The right way to lighten up your dinner and lose weight

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You may be familiar with the saying, ‘Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper’, for health and weight control but the reality is that many of us still enjoy, and look forward to our largest meal at night.

Even if dinner remains relatively light, with loads of salad and vegetables and a portion controlled serve of lean meat, more often than not we’re also munching on a few snacks while we make dinner, enjoying sweet treats post-dinner and sometimes even a wine or two that leaves us with a complete calorie overload. Over time, this inevitably leads to weight gain, and a deeply entrenched habit of eat far too much at night.

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So, if overeating at night is holding you back from reaching your weight loss goals, here are the simple steps to help you eat a whole lot less throughout the evening…

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Have a substantial afternoon snack

One of the reasons that we tend to overdo the calories at night, is that we have not eaten enough throughout the afternoon, and arrive home late afternoon with low blood glucose levels and a drive to eat everything in sight.

Factoring in a filling, nutrient-rich snack a couple of hours before dinner will help to take the edge off your hunger, and help you to make considered choices about the foods you choose and the volumes you consume through the evening.

Good snack options include at least one vegetable such as a red capsicum or carrot for bulk along with some protein via cheese and crackers, a nut or protein bar or Greek yoghurt with berries.

Supercharge the veggies

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It has repeatedly been shown that simply increasing your portions of low-calorie salad and veggies at dinner is one of the easiest ways to reduce the calorie load of any meal without reducing the overall size of the meal. This means that adding in a veggie-based broth as an entrée, aiming for half a plate of veggies with your meal and even adding a side salad will leave you full and satisfied minus the calories from larger serves of protein and carbs we usually fill the dinner plate with.

Weigh your protein

It is common in Australia for us to serve ourselves two to three times the amount of protein we need, with 200-300g a pretty standard serving size. As protein is a relatively energy-dense food, especially red meat or oily fish like salmon, it is easy to blow out your calorie intake when portions are on the large side. On the other hand, weighing your protein and sticking to small portions of just 100-125g, cooked, will go a long way in keeping your dinner calories a lot lighter.

Know your low-calorie dinner recipes

Another simple trick that will support lower calorie dinners at least a few times each week is to know a few lower calorie meals that are made with a lighter base of white fish or shellfish, eggs or vegetarian options like beans or tofu. Here, a veggie and tofu or prawn stir fry with veggie rice; a frittata or omelette or roasted vegetable salad with ricotta or cottage cheese can have far fewer calories than heavier pasta, meat and roasts. And often, a couple of these each week is all you need to significantly lower your calorie intake over the course of a week.

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Know your light sauces and dressings

There can be a vast difference in the calorie and fat amounts found in popular sauces and dressings, which can significantly impact our calorie intake at meals. Mayonnaise, pesto, sour cream, coconut oil, cheese and avocado all add significant calories to even the healthiest of meals, meaning they are good ones to minimise if the goal is to keep your calorie intake controlled. Alternatively, salsa, tzatziki, beetroot, oyster and soy sauces as well as mustard and vinegar are all much lighter sauce and dressing options.

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Go carbs or wine or dessert

The way we choose to eat is deeply personal and it is not a matter of swearing off alcohol completely, or ditching carbs or never enjoying a treat, rather finding the right balance for you.

This means that if you know that overdoing things at dinner is holding you back from reaching your dietary goals, making a choice between enjoying some higher calorie wine, dessert or carbs like pasta and rice can be a way to strike a balance between what you enjoy eating, and weight control, or even weight loss if that is your preference.

Author Susie Burrell is a leading Australian dietitian and nutritionist, founder of Shape Me, co-host of The Nutrition Couch podcast and prominent media spokesperson, with regular appearances in both print and television media commenting on all areas of diet, weight loss and nutrition.

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