There’s strong evidence that people with heart disease or its risk factors benefit from eating more of certain foods and less of others. That’s why many cardiologists recommend the Mediterranean diet, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet or plant-based vegetarian or vegan diets. All have been proven to lower the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. But if your goal is to lose weight, you also have to watch how much you eat, keeping an eye on portion control.
“Depending on your total needs, calories you don’t burn are stored as fat. The source of these calories doesn’t matter,” says Kate Patton, RD, LD, a dietitian in Cleveland Clinic’s Section of Preventive Cardiology & Rehabilitation.
Fortunately, there are many ways to cut calories without feeling hungry.
Plan Your Plate
Start by serving your meals on a smaller plate. “A 9-inch plate will prevent you from taking a larger portion than is recommended,” says Patton. “It’s also psychologically satisfying, since your plate will look full with less food.”
Fill one-quarter of the plate with protein, one-quarter with whole grains and one-half with non-starchy vegetables. “Make green vegetables, squash, tomatoes, cauliflower or similar vegetable the biggest portion on your plate. These will make you feel full with fewer calories,” she says.
Limit your protein to a portion about the size of the palm of your hand. Eat primarily poultry, fish, beans, lentils and other vegetable proteins. Eat red meat less often.
Switch some of your favorite high-calorie, high-fat foods for healthier alternatives. For example, try turkey sausage or bacon instead of beef or pork products; spiraled vegetables instead of noodles; mashed cauliflower in place of mashed potatoes.
Watch your intake of fats, even healthy fats. “An avocado has about 400 calories; a quarter-cup of nuts has about 175 calories. All oils, including olive oil, contain 120 calories per tablespoon,” says Patton.
Don’t Forget to Eat Breakfast!
Breakfast may be more important than you realize. “Even if you’re not hungry, you should try to eat or drink something within an hour or two after awakening to kickstart your metabolism, give you energy and help keep your blood sugar level stable. This will prevent hunger and cravings later in the day,” says Patton.
If you’re short on time or trying to break the bacon-and-eggs habit, try oatmeal mixed with a drop of vanilla extract or topped with fresh fruit, two hard-boiled eggs or low-fat Greek yogurt with blueberries. “Smoothies are fine, if they contain a good amount of protein and are low in sugar,” says Patton.
Restaurants are minefields for dieters. You may be tempted to throw in the towel and order whatever you want, but it would be wiser to order a reasonable meal and ask your server to bring half in a to-go box for tomorrow. “You’ll save time and money, as well as calories,” says Patton, “and you won’t regret your decision tomorrow.”
Choose vinegar or lemon juice for your salad, instead of traditional salad dressing.
Ask your server to put salad dressing, as well as any sauces, on the side. Request your food not be prepared with extra butter or oil.
It Gets Easier Over Time
If you are overweight, changing your eating habits may not happen overnight. But if you follow these strategies, you will become accustomed to eating less food.
“As you consume fewer calories, you’ll start losing weight, and your cardiovascular risk profile will improve,” says Patton. “Most people find they feel better, too.”
3 Tips for Success
Prep meals on the weekend; then measure out portions into separate containers or freezer bags.
Eat slowly. “You’ll fill up faster with less food,” says Patton.
Avoid mindless snacking. If you sit in front of the TV with snack food, you’ll eat it-even if you’re not hungry. “Don’t buy snack foods, or limit your snacking to unbuttered popcorn,” she advises.