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Don't Let Eye-Catching Phrases Fool You!

Trying to feed your family healthier foods, bold words like "Reduced Sugar" or "Whole Grain" on food packages probably catch your attention.

However, experts from five universities reviewed the leading kid's cereals, including these reduced sugar versions, only to discover that the calorie amount was equal to the regular high sugar variety. In fact, the ONLY one that had somewhat fewer calories was General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch--and it only dropped by 10 calories in each serving.

How can this be?! Well, the manufacturers replaced the sugar with other forms of refined carbohydrates. So the manufacturers are legal in their marketing endeavors, but the calorie amount is virtually the same. Check out the nutrition labels the next time you are in the grocery store. You'll be truly amazed... as well as deceived, frustrated and angered. Select a healthy breakfast cereal based on the following these tips:

For a fiber-rich, healthy breakfast cereal, enjoy whole grain cereals like oatmeal, Cheerios, Wheaties, shredded wheat, raisin bran, or Kashi.

Add sweetness with fresh, frozen, or fruit canned in its own juice. Give sliced bananas, canned peaches, frozen blueberries, or fresh strawberries a try. Top it all off with some low-fat milk or soymilk.

If you, your spouse, or children are screaming for the sweeter stuff, first try to go half-and-half. For example, half chocolate puffs mixed with half Cheerios. The amount of sugar and flavorings is more than ample to sweeten the contents in the entire bowl.

Ignore those catchy claims on the front of the box. Go straight to the nutrition facts label:
  • Remember the Rule of Fives: Choose cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving, and less than 5 grams of sugar.
  • Look for each serving to contain at least 3 grams of protein.
  • Read the ingredients list. The top ingredients should be "whole wheat," or "wheat bran" -- not just "wheat." These whole grains are naturally low in fat, and high in fiber.
  • Avoid cereals that list hydrogenated oils, artificial dyes or colors, and chemical preservatives as ingredients -- these have no place in a healthy diet!
The tiniest changes can add up.

Save 100 calories just by using fat-free ranch dressing instead of regular ranch or by drinking water instead of a can of soda.

The world is full of smart substitutions like these. You just have to keep your eyes open for the opportunities.  Take a moment to look at how you can eat smarter. You’ll be amazed at the difference it can make.

None of these changes are earth-shattering, and we’re not talking about replacing pancakes with rice cakes. Most of the substitution ideas here take very little effort, but can often taste just as good and be just as satisfying. And they can add up fast.

SparkPeople Smart Substitutions Chart

Instead Of:Try:Calories Saved
(One Serving)
mayonnaise (1 tsp) mustard 54
New England clam chowder Manhattan clam chowder 60
soft drink (1 can) water 100
cream of chicken soup chicken noodle soup 140
guacamole salsa 46
buttered popcorn (1 cup) airpopped popcorn 108
regular potato chips (1 oz) baked potato chips 90
potato chips (1 oz.) unbuttered popcorn 60
pudding (1 cup) sugar free applesauce 108
ice cream (1/2 cup) non-fat frozen yogurt 153
cream (1 cup) evaporated milk 300
whole milk (1 cup) skim milk 60
nachos w/ the works tortilla chips & salsa 414
fettuccine alfredo (16 oz) spaghetti w/ tomato sauce 426
veggie pizza (2 slices) no-cheese veggie pizza 314
chocolate (1 cup) cocoa 492
bagel w/ cream cheese (1 tbsp) apple slices w/ peanut butter 119
ranch salad dressing (2 tbsp) raspberry vinaigrette 68
ground beef (4 oz.) ground turkey 132
hollandaise sauce (1 cup) white wine sauce 160
chocolate chip cookies (5) vanilla wafers 200
5th Avenue candy bar fig bar (3) 115
cinnamon Pop Tart (2) large graham crackers (4) 140
carrot cake (3 oz.) gingerbread 51
peking/hoisin sauce (3 oz.) oyster sauce 99
flaked coconut (1 cup) diced pineapple 265
tartar sauce (1 tbsp) lemon juice 70
Hershey chocolate bar Nestle Rich chocolate hot cocoa 105
cheddar cheese (1 cup) mozzarella cheese 141
cinnamon raisin bagel cinnamon raisin english muffin 106
café latte hot tea 122
ricotta cheese (1 cup) low-fat cottage cheese 172
sour cream (1 cup) plain yogurt




