So often, we find ourselves in diet purgatory – we eat hardly anything at all, without realising that the little we are eating won’t help to shift those pounds. By making a few simple substitutions, you can completely alter the way you eat, upping the quantity but improving the quality.
Here are ten top substitutions you can make in your kitchen cupboard, in your cooking and in your eating out to make sure you never go hungry on a diet again.
Substitute olive oil with low calorie olive oil spray
Olive oil is an essential store cupboard ingredient, and is a “good” fat to boot. It is great for drizzling and using in dressings, but cooking with it sometimes just isn’t adding anything except unnecessary calories to your meal. Using a low calorie spray will allow you to fry as usual, but make your meal much healthier.
Make your own tomato-based pasta sauces
Many view pasta as bad, but the downfall of pasta is what we have with it. For a quick meal, it is all too easy to throw in a ready-made jar sauce, but these sauces are frequently packed with fat and processed to within an inch of their exceedingly-long shelf lives.
Try heating a tin of chopped with some seasoning, tomato puree and a squirt of ketchup as an easy pasta accompaniment. Add vegetables to it, spice it up with some chilli, or throw in some prawns, and you have a great sauce.
Bulk out meat dishes with vegetables
I am ready for the onslaught from purist Italian cooks, but try using less meat in your bolognaise sauce, and replacing it with celery, carrots and red pepper (or any other vegetables of your choice). It adds flavour, crunch and loses calories.
It’s also a nice step towards your 5-a-day vegetable intake. Do the same for the meat sauce for lasagnes, chillies, cottage/shepherd’s pie, and you will notice a difference not only in your waistline, but in your wallet – vegetables are far cheaper than meat.
Be smart with your staples
Add together how much milk, butter, sugar, cheese, yogurt and soft drinks you have in a day, and ask yourself how many unnecessary calories you may be consuming. Swap whole milk for semi-skimmed/skimmed, butter for heart-healthy spread, sugar for sweetener, cheese for the half fat version, sugar-laden yogurts for low fat fruit-based versions, and sugar-filled fizzy pops for the diet equivalents.
Satisfy your sweet-tooth
If your downfall each day is that chocolate you have to have at 3pm, or that craving for something sweet after your dinner at night, then make sure you are clever with what you make available to you.
Replace bars of chocolate with chocolate thins (such as After Eights or an equivalent). They are in handy, small portions and pack such a sweet punch that you won’t want anymore. Also try low fat hot chocolate as a post-dinner sweet – warming in the winter evenings whilst still satisfying that sweet tooth.
Some alcoholic drinks are better than others
If you love to unwind at the end of the day with a glass of wine, then take note! Wine is full of sugar and calories, as is beer, and you are taking in the equivalent of two digestive biscuits with each glass.
Swap out your wine for any 25ml white spirit with a diet mixer. Not only are you saving in calories, but you’re also consuming fewer alcohol units.
Don’t blow it in the restaurant
Just because you are eating out, it doesn’t mean that you can’t take your substitutions with you. Italian? Opt for tomato-based pasta sauces with fish or seafood instead of pizza. Chinese?
Chow mein is by far the healthiest option, so try this with chicken or king prawns. Indian? Choose the Tandoori (oven baked) dishes. Look for foods that are grilled, steamed or baked rather than fried, and shy away from dishes with a high cheese or cream content. As for salads in restaurants – ask for the dressing on the side!
Vegetables, vegetables, vegetables!
Virtually all vegetables are an unlim!ited source of guilt-free eating. An entire oven tray filled with roasted carrots, courgette, aubergine, corn on the cob, red pepper and butternut squash has far fewer calories than one small supermarket ready meal.
Also try keeping chopped vegetable crudités in the fridge for those times when the snack attack hits – it will keep you from reaching for something unhealthier.
It is all too easy to see cereals in black and white: sugar coated and colourful – bad; filled with fruit, bran and oats – good. However, many luxury, high-end mueslis have more calories and saturated fat than a full evening meal.
I will never forget my friend’s face when I told her that I could swap two plates of my spaghetti bolognaise for the one bowl of expensive muesli she had just eaten. Low sugar, high fibre cereals will also keep you fuller for longer, and will prevent snacking later on.
If you are a committed carnivore like myself, you probably cook frequently with beef, lamb, pork and chicken. Try changing it up a little, though, and staying away from the red meat on a regular basis.
Try having it no more than once a week, and when you do eat it, look for the lean options. Chicken (skinless) as well as turkey are also great lean meats, and you cannot go wrong with fish. Those fish that carry slightly more calories make up for it in being incredibly good for you, and shellfish particularly is low in calories.
All of the above substitutions will not deprive you – they will allow you to avoid dieting, and will encourage a lifestyle choice that you can actually maintain. Being healthier really doesn’t have to be hard work.