Losing weight often feels like an uphill battle. Counting calories is hard (and imperfect) work, declining dessert can make you feel like a bore, and packing your own meals requires time and investment.
Thankfully, there are a few easy tweaks to your daily diet that registered dietitians and nutritionists say can help you meet your healthy eating goals. While cutting calories shouldn’t be the sole focus of a healthy diet plan, it can be a good starting point for weight loss.
With that in mind, all of the swaps listed here are healthier options overall – not just because they have fewer calories but also because they contain less sugar or more protein.
Go savory, not sweet, at breakfast — slash 350 calories
Breakfast items like muffins, pancakes, and granola parfaits can pack a hefty portion of calories and – since they’re not always high in protein or fiber – leave you crashing later.
Many dietitians recommend that consumers go savory instead of starting the day with sugar. Rather than a large blueberry muffin, pair a couple of poached eggs with wheat toast. As registered dietitian Nichola Whitehead told Business Insider, only one of those meals “will leave you feeling more energized and provide you with what your body needs to stay strong and healthy in the long term, i.e. vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, as well as slow-release carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats.”
Conveniently, the egg-and-toast combo also packs about 350 fewer calories than a muffin. It’s a win-win.
Order bubbly water instead of soda — shave up to 300 calories
A large soda at your favorite fast-food chain can contain upwards of 300 calories. Pairing a seltzer or an unsweetened ice tea with your meal instead is an easy way to slash those extra calories. Plus, plenty of research suggests that liquid calories don’t fill you up the same way solid food does.
Cara Anselmo, a nutritionist and outpatient dietitian at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, advises clients who are trying to lose weight to stop drinking soda, sweet tea, and other beverages with calories.
“If you drink 500 calories of liquid versus eating 500 calories of food you’re going to feel much less satiated, which is one of the reasons soda and sweetened drinks are such horrible things. You don’t get a sense of fullness,” Anselmo told Business Insider.
Swap your granola for carrots and hummus — cut 400 calories
Granola is often associated with wholesome vegan hippies and long hikes in the woods, but it’s packed with sugar and calories. A cup can contain up to 600 calories – the same amount as about four cereal bars.
By comparison, carrots are high in fiber (great for digestion) and vitamin A (which helps keep skin glowing and eyesight healthy). Pair your crunchy snack with some creamy hummus for a protein boost to tide you over. In the meantime, you’ll also be cutting about 400 calories.
Eat whole fruit instead of drinking juice — cut 100 calories
- Saaleha Bamjee/Flickr
Juice has some vitamins and, in some cases, even a small amount of protein. But research shows that the best way to get those nutrients is to eat a balanced diet full of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Juicing fruit removes most of the produce’s fiber, which is a key ingredient that keeps you feeling full until your next meal. This is one of the reasons calories from sweetened beverages are often referred to as “empty calories,” since they can increase hunger pangs and mood swings and leave you with low energy levels.
A 12-ounce glass of orange juice, for example, has almost the same calorie content as a can of soda, close to the same amount of sugar and carbohydrates as a bag of M&Ms, and virtually no fiber. So swap your next glass of OJ with an actual orange and cut about 100 calories.
If you’re out and about, prepare a snack ahead of time — save 100-500 calories
- Nikki Sharp
Dietitians and nutritionists often suggest that the best way to ensure you’ll eat something healthy is to bring it yourself.
“We live in a society where making healthy choices and being at a healthy weight, it’s not defaulted toward that,” Andy Bellatti, a registered dietitian and the cofounder of Dietitians for Professional Integrity, told Business Insider. “Unhealthy foods are cheaper and they’re everywhere; if you go to any store, you can buy a candy bar at the checkout but not a piece of fruit.”
The next time you’re traveling around, bring a bag of sliced apples or a container of carrots and hummus. If you eat either of those options instead of a candy bar or a pastry, you’ll be cutting out anywhere from 100 to 500 calories.
If you’re eating out, put half your dish in a to-go container — shave 700 calories
Restaurant portion sizes have expanded by as much as 138% since the 1970s, according to data from the American Journal of Public Health, the Journal of Nutrition, and the Journal of the American Medical Association.
A single serving of Olive Garden’s chicken fettuccine alfredo, for example, packs 1,440 calories – more than half the total daily amount recommended for an adult. With that in mind, if you’re ordering a big plate of pasta, pack up half of it to go and shave up to 700 calories off your meal. If you’re still hungry later, you can finish it when you get home.
Instead of a milkshake, indulge in some dark chocolate — slash 400 calories
- Marina Nazario/Business Insider
Milkshakes are one of the most calorie-dense menu items out there. Chocolate shakes at western regional favorite In-N-Out and eastern competitor Shake Shack each pack an average of 600 calories. Instead of pairing your burger with one of these desserts, bring along some dark chocolate (or buy some at a nearby store after the meal). Four pieces will average you just over 200 calories – about 400 less than the shake. Plus, good quality dark chocolate is high in phytonutrients like polyphenols and flavanols that some research suggests may help fight disease.
Skip the whip — shave around 100 calories
- Instagram xandarbarbarian
Although it looks beautiful, the whipped cream topping on your latte or smoothie is pretty high-calorie. It also doesn’t pack much else, nutritionally-speaking, aside from sugar. That means the cream is a classic example of what dietitian Nichola Whitehead calls “empty calories” because they “only give a temporary fix.” Order your next drink without the whip and shave off about 100 calories.
Get another (plain) burger instead of fries — cut 100-500 calories
Yes, you read that correctly. If you’re looking to lose weight but want to indulge in some fast food, the two easiest ways to shave calories from your meal are avoiding shakes and sodas and declining the fries. Fries typically have anywhere from 400-500 calories. Getting them animal style at In-N-Out brings the total to more like 750 calories.
By comparison, a plain hamburger from the popular chain (without cheese or “special sauce”) is about 300 calories and has more protein than the fries, which helps keep you feeling full. All in all, that’s up to 450 calories less than the California-style fries.