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USDA Weight-Loss Tips


Smart Shopping and Recipe Modification

The path to effective weight loss begins long before food hits your plate. Here are some tips for buying and preparing food that will help you on your way toward a thinner, healthier you.

Be a Smart Shopper: Grocery stores aren't designed to help you stick with your diet. Marketing ploys surround you, trying to get you to buy foods that are not a part of your pound-dropping plan. Why? Processed foods have a higher profit margin than many of the unprocessed foods such as vegetables and meat. But with planning and a few tricks in reserve, you can make it through the store unscathed -- buying mostly nutrient-dense, low-calorie food to further your weight-loss efforts.

Before heading to the grocery store, you should follow these calorie-cutting tips:

  • Make a list before you go to the store, and stick to it for the most part. Avoid impulse buys of food you don't need.
  • Try to go to the grocery store only once a week. Planning your meals and snacks for the week will help you get what you need in one trip and avoid the temptation of repeated trips to the store.
  • Don't go to the grocery store hungry. You'll be less likely to buy impulsively.
  • Shop the perimeter of the store first. Fill your cart with foods low in calories and brimming with nutrients, such as fresh vegetables and fruits, nonfat dairy foods, lean meats, and whole-grain bakery goods without a lot of added fat and sugar. These are the basic foods of your food pattern.
  • Shop the interior aisles of the grocery store with care. Stick to wholesome foods such as rice, pasta, beans, and peanut butter. Avoid processed foods in packages and boxes, such as cookies, chips, crackers, packaged snacks, soft drinks, and most convenience foods. Processed foods often have added fats and sugars, which will tip your calorie-balance scale in the wrong direction.
  • Read the Nutrition Facts panel on food products, but don't obsess about reading them all at one time. Choose a few items on your list each week to compare and make the wisest choice.
  • If you do buy processed foods, read labels and choose those that have less fat, sugar, and calories.
  • Don't buy problem foods that you know will call your name from the cupboard. Leave them and their calories on the grocery store shelf.
  • Shopping with young children? Make a firm agreement with them ahead of time about consequences if they pester you or throw a tantrum. Appropriate behavior earns a treat, such as picking out a new fruit that they want to try. Treats don't have to be food at all, and certainly not junk food.
  • Enlist older children to be label lookers and help you find the smartest choice of a product. This not only makes your job easier, it teaches them lifelong skills they'll need to manage their weight.
  • Say "No, thank you" to food samples offered throughout the store.
  • If possible, choose a checkout line that doesn't have candy or snack displays.
  • Small shopping trip? Carry a basket rather than pushing a cart. It uses more muscle, burns more calories, and limits the room you have for impulse buys!

Modify Your Recipes: You'll be surprised at how many calories you can save by making simple changes in your recipes, without sacrificing flavor or texture. Fat and sugar are usually the ingredients that contribute the most calories, so this section will give you techniques for cutting back on both of them.To decrease sugar in a recipe:

  • In baking, reduce sugar by 1/4 to 1/3. There's no need for any substitutions. (However, don't reduce sugar in bread made with yeast, because the sugar is "food" for the yeast, which makes the bread rise.)
  • Add spices such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to your baking, fruit, or even to vegetable preparations to give the impression of sweetness.
  • Instead of frosting, lightly dust baked goods with a bit of powdered sugar.
  • Use frozen 100 percent fruit juice concentrate as a mild sweetener. Try it in tea or plain sparkling water.
  • Serve sweet foods warm -- it makes them taste sweeter even if they have less sugar in them.
  • Add fruit and decrease the sugar content. For instance, add raisins to rhubarb-apple crisp so you can get by with less sugar.
  • Replace chocolate chips with raisins or chopped dried fruit.

To decrease fat:

  • Begin by using low-fat versions of ingredients, such as mayonnaise, milk, and cheese. Use caution with nonfat products that normally have a high fat content (such as cheese and mayonnaise). When all of the fat is removed from such products, they often do not produce the flavor or texture you expect. If you try a nonfat item and don't like the results -- don't give up! Try another brand or use a low-fat version of the ingredient.
  • Replace whole milk in recipes with low-fat or nonfat milk.
  • Use evaporated skim milk to replace cream in soups and other dishes.
  • Replace sour cream with nonfat yogurt. If using yogurt in a heated dish, add 1 tablespoon cornstarch to each cup of yogurt to prevent separation.
  • Use smaller amounts of strongly flavored full-fat cheeses instead of a large amount of a mildly flavored cheese.
  • In baking, decrease the fat by one-quarter for cakes and by half for many quick breads, muffins, and soft cookies.
  • Use unsweetened applesauce in place of fat in baked goods. In homemade goods, replace about half the fat with applesauce. For boxed mixes, replace all the fat called for with applesauce because fat is already in the dried mix.
  • Reduce the number of egg yolks, since it's the yolk of the egg that contains fat. Use two egg whites in place of one egg. Baked goods made from scratch will probably still need at least one egg yolk, because eggs help provide structure, tenderness, and leavening.
  • Use vegetable oils instead of solid fats. To do so, use about one-fourth less than the recipe calls for. For cakes and pie crusts, use a recipe designed for oil, because sugar proportions are different and mixing techniques may vary.
  • Use only one part oil to two parts water and/or vinegar when making homemade salad dressings.
  • Cook with little or no added fat. Use nonstick pans, cooking spray, vegetable broth, water, or wine to sautee or brown foods.
  • Chill soups, stews, and gravies, so the fat rises to the top and hardens. Skim off the fat before reheating.
  • To thicken soups, stir in instant mashed potatoes.
  • To thicken sauces and gravies, use cornstarch or flour stirred into a small amount of cold water. Stir this mixture slowly into your sauce or gravy, and return to a boil to thicken.
  • Use instant mashed potatoes to replace all or some of the egg yolks in deviled eggs.
  • Use a low-fat cooking method such as baking, broiling, steaming, or grilling.

Now that you know the basics, take a look at your recipes. Identify the high-calorie ingredients. Gradually adjust quantities of major ingredients. Be sure to write down your modifications so you can either repeat them or continue modifying your recipe.Changing your food habits is only part of your plan to lose weight. Exercising is the other part, and it's essential if you want to burn calories. In the next section, we'll look at ways to increase your physical activity, starting with making time in your day for exercise.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.