Valentine’s Day Treats That Won’t Bust Your Diet

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Are you looking for the perfect sweet Valentine’s Day gift for yourself or a loved one, but don’t want to add too many extra calories? Sugar-free and low-sugar candies and sweets are a good option for those counting calories.

Chocolate should not make you feel guilty and may even help you get some nutrients you might be lacking. Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, which improve your blood pressure, lower your bad cholesterol and improves blood flow. The darker the chocolate, the more flavonoids it contains. Chocolates that consist of 70 percent cocoa are richest in flavonoids and usually less than 150 calories per serving. You can indulge in dark chocolate without the guilt. Unfortunately, milk chocolate does not offer the same guilt-free benefits and contains more calories.

Dried fruits are naturally sweet and contain plenty of vitamins and minerals. Nuts covered in dark chocolate are another good Valentine’s Day treat that won’t add a lot of calories to your diet. Some nuts can be high in fat, so check the label for calorie and fat information. Sugar-free jelly beans give you all the flavor your sweet tooth demands without the extra calories. Fresh fruits, such as strawberries, blueberries and pineapple are sweet and loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Sensible Snacking

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Americans really enjoy their snack foods. Vending machines are located just about everywhere and contain sugary drinks, chocolate bars, salty chips and pretzels and candy snacks. Convenience stores and many grocery stores place the candy bars and small bags of chips close to the checkout line or beside the cash register where you will be tempted to make an impulse buy. These snacks can contribute hundreds of empty calories to your diet. According to the USDA snacks can amount to nearly 600 calories per day. Many people will consume a full meal’s worth of calories every day just by snacking. Eating between meals does not have to be a diet disaster. You can eat a healthy, nutritious snack between meals that can help boost your metabolism to aid in weight loss. The key to losing or maintaining your weight and still enjoy between-meal snacks is to snack sensibly.
If you get hungry between meals, you should eat a healthy snack so that you do not over-eat at mealtime.  Snacks that will curb your hunger without adding too many extra calories will contain fiber and protein.   Peanut butter on whole wheat crackers or on a stalk of celery will ease your hunger pangs and provide nutritional protein, carbohydrates and fiber to help you feel full. Raisins, walnuts, almonds, dried cherries and apricots or fresh fruits, such as apple slices, a pear, an orange or a handful of grapes are rich in nutrients, fiber and antioxidants. One-half cup of low-fat yogurt with fresh fruit, like blueberries, raspberries or strawberries, can help you feel less hungry while providing your body with important vitamins and calcium. 
Don’t keep a bowl of chips, pretzels, popcorn or candy on the table in the television room! Mindless snacking can add hundreds of calories to your diet and you won’t even realize how much you have eaten. Replace your high-calories television snacks with healthy alternatives like dried fruits, nuts, granola and fruits. Low-fat cheese and whole wheat crackers is a healthy alternative to popcorn and chips. Cut out the sodas when you snack. Drink a glass of water before your snack to help you feel full between meals. 

Diet Damaging Drinks

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You’ve been watching what you eat, cutting down on calories and getting exercise, but for some reason you just aren’t losing weight fast enough. Have you given much thought to the beverages you enjoy every day? When you are trying to limit calories, don’t overlook the calories hiding in your cup or glass. Fancy coffee drinks, alcohol drinks and even fruit smoothies contain hundreds of diet damaging calories that can interfere with achieving your weight loss goals.
Soda is one of the worst drinks for dieters and anyone who is concerned about watching their weight or controlling the sugar in their diet. The average soda contains several hundred calories and is loaded with sugar. The calories in regular soda are empty calories, meaning you consume hundreds of calories but receive little to no nutritional benefit. Switching to diet soda or sugar-free soda can help, but you may not be able to lose weight by switching to diet soda alone. 
Natural fruit juice contains plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that your body needs to stay healthy. But, did you know that fruit juice may also contain several hundred calories in just one short glass? Look for fruit juices that are 100 percent juice. Avoid juice drinks or blended fruit-flavored drinks. These types of drinks usually contain 10 percent or less actual fruit juice and contain lots of sugar. Mix  your fruit juice with some cold water to cut down on calories. 
Unless you make your own fruit smoothies, you may be getting little fruit and mostly fruit concentrate, artificial flavors and sugar. Some smoothie shops blend real fruit with sweeteners like ice cream or honey, which can put the calorie count through the roof! Make your own healthy, low-calories, nutrient-rich fruit smoothies at home by blending bananas, strawberries, a splash of 100 percent orange juice or a fresh orange with ice and skim milk. 

