Looking to shed belly fat? There's only one formula you need to know, and luckily for you, it's easier than anything you encountered in ninth-grade algebra. The magic equation is this:
CALORIES OUT - CALORIES IN = TOTAL WEIGHT LOSS (OR GAIN)
If staying slim comes down to simple math, why are so many Americans fat? The short answer: We're eating our weight in burgers and pasta. People tend to blame their extra flab on lack of exercise (the "calories out" part of the weight-loss equation), but the truth is, overeating is usually the biggest perpetrator of pudginess. It takes 3,500 calories to create one pound of body fat, so if you eat just 500 extra calories a day, you'll add one new pound to your gut each week. Make that a habit—like so many of us unwittingly do—and you're looking at 52 pounds of excess flab per year!
But here's the good news: You don't have to give up your favorite foods to keep the pounds at bay. Case in point: The following list of food swaps, excerpted from the new Eat This Not That! 2012. Make these tiny tweaks to your diet, and you'll subtract thousands of calories without sacrificing an ounce of flavor. See, isn't math fun? (If you don't like math, let Men's Health give you easy food swaps daily with the free Eat This, Not That! Newsletter!)
More from Men's Health:
|#7 Top Swap: Tacos|
Baja Fresh Baja Fish Tacos (2)
26 g fat (4 g saturated)
840 mg sodium
Long John Silver's Baja Fish Tacos (2)
46 g fat (9 g saturated, 7 g trans)
1,620 mg sodium
Total savings: 220 calories and 7 g trans fats!
Long John's is one of the few fast-food chains still filling its fryers with trans fats. That's especially worrisome considering that the chain tops each Baja Fish Taco with a big scoop of "Crumblies," the deep-fried shards of trans fatty batter that might qualify as the least heart-friendly food on the planet. Baja Fresh, on the other hand, manages to both fry its fish and embellish it with tangy sauce without inflicting a gram of trans fatty damage. And instead of Crumblies, Baja tops its tacos with pico de gallo, a nutritionally rich flavor enhancer with just a handful of calories. (Read The Truth about Calories to discover even more need-to-know health and nutrition advice.)
|#6 Top Swap: Caesar Salad|
Panera Grilled Chicken Caesar Signature Salad
29 g fat (9 g saturated, 0.5 g trans)
820 mg sodium
Wendy's Spicy Chicken Caesar Salad (full size)
49 g fat (16 g saturated, 1 g trans)
1,810 mg sodium
Total savings: 260 calories and 990 mg sodium!
Compared with the Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad on Panera's menu, the Spicy Chicken Caesar on Wendy's has 5.5 times the fat and nearly a third less protein. And thanks in large part to the massive chunks of Asiago cheese, Wendy's doles out more than 75 percent of your day's saturated fat with every Caesar sold. Not even the Baconator is that dangerous. Of course, if you think this salad sounds bad, wait until you see our shocking list of 20 Salads Worse Than a Whopper.
|#5 Top Swap: Smoothie|
Jamba Juice Light Strawberry Nirvana (power size, 30 fl oz)
0.5 g fat
59 g sugars
Smoothie King Lemon Twist Strawberry (32 fl oz)
0 g fat
156 g sugars
Total savings: 347 calories and 97 g sugar!
Portion distortion! These two cups differ by only 2 fluid ounces, yet Jamba's is a large and Smoothie King's is a medium. Order a "large" at Smoothie King and you'll receive a 40-ounce bathtub of a smoothie. That would have qualified as slapstick comedy 50 years ago, but today it's become the standard fare. And what's shocking is the part you can't see: Roughly a quarter of the sugar in the Lemon Twist Strawberry comes from added sweeteners. That's 150 unnecessary calories. In contrast, Jamba's smoothie earns the majority of its 58 grams of sugar from real fruit or fruit juice. And the 30-ounce smoothie you see here? It's the biggest you can order. That's good, because if you need more than 30 ounces of smoothie, you should probably consider sitting down to a real meal. (Learn The 12 Best Smoothie Ingredients to create a shake that will boost your brain, build muscle and burn fat in just one slurp.)
|#4 Top Swap: Burger|
Carl's Jr. Guacamole Turkey Burger
21 g fat (6 g saturated)
1,120 mg sodium
Ruby Tuesday Avocado Turkey Burger
61 g fat
1,601 mg sodium
Total savings: 478 calories and 40 g fat!
