Heres a selection of foods ranked from most calorie-dense to least. (Calorie density is calculated by dividing the calories in a food by its weight in grams.) The more calorie-dense the foods in your diet, the more calories youre likely to eat. Dont forget to check the calories per serving for each food. An ounce of cheese may have a high calorie density, but if you eat only an ounce, youll get just 110 calories. And keep in mind that some foodslike butter, margarine, oil, and salad dressingarent eaten alone, so its the calorie density of the buttered
bread or salad with dressing that matters.
|Oil (1 Tbs.)||120 ||8.8|
|Butter or margarine (1 Tbs.)||100 ||7.2|
|Peanuts, dry roasted (1 oz.)||180 ||5.9|
|Hersheys Milk Chocolate (1 bar11/2 oz.)||230 ||5.3|
|Fudge brownie sundae (10 oz.)||1,130 ||4.1|
|Cheese nachos (7 oz.)||810 ||4.0|
|Cheddar cheese (1 oz.)||110 ||4.0|
|Entenmanns All Butter Loaf (1/6 loaf)||210 ||3.7|
|The Cheesecake Factory Original Cheesecake (1 slice7 oz.)||710 ||3.5|
|Dunkin Donuts Glazed Donut (12 oz.)||180 ||3.5|
|Cheese fries (4 cups)||2,380 ||3.2|
|Cinnabon (7.5 oz.)||670 ||3.2|
|McDonalds French Fries, large (5 oz.)||450 ||3.1|
|Cheese pizza (1 slice31/2 oz.)||310 ||3.0|
|Entenmanns Light Golden Loaf (1/8 loaf)||130 ||2.7|
|White bread (2 slices)||130 ||2.7|
|Kung Pao Chicken (41/2 cups)||1,620 ||2.6|
|McDonalds Big Mac (8 oz.)||560 ||2.6|
|Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Ice Cream (1 cup)||540 ||2.5|
|Tuna salad sandwich (11 oz.)||720 ||2.3|
|Ham sandwich with mustard (9 oz.)||560 ||2.1|
|Häagen-Dazs Low Fat Vanilla Ice Cream (1 cup)||340 ||1.8|
|Sirloin steak, trimmed (8 oz.)||390 ||1.6|
|Turkey sandwich with mustard (9 oz.)||370 ||1.5|
|Grilled chicken (6 oz.)||270 ||1.5|
|White rice, cooked (1 cup)||210 ||1.3|
|Spaghetti with tomato sauce (31/2 cups)||850 ||1.2|
|Broiled flounder or sole (6 oz.)||200 ||1.2|
|Baked potato, with skin (1)||230 ||1.1|
|Yogurt (fruit), low-fat (8 oz.)||230 ||1.0|
|Oatmeal, cooked (1 cup)||150 ||0.6|
|Apple (1)||90 ||0.6|
|Carrot, raw (1)||30 ||0.4|
|Broccoli, cooked (1/2 cup)||20 ||0.3|
|Spinach, raw (1 cup)||10 ||0.2|
Source: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference,
manufacturers, and Nutrition Action Healthletter restaurant studies.
Chart compiled by Ingrid VanTuinen.
OK, so most people arent exactly overcome with sympathy for your situation. Try as you might, you cant seem to gain weight. Here are some ideas that may help. Many are tips for the overweight turned on their head.
Seek out (healthy) calorie-dense foods. You want to cram in those calories, but not at the expense of your arteries or health. So instead of loading up on burgers, butter, pizza, and full-fat ice cream, try squeezing unsaturated fats into your diet.
Munch on peanuts, pistachios, or any other nuts as a snack. Use regular (not low-fat) mayonnaise and salad dressing (but not regular cream cheese or margarine). Add extra olive or canola oil to bean or green salads, pasta, potatoes, vegetables, chicken, or fish. Get tuna packed in oil, not water. Slice some avocado into your sandwich or salad. Spread peanut butter on bread, crackers, apples, carrots, or anything else that sounds good.
