Counting calories is one way for dieters to make sure they are eating fewer calories than they are burning, but this approach can bring mixed results. If counting calories isn't your cup of tea, or isn't helping you lose weight, start reading nutrition labels.
Calories in food are contained in their macronutrients, or carbohydrates, proteins and fats. The percentage of calories from each "macro" can be manipulated by changing the foods you consume.
For people who are interested in switching their approach to getting fit, attention to macronutrients can make a "diet" less about restriction and starvation and more about achieving optimal ratios for better energy and improved health.
So what should the breakdown look like? Here's a sampling of foods you can add or subtract to come closer to your ideal macronutrient profile. You will quickly see how one change can have a big immpact on your daily totals — for the better.
To have enough energy for workouts and enough focus to avoid the afternoon fog, most people should consume between 40 and 55 percent of their calories from carbohydrates. To lower carbs and raise other macros, start by reducing sugary carbohydrates such as those in baked goods and packaged products. Swap pasta-based dishes for protein entrees, try eggs for breakfast instead of cereal and sandwiches with wholegrain bread, served open-faced. Reduce portion sizes of breads, pastas, rice and cereals. Swap crackers, granola bars, muffins and pretzels for Greek yogurt, nuts, edamame or light string cheese.
If you are struggling to lose weight or have food cravings in the evenings, try increasing the percentage of calories you get from protein. An appropriate protein intake is typically between 15 and 35 percent of calories. If you consume a lot of calories, the higher percentages can be hard to obtain without a supplement. To get more protein, focus on a source for every meal and snack. Excellent choices include lean meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products such as low-fat milk, cheese and yogurt, eggs, beans and soy foods. For simple meals, try a Greek yogurt smoothie for breakfast and a hard-boiled egg and high-protein chicken salad wrap for lunch.
For most of us, decreasing total fat is a challenge, but increasing healthy fats can also be difficult. Instead of simply aiming to consume less than 30 percent of calories from total fat, also aim to take in fewer than 7 percent of calories from saturated fat, as recommended by the American Heart Association. To swap fats, trade butter for olive oil and choose nuts and seeds for snacks. Avoid fried foods and creamy dressings, opting instead for salads topped with an oil-based dressing and avocado.
Jill Koegel is a sports-certified registered dietitian, certified personal trainer and a registered yoga instructor teaching in Omaha. Jill writes weekly for livewellnebraska.com.