They are small words. They can be easy to miss. They slip off your tongue as you order your food, without even knowing what you are saying. Yet they mean the difference between a healthy or unhealthy meal. What are these unassuming potential land mines? "Menu Watch Words" -- and it pays to keep your eye on them.

Going out to eat is a lot of fun. You’re having a good time and you might not always think about what’s best for you. You can avoid the next morning "why did I eat that" hangover by planting a few gentle reminders, well-placed whispers in your ear.

Did you know that consultants travel the country helping restaurants say just the right things on their food menus? Unless you ask the server about the preparation of each item, it’s hard to know for sure what’s really healthy and unhealthy. For example, the word "breaded" can add five times as much fat to your meal as the word "grilled." You can fight back by translating the consultants’ wordcrafting into something useful.

Not all "Menu Watch Words" are bad. When you go out to eat, just go prepared. Know which words to look for and which to avoid. Below is a quick hit list of Green Flag "Safe" and Red Flag "Warning!" food options.

Read more: Know Your Menu Watch Words

Going out to eat can be fun, easy and a wonderful way to celebrate an achievement or catch up with friends. But do you find yourself getting anxious just thinking about dining out knowing how many dishes are loaded with calories? Although your woes are well-founded (some restaurants cram as many as 1,800 calories into one entrée), there are ways to beat the system!

Take a step back from ordering what "sounds good" and make a smart (and still delicious!) choice when dining out. Use these tips to help you choose something that is tasty, nutritious and comes in at a more appropriate calorie level.

  1. Ask questions. The biggest factor in successful restaurant ordering is asking questions. The server is there to help, so don’t be afraid to tap into his or her knowledge. Asking for clarification is one area where many of us falter. Whether it's to preserve integrity or save time, ditching a request to explain what an unknown term means could lead to a poor meal choice (either in taste or nutrient quality). So when no one at your table can define broasted, carpaccio, or roulade, ask!

  2. Don’t be shy. One of the biggest reasons restaurant-goers give for not ordering exactly what they want is that they didn't want to "be a pest" or something of that nature. The saying, "those that ask, receive" is true when ordering dinner! The person prepping salads will only put your dressing on the side if you ask. If you do feel uncomfortable making requests, start small. Even asking for water with or without lemon is going to set you on the right path to assertive ordering. If you need more motivation, remind yourself that you are a paying customer and deserve to have a reasonable amount of choice in your meal.

  3. Decode the menu. Know which culinary words are a "go" and which are a "no" when it comes to healthy ordering. Some culinary practices add much more fat, salt, and/or sugar to achieve the effect. Stick to menu descriptors like broiled, baked, marinated, steamed, and vinaigrette; methods like these are likely to be lower in saturated fat, high in good fats, and can be lower in calories overall. Check out this article for a complete list of words to watch for when scanning a menu.

  4. Replace the side. Many standard side items are fried, refined carbohydrates. Replace items like fries, onion rings or potato chips with whole grain or high fiber choices such as brown rice, steamed vegetables, or a plain baked potato. If there is an up charge, it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth $1.99 to save hundreds of calories and get extra fiber, vitamins and minerals to switch from fries to veggies.

  5. Hold the butter. Restaurants sneak butter into many unexpected places without spelling it out on the menu. Take initiative and ask if you suspect extra butter is used in preparing the meal you’re considering. Some common spots that butter turns up is on the bread (sometimes both sides) of grilled sandwiches, melted and coated onto vegetables, or added in with rice. Sometimes, holding the butter is not an option since many restaurants will batch cook dishes, but it’s definitely worth asking so you know exactly what you’re ordering.