Drink your calories. Think of each beverage as a chance to get some surplus calories, but dont waste them on the empty calories in sodas or fruit beverages. Drink orange, pineapple, grapefruit, or other juices with most meals. You still need to stick with low-fat or skim (not reduced-fat or whole) milk. But you can pile on the calories (in milk or juice) by throwing in a banana, berries, or other fruit and whipping up a smoothie in the blender. If youre not a milk drinker, start with (low-fat) plain or vanilla yogurt instead.
Dont stop exercising. Being thin is no excuse for turning into a couch potato. Whether youre built like Twiggy or a Teletubby, exercise can keep you healthy and it may help you work up an appetite.
A note of caution: If youve lost weight for unknown reasons, check with your doctor. Unexplained weight loss could be a sign of illness.
Also see: How Fat is Fat?
Whats the best way to stay lean? There are no magic bullets, despite the bold (or merely sneaky) claims on weight-loss supplements (see p. 9). But there are some fascinating possibilities on the horizon.
Researchers at Laval University in Quebec, for example, recently found that when people are fed an appetizer of chausson (a savory pastry) and a red sauce with capsaicinthe stuff that makes red chili peppers hotthey eat about 200 fewer calories over the next three hours than when the sauce has no capsaicin.
But so far weve only tested it in lean individuals under laboratory conditions, says Lavals Angelo Tremblay. And, he cautions, if you go to a Mexican restaurant and eat a bowl of chips with salsa, dont assume that its calories dont count.
Until researchers know more, here are some new (and some old) strategies that may give you a fighting chance to win the battle of the bulge.
Curb calorie density
Does fat make you fat? For years, popular diet books assured the chubby masses that a low-fat diet was the key to
weight loss. They were right...and wrong.
Our research shows that its calorie density—not fat—that determines how many calories people eat, says Susan Roberts of the Jean Mayer U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.
For 18 days, Roberts offered 14 people meals that were either low-fat (20 percent of calories from fat) or high-fat (40 percent fat). But, unlike
other studies comparing high-fat
and low-fat diets, these two regimens had the same amount of fiber, palatability, and calorie density (thats a foods calories divided by its weight).1
When we kept calorie density constant, people on the high-fat diet ate no more calories than people on the low-fat diet, says Roberts.
But her research doesnt let fat off the hook, because its so calorie-dense (see Counting Calories and Density, p. 5). Fat is important to watch out for, but low-fat foods that are high in sugar like SnackWells cookies and Entenmanns cakes are also high in calorie density, says Robertss colleague Megan McCrory.
The bottom line is that low-fat diets that are loaded with vegetables and fruits and other high-fiber, low-calorie foods may indeed help keep the pounds off. Diets filled with calorie-dense low-fat cakes, cookies, ice creamand even bread, pasta, and crackersmay not.
Shrink your servings
When people were served larger portions of lasagna, they ate more than when they were given smaller
portions and allowed to get up for more,” says Tuftss McCrory.
Thats what happened in single-meal studies done decades ago.2 More recent studies show that when people are given larger amounts of hedonistic foods like M&Ms, they eat more than people who are given smaller amounts.3
When we gave people big buckets of popcornthe ones you have to hold with two handsat a movie theater, they ate 40 to 50 percent more popcorn than people who got smaller buckets, says Brian Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Research Lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The only exception: Women on a date ate the same amount of popcorn, regardless of bucket size, he notes. When they were on their own or with friends, though, watch out.
The nation is proving those studies right. Serving sizes in restaurants have gotten bigger, says Marion Nestle of New York University. Food is low in cost relative to rent and labor, she explains. So its just as easy to throw in more food.
And its tough to change. People become accustomed to large amounts, so if theyre served a normal portion they feel cheated, says Nestle.
That could explain why people who frequent restaurants are more likely to be overweight. We asked people how many times they ate at different restaurants, like Chinese, Mexican, or places that serve pizza, hamburgers, fried chicken, or fried fish, says McCrory.
The more often they ate out, the fatter they were. It may be more than huge portions that make restaurant-goers heavier. Restaurants serve foods that are calorie-dense, palatable, varied, and in large portions, says McCrory. And thats a recipe for flab.
The answer, says Nestle, is simple: Eat less.
