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Ways to slim down your meals: reduce calories, not vitamins and minerals

Eating healthy while losing excess weight is a fine balancing act: you have to try and keep down your overall calorie intake while ensuring at the same time that you do not starve your body of essential nutrients, in particular vitamins and minerals. The best way to do this is to choose foods or prepare foods in such a way that you cut calories (especially calories from fat) without sacrificing important nutrients.

A prime example: 1 cup of skim milk has about the same amount of calcium as 1 cup of whole milk but only traces of fat, and half the calories.

The flip side of that first guideline is this Ч those foods that bring in mostly calories and little else must be the first you hack away at.

The trouble with sugar is not that it brings in no contribution: your body does use glucose, one of the constituents of sugar, as a source of energy. The trouble with sugar is that, for a huge amount of calories, it brings in a negligible contribution of nutrients. And, though sugar's not quite in the same villainous category as fat, if you eat more than you burn off, you'll store the extra as body fat.

Watch for the hidden sugars in ready foods. Some breakfast cereals have such high amounts of sugar in its various forms that sugar is virtually the second, if not the first, ingredient in the product. Yet, even health saboteurs like chocolate-coated cornflakes imply that they constitute a nutritious breakfast!

Read food labels. Sugar is the chief additive in processed foods. A food label might list sugar in its many avatars: not only 'sugar', but also corn sugar, brown sugar, honey, corn syrup, caramel, molasses, dextrin, dextrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, lactose, sucrose. If any of these ingredients appears high up in the listing, you'll know the product is high in sugar. And if several appear scattered around the listing, they might well add up to the first or second highest ingredient in the product.

Use sugar substitutes Ч sweeteners Ч to sweeten puddings, fruit punches, jellies, yoghurt, frozen milk desserts and many other preparations. However, moderate their use. Some of them still have question-marks regarding safety hanging over them.

Reduce sugar when baking. A half-cup of sugar per cup of flour in cakes is sufficient if you add more flavouring such as vanilla.

In yeast breads, 1 tablespoon of sugar per cup of flour is enough. Honey has been elevated to a nutritional pedestal for no deserving reason. It brings in as much "empty" sugar as table sugar.

It does contain infinitesimally higher amounts of iron, phosphorus and fibre, but so infinitesimally so that they are virtually negligible.

Other foods that bring in a lot of calories and little else include fatty spreads and dressings such as butter and margarine; sugary foods such as soft drinks, candy, candy ices, jams; alcohol.

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