Flavored vitamin water is another drink that can sneak in extra calories. Some flavored vitamin water contains sugar. Select flavored water that contains no sugar or make your own flavored water. Refrigerate water until it’s cold. Flavor it naturally with lemon juice or add some sliced strawberries to a glass of cold water for a delicious, refreshing drink. Drink a couple of glasses of water before every meal to help you feel more full to avoid overeating and to stay hydrated. 

Are You Undoing Your Diet With Beverages?

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Cutting back on calories and exercising more are essential to losing weight and getting fit. If you are eating less and exercising more but you aren’t losing weight as fast as you think you should be, examine your beverages. Most of us are careful about the foods we eat, but beverages can undo your diet, too. Some beverages can ruin your diet by adding empty calories, which can be stored as fat. It may seem obvious to switch to diet soda or drink sugar-free beverages, but other drinks can be just as diet-destroying as sugary sodas. 
A bottle of fruit juice may contain as many calories as a regular soda. The trade-off is that fruit juice is rich in nutrients that your body needs. Fruit “drinks” and fruit “cocktails” often contain as little as 10% real fruit juice. Select only 100% fruit juices without added sugar. Vegetables juices are as nutritious as fruit juice but contain about half the calories. The trade-off with vegetable juice is, instead of sugar, vegetable juices often contain a lot of sodium. Look for low-sodium or no-added-salt versions of your favorite vegetable juice. Read the label on your favorite juice drink to find a blend that does not contain extra sugar or salt. 
A cool smoothie seems like it would be low in calories and high in nutrition, but this is not always the case. Restaurants may use honey, corn syrup or even ice cream to sweeten a fruit smoothie and send your caloric intake through the roof. Your best option is to blend your own smoothies at home so that you control the ingredients to avoid extra sugar and empty calories. Blend some blueberries, a banana and some strawberries with skim milk for a delicious, low-calorie, high fiber, nutritious beverage. 
Plain coffee contains zero calories and has antioxidants that are beneficial. When you add whipped cream, flavored syrups and sugar you have a diet bomb in a cup. Specialty and fancy coffee drinks can contain almost 600 calories per cup. If you don’t like plain coffee, use low-calorie flavorings and artificial sweeteners to avoid extra calories. Green tea is another zero calorie drink to consider. Water is the best choice to stay hydrated and cut calories. Drink a couple of glasses of water before dinner to help you feel more full to avoid over-eating. 

Are Empty Calorie Foods Undermining Nutrition?

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When you consume food, you expect it to provide energy and nutrition. The energy content of food is measured in calories. Some foods are high in energy, but low in nutrition. Low nutritional value but high calorie foods are said to contain empty calories. Foods and snacks that are high in fat and sugar provide energy, but do not provide the vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy. Most of the processed foods and drinks in the American diet contain empty calories. Solid fats and added sugars increase the caloric content of foods without adding any nutritional value. People who consume too many empty calories and who do not exercise regularly may be overweight and still suffer vitamin or mineral deficiencies in their diet. Even if a person is exercising and burning as many or more calories than they consume, they may appear lean and healthy but still be at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiency-related illness. Always eat a balanced diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, plant protein and lean meats and fish. 
Foods that have low nutritional value but high calories include butter, animal fats and shortening. Processed foods that contain these solid fats have a higher calorie to nutrient ratio than fresh foods. Foods with added sugars are also higher in calories than they are in nutrients. Foods that contain the most empty calories include cakes, donuts, cookies, pies and other pastries. Sweet snacks and deserts usually have both added sugars and solid fats. Sodas, fruit drinks that are not 100% natural juice and energy drinks often contain added sugar.  Processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausage and ground beef are high in calories due to the solid fats contained in the food. Bacon is mostly solid fat. Even some ice cream has solid fat added to make it creamy. White bread and margarine contain highly processed ingredients and more calories than nutrients. Get the most from your calories by eating foods that are also nutritious.

For more information about calories and balancing your caloric intake, see:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Balancing Calories

