Smartest Ways to Cut Calories

These 10 science-proven strategies will help you cut calories that you won’t even miss

March 30, 2011
woman eating out of a bowl
1/11 Thinkstock

You don't have to be a Jeopardy finalist to figure out that the answer to losing weight is cutting back on what you eat. However, with so much diet advice out there, it's hard to figure out the best way to shave calories. We've taken the guesswork out of healthy eating and rounded up the 10 best research-backed methods on how to cut calories and peel back the pounds--even Watson would approve.

8 Delicious recipes that trim back the fat

grilled chicken salad
2/11 Thinkstock
Eat Protein

You save: 441 calories

Piling your plate with foods that contain protein helps fuel muscle growth and makes you eat less, says a University of Washington School of Medicine study. People were fed a calorie-restricted diet (15% protein, 35% fat, and 50% carbs) for 2 weeks, then switched to a high-protein diet of the same calories (30% protein, 20% fat, and 50% carbs) for another 2 weeks, and then kept the latter diet with no calorie restrictions for 12 weeks. The result: On the high-protein, unrestricted diet, people voluntarily cut 441 calories a day and lost 11 pounds.

Consult the only nutrition book you'll ever need

woman eating with utensil
3/11 Thinkstock
Savor Each Bite

You save: 135 calories

Let your taste buds linger on every bite. University of Rhode Island researchers found that chewing slowly can help decrease the amount of food you consume by 135 calories. Why? It takes about 20 minutes for the message from your stomach to register in your brain telling you that you're full. Eating at a slower pace will help you realize you're satisfied before you're stuffed.

Don't go another day without tips from our experts

dessert with spoon
4/11 Thinkstock
Eat with a Dessert Spoon

You save: 59 calories

Research shows that our perception of food portions is relative to the size of our plates and bowls--as well as the utensils we use to eat. Brian Wansink, PhD, author of Mindless Eating, found that people who scooped ice cream into small bowls (17 oz) served themselves 127 calories fewer than those who had larger bowls (34 oz). Dishing it out with smaller spoons decreased serving size by 59 calories.

And eating with smaller tableware may help you cut calories. Smaller spoons, in particular, limit the amount of each bite, slowing down your intake and giving you time to feel satiated before you overeat. Chopsticks work the same way.

two tall cocktails
5/11 Thinkstock
Pour Your Cocktails into Tall Glasses

You save: 23 calories

Even expert mixologists get a little tripped up judging portion sizes. Wansink and his colleagues found that bartenders used about 20% more alcohol (23 calories) in common drinks such as a rum and Coke or gin and tonics when mixing them in tumblers compared with tall Tom Collins glasses. (Bing: Which cocktails are healthiest?)

hand grabbing black beans out of a bowl
6/11 Thinkstock
Eat Fiber

You save: 90 to 130 calories

Fiber takes longer to digest than other foods, so you feel full longer on less. Those who increased their daily fiber intake by 14 g--the amount in a cup of cooked black beans--ate 10% fewer calories throughout the day, reports researchers from Tufts University. Plus, University of Illinois researchers found that the more fiber you eat, the fewer calories your body absorbs from fat and protein. According to research calculations, if men increased their fiber intake from 18 g to 36 g a day, they'd absorb 130 fewer calories per day; if women went from eating 12 g to 24 g of fiber, they'd absorb 90 fewer calories. (Video: Sneak more fiber into your meals!)

gum wrapper
7/11 Thinkstock
Chew Gum

You save: 36 to 67 calories

Cut cravings before you eat by popping a piece of gum. People who chewed gum in the morning ate 67 fewer calories at lunch and didn't make up those calories later in the day, according researchers from the University of Rhode Island. Plus, a Glasgow Caledonian University study found that gum reduces snacking by 36 fewer calories.

Chewing gum may keep you mind off of food. But keep tabs on the number of sugar-free sticks you chew--the artificial sweetener sorbitol is known to cause digestive problems.

bowl of soup
8/11 Thinkstock
Start Your Meal with Soup

You save: 134 calories

Eating a multicourse meal may actually help you scale back on how much you pile in. People who had soup before a meal ate 134 fewer total calories than those who headed straight to the main course, according to a study in the journal Appetite. "Soups and salads can fill you up for very few calories, so you eat less later," says Keri M. Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet. "They give you a lot of volume and are rich in vitamins and minerals." Stick to vegetable and bean soups over cream-based ones--they have fewer calories and more fiber.

water with lime slices
9/11 Thinkstock
Replace Diet Soda with Water

You save: 75 to 90 calories

For even more weight loss, kick the can in favor of water. Studies from Purdue University, University of Texas Health Sciences Center, and the Framingham Heart Study suggest that diet soda drinkers may actually gain weight. Researchers speculate that artificial sweeteners may impair our ability to gauge calorie content or train us to prefer sweet foods.

One thing is conclusive: Drinking diet soda can mean that you're missing out on other, healthier beverages. Swap out the bubbly for water. The two may have the same number of calories, but drinking two glasses of water before a meal can decrease your overall calorie intake by 75 to 90 calories, a Virginia Tech study found.

diet soda
10/11 Thinkstock
Replace Regular Soda with Diet

You save: 530 calories

Soda has been public enemy number one for some time--and for good reason. It's filled with empty calories and zero nutrition. If you're not ready to give up your daily can (or two), at least trade it in for the diet version. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who sipped diet soda ate 530 fewer calories during the day than those who chose the regular kind.

carrot cake
11/11 Thinkstock
Hide Veggies in Homemade Meals

You save: 202 to 357 calories
Get creative with your cooking to sneak more vegetables into your meals. Penn State researchers found that when they modified recipes by adding or increasing the amount of pureed veggies in carrot cake, macaroni and cheese, and casseroles, subjects took in between 202 and 357 fewer calories than when they ate the real deal. The best part: The extra-veggie versions were just as filling as the higher calorie ones. Use the same food philosophy and pile on the veggies when cooking pasta dishes or building a sandwich. You'll increase the volume of your meal at a fraction of the calories.

Find out more sneaky ways to eat more superfoods!