1. Add flaxseed and chia seeds to pretty much anything you’re eating: smoothies, yogurt, salad, soup, baked goods. A tablespoon of chia seeds adds 65 calories, 4.5 grams of fat (most of which are omega-3 fatty acids), 5.5 grams of fiber, and 2 grams of protein; for 37 calories, one tablespoon of ground chia seeds adds 3 grams of fat, 2 grams of fiber, and 1 gram of protein. For vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, both seeds are a complete protein and a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Adding a sprinkle to any dish will bump up its nutritional profile without altering its taste much, and because chia seeds expand in your stomach, you’ll get the added bonus of feeling more full after your meal.
2. Eat your soup over a bed of kale. Or spinach, arugula, chard, lettuce – any type of green. The heat of the soup will wilt the greens, making them just another component of your soup. Tender greens, like arugula, will become almost undetectable, especially in meaty soups like chili, while heartier greens like kale and chard will add dimension and texture. Either way, you’ll be able to add a serving or two of greens to your day with minimal effort.
3. Whatever drink you order at your favorite coffee shop, downsize it. Unless you’re just ordering coffee or tea, most coffee shop drinks are laden with fat, sugar, and calories. If you downsize your usual order, you’ll still get your morning pick-me-up, but with less damage. If you normally order a Grande Caffé Mocha (260 calories, 8 grams of fat) at Starbucks, switching to a Tall will save you 60 calories and 2 grams of fat. Research has shown that our taste buds become accustomed to the flavor and texture of a food within the first three bites (or sips), so you likely won’t miss those last luke-warm sips of coffee that you’ve passed up. These savings amount to 420 calories a week which, at the very least, could be better used toward a “splurge item” and at best will result in a slimmer waistline.
4. Add protein to your snack. According to a recent study by PLoS Medicine, Americans now snack through 580 calories per day – almost making it a spread-out fourth meal. Unfortunately, Americans’ favorite snacks include chocolate, potato chips, cookies, and other refined carbohydrates – so instead of providing lasting energy for the rest of the day, they’re really setting you up for a crash and burn. To pick a better snack – without forcing down a spinach smoothie – cut your original snack in half and add in some protein. Protein will reduce the overall glycemic index of your snack, reducing the surge in blood sugar that would normally accompany a high-GI carbohydrate meal (healthy fats and fiber can have the same effect). Add some Greek yogurt to your cereal; eat your apple with peanut or almond butter; or make mini sandwiches with crackers, turkey, and vegetables.
5. For three days, cut down on sugar. If you’re like most Americans, you may be eating as many as 30 teaspoons of added sugar every day. In the short term, added dietary sugars lead to spikes in blood glucose levels and decreased energy; in the long term, a sugar-heavy diet has been linked to almost everything from obesity to diabetes to cancer. The vast amount of sugar we eat has led to a dulled sensitivity to sugar – meaning that we need to eat more sugar for the same reward. Research from the universities of Bangor and Bristol in the United Kingdom found that lean subjects who added just two sugary drinks per week to their diet dulled their sensitivity to the drink and increased their preference for for sweets. To reset your taste buds, try eliminating sugar from your diet for three days. When you reintroduce sweet foods, you’ll be surprised by how sweet they taste. Not only will you reap the rewards of more energy and fewer crashes; you’ll be able to enjoy dessert for far less calories.
6. Swap half and half for 2% milk. Two tablespoons of traditional half and half has 40 calories and 4.2 grams of saturated fat; two tablespoons of 2% milk has 16 calories and .4 grams of saturated fat. That adds up to 168 calories a week, which doesn’t sound like much – but if you make this into a habit, you may end up losing up to 2.5 pounds of fat per year with minimal effort! Cutting out almost four grams of saturated fat will also benefit you; the “bad” fat is the leading cause of high cholesterol, may contribute to heart disease, and may even cause the brain to become more resistant to insulin and leptin, hormones that contribute to satiety signals.
7. Switch out any drink for green tea. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that at least half the population regularly drinks sugar beverages, and 25% of people drink away 200 calories a day. According to American Heart Association spokeswoman Rachel Johnson, “Sugar-sweetened beverages are the number one single source of calories in the American diet and account for about half of all added sugars that people consume.” Even worse: the calories from soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks are empty calories and have no nutritional value. Green tea, on the other hand, contains catechins and antioxidants that can help fend off cancer and cardiovascular disease, improve immune system functioning, boost mental alertness, and increase your metabolic rate. Even if you had a little honey to sweeten the brew, you’ll still come out ahead.