While fad diets might promise double-digit weight loss in days -- without any exercise -- a simple low-sugar and low-sodium diet puts you on track for longer-lasting weight-loss success. That's because sugar directly contributes to weight gain, and many sugary or salty foods are high in calories, which can make you pack on pounds. Fill your calorie-controlled diet with minimally processed, low-sugar and low-sodium foods, and you're well on your way to your weight-loss goal.
How Low Sugar Helps Weight Loss
Cutting down on sugar should help you shed pounds almost immediately, especially if you're currently noshing on sugar-laden foods. At 4 calories per gram, sweets, baked goods and other sugary foods can pack in hundreds of calories for very little nutritional value -- so they'll make you gain weight without nourishing your body or helping you feel full. Sugar also contributes to chronic diseases, like heart disease, that might impact your ability to stay active and torch calories throughout the day.
Focus on cutting out added sugar -- the stuff used to sweeten foods -- instead of worrying about the natural sugars found in foods like fruit and milk. To nix added sugar, you'll want to avoid the obvious culprits like soft drinks, candy, sweet chocolate and baked goods, but you should also look out for added sugar in healthy foods, like yogurt and bread. Opt for plain, unsweetened yogurt and scan the ingredient list on your bread. Look for sugar's other names -- high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, raisin puree, molasses, honey and anything ending with "-ose" -- and find one without those sweet ingredients.
The Benefits of Low Sodium
Sodium doesn't have any calories, so lowering your sodium intake won't directly make you burn fat, but following a lower-sodium diet can still keep your waistline in check. People who take in tons of sodium tend to eat a relatively processed diet, since prepacked, canned and processed foods often come laced with sodium to increase the shelf life and improve flavor. These same foods tend to be high in calories and fat -- and low in filling nutrients, like fiber -- so they make it easier to overeat. Sodium also makes you retain water, so shifting to a low-sodium diet should prompt water weight loss, which might keep you motivated as you start your weight-loss journey.
Not surprisingly, you'll need to cut processed foods to lower your sodium intake. A 10-piece serving of frozen chicken nuggets, for instance, would take up 40 percent of your daily sodium allowance and weighs in at 470 calories. But you should also look for lower-sodium versions of healthy foods. A cup of full-sodium cottage cheese, for example, has one-third of your daily sodium allowance, while cottage cheese with no sodium added has just 1 percent. Look for lower-sodium bread, no-sodium chicken broth and low-sodium canned beans to avoid taking in too much salt.
Putting Your Weight-Loss Diet Together
Cutting out sugar and lowering your sodium intake naturally eliminates high-calorie processed foods from your diet, which means your meal plans will be full of weight-loss-friendly fare like fresh or frozen veggies, fruit, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. While these foods supply lots of filling protein and fiber to help you shed pounds -- not to mention their vitamin, mineral and antioxidant content -- you'll still need to cut calories to lose weight.
Each pound of fat stores about 3,500 calories' worth of energy, so you'll lose approximately 1 pound by burning 3,500 more calories than you eat. To do that, you should lower your calorie intake by 500 per day, so you'll burn the extra 3,500 calories over the course of a week.
How many calories that works out to, though, varies from person to person. A 29-year-old sedentary woman who is 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 160 pounds burns roughly 1,975 calories daily. To lose weight at a rate of 1 pound per week, she should follow a low-sodium, low-sugar diet that supplies about 1,475 calories daily.
Use an online calculator to estimate how many calories you're burning daily, and use that figure to create your target calorie intake for your weight-loss diet. Stay above 1,200 calories if you're a woman and 1,800 calories if you're a man, to keep your metabolism from stalling.
A Sample Day's Diet
Low-sodium, low-sugar dieting doesn't have to be flavorless. Try these dishes to feel satisfied while you stick to your diet.
Start your day strong with a low-sodium veggie omelet, made using whole eggs, egg whites, spinach, green pepper, chopped tomatoes and low-sodium mozzarella cheese. If you prefer more carbs in the morning, try an oatmeal parfait, made from alternating layers of cooked rolled oats, plain Greek yogurt -- sweetened with stevia, if needed -- and fresh berries.
Fuel up at lunch with grilled salmon, chicken or tofu garnished with a homemade salsa, made from fresh tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, garlic and olive oil. Pair your protein with a generous leafy green salad topped with homemade vinaigrette -- made from red wine vinegar, olive oil and black pepper -- to avoid the sodium and sugar in store-bought dressing.
Snack on low-sodium cottage cheese seasoned with black pepper. Or pair carrot and celery sticks with homemade hummus, made from low-sodium canned chickpeas to lower your salt intake.
At dinner, enjoy a fresh Asian-inspired stir-fry featuring baby bok choi, chopped carrots, broccoli, onions and snow peas. Avoid high-sodium packaged seasonings and instead flavor your stir-fry with homemade sauce made from low-sodium chicken broth thickened with cornstarch. Or season lean ground beef with a mixture of chili pepper, paprika and cumin, add sauteed onions and green pepper and spoon the mixture into romaine leaves for chili beef "boats."