Before you put the first fork in, think about how much youre going to eat and have them wrap up the rest for the next day, says Nestle, who recently dropped ten pounds to lower her blood cholesterol. (It fell 60 points.) It really works.
Limit (some) choices
Eat a variety of foods, says the governments Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the
American Dietetic Association, and others.
But variety may be the dieters enemy. If people are offered three different kinds of sandwiches, theyll eat more than if they are given three of the same sandwich, says McCrory.
People eat more pasta if they have three shapes to choose from, even if all three are the same color and theyre served with plain spaghetti sauce, she says.4
Lack of variety may help some people lose weight on the Atkins diet or other regimens that limit bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, and other
carbohydrates. Suddenly, variety plummets to a much narrowerand more manageablerange.
The instinct to eat a variety of foods is incredibly powerful, says Tuftss Susan Roberts. We probably wouldnt have survived in Paleolithic times if we werent programmed to eat meat, fruit, and vegetables instead of just one food.
McCrory and Roberts found that people who eat the widest variety of almost any foodincluding sweets, pizza, sandwiches, salad dressings, pasta, and potatoeshave more body fat. (More variety means typically eating eight rather than three kinds of sandwiches, six rather than two kinds of cookies, etc.)
Exceptions: people who eat a variety of fruits and dairy products have no more (or less) body fat. And people who eat the widest variety of vegetables have less body fat than others.5
Vegetables are good news for people who are trying to reduce their weight, says Roberts. Theyre low in calorie density, so they may displace calorie-dense foods, and their bulk may reduce overeating.
Yet just five vegetablesfresh potatoes, frozen potatoes, onions, iceberg lettuce, and processed tomatoesmake up half of all the vegetables we eat, says McCrory.
Instead of a variety of vegetables, many of us eat a variety of junk.
If you want cookies, youre better off buying three boxes of one kind than one box each of three different kinds, says McCrory. With just one kind of cookie in the house, you get sick of it after a while.
Curb liquid calories
Ate more than you should have? No problem. Youll just eat less later.
Thats more likely to happen if the extra calories you ate came from solid rather than from liquid foods, says Richard Mattes of Purdue University.
He gave 15 normal-weight men and women an extra 450 calories a day as either a liquid (three 12-ounce cans of soda) or solid (45 large jelly beans) for four weeks each.6
When they got the solid food, they ate less at other times, so they adjusted for all of the calories, he explains. In contrast, when they got the liquid food, they just added those calories to their customary diet. They didnt compensate at all.
Other studies also suggest that people compensate best for solid foods, less well for semi-solid foods like (non-clear) soup or milkshakes, and worst for liquids, he adds. Liquid calories dont trip our satiety mechanisms, says Mattes. They just dont register.
A recent analysis of a national survey jibes with his findings.7 The more (non-diet) sodas children drink, the more calories they consume, he notes. The solution: Use beverages that have no calories, Mattes suggests. Or limit calorie-containing beverages. Dont drink them all day long or in large quantities.
Make movement part of your life
We have more-sedentary jobs, more cars, more computers, more televisions, and
more labor-saving conveniences. Is it any wonder that we also have more stores that specialize in big sizes?
The next step is that we wont even need to expend the energy to push a button, says James Levine of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Well just say bring me the food and computers will operate on voice recognition. Well become immobile blobs.
The answer: Get moving. And that doesnt necessarily mean tennis or bicycling. Gardening, raking leaves, mowing the lawn, and washing windows also count.
Overweight people are more amenable to increasing lifestyle activitieslike using the stairs or parking farther away from the mallthan going to the gym, says Thomas Wadden, an obesity expert at the University of Pennsylvania. And people who boost their lifestyle activity are just as successful at keeping the weight off as people who participate in formal exercise programs.8
In fact, overweight children lose more weight when told to limit sedentary activities than when told to exercise (or to do both).9 Getting kids to turn off the TV or spend less time at the computer works better than urging them to increase their aerobic activity, says Wadden.
Keep moving to keep from gaining
Exercise doesnt make much difference when youre trying to lose weight. Fairly strenuous exercise30 to 40 minutes three or four times a weekproduces only a two to six pound weight loss over six months, says Wadden.
