weight is easy. It does, however, means that the basic approach to shedding excess body fat isn’t complicated. 

To lose weight, you can consume fewer calories, increase the number of calories you burn with more physical activity, or—preferably—you combine the two. As far as consuming fewer calories is concerned, there are only two ways to do it: eat smaller quantities or eat lower-calorie foods.

I recently wrote up some tips for eating less, so check out that post if you haven’t already. Now I want to cover the other part of reducing your caloric intake: consuming food and drinks with less calories. This is an important part of weight loss. By swapping out lower-calorie options for things you currently eat and drink, you promote weight loss without even cutting down on quantities.

This helps make the process less painful and to keep you motivated for the long haul. It also encourages you to adopt healthier choices as part of your regular lifestyle.

Below are 10 simple ways to eat the same amount of food but still take in fewer calories. But there are countless ways to accomplish this, so use these as inspiration to shave off additional calories in other ways, too.

Tips for Lower-Calorie Alternatives 

  1. Use mustard instead of mayonnaise on your sandwiches. On average, 1 tablespoon of mustard contains 9 calories, while 1 tablespoon of mayo has 94 (and a good helping of saturated fat). 

One little aside to illustrate the power of what I’m talking about here before we get to more tips: This calorie difference may not seem like much. But let’s say you use 1 tablespoon of the condiment on three sandwiches per week. With the difference of 85 calories each time, this simple substitution eliminates 13,260 calories per year. That works out to almost 4 pounds’ worth of calories saved. This just goes to show how a seemingly insignificant swap with a lower-calorie option can painlessly help you slim down. And if 4 pounds in a year doesn’t sound thrilling, remember, there are more such substitutions below, and it all adds up. 

  1. Drink water instead of soda, energy drinks, or other beverages with no nutritional value and plenty of calories. The average 12-ounce serving of soda contains 150 calories. Substituting just one serving each day yields almost 55,000 fewer calories consumed in a year. That’s about 15 pounds of calories! 
  1. Pour half as much cereal into the bowl and then top it off with berries. They’re full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other nutrients, and they barely contain any calories. It’s not hard at all to reduce your caloric intake at breakfast every morning by about 100 calories this way. 
  1. Eat an all-fruit sorbet rather than ice cream when you’re indulging in dessert. Depending on what type of ice cream you normally eat, the calorie savings should be at least 85 to 100 per 1-cup serving, and possibly more. 
  1. Opt for reduced-fat or fat-free dairy (milk, cheeses, yogurt, etc.). Over the course of a year, you’ll save considerable quantities of calories and unhealthy saturated fats this way. And just to reiterate, you don’t even have to eat less to reap the benefits. 
  1. Choose lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry. Also, swap out red meat for poultry (or seafood when appropriate), including using ground poultry instead of ground beef and buying poultry sausage or other breakfast meats instead of pork or beef. Just like with dairy, this eliminates a great deal of calories and saturated fat from your diet over time. 
  1. Snack on unsalted, unbuttered popcorn instead of chips or other junk food. It’s not only surprisingly low in calories, it’s also a whole grain!
  1. Bulk up your pasta dishes with vegetables and cut down on the amount of actual pasta you serve yourself. Even if you’re using heart-healthy whole grain pasta, it’s high in calories. Also, go with tomato- or wine-based sauces over cream-based sauces.
  1. Substitute unsweetened applesauce for sugar in baked goods that don’t need to be super sweet at a 1:1 ratio (but for each cup of applesauce you use, reduce the liquid in the recipe by ¼). One cup of unsweetened applesauce has around 100 calories, as opposed to 774 calories in the same quantity of sugar.
  1. Similarly, substitute unsweetened applesauce for half to ¾ of the oil in baked goods like breads and muffins. Use a 1:1 ratio again. Replacing ½ cup of oil this way reduces the calorie content of your batch by about 900 calories.

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Jason Littleton, MD, also known as America's Energy Doctor, is a board-certified family physician offering concierge healthcare and the author of WellSpring: The Energy Secrets to Do the Good Life. The book's practical, insightful content and his resonant messages about nutrition, fitness, and balance have made Dr. Littleton a highly sought after, high-profile keynote speaker and national media commentator on TV and in print.