There are stages in nearly everyone’s life where they may feel the need to cut back on calories or make healthier food choices. But what if cutting calories didn’t exclusively mean reducing food intake? What if simply making some smart low calorie food swaps meant that you could save yourself upwards of 100 + calories per day! Yes, you read that right, per day. Well prepare to be shocked as you discover the mammoth amount of calories that can be associated with a meal, and that’s often just in the dressing alone!
Fortunately for you, we have done the background research to uncover a range of foods, sauces and dressings; below are some savvy ways to easily cut calories in your diet without necessarily having to forego food or experience feelings of hunger. Why sacrifice when you can swap?
There are recently a mass of lower-calorie healthy alternatives available that imitate your favourite carbohydrates, such as rice, spaghetti and pasta. Prepare for the portion sizes on your plate to double with some of these food swaps and your calorie count to dramatically drop.
- Swap rice (218 calories per cup) with cauliflower rice (25 calories per cup)
- Swap spaghetti (221 calories per cup) with zucchini noodles (40 calories per cup)
- Swap thick crust pizza for thin crust (60 – 70 calories less per slice)
- Swap thin crust pizza for cauliflower crust pizza
- Make a homemade pizza with tortilla, slim bread slices or pitta bread as a base
- Swap potato mash for cauliflower mash
- Swap deep fat fried chips for air fried or oven cooked chips
- Choose homemade fries over shop-bought fries or takeaway fries
- Choose bagel slims (120 calories) over regular bagels (230 calories)
- Swap plain tortillas (173 calories) for mini plain tortillas (88 calories)
- Swap bread slices (89 calories per slice) for slim bread slices (60 calories per slice)
Considered nature’s treat, fruit is not only a healthy food packed with fibre and antioxidants, it is also much lower in calories than most treats on the market. In addition to this, it’s also much more filling and is higher on the satiety index. In terms of volume, if you compare the amount of bites you get for the same calories, at most you’ll probably get 3 or 4 bites from a biscuit, whereas with an apple, it could be upwards of 20 – 30 bites, depending on the size of your bite and the size of the apple. Since you spend longer eating it, you feel as if you have actually eaten something. Let’s be honest, how many of us honestly only eat 1 biscuit at a sitting?
If it’s sweetness you’re after, swap chocolate bars, biscuits, gummy sweets and any other sweet treats you tend to devour with fruit instead.
Some of the fruits highest in calories include:
- Dried fruits – raisins, currants, sultanas, dried figs, dried apricots
Below are a list of some of the lowest calories fruits available that you can swap the above fruits or your favourites treats for. Berries are one of the lowest calorie option of them all:
Meat and fish
Bread and batter: Those breaded chicken breasts, chicken nuggets and fish fingers that you so dearly enjoy are a common sources of extra calories. An averages chicken breast ranges from approximately 120 -150 calories. However, dip it in bread or batter and you’re looking at adding on an extra 100 – 200 calories, i.e. the equivalent to a serving of rice or potatoes. For a hefty drop in calories, opt for meat and fish that is unbreaded, unbattered and with the skin removed. You don’t need to gnaw on a plain bland chicken breast either; options could include marinading it in a light sauce, seasoning it and roasting it, or even make you own healthy grilled or breaded chicken breasts and fish at home.
Remove visible fat and skin: Any fat or skin should be removed from meat and fish.
Mince: Minced meat is now available in a range of fat percentages, with most options starting around 15%, you can also opt for 8% and even 5% fat. Opting for the lower or lowest fat options will discount a substantial amount of fat and calories from your meal.
In addition, choosing tofu, turkey or chicken mince over beef and steak mince will also achieve a reduced saturated fat and calorie intake.
Red meat v white meat: White meat is almost always lower in calories and fat than red meat. Opting for lean cuts of turkey and chicken with the skin removed is one of the leanest options possible.
