Weight Loss and Diet Tips

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What are empty calories?

Avoid Empty Calories

One simple yet effective way to improve your diet is to avoid empty calories. What are empty calories? Food that provides excessive amounts of calories with little or no nutritional value is empty calories. Some empty calorie foods include french fries, chips, candy, soda, and alcoholic beverages. Choosing foods that are more nutrient dense is important. As an example, nonfat milk would be considered more nutrient dense and a better beverage choice than a sugared soft drink. See your body as a machine that needs the right type of fuel for optimal performance. If you don't put the correct kind of foods in your body you will not function at your peak. It's like putting diesel gas in your car. For weight loss it is important get rid of or really limit the junk food. To increase the quality of your diet focus on consuming nutrient rich foods.

What are the fundamentals of weight loss?

Weight Loss Basics For The Best Weight Loss Diet

Even the best weight loss diet plans make shedding pounds sound so simple. However, as you know from experience it is not that easy. One reason people fail at weight loss is that they don't truly understand the amount of effort that's required to lose substantial amounts of weight. First, for weight loss to occur, you must produce a deficit of approximately 3,500 calories just to lose one pound. Expending 3,500 more calories than you consume is a difficult task. You must work really hard to make it happen by reducing calorie intake (food and caloric drinks) and expending more calories primarily through increased physical activity.

Now the hard part begins. To effectively lose weight it is helpful to know the number of calories in common foods you eat and the amount of calories you expend through exercise. Let's look at an example. Let's say you go to a fast food restaurant and order the following:

Quarter Pounder w/cheese, large french fries, large Coca-Cola Classic and an apple pie. This meal alone adds up to 1480 calories that's over half of your needs for one day! You can see very quickly how calorie intake can get out of hand. Now we need to turn our attention to exercise. The general rule of thumb is that you burn approximately 100 calories for every mile walked. Therefore, to cancel out our high calorie meal requires walking about 15 miles! As you can see from this example you don't burn many calories from exercise, so the best weight loss diet is the one that encourages sensible eating.

Should I understand nutrition claims found on food packages?

Nutrient Claims on Food Labels

Browsing the supermarket isles in an effort to choose the right foods can be daunting. There are so many nutrition claims made on product packages these days that it's hard to know what they all mean. Don't assume that “fat free” salad dressing has no fat or that “fat free” is the same as “calorie free.” Understanding nutritional claims on food products is important for weight loss. You don't want to eat something thinking its low in calories or fat when it's really not. This can derail your progress in no time. Let's look at some of the common nutrition claims found on food labels.

Light or Lite – generally used to refer to fat, calories or sodium

  • When used to refer to either fat or sodium “light” means the product contains half of the fat and sodium found in the original food.
  • If light is used to refer to calories it means the product has one-third less total calories
Free – used with calorie, sugar, fat, cholesterol, and sodium

  • The term “free” is referring to calories. It means the product contains less than five calories per serving.
  • Fat or sugar “free” means the product contains less than half a gram per serving.
  • Cholesterol-free has less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol per serving
  • Sodium free indicates less than 5 milligrams per serving.
Low –used with calorie, sodium, fat, and cholesterol

  • Low calorie means the product has less than 40 calories per serving
  • Low sodium products contain less than five milligrams per serving
  • Fat has three grams or less per serving
  • Cholesterol has 20 milligrams or less
Less—this claim can refer to all nutrients and means the food contains less than 25 percent of the original product.

So be careful, as you can see “calorie free” still has calories just not as many. If you eat too much these “light” or “calorie free” foods will cause weight gain. It's just that simple. This is why you must read the food label and comprehend the nutritional claims on food packages. With this information you can better choose healthy products for you and your family.

What are examples of appropriate portion sizes?

Portion Control: When Size Does Matter

Portion control is an easy weight loss diet concept in theory but more difficult to put into practice. However, it is extremely essential for successful weight loss. Why is it so important? A better understanding of portion sizes allows you to more accurately estimate the calories in food. Overeating as little as 100 calories per day leads to a one pound weight gain over the course of a month. To learn portion sizes you'll need to weigh and measure everything you eat, at least initially. With practice you will become better at estimating portion sizes by visual inspection. Learning portion sizes is hard work but the potential payoff will have you on the road to successful weight loss. Here are some visual cues to help you determine how much you are eating.

  • Ping pong ball = 1 ounce of cheese (100 calories) or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter (180 calories)
  • Computer mouse = 1 medium potato (160 calories)
  • Deck of cards = 3 ounce of very lean meat (105 calories)
  • Baseball = 1 medium fruit (60 calories)
  • Tennis ball =1/2 cup of juice (60 calories)
  • Compact Disc (CD) = 1 waffle or pancake (80 calories)
  • 8 ounce glass = 1 serving of 1% milk (90 calories)
  • 6 inch plate = 1 tortilla (6 inches) (80 calories)

What is a serving size?

Reading Food Labels Is Helpful for Weight Loss

To achieve your weight loss goal you need to able to determine how many calories are contained in the foods you eat. Central to this idea is being able to read food labels. The next time you are at the grocery store notice the food label on the products you select. Are you making the healthiest choice? The only way to be certain is to read the label. With a few exceptions, the government requires food manufacturers to provide food labels on all food products.