Thats because exercise just doesnt burn that many calories and because some people may compensate by eating more. Most people who participate in an exercise program think, I should look like Cindy Crawford by now, he says. But thats unrealistic.
Its not weight loss, but weight maintenance, that gets easier when people exercise. If you find 100 people who have kept the weight off, 90 of them are likely to be exercising enough to burn more than 1,500 calories a week, says Wadden.
Rena Wing of the University of Pittsburgh has enrolled 2,000 people in her National Weight Control Registry. These weight-loss champswho report having lost an average of 66 poundsexpend an average of 2,800 calories a week. Thats the equivalent of walking three or four miles a day.10
Who has the time? Most of
the people in our registry dont do
only one thing, says Wing. On average, they spend about 1,000 calories a week walking. Thats ten miles. But most combine that with other activities.
Thats the flip-side of limiting your variety of high-calorie foods, she adds. For physical activity, we encourage variety so people dont get bored.
Break it up
Note to busy folks: People who exercise in shorter bouts may be more likely to
stick with the program.
If you tell people they have to exercise for 40 minutes a day and
warm up and cool down, some say they dont have 40 minutes and thats the end of it, says Wing.
But if you say, try to find ten minutes four times a day, they say, OK, maybe I can do ten minutes after my lunch break or while Im waiting for the pasta to cook. And even
if they dont squeeze in all four bouts, they may get in two or three.
Find a friend
For many people, eating less and exercising more is
easier if they dont go it
Its an old strategy,” says Rena Wing. In
some early weight-loss studies, they put people at a worksite on different teams to compete against one another. It works because the people on the team support each other and the competition is fun.
In her recent study, people who chose to join a weight-loss program with three friends or family members lost more weight than those who joined alone.11 The team members ate a meal and exercised together at least once during the study, called each other to provide support, and got group assignments (like finding good locations for walks). They also competed to see which group could maintain its weight loss most successfully.
Groups dont always work, cautions Wing. When we treated husbands and wives together, we werent very successful. It seemed to help the wife, but the husband did less well.
One can only speculate as to why. But in general, it makes sense that healthy living loves company. Would you rather be watching your weight in a crowd thats munching on baby carrots or pigging out on pizza? And even the most airtight excuse for avoiding exercise can evaporate when someone asks you to go for a walk or run.
Set realistic goals
How much weight can you expect to lose? A few years ago, Tom Wadden and colleagues
asked 60 obese womenthey averaged 218 poundstheir goal weight, dream weight, happy weight, acceptable weight, and disappointed weight.
After 48 weeks of treatment, the women lost an average of 35 pounds
slightly less than their disappointed weight loss (37 pounds). Half never even lost that much. Almost all fell far short of their acceptable weight loss (55 pounds).12
Most people have unrealistic expectations, says Wadden.
People can typically reduce their weight by 10 to 15 percent with the best behavior-modification programs. If you try to lose 20 or 30 percent, youre likely to regain the weight.
The body seems to defend its weight, he adds. But theres a certain amount of wiggle room. Go beyond it and you set yourself up to fail.
Satisfaction is comparing what you expect and what you get, says Wadden. If you keep ratcheting up your expectations, youll get dissatisfied and quit.
Think healthy, not just skinny
Diet sodas, Wow chips, and artificially sweetened candy bars may help you cut calories, but healthy theyre not.
Each time you chew on a high- or low-calorie candy bar you miss a chance to swallow some phytochemicals neatly packaged in a wedge of watermelon or a handful of berries.
Luckily, the same foods that cut your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke should help you trim extra padding between your shoulders and knees. Dont think of them as punishment. Dishes like roasted asparagus, stir-fried broccoli, sautéed mushrooms, or broiled pineapple or bananas can be delicacies.
Skinny isnt the only point of exercise, either. You can be fit and fat
if you move enough. When we looked at overweight men as a group, they were less physically fit and had the highest death rate, says Steven Blair of the Cooper Institute of Aerobics Research in Dallas.
But when we looked separately at the overweight men who were fit, we didnt see much increase in dying. The same probably holds for women. To be fit, you have to accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity most days.
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