1. Portion nuts in snack-sized bags.
Sure, you know that nuts are a healthy snack — we've certainly recommended eating these crunchy taste treats often enough throughout this book. Here's yet another reason to make them a snacking habit: A study from the City of Hope National Medical Center found that overweight people who ate a moderate-fat diet containing almonds lost more weight than a control group that didn't eat nuts. Really, any nut will do. But if you're unaware of how many nuts you're eating, you could end up gaining weight instead of losing it. The appropriate serving size for nuts is 1 ounce, or about 200 calories, depending on the nut. To keep yourself from mindlessly nibbling more than you need, do this: When you buy nuts, open the container and put handful-sized portions into ziplock snack or sandwich bags. And by handful, we mean the amount of nuts you can hold in the palm of your hand with your fingers closed. Then, limit yourself to a serving or two a day.
2. Buy the smaller size.
It's a fact that the larger the portion in front of you, the more you'll eat. When researchers sent 79 parents home with a movie and either 1- or 2-pound bags of M&Ms along with either a medium or jumbo tub of popcorn for each family member, they ate more M&Ms from the 2-pound bag than from the 1-pound bag and about half a tub of popcorn, regardless of the tub size. Though we're certainly not promoting M&Ms as a weight-loss food (we sincerely wish we could), we do recommend ordering the small bag of popcorn when you're at the movies and buying single-serving — sized snack food packs instead of jumbo sizes. The extra money you might save buying larger sizes isn't worth derailing your weight-control efforts.
3. Stock these three cans.
Canned beans, corn, and tomatoes stretch higher calorie dishes and also combine to make yummy, low-cal meals. Try these great ideas:
Add a can each of corn, garbanzo beans, and plum tomatoes to your pasta salad recipe. You'll boost the salad's texture and flavor, and as a bonus, you'll be able to eat more salad for just a few more calories. As a double bonus, you'll get healthy amounts of fiber and important nutrients.
Toss a can of light tuna with a can of white beans. Add a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze or two of lemon, and a sprinkle of oregano.
Mix a can of kidney or black beans with a can of corn, and add some canned salsa and a few shots of hot sauce for a tasty lunch.
Simmer a can of Italian plum tomatoes with a little garlic for a superfast pasta sauce. Serve over 1 cup of whole-wheat pasta.
4. Pull a caper in your kitchen.
You can add oodles of flavor to many foods — for next to no calories — by keeping capers and anchovies in your pantry. Since richly flavored foods are more satisfying than bland foods, you can eat less without feeling deprived. Capers are the tiny pickled buds that give a great zing to bean, tuna, and salmon salads. Rinse before using. And even if you think you don't like anchovies, try adding a few, well-minced, to chicken or tuna salads and tomato sauces. For a delicious low-cal pasta, simmer a large can of Italian plum tomatoes with a can of light tuna, minced garlic, a pinch of dried red pepper flakes, and a few minced anchovies for a few minutes. Serve over whole-wheat pasta. Omega-3 alert: Anchovies are a rich source of this heart-healthy fat.
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5. Use nonfat powdered milk in coffee.
You get the nutritional benefits of skim milk, which is high in calcium and low in calories. And powdered milk doesn't dilute coffee the way liquid milk does. And it's far lower in calories and fat than half-and-half.
6. Eat cereal for breakfast five days a week.
Studies find that people who eat cereal for breakfast every day are much less likely to be obese and have diabetes than those who don't. They also take in more vitamins, fiber, and calcium — and less fat — than people who eat other breakfast foods. Of course, that doesn't mean reaching for the ultrasweet kid choices (which is as unhealthy for them as it is for you, by the way). Instead, serve a high-fiber, low-sugar cereal like Kashi GoLean, Total, or Grape-Nuts. To sweeten, add berries (fresh or dried) or sliced banana. And check the package to see what is considered a single portion size. For many dry cereals, a healthy serving is just 1 cup — but many adults pour out at least twice that amount.
7. Have oatmeal on the weekends.
You may not have time on weekday mornings to cook a bowl of oatmeal, so weekends are ideal for enjoying this satisfying, nutrition-rich breakfast. An especially toothsome, stick-to-the-ribs choice is steel-cut Irish oats. Oats are packed with unique compounds, like beta-glucan, which helps lower cholesterol and stabilizes blood sugar, and potent antioxidants called avenanthramides, which reduce heart attack risk. Oats also pack a healthy 4 grams of fiber and just 150 calories per 1-cup serving. Best of all, a bowl of oatmeal keeps you feeling fuller longer, so you're better able to resist food cravings between breakfast and lunch.
8. Spice it up!
Use hot sauce, salsa, cayenne, and Cajun seasonings instead of relying on butter and creamy or sugary sauces. Besides providing lots of flavor with no fat and few calories, many of these spicy seasonings turn up your digestive fires, causing your body to temporarily burn more calories. What's more, capsaicin, the ingredient that puts the fire in hot peppers, can put the chill on your appetite. For a surprising taste treat, sprinkle a little cayenne pepper over air-popped popcorn.