Probably the first and most important place you will want to look on a food label is at the serving size. Food labels have a standard serving size for various types of food products. Soup, for instance, uses a one cup serving size. For beverages 8 ounces is standard serving size. Once you know how many servings are in your package then determine the number of calories per serving. Realize that calories are listed per serving and not by number of calories in the entire package. If you read a label and it says there are two serving per package with 100 calories per serving this means the total calories, should you consume the entire thing, will be 200. In this example, you will also need to double the other nutrients on the label such as the number of calories from fat, cholesterol and sodium. Reading the label is especially important in today's supermarket because there are so many options available. You wouldn't buy a piece of clothing at a department store without looking at the price tag or examining its material would you? Nor should you choose your foods without careful analysis of the nutrition label.

What are the benefits of fiber?

The Benefits of Fiber For Your Healthy Weight Loss

Fiber is an important part of any healthy weight lossdiet plan. Dietary fiber is the portion of fruits, vegetables, grain, beans and nuts that is not completely digested. It helps to move food along the digestive tract. Adding fiber to your diet will help you lose weight because fiber containing foods are low in total calories and fat plus they are packed full of vitamin and other nutrients that your body needs. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. The soluble fiber is known to prevent constipation and decrease risk of certain types of cancer. Insoluble fiber is primarily known for its cholesterol lowering capability. Fiber also contributes to good health by lowering the risk of heart disease and helping to control blood sugars for those with diabetes. Good sources of fiber are listed below. The American Heart Association recommends 25-30 grams of fiber per day.

Food Fiber (grams per serving)

Bran cereal, ½ cup 10-13

Split peas, cooked, ½ cup 8

Baked beans, ½ cup 6

Almonds, whole, ½ cup 4

Popcorn, 3 cups 4

Oatmeal, cooked, ¾ cup 3

Whole wheat bread, 1 slice 2

Potatoes, baked with skin, 1 medium 5

Green peas, cooked, ½ cup 4

Broccoli cooked, ½ cup 3

Apple, with peel, 1 medium 4

Banana, 1 medium 3

So as you can see, fiber is found in many of the food you eat. Take advantage of fiber by adding it to your healthy weight loss diet plan.

How can variety, balance, and moderation of foods improve my diet?

Understanding Variety, Balance, and Moderation

A study conducted by the American Dietetic Association found that 2 out of 5 people surveyed thought eating a healthy diet required giving up the foods they love. Actually nothing could be further from the truth. Avoiding your favorite foods will only lead to binging on that very food somewhere in the future. There are three important guides to use when developing a healthy diet: variety, balance and moderation.

Variety – You should select a number of different foods within a particular food group.

When you eat the ‘same foods' every day you miss out on important nutrients found in other foods within the same group. For instance, if you only eat carrots as your vegetable source, you get plenty of vitamin A but no folate. Folate is found in dark green vegetables like spinach, broccoli and asparagus. Another reason to add variety in your diet, particularly for fruits an vegetables, is that each color of fruit or vegetable contains different cancer retarding substances called phytochemicals.

Balance –You should eat foods from all of the five different food groups. The different food groups are:

  • Grains
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Milk
  • Meat and Beans
If you eat a bean burrito with salsa, an apple, and low fat glass of milk, you have covered all of the groups. Try to consciously consume balanced meals throughout the day. Overeating any particular group will cause you to miss vital nutrient found in other food groups.

Moderation –You should use portion control at meals and not over consume any one food. Realize that there are no “good” or “bad” foods. All foods, even those that are high in fat, have there place in a healthy diet plan but must be controlled.

By using these three pillars of a healthy food plan you can lose weight and adequately fuel your body throughout the day.

Do high calorie beverages contribute to weight gain?

Don't Drink All Your Calories

What type of drinks do you consume throughout your day? Do they contain calories? Drinking too many high calorie beverages when eating healthy will ruin even the best diet plan. Over the course of a month or two, cutting back on liquid calories will help you lose weight.

Many of us take for granted the number of calories that are in regular sodas, juice, or even fat-free milk. While each of these has its place in a healthy weight loss diet plan, you should be careful not to consume large volumes of drinks that are high in calories. Each of these has about 120-150 calories per 12 ounces. Although these products have little to no fat, calories count so that means you can't drink unlimited amounts. One research study suggests that consuming high calorie beverages with meals may actually lead to weight gain. A study at Pennsylvania State University found that women consumed an extra 104 calories when they had calorie containing drinks with meals. It appears surprisingly enough that liquid calories don't contribute to feelings of fullness.

Where can I get free nutrition information?


One powerful website that can provide free online weight loss help to those who are overweight is MyPyramid (www.mypyramid.gov). MyPyramid is an educational tool found online that was developed by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA). MyPyramid replaced the Food Guide Pyramid and contains the most up to date governmental information regarding food and physical activity. The goal of MyPyramid is to help you make smarter food and physical activity choices. This in turn will improve your health and move you towards a healthier weight. There are many tools available at MyPyramid including:

  • MyPyramid Plan
    • Provides the amount of each food group you need daily. You enter your information and receive a personalized food guide.
  • Steps to a Healthier Weight
    • The Steps to a Healthier Weight provides helpful diet and exercise information for weight loss.
  • Tips and Resources
    • This section gives tips and ideas to help you improve your diet.
  • Related Sites
    • For more information on diet and related topics, try these links to other Federal government and partner websites:
  • Pyramid Tracker
    • You can evaluate you current diet and physical activity pattern using MyPyramid Tracker.
You should give MyPyramid a try. It is a wonderful way to increase your nutrition knowledge and to assess your current food intake. These are both important aspects of any successful weight loss plan.

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Jerry Mayo
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