How to make any recipe healthy in a few easy steps

Last week I gave you an in depth look at how to crush your first foray into meal prep.

This week I’m going to help you turn any recipe into a fat loss friendly recipe.

But why? There are tons of different recipes online, can't I just copy those?

Well yes, you can. However, a big reason I write this blog is to help give you a more discerning eye when it comes to fitness information so you can separate the correct information from the useful information from the flat out BS. In the Wild West of the internet people’s definition of what will causes fat loss doesn’t always line up with the science.

For example, wheatistheworstthingthateveryhappenedtocivilization.com believes that gluten is the reason for weight gain. By their definition, anything without gluten is healthy. So their “healthy” brownies just don’t have gluten in them, meanwhile they’re packed with a ton of sugar and butter.

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With so much conflicting information out there, this post is just another way to help you make informed dietary choices and make sure you aren’t putting in tons of effort into your diet for nothing.

Plus, maybe your favorite recipe isn’t the most fat loss friendly thing in world. Maybe with a few modifications though you can eat it more often and still burn fat.

Side note: I may have exaggerated.

Some foods can’t be fat loss friendly, not if you want to maintain a shred of dignity anyways. If you’re going to make brownies, just make some delicious, high calorie brownies, enjoy them and move on rather than enjoying the bittersweet taste (pun intended) of the brownies not meeting your standards.

Brownies aren’t a health food, unless you hate freedom and want to make something that’s technically a brownie but tastes more like cocoa powder and sawdust you put into that trash compactor in A New Hope.

Eating 1 or 2 proper brownies a week isn’t going to affect your fat loss.

No need to completely cut out your favorite foods to lose weight whether that’s brownies, ice cream, burritos, or lasagna, although eating these foods all the time will make you gain weight.

Ok, back to cooking for fat loss.

Weight loss happens when you consume less calories than you burn.

Fat loss happens when you consume less calories than you burn + strength training.

For our purposes here, a food is fat loss friendly if it has a high fullness to calorie ratio. “Stop eating when you’re full” doesn’t really ensure a caloric deficit if your meal is pizza and soda.

Foods that give lots of fullness with relatively little calories make it more likely you’ll eat less calories than you burn, without having to count calories.

Out of everything, fiber (read: plants) and protein provide the most fullness per calorie i.e., veggies and protein should be the majority of what you eat.

With that in mind, look at the ingredients of the recipe.

Essentially, you want to look for things that add tons of calories to the dish and cut them out or reduce them significantly.

The point is to actually enjoy eating for weight loss — you don’t need to make your meals too spartan. You don’t need to eliminate any foods entirely.

However, there are certain foods you’ll have to be very careful about. This will typically come in the form of fats, sugars and/or processed foods. So cheese, heavy cream, butter, sugar, oil etc. Grains as well but to a lesser extent. Pasta, bread, rice etc., aren’t going to be a problem unless they make up the majority of your plate.

For example, fats are simply easier to overeat because 100g of fat will have more than twice as many calories as 100g of proteins or carbs. Refined sugar is similarly easy to unknowingly overdo it on, because it’s essentially just pure calories without any of the substance that normally comes with it.

So look for calorie dense ingredients and reduce the portion or cut them out entirely if they don’t add anything significant to the meal.

For example, if a recipe for a burrito bowl is:

  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground chicken
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup pico de gallo, homemade or store-bought
  • 1 Chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ¼ cup cheese
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream

Simply cut back on the cheese and sour cream or omit them entirely, depending on your taste buds and how fast you want to lose fat. Because the sour cream and cheese is going to give this meal significantly more calories.

Remember, you want to look at everything, not just each ingredient in isolation. It’s not just about minimising sugar OR minimising fat OR minimising X, it’s about minimising the total of ingredients that add tons of calories to meals.

If you drink a “moderate” amount of beer, tequila, vodka, and whiskey, you have no longer had a moderate amount of alcohol. You’re shitfaced. It’s the same with nutrition. It all adds up.

Another example, is this [butter salmon recipe}(https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/5703-salmon-roasted-in-butter):

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 4 tablespoons minced chervil, parsley or dill
  • 1 salmon fillet, 1 1/2 to 2 pounds
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Lemon wedges

This recipe is sooooo good. However, it would probably be almost as amazing with significantly less butter.

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Now, if you’re like me, you probably never measure anything when you’re cooking. You just throw the ingredients in the pan in a random order and hope for the best. This is why I should not bake.

If I was trying to lose body fat though, I would measure stuff because:

  • Your recipes will turn out better.
  • Ball parking it with butter or oil or anything can sneakily turn a low calorie recipe into a high calorie one.