White fish v oily fish: Both types are renowned for their health, but speaking purely in terms of calories, oily fish tends to have higher calories than white fish.
Protein bars are a convenient way to get protein in and they are an excellent alternative to bars that are high in sugar and fat. However, caution should be taken when choosing protein bars, as there are many varieties that are marketed as high in protein or healthy, when in fact they are still high in fat and sugar, and often calories. A good target to look for in terms of calories is around or below 200 calories per bar and approximately 20g protein per serving. My all time go-to protein bar and the cleanest bar I’ve found so far is the Biotech Zero bar.
Of all the 3 macronutrients, the greatest opportunity for calorie reductions lies with fat. 1g fat is equal to 9 kilocalories of energy, whereas 1g of protein or 1g of carbohydrates equates to 4 kilocalories of energy. That being said, fat is still an essential nutrient to the body, so while you may need to cut back on the fat you consume, it shouldn’t be eliminated from your diet altogether.
Oils, such as sunflower oil, rapeseed oil and extra virgin olive oil, are excellent sources of healthy fats in our diet. We’ve all seen chefs on the TV adding a ‘drizzle of oil’ to the wok or pan and you’ve probably imitated them at home. Well unfortunately for us all, that drizzle of oil, which according to the recipe, is usually meant to be at the most, 1 – 2 tablespoons of oil. However, it can quite easily turn into 3 – 4 tablespoons if it is not being accurately measured out.
What many people don’t realise is that 1 tablespoon of oil can account for up to 120 calories. So, add 2 or 3 extra tablespoons and you’ve clocked up an extra 360 + calories; what’s most disheartening about that is that’s before you’ve even added any food to the pan!
Did you know? A study of 2000 adults found that on average they consume a staggering 6.5 litres of oil per year! In terms of nutritional value, that equates to 57,500 calories per year, or 158 calories per day!
There are a number of options available to you to drastically cut these calories. Firstly, you can start measuring out the oil; the most accurate way of achieving this is by using a set of measuring spoons or digital weighing scales, as there can be a degree of inaccuracy in your standard tablespoon at home.
Secondly, you can opt for the cooking oil sprays, which typically have a couple of calories per spray. So you may only use at most 10 – 20 calories by spraying your wok or food.
You could also opt to completely eliminate oil from your food. This can be achieved by altering your cooking methods. For instance, I often boil or roast meat instead of frying it.
Also in terms of cooking methods, there are a range of healthy cooking with gadgets – kitchen appliances which can almost obliterate the amount of calories that you consume; a prime example of this is swapping out the deep fat fryer for an air fryer. Think about it, for the same amount of calories, you could probably eat 2 – 3 times as much food from an air fryer compared to a deep fat fryer! Why have a handful of chips when you can have a whole plate, for less saturated fat and calories? It’s a win-win!
Cashew, pistachio, peanuts and almonds all range within 550 – 575 calories per 100g, which is relatively dense in terms of calories. A simple swap you can make is to one of the lowest calorie nuts available are chestnuts, which range at approximately 131 calories per 100g. If you are someone who tends to indulge or binge on nuts, you could always opt for trail mixes.
In terms of healthy yoghurts, low-fat greek yoghurt surpasses all the other yoghurts. Not only is it higher in protein than other yoghurts, it’s also lower in sugar and fat than regular yoghurts. The healthiest option to choose is unflavoured versions that you can add healthy flavourings to, such as protein powder, creatine, muesli, flavour drops or dark chocolate sprinklings.
When it comes to sneaky sources of hidden sugar, fat and calories, there’s no better contender than sauces and dressings. It’s disheartening to see so many of them loaded with such ingredients, some of which might shock you. For instance, many people wouldn’t associate ketchup with sugar, but 1 tablespoon alone contains 3.7g of sugar!
What I’ve recently discovered is a range of low calories and healthy versions of syrups, which have almost zero calories. I swear by these, and the best part is you don’t have to feel guilty for them or account for them in comparison to the regular sugar, salt and fat-laden versions. Fortunately, they’re also very tasty and come in a wide range of flavours. Who says eating healthy or cutting calories has to be bland and boring?
