Just 100 calories can hurt or help

March 14, 2007|by LYNN F. LITTLE

What do 10 pounds of fat look like? For a rough estimate, imagine 40 sticks of butter or margarine or 10 1-pound cans of vegetable shortening.

Looks like a lot ... yet how many of us add this much weight in a year without realizing it, until our pants fit a little tighter or our belt runs out of notches?

It takes an excess of about 3,500 calories to gain a pound. Break that into smaller bites, and consuming 100 extra calories a day can put on about 10 pounds a year. The good news is losing 10 pounds can be as easy as eating 100 calories less each day for a year.

There are some simple changes you can make to decrease your daily intake by about 100 calories. The amounts of calories saved are approximate. Be sure to check the Nutrition Facts labels on specific foods for exact serving amounts and calories.


As a general rule, the recommendation for healthy weight loss is a gradual loss of no more than 1/2 to 2 pounds per week. Experts also recommend losing weight under the guidance of a health care provider, especially for obese children and older adults. It's difficult to obtain adequate nutrients if you consume fewer than 1,200 calories per day, so supervision by your physician is especially important when dropping below this level. As you are attempting to eat less, increasing your activity level is also beneficial.

Some single dietary changes equal to approximately 100 calories include:

· Modify your milk. Instead of drinking two cups of whole milk, switch to two cups of 1 percent low-fat milk or skim milk. The nutrients are comparable.

· Modify your mayo. Switch from two tablespoons of regular mayonnaise to two tablespoons of low-fat mayonnaise.

· Rethink your drink. Substitute a 12-ounce can of a diet soft drink at 0 calories for a similar amount of a regular soft drink at 150 calories. (Or, drink a cold glass of water, perhaps with a slice of lemon.)

· Downsize your drink. If you've been drinking a 20-ounce container of a regular soft drink, switch to a 12-ounce container size.

· Dress, don't drown your salad. Pam Anderson, author of "How to Cook Without a Book," advises about 1 tablespoon of oil and a teaspoon of vinegar for each 1 1/2 cup portion of salad. In "How to Make Salad," the test kitchen staff for Cook's Illustrated magazine advises 1/4 cup of vinaigrette should be enough to dress 2 quarts (8 cups) of loosely packed salad, an amount they suggest for 4 servings. That means each 2-cup serving of salad greens should have about 1 tablespoon of dressing on it.

If you've been using 3 (or more) tablespoons of dressing per two cups of salad, try cutting back to 1 1/2 tablespoons or less of dressing. Experiment with some of the reduced-calorie versions and, even then, your salad will taste best if "dressed," not "drowned."

· Size up your cereal bowl. A study reported in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (June, 2001) found the amount of cereal eaten by adults was about twice the serving size listed on the box. Check the portion size you're pouring in relation to the size cited on the Nutrition Facts label. Try eating from a smaller bowl to aid in portion control.

· Watch your bread and spread. Limit the amount of bread (or rolls) and spread eaten before the main course to one serving when dining out. You always can eat more later if you're still hungry!

· Count your cookies. A single medium-sized cookie easily can have about 100 calories. We often eat two or more before we realize it. If you feel you're not getting enough "crunch" by limiting yourself to one cookie, try eating an apple instead. The calories are similar and the nutrition better.

· Top your potato with fewer calories. It's easy to slather several tablespoons of butter or margarine (200 calories/2 tablespoons) on a baked potato. Try switching to sour cream; you can have as much as one-fourth cup for 100 calories. For even fewer calories, use one of the light or fat-free sour creams. Another idea is to substitute plain yogurt for sour cream.

· Lessen your liquor. If you drink alcohol, limit your daily consumption to one drink for women and two drinks for men. A typical 5-ounce glass of wine has 100 calories; a 12-ounce serving of beer, 150 calories; and 1 1/2 ounces of distilled spirits, 100 calories.

Be size-wise with fast food. Try one or more of these strategies the next time you visit your favorite fast-food restaurant and you easily can save 100 or more calories:

· Skip the mayonnaise when ordering your favorite fast-food burger. If you're not very hungry, perhaps a "small," "regular," "junior" - or whatever term is used by the restaurant for its smallest burger - may be enough.

· Order the smallest size of fries or split them with a friend.

· Instead of fries, consider a side salad with a fat-free or reduced-calorie dressing. It's still important to check the calories on the salad dressing. Many salad dressings come in packets; a reduced-calorie dressing still might contain about 100 or more calories per packet. Your salad might taste just fine without using the whole packet.

· Order a diet soft drink or plain water.

Think about the foods you eat on a regular basis. Are there small changes you could implement? Perhaps you have ideas for other changes that might work for you. To obtain information on the approximate calories and nutrients in additional foods, search the USDA National Nutrient Database at or check the Nutrition Facts labels on foods you like.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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