Kitchen Focus

You sit down to what you think is a slimming lunch consisting of a bowl of soup, a green salad and a soft drink. The only problem is that many of the meal's calories lurk within the liquids in the meal and your body might not be taking note of what your mind failed to recognize. That soup, especially a cream based soup, can contain as many calories (or more) than a burger. The salad might be packed with healthy veggies, but if you smother it in dressing (especially creamy ones like ranch or blue cheese) you might be sabotaging your efforts. And a soft drink? Most regular soft drinks weigh in at over 100 calories for a 12 ounce can ... and when was the last time you got a mere 12 ounces of a beverage when eating out?

With scenarios like this facing us every time we step into a restaurant or open the refrigerator and wonder what's for dinner, it's not wonder that over half of all Americans are overweight. But despite the crisis looming ahead of us, there are a lot of things we can do to make it better. Of course, everyone knows we should eat right and exercise. But what constitutes eating right might depend on which nutritionist, diet expert, or most recent book author has to say. So, this month, I'm offering a simple bit of advice that has helped me lose weight and keep it off without having to measure, weigh or fuss too much with my food. However, before I share my secret, let me warn you that if you follow my advice but load the rest of your diet with bacon, cheese and lard or sit on your butt for all but 15 minutes a week, no advice I'm gonna give you is gonna work. You've heard it before and it's true ... there is no magic bullet when it comes to weight loss. Gotta take in fewer calories than you're putting out ... pure and simple. That said, I'd like to think I can offer a little help in trimming calories in a place we often ignore them ... in liquids.

Let's start with the most obvious offender ... regular sodas and other syrupy drinks. Let's face it ... these beverages are offering little, if any, nutritional value to our diets. I gave them up years ago and I don't miss them. Now, don't get me wrong, it took some time to get there and I even did things like mix regular and diet versions of the same beverage to wean myself off the high calorie regular ones, but today my most common beverage with any meal is water or unsweetened tea. And with all the low calorie or no calorie options available to consumers today, you are sure to find something you love. When I know I'm going to be out of the house for a while, I make sure I have at least one bottle of water along and I often carry little individual serving sized packets of Crystal Light along just in case good ol' water just won't do for me. I also carry a couple of my favorite tea bags in my purse as most restaurants have feeble offerings when it comes to low calorie beverages. It might be hard to find diet mango smoothie stuff ... but you won't find many places that can't get you a cup of hot water! Finally, alcohol is high calorie. However, that doesn't mean that you cannot enjoy the occasional drink. However, I try to limit myself to three drinks a week and if I'm out with friends, I make sure I order a tall glass of water before I even attempt to consider a second drink!

Now, the other part of this secret is a little harder to figure out and stick to, but it's a big help too. It's all about looking for ways that calories sneak in under the radar. That creamy dressing on that healthy salad ... makes it less so! That cup of creamy chowder ... has more calories than a big bowl of broth-based soup! Rather than go into a lot of detail here, I'm simply going to share a few tips I use to keep my choices mostly healthy:

  • Whenever possible, enjoy a broth-based soup instead of a creamy one ... you are almost certainly doing your waistline a favor.
  • If you are craving a creamy soup, try substituting evaporated skim milk for part or all of the cream -- you'll be amazed at how rich it still tastes!
  • When having a salad, either skip the dressing or have it on the side. That way, you're in control of the amount you add.
  • Favor oil and vinegar dressings over creamy ones. The calories are usually lower and the types of fat you are getting are almost always better for you.
  • When you get that dressing on the side, simply dip your fork into the dressing before you pick up your salad. A little dressing goes a long way!

It seems like a pretty small change in your eating pattern, but you'd be surprised at what a difference changes like these can make in your weight loss efforts. Next month, we take a look at tools in your kitchen that can help you reach your weight loss goals.

If there's a topic that you'd like to see covered in this column, let me know. You can always post comments in the discussion board using the forms provided in the articles or email me directly at .

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