  6. Change the size. There are a few ways you can control the portion size of your meal. Some restaurants offer half portions, or small plates right off the bat, but if it’s not advertised, ask. The venue you are visiting may be willing to split your plate, sell you half portions, or at least place half of your meal in a to-go container to take with you when you leave. Eating proper portions is half the battle when it comes to achieving calorie balance.

  7. Slow down. The ambiance of restaurants can be distracting, relaxing, grounds for a long meal, or all three. This type of environment can cause us to overeat or eat mindlessly. Take note of this effect, and consciously slow your eating and drinking. Sit back between bites, enjoy the conversation, and pay attention to how much of your meal you’re consuming, as well as whether or not you’re full.

  8. Start smart. Appetizers can pack in more than 500 calories, easily. For a "pre-meal snack," that’s closing in on most of our calorie goals for the meal before it even starts. If you are ordering an appetizer, stick to something light in calories like grilled shrimp or high in nutrients like steamed edamame. If the venue has fried shrimp on the menu, see if you can order it grilled. If there is not an optimal appetizer to choose, stick to a small salad with veggies and vinaigrette, a broth-based soup or water/unsweetened tea until your meal comes.

  9. Behave with beverages. Drinks, both non-alcoholic and alcoholic, can pack in many calories during a meal, especially if the server keeps topping off your soda or you’re pouring from a carafe of wine. Whatever you choose to sip on, be sure to take the liquid calories and nutrients (or lack thereof) into account when choosing your meal. To really get the lowdown on the health of beverages, turn to this healthy beverage guide.

  10. Start substituting. Yes, it’s OK to substitute items on a menu! See tip #2 and make that switch. If a menu item sounds good, but you find yourself thinking "I would use a lighter sauce, like marinara, instead of alfredo," try it! Some great swaps to make that increase nutrients, decrease calories, or both are:
    • Asking for beans in place of meat

    • Ordering double veggies instead of choosing meat in a pasta dish or stir fry

    • Switching to whole grain bread, rice, tortillas or chips if possible

    • Asking for slivered almonds, chopped walnuts or extra veggies instead of cheese on a salad

    • Replacing a cream sauce with a broth or tomato-based sauce
  11. Nix the extras. Extras can add on a quick 100 calories without us even thinking or blinking! Get into the habit of saying a polite "no thank you" when asked if you want extra cheese, Parmesan cheese on salad or pasta, or bread prior to your meal. Personal-size desserts are also in this category. Although they’re small, trendy and cute, then can still add up to 100 calories or more. After a meal that is likely over the 400-600 calorie mark, 100 extra calories "here and there" definitely add up.

Rules of the Road to Help You Reach Your Destination

After slowing down to an unexplained stop for the 147th time in the space of 2 miles, I decided that I hated the world. Surrounding me were an ocean of maddening brake lights, rain pelting the windshield and thousands of tons of steel and fiberglass flung around by a clueless pack of selfish morons who obviously didn’t know the first thing about driving!!

It was in serious danger of ruining my whole day.

Is there anything more frustrating than being bogged down in traffic? Most all of us have been there before. That discouraged, fed up feeling that just makes us want to throw up our hands in surrender or lay them on the horn.

Thankfully, I stopped muttering helplessly and started thinking instead. And I realized that I often witness another type of "road rage" – the frustration that builds on the road to weight loss: Diet Rage.

Think about your dieting history. Does it give you the same feeling as an exasperating traffic jam? You never quite get where you want to go as fast as you want to get there. You get aggravated, yell (usually at yourself), and see people in other lanes going faster than you (how do they DO that?!), and it usually ends up ruining your day.

Here’s the lesson: Getting frustrated with your diet does no more good than getting frustrated in traffic. It just makes you unhappy, unsuccessful and tense.

By the time I got to work (it was a long commute), I noticed a lot of things that we, as weight loss veterans, can learn from traffic jams. Next time you start to feel frustrated with your weight loss progress, keep these "lessons of the road" in mind:

Read more: Do You Suffer from Diet Rage?

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