Diet Destroying Appetizers

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Dining out in America often includes an appetizer that stimulates your taste buds with something to munch while waiting on the main course. Have you ever stopped to consider how many calories you consume in a small appetizer? Those cheese sticks, fried vegetables and creamy dips can add hundreds of calories and undermine your diet and weight-loss goals. The occasional indulgence won’t destroy your weight-loss program, but making healthy choices should always be your first priority. 
Deep fried onions with a tasty dip are a popular appetizer in some “steak house” style restaurants. Onions are low in calories, but it’s the batter, oil and the dip that undo your diet. Not only are extra calories and fat added to your diet, there’s a lot of sodium in the batter and dip. Opt instead for celery sticks and a low-fat ranch dip if it’s available. If your’re counting calories, this appetizer will definitely take you over the limit. 
Spinach and artichokes are healthy, nutrient-rich foods that taste delicious. They contain a multitude of vitamins and minerals and can be prepared various ways as side dishes and in dips. Favorite appetizers are spinach and artichoke dips. The diet busting cream sauce that serves as the base for the dip can contain over 1,000 calories, more than 2,000 mg of sodium and about 100 grams of saturated fat. You are better off eating a spinach salad with a low-fat vinaigrette salad dressing. 
The shrimp cocktail is a favorite appetizer for many people. Shrimp alone is low in fat, has few calories and is a good source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for brain and other body functions. The cocktail sauce is the diet destroyer. Opt for a tomato-based sauce instead. Clams are also a good source of nutrients, but served in a chowder, the calories can add up. The cream base is the culprit. Try a bowl of  tomato-based vegetable soup instead of the chowder. 
Mozzarella cheese is a healthy food, but when it is battered and deep fried, the calories and fat can go off the chart. One serving of deep fried cheese sticks can contain nearly 1,000 calories and almost 3,000 mg of sodium. Sodium can cause your body to retain water, adding pounds. The loaded baked potato and loaded potato skins are not only loaded with flavor, they are loaded with fat and calories that can undermine your weight loss goals. Try some stuffed mushrooms instead. Mushrooms stuffed with breadcrumbs and cheese contain about 50 calories each. 

For more information about diet-busting appetizers, see:

Diet Saving Super Bowl Snacks

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Millions of Americans will be sitting in front of the television today, watching the Super Bowl. Super Bowl parties often include diet-busting foods, such as beer, pizza, chips and dip. Your Super Bowl party does not have to be a diet disaster. Forget the take out pizza and opt for some healthier, tasty party foods that everyone will enjoy. 
Chicken is a low-fat, high protein food. Buffalo wings are a traditional Super Bowl party fare that are easy to prepare and healthier than pizza loaded with cheese and pepperoni. Skinless chicken wings basted in a spicy buffalo sauce are less than 300 calories per serving.
A veggie platter can be prepared quickly and easily. Celery, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots make a colorful, healthy snack platter. Skip the high-calorie bleu cheese dip and serve a light spinach dip made with low-fat cream cheese, low-fat yogurt or reduced calorie cottage cheese.  
Serve your Super Bowl party guests baked chips and low-fat dip instead of fried potato chips. Prepare a delicious low-calorie guacamole dip. A layered bean dip with baked tortilla chips contains plenty of fiber, vitamins and minerals, but won’t bust your diet with extra calories. 

Serve a light beer and offer sugar-free soda. To avoid over-indulging, remember to drink a glass of water before the game and have a cup of water between beers. Remember to drink in moderation and enjoy the game!

For some tasty Super Bowl party recipes, see:

Delicious & Healthy Holiday Desserts

It isn’t going to be easy to resist all the delicious desserts and tasty candies during the holidays. You can still enjoy tasty sweets like cakes, cookies and pies without all the extra calories and fat that will undermine your diet.

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If you enjoy cheesecake and chocolate but worry about the calories, substitute one half of the cream cheese with low fat cottage cheese. Reduce the amount of melted chocolate in the recipe and substitute cocoa powder for rich chocolaty flavor. Top the finished cheesecake with fresh raspberries and a light raspberry sauce. Omit the cocoa and chocolate and top with fresh strawberries or blueberries for a more traditional cheesecake minus all the extra calories.

Oatmeal cookies are always a favorite. Substitute refined white sugar with coarse brown sugar and add some crushed pecans or walnuts for extra flavor. Use whole wheat flour instead of refined white flour. Raisins can also be used to sweeten the cookies. Gingerbread cookies are generally low in sugar and calories. Decorate the cookies with raisin or pecan eyes and buttons using a dab of frosting to hold the raisins and pecans in place. 
Mix together fresh fruits for a deliciously healthy fresh fruit salad. Peel and cut into bite-size pieces some mangoes, oranges, bananas, kiwis, seedless grapes, blueberries and tangerines. Include some strawberries and raspberries, if they are available. Mix together 1/4 cup of apple juice and 1 tablespoon of orange zest. Bring to a boil. Allow the juice and zest to cool. Strain the juice over the fresh fruit for a tangy, sweet flavor. Drizzle bowls of fruit salad with low fat yogurt for extra flavor.
For recipes and more information, see: The Food Network, Healthy Holiday Desserts