What you eat and drink can have an immense impact on your heart health. Plus, your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar (all of which are affected by your diet) are major contributors to your heart health. We know that there are dietary changes you can make to support your ticker, like snacking on blueberries and opting for whole grains whenever possible. And now a new study in Circulation, the American Heart Association's journal on cardiovascular health, has found that cutting just 200 calories from your diet each day could also be a game-changer.
The study followed more than 150 people between the ages of 65 and 79, all of whom had obesity. Researchers found that subjects who trimmed 200 calories from their diet and did aerobic exercise four days a week improved their aortic stiffness. (Aortic stiffness is a measure of heart health that tends to worsen with age.)
Another plus: subjects also tended to lose an average of 20 pounds over five months, and the subjects who cut just 200 calories from their daily diet saw the same health benefits as those who cut 600 calories per day. (That's just one more reason not to follow a drastically low-calorie diet.) Trimming 200 calories can be simple and delicious once you make a few changes to your typical food habits.
Making swaps that incorporate more veggies, like serving up your burger on a bell pepper bun or trading a side of mashed potatoes for some mashed cauliflower, are a great place to start. But there are plenty of simple ways to change up your snacking, cooking and serving habits that will also do the trick, says Jessica Ball, M.S., RD, assistant nutrition editor for EatingWell.
Don't drink your calories.
One of Ball's biggest tips is to avoid sugary sodas, juices and teas, or at least enjoy them in moderation. Two cans of soda, two cups of juice or those 16 teaspoons of sugar used to sweeten your tea or coffee will all add up by the end of the day, Ball says. Each of those examples packs 250 calories. (So would two 12-ounce beers or two 5-ounce glasses of wine.)
Use less oil or butter when cooking.
Two tablespoons of canola oil, the same amount of olive oil and 2.5 tablespoons of butter all have one thing in common: each totals to 250 calories. Cutting back on the amount of fat you use to whip up dinner could put a dent in that 200 calorie goal. Try adding things like lemon juice, broth or tomato sauce for a lower-calorie flavor boost when cooking.
Snack on fruit or homemade popcorn instead of packaged snacks.
An apple a day, right? Trading your potato chips for an apple, which packs some seriously filling fiber, could knock more than 150 calories off your daily total. Or you could trade two cups of chips for three cups of popcorn and still reduce your calorie intake by 100. (We recommend our tasty Everything Bagel Microwave Popcorn.)
Use smaller plates to make smaller portions fill your plate.
Sometimes, it's all about psychology. Using a smaller plate will help you recognize that you're not depriving yourself of food—just eating a healthier portion.
Add vegetables to bulk up meals.
Adding something like mushrooms to your meal will give you more meatiness without actual meat, like in our Beef & Portobello Mushroom Stroganoff. You could also take advantage of summer veggies by adding a low-calorie side like our Spiralized Summer Squash & Zucchini Casserole to the menu, or add wintry root vegetables for the same effect.
Use spices and herbs to boost flavor rather than cheese, oils or condiments.
Yes, Parmesan is delicious (and still totally fine to have in moderation), but its flavor can be replaced with mushroom-based umami seasoning. And we love a good slathering of barbecue sauce, but a good spice rub with smoked paprika, chipotle powder and garlic powder can bring the same spicy-smoky flavor. Four tablespoons of ketchup or barbecue sauce could run you up to 250 calories, as could two slices of cheese. Consider splitting the difference as you work on trimming your calorie count—a little more seasoning, and a little less sauce.
Choose salsa rather than a creamy dip.
French onion dip, queso and other decadently creamy chip accessories are so delicious, especially when you're dishing up snacks for game day. But on a day-to-day basis, you'd benefit from swapping your potato chips and dip for some thin tortilla chips and salsa. The difference between a half cup of French onion dip and the same amount of salsa is 180 calories—and if you opt for a super tomatoey variety, you'll even add some more veggies to your day.