It’s the peanut butter effect. A single serving of peanut butter is 2 tbsp which equals about 320 calories. No small amount for only two tablespoons full of food, but 320 calories is manageable for a snack. However, when was the last time anyone measured out exactly how much peanut butter they put on their toast? Freaking never.

No one in their right mind eats less than 2 tbsps of PB because 2 tbsps is ridiculously tiny. Most people, at the very least, eat 2 or 3 times that amount. 960 calories for a snack, on the other hand, is not manageable.

Eating few extra bites of chicken or broccoli will probably only be about 10 calories, if that. So with proteins and veggies sticking to specific portions isn’t as big of a deal, which is why they are the cornerstone for fat loss. On the other hand, with calorie dense foods, like PB or cheese, the margin for error when it comes overeating is quite high.

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You might think you put a serving size of dressing (also 2 tablespoons) on your salad, but it was probably more like 3 or 4. This means you just added a ton of calories to your meal unbeknownst to you. Take away, measure that stuff out.

Now, it’s sort of a pain in the ass, but until you get a general idea of how many calories different things have, when looking through a recipe go to an online nutrition data site and see how many calories each ingredient has per serving size, that is, your serving size. So if a serving size is 100g but you know you’ll eat about 200g multiply the calorie count by 2. This way, you don’t end up putting tons of effort into watching what you eat, only for the scale to keep going up.

Basically, the goal in modifying any recipe is to make the meat and veggies the focus, while still giving them some flavour, and making the process of eating healthy enjoyable.

Now, of course all of the calories in the meal count, so if you really want to know what you’re eating, tally up the calories of the entire meal. Calorie counting isn’t mine or my online clients’ preference but it does work if it doesn’t make you spend every waking minute thinking about food.

Calories do count, so we need to consider them. You don’t necessarily need to track every calorie of every meal to drop body fat. However, you do need to be aware of them though and what foods are calorie dense and which ones aren’t.

But how many “empty calories” can you eat and still lose weight?

Well that depends because the more you weigh, the more dietary wiggle room you have. A skinnier person actually has a slower metabolism, meaning it’s harder for a 150 pound person to lose 5 lbs than it is for a 250 pound person.

It also depends on what the rest of your diet looks like.

I’d say though, in general to cap it off at 300 empty calories per meal. So in the burrito bowl recipe above, the total calories from cheese and sour cream should be about 300 max.

Now, if you have 300 empty calories per meal that’s 900 empty calories per day, which can easily prevent someone from losing weight. It’s not a magic number, just a good starting point for tweaking your recipes. I’d start there, see how it goes, and then adjust accordingly.

If you’re diligent about this and still aren’t losing weight, maybe 300 is a bit too high, at least for every meal.

You don’t have to take such a specific numerical approach to modifying recipes. It does remove the guesswork though. It also makes it easier to demonstrate how effective altering recipes can be for fat loss. Like I said, you can’t talk about fat loss without talking about calories. That doesn’t mean you need to calorie count.

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Eventually your nutritional skills will be advanced enough to know how to change a recipe without worrying about specific caloric values, but it takes time, experience, and lots of mistakes.

That’s the goal, to make eating healthy occupy less and less of your time and energy, while getting the same results.

With practice, you’ll be able to look at a recipe and instinctively know how to make it suit your fitness goals. You’ll automatically know what ingredients to to cut out and which ingredients to go easy on. With time and practice it’ll happen. You’ll be cooking delicious healthy meals and you’ll be happy with your weight and how your body looks.

Here’s a quick recap:

  1. Look at the ingredients in your recipe of choice.
  2. Scan for ingredients that provide empty calories (lots of calories, not a lot of fullness/nutrients), if there are any.
  3. Are they necessary for the recipe to not taste like fermented cat piss?
  4. If not, reduce them significantly or cut them out entirely.
  5. Look at the nutrition data to determine how much you need to do this for your goals.
  6. Decide if, considering your adjustments, it’s still worth it to cook this recipe. If not find another recipe that lends itself more readily to fat loss.
  7. When cooking, actually measure stuff out, at least the calorie dense stuff like peanut butter.
  8. Remind yourself that, like any skill, cooking takes practice, as does eating healthily.
  9. Be patient and just get a little better each try.

Oh, and don't forget to grab a free copy of "Insanity Free Fat Loss: 10 Secrets for Long Term Success" to burn body fat (and keep it off) without dieting or obsessing about your health.

Posted on Nov 16, 2017