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By Karen Alexander, Oncology Wellness Specialist


Healthy Substitutions for Your Favorite Dishes

It isn’t uncommon to find yourself gaining weight over the years, even if you haven’t drastically changed your diet. Yet, you may still have accumulated pounds over time.

In general, we gain weight when we eat more calories than what our body uses (“burns”). An elite athlete, for example, can be so active that their body needs as much as 4000-12000 calories a day. However, as we age, we become less active and our body loses muscle mass through a normal process called sarcopenia. The less muscle mass you have, the fewer calories your body burns.

This is why being physically active and watching what we eat is so important as we get older. Weight gain and body fat accumulation can be managed by making small changes in every day food choices that allow us to reduce our overall calorie intake.

What can we do?
First, since the amount of muscle mass is related to your metabolism, it is recommended that you increase your physical activity to help you to lose weight while preserving muscle mass.

For more detailed information on how to start increasing your physical activity visit these websites:

  • https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/sgr/pdf/sgraag.pdf
  • https://health.gov/paguidelines/pdf/adultguide.pdf
  • https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Documents/older-adults-65-years.pdf

Second, you must know that 3500 calories are equivalent to 1 pound of body weight. Exceptions for this rule may happen, for example in people with hypoparathyroidism or other health conditions. In general, if you eat 3500 extra calories per week, you could gain one pound per week. The same happens in the opposite way. If you eat 3500 fewer calories per week, you should expect to lose one pound per week. If you want to lose a pound a week, you may need to eat 500 fewer calories each day.

If you think that by simply choosing white meats you are eating a low calorie option, think twice. Cooking methods have a major impact on the calorie content of meals. Low-fat cooking methods and recipes low in carbs are usually recommended for those trying to lose weight.

The menu on the right provides 1653 calories, comparing to the 3595 calories on the left side of the menu, a difference of 1942 calories. Note that the calorie content may vary depending on the recipe.

Tips to Reduce Your Calorie Intake When Eating Out

1.  Read the menu online before you get there.

Look at the grilled items, salads, vegetable sides, and so forth.  Note that you need to “stick” with your decision; otherwise you might end up eating Fried Chicken, Mac & Cheese and Baked Beans.

  • Two medium chicken breasts = 728 calories
  • 1 ½ cup Mac & Cheese = 631
  • ½ cup baked beans = 195
  • Total = 1359 calories + beverage selection

2. Be the first to order.

  • This reduces the temptation to change your decision.
  • You can ask for your favorite healthy option without even opening the menu.

3. Have it your way.

Before ordering your selections, ask the server about the details of the meal. This will help you make more informed choices.
Here are 5 easy but helpful questions to ask:
1.Do you have any low-fat or low-calorie options?
2.How is this dish prepared? 
3.What sides come with this meal?
4.Can I make substitutions?
5.How large are the portions?

4. Go low on sides and beverages.

  • Sides: Ask for sides low in starches and use dressings in moderation. Only order fries occasionally.
  • Beverages: Don’t drink your calories. Ask for water or mineral water with lemon instead of lemonade or soda. You can avoid drinking 100-140 calories in a 10 oz. cup.

5. Share your dessert.

  • Share your dessert with somebody. If you eat alone, eat half and save half for later.

Try to make small changes at a time. Over time, you may feel more comfortable making larger changes.

If you want some more ideas on how to make healthy substitutions, come visit me at my desk. I will be more than happy to help.


Have a wonderful weekend!

Karen Alexander, BSNC, MSCN

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