The potential for excess is every bit as high with turkey as it is for any other burger. If the patty is riddled with fat and buried under calorie-dense accoutrements, it's going to cause damage, and that's true whether the meat comes from turkey, ostrich, or organic parakeet. Thanks to an oversized patty and an excessively buttered bun, Ruby's take on turkey has just 39 fewer calories than its hulking Bacon Cheeseburger. In your own kitchen you can construct a turkey burger with a quarter-pound patty, a slice of cheese, and a big scoop of guacamole for 400 to 500 calories, so that's exactly what you should expect when you eat out. Thankfully, that's what Carl's Jr. delivers.
STEALTH HEALTH FOODS: Restaurant menus are awash in empty calories, but amidst the fat-making wreckage are a handful of surprising standouts. You'd be wise to memorize this list: 20 Shockingly Healthy Restaurant Foods. Bonus: Chili cheese dogs and beef burritos make the list!
|#3 Top Swap: Pasta|
Romano's Macaroni Grill Pollo Caprese
22 g fat (7 g saturated)
1,530 mg sodium
Olive Garden Chicken Parmigiana
49 g fat (18 g saturated)
3,380 mg sodium
Total savings: 530 calories and 11 g saturated fat!
Here are two chicken dishes with roots in Southern Italy, but by the time they leave their respective kitchens, one has nearly twice as many calories as the other. "Caprese" denotes the deep-flavor trio of tomato, basil, and mozzarella, and Macaroni Grill serves it alongside a juicy piece of grilled chicken. "Parmigiana," on the other hand, is a dish that appears to have drawn more culinary inspiration from the southern states of America than from the southern tip of Italy. Notice how it's been dunked in a deep fryer, just like the french fries, onion rings, and chicken-fried steaks that help make one in three Americans obese. (Supermarkets and restaurants are filled with "health" foods that are awash in sodium, and "natural" foods that are anything but. Refuse to be duped by the 7 Biggest Food Label Lies.)
|#2 Top Swap: Wings|
Applebee's Buffalo Chicken Wings, Southern BBQ
35 g fat (9 g saturated)
1,060 mg sodium
Uno Chicago Grill 3 Way Buffalo Wings
108 g fat (24 g saturated)
3,540 mg sodium
Total savings: 690 calories and 73 g fat!
For all the chatter about them being junk food, wings can actually be a sensible start to a meal. With 61 grams of protein, these Southern-style wings from Applebee's may help you cut calories from your overall meal by frontloading your dinner with belly-filling protein. But choose the wrong chicken and you'll pay the price. Uno's version packs roughly twice the calories and fat, yet for all the excess only brings 5 extra grams of protein to the table. As a rule of thumb, if you order an appetizer, make sure your portion doesn't exceed 250 calories.
What are the best wing-eating days of the year? Football Sundays! Remember these The Ultimate Super Bowl Snacks come September!
|#1 Top Swap: Kids' Food|
Olive Garden Children's Menu Macaroni & Cheese
6 g fat (2.5 g saturated)
1,000 mg sodium
The Cheesecake Factory Kid's Menu Macaroni & Cheese
N/A g fat (53 g saturated)
687 mg sodium
Total savings: 870 calories and 50.5 g saturated fat!
You'd be better off microwaving a hot dog for your little one. The childhood obesity rate has more than tripled over the past three decades, and much of that owes to the obscenely high-calorie entrees being served by unscrupulous chain restaurants. Unless you were nutritionally clairvoyant, you'd never guess that one of these bowls contains 165 percent more saturated fat than a full-grown adult should consume in an entire day. Kids' menus should be bastions of safe eating, but not one of Cheesecake Factory's kids' meals has fewer than 500 calories, and at least five exceed 900. Order from Olive Garden's menu instead and you'll cut the calorie tariff by two-thirds. And top it with a few spears of broccoli—kids will eat vegetables as long as cheese is involved.
What other foods should you and your family avoid? Start with these 25 New "Healthy" Foods That Aren't.