- Swap regular mayonnaise (90 calories per tablespoon) for light mayonnaise (35 calories per tablespoon)
- Swap mayonnaise for French’s Classic Yellow Mustard (4 calories per tablespoon)
- Swap regular jam for reduced-sugar jam
- Swap peanut butter (94 calories per tablespoon) for peanut butter powder (24 calories per tablespoon)
- Swap margarine and butter for spreads
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Tip: Instead of topping your bread or toast with jam, which contains anywhere from 56 calories per tablespoon upwards, mash up 80g of mixed berries (approximately 30 calories) and use them as a sweet, lower calorie and lower sugar topping instead. Add a spoon of greek yoghurt from some protein!
Everything in moderation is motto I live by, and having treats while trying to cut calories or get healthier is still a possibility, and for me to follow a food plan, it’s a must! Biscuits and crisps are a very more-ish food, so if you can ditch them, then do so. But if you can’t, try to find ones with lower sugar, fat or calories.
- Swap chips for popcorn
- Swap popcorn for homemade popcorn kernels
- Swap full size chocolate bars for miniature versions
- Swap ice cream for gelato or protein ice cream
- Look at the calories in your favourite biscuits and choose lower calorie biscuits
- Swap biscuits for crackers
- Choose rice cakes over chocolate, cereal and granola bars
- Choose ice pops over ice creams
- Fill your bowl up with more reduced-sugar jelly than ice cream
Tip: Cookies and biscuits with chocolate coating are often high in calories and fat, compared to the likes of Jaffa Cakes, Ginger Nuts and Rich Tea, which are amongst some of the lower calorie biscuits.
- Cutting down on calories, sugar and fat from your diet doesn’t exclusively mean cutting out food
- Fruit is a natural, low calorie alternative to satisfy sweet cravings
- Breaded and battered meat and fish are significantly higher in calories than uncoated meat and fish
- Choosing low-sugar, low-fat or low calorie sauces are often healthier than the regular version
- Making your own sauces and dressings at home allows you to control the proportions of sugar, salt and fat added
- Oils can add exceptionally high calories to a meal if not properly weighed out
- Making smart treat swaps means you don’t need to exclude them from your diet
The bottom line with this article is that it provides effective calorie swaps which can significantly enhance efforts to achieve a calorie deficit without necessarily having to eliminate or reduce consumption of foods. However, please remember that a balanced diet is not based purely on calories alone; it will incorporate healthy levels of protein, fat and carbohydrates.
Not everyone consumes excess quantities of fat or calories, so they may not need to swap foods to achieve this. However, if you are looking to cut calories and / or fat, or simply find an alternative food, dressing or sauce to make healther choices, or even simply to shake up the monotony of eating the same items each time, then this article will certainly have something to pique your interest. As always, speak with your doctor or a registered dietitian if you are unsure that you are following healthy diet or meeting your own nutritional requirements.
What are your thoughts and opinions on the above low calorie food swaps? Would you be an advocate for the low calorie, reduced salt, sugar and fat sauce and dressing alternatives? What hacks do you use at home to reduce calories and make healthier food choices? Please post your suggestions and comments below!
Chatzky, J., 2018. 40 Effortless Food Swaps To Lose Weight | Eat This Not That. [online] Eat This Not That. Available at: https://www.eatthis.com/food-swaps-cut-calories/
Dady, J., 2020. Healthy Biscuits: The Best And Worst Biscuits For Your Diet Revealed. [online] GoodtoKnow. Available at: https://www.goodtoknow.co.uk/wellbeing/biscuits-best-and-worst-revealed-41310
Raman, R., 2019. 11 Healthy, High-Calorie Fruits To Help You Gain Weight. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/high-calorie-fruits#dried-fruits