The reason most people find it so difficult to lose weight is because they want it all: the burger and the side of fries; the pizza and the wine to wash it down. While eating delicious food isn't a crime, overdoing it can make it tough to peel off pounds when you need to.
Luckily, creative geniuses have long been at work figuring out the healthiest ways to prepare the most decadent dishes, so you can indulge and still achieve your weight-loss goals.
The trick, according to Miami-based registered dietitian and Essence Nutrition founder Monica Auslander, is to replace some higher-calorie recipe ingredients with lower-calorie alternatives so you can satisfy your cravings for a particular dish (or enjoy an XXL serving of said dish) and still surface with a caloric deficit that results in weight loss. Try these easy swaps below to lighten up your favorite foods (all calorie counts are estimates, and will vary by recipe and serving size).
1. For lower-calorie rice, combine grains with cauliflower 'rice'
Grab some grated some cauliflower, which you can buy or make in a food processor, and sauté it. (Auslander recommends using avocado oil with a bit of salt, turmeric, and garlic shallots). Then serve or prepare your favorite rice as directed, and mix equal parts cauliflower and grains for a combo that's tasty but serves up fewer calories per serving.
Calories saved per cup: 86
2. For a hungry-girl serving size of oatmeal, bulk it up with zucchini.
But what is wrong with oatmeal, you ask? Nothing—except that a standard serving (½ cup) is not that much food. To significantly increase your serving size without adding loads of calories, combine 2 parts finely grated zucchini to 1 part oats. (In the same way you can barely taste greens in a smoothie, zucchini blends brilliantly with oats.) Then stir in your favorite toppings—Auslander recommends nuts and fruit to boost healthy fats, fiber, and flavor—and cover the mixture with your milk of choice. Cover and chill overnight, or stir on your stovetop over medium heat until it's thick and creamy for a heartier serving of hot cereal.
Calories saved per 1 cup serving: 79
3. For lower-carb mashed potatoes, combine potatoes with mashed cauliflower.
Outlaw potatoes entirely, and your taste buds will probably protest. But a 50-50 mix of mashed potatoes and boiled cauliflower will hit the spot. Instead of mixing in butter or sour cream, use unsweetened almond milk and nutritional yeast for a creamy, cheesy effect. And remember to keep the potato skins in there—that's where all the nutrition is (and it saves you the hassle of peeling).
Calories saved per 1 cup serving: 93
4. For a larger bowl of pasta, fill it up with zucchini zoodles.
Just like oatmeal (which is healthy in its own right, just calorically dense), you can't eat a ton of whole-grain pasta without racking up an enormous amount of calories. To reduce the calories in your pasta without taking it off the menu entirely, use one part vegetables noodles made from zucchini—which can be made using a spiralizer and have far fewer calories than pasta—and one part spaghetti. You can boil it all together or sauté the zucchini noodles first, then add it to cooked pasta.
Calories saved per cup: 100 calories
5. For a lighter guacamole, add peas.
Sure, die-hard guac fans might regard this as odd, but a cup of avocado contains more than five times as many calories as the same serving of green peas. So calorie counters benefit from replacing a portion of avocado with the legumes. That said, Auslander warns that this swap leaves you with a higher-carb dip, and no one ever said that carbs, which are more quickly digested by the body, trump fats, which are inherently more satisfying and fend off hunger for longer. Still: 'I validate it as a different flavor enhancer,' she says of the hack. And it doesn't hurt that peas deliver vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, B6, and magnesium.
Calories saved per ¼-cup serving: 37 calories
6. To take part in pizza night, start with cauliflower crust.
'There's no such thing as a normal human who only eats one slice of pizza, which is technically one to two servings of grains,' Auslander says. In theory, replacing regular crusts with the cauliflower kind is as good as turning your carb load into first and second servings of salad—potentially, more satisfying if you rely on a recipe that calls for eggs to bind the cauliflower mixture. For a delicious cauliflower crust, try this cauliflower pizza pie recipe.
Calories saved per serving: 243