Losing weight requires you to eat fewer calories than you burn. Choosing healthy foods and moderate portions keeps your calorie intake in check. Chicken, fruits and vegetables are healthy, as long as they're not fried or drenched in a creamy or sugary sauce. If you stick to these foods and control your portions, you may lose weight. However, you may may miss out on some valuable nutrients offered by dairy, whole grains and healthy fats, so including a variety of foods is a better option for a healthy weight-loss plan.
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Weight Loss 101
Creating a moderate caloric deficit causes your body to use fat for energy, resulting in weight loss. The deficit occurs when you eat less and move more. When the deficit is equal to 250 to 1,000 calories daily, you lose between 1/2 pound and 2 pounds per week.
Figure out your daily calorie needs by using an online calculator or consulting with a health care provider. This number equals the number of calories you must consume to maintain the weight you have now. You need to increase your calorie burn through exercise, reduce your daily calorie intake, or combine these two strategies to successfully drop pounds.
An intake between 1,200 and 1,600 calories is considered low, and will most likely help you lose weight. Consuming fewer calories is not advised, as you will accelerate the loss of muscle mass, stall your metabolism and miss out on important nutrition.
Aim to consume 45 to 65 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, 10 to 35 percent from protein and 20 to 35 percent from fat, minimizing saturated fat as much as possible. At least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, supports healthy weight goals.
Choosing Chicken for a Weight Loss Plan
Foods that contain lots of saturated fat, sugar and refined grains are discouraged on a weight-loss plan, because they contain excessive calories and usually don't have a lot of nutritional value. White-meat chicken, fresh vegetables and fresh fruit make sense as part of many weight-loss menus, because they're low in these diet saboteurs. However, these foods aren't free of calories. If you eat too much of any of them -- or if you always choose dark-meat chicken with the skin -- you could go over your calorie allotment, which would stall your weight loss efforts.
A cup of roasted, light-meat chicken contains 214 calories, 6 grams of fat -- with 2 grams of saturated fat -- and 38 grams of protein. A chicken drumstick with the skin -- which is actually a smaller serving than the cup of light-meat -- contains 232 calories, 12 grams of fat, with 3 grams of that as saturated fat, and 32 grams of protein. While the calorie count seems reasonable, you'll likely eat several servings per day.
Grilled, roasted, baked or broiled chicken breast are optimal choices. Sauteed chicken, crisped patties or fried breasts have considerably more calories and saturated fat. One fried chicken breast contains 490 calories and a chicken Parmesan entree at a restaurant offers up 614 calories -- and that's without the pasta. Butter or cream sauces and barbecue-sauce calories can also add up quickly. For example, a mere tablespoon of barbecue sauce adds 30 calories and 6 grams of sugar.
Vegetables and Fruits
Watery, fibrous vegetables such as leafy greens, celery and cucumbers are inherently low in calories, but fruit calories can add up quickly. One serving of some fruits have almost three times the number of calories as non-starchy vegetables. A medium banana contains 105 calories, a cup of pineapple has 83 calories. Avocado is probably this highest-calorie fruit with 240 calories per cup, cubed. Although fruits add important nutrients to your diet, their calorie density may become an issue if you eat them as if they are "free" foods. Enjoy fruits as part of your weight-loss diet, just limit your servings.
Starchy vegetables are higher in calories than leafy greens, but they contain valuable nutrients and fiber. Consume 4 to 5 cups per week to balance your diet, advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture ChooseMyPlate.gov website. Watch your servings, though, because a large baked potato contains 290 calories and a cup of corn has 143 calories. Compare this to the 7 calories in a cup of raw spinach or the 54 calories in a cup of boiled broccoli.
Also consider how you dress up your vegetables. A tablespoon of butter increases your calorie intake by 100 calories and adds 11 grams of fat. Ranch dressing poured over a salad costs you 63 calories per tablespoon and 7 grams of fat. Fresh herbs, citrus juice, balsamic vinegar and small amounts of olive oil are better options.
Variety Is Best for Dieting
While you can keep calories in line by eating only fruit, veggies and chicken, no single fruit or vegetable offers all the nutrients you need, so be sure to eat a wide variety. For example, don't always stick to Romaine lettuce, tomatoes and carrots. Other options such as cooked tomatoes, dark leafy greens, orange and red vegetables, and dried beans and peas offer variety to your weekly menu.
Eliminating all dairy or dairy alternatives from your diet puts you at risk of being deficient in vitamin D and bone-building calcium. If you don't drink cow's milk or fortified soy, almond or coconut milk, be sure to include kale, broccoli and Chinese cabbage regularly. Fish with soft bones, such as sardines and salmon, could be a protein alternative to chicken that provides calcium and other important minerals. Fish also offers omega-3 fatty acids that you need for brain health. Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts and flax seeds, which could embellish your salads.
Skipping grains -- especially whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice -- can also leave you without certain valuable nutrients. Although fruits and vegetables contain fiber, whole grains can helps contribute to the 25 to 38 grams you need daily for good digestive health. Grains are also an important source of zinc, iron and B vitamins. Consider including at least 1/2 to 1 cup of grains at most meals.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Losing Weight
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Very Low Calorie Diets
- Healthaliciousness: White-Meat Chicken, Chicken Drumstick, Ranch Dressing
- CNN: Can Eating Too Much Fruit Keep Me From Losing Weight
- Healthaliciousness: Banana, Pineapple, Avocado
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: Vegetables
- Healthaliciousness: Potato, Peas, Corn
- Healthaliciousness: Spinach, Butter, Broccoli
- Healthaliciousness: Barbecue Sauce, Fried Chicken, Chicken Parmesan
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Calcium
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: Grains
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids