What are calorie bargains? Great-tasting foods that are lower in calories than those you typically eat and that you can substitute for higher-calorie foods. Here are my picks for the new year.
500 milliliters, 0 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g carbs, 0 g protein
Metromint exceeded all my expectations, to the point where I can really imagine giving up a lifelong commitment to iced tea for one of these refreshing spearmint- or peppermint-infused beverages. The concept is simply adding mint to water, which not only tastes great but also has been said to calm nerves, freshen breath and reduce congestion. This brand-new drink is the brainchild of Rio Miura, a Japanese fashion designer, and Scott Lowe. Metromint is available nationwide in Safeway and Wild Oats, or you can also purchase online.
ON THE WEB: www.metromint.com
CABOT CHEESE 75 PERCENT LIGHT CHEDDAR
1 ounce, 60 calories, 1g carbs, 9g protein
Many people find it difficult to switch to lower-calorie and lower-fat versions of their favorite cheeses. Lucky for them, the people in Cabot, Vt., renowned for the exquisitely tasty Cabot Cheddar, have made a light version that tastes as good as the original. With one-quarter the fat, one-third the cholesterol and half the calories of regular cheddar, this one lights the way for those who want a great-tasting, lower-calorie alternative. Best of all, it tastes 100 percent like cheddar and melts like a dream.
ON THE WEB: www.cabotcheese.com
ANNIE'S NATURALS LOW FAT HONEY MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE
2 tablespoons, 45 calories, 2g fat, 6g carbs, 0g protein
It can be tricky to find a low-cal, low-fat alternative to regular salad dressing — anyone who's had a typical low-cal version of a ranch or Italian dressing can attest to that. That's why Annie's Honey Mustard Vinaigrette is such a treat. Many of her organic dressings are as good for marinades as they are on salads, and this low-cal version is no exception.
Even more versatile is Annie's Gingerly Vinaigrette, which can be used for marinades, barbecues and grilling: 2 tablespoons: 40 calories, 2g fat, 4g carbs, 1g protein.
ON THE WEB: www.anniesnaturals.com
VERMONT SUGAR FREE
1/4 cup, 10 calories, 0g fat, 4g carbs, 0g protein
MAPLE GROVE FARMS SUGAR FREE
1/4 cup, 30 calories, 0g fat, 11g carbs, 0g protein
If you enjoy pancakes, waffles and French toast, and you're counting calories, these sugar-free syrups are a great idea. The calorie reduction is huge — a regular serving of maple syrup is 200 calories. Given that the foods we add syrup to tend to be fairly high in calories to begin with, trimming the number you get from the additions can make a big difference.
ON THE WEB: www.maplegrove.com
QUAKER CHEWY 90 CALORIE CHOCOLATE CHUNK
1 bar, 28g, 90 calories, 2g fat, 19g carbs, 1g protein
A chocolate chunk bar is not exactly a health food and isn't a good replacement for, say, an orange. However, these bars are tasty, low in calories and low in fat, making them an excellent and satisfying substitute for a candy bar or a bag of M&Ms, either of which averages about 250-300 calories. They aren't whole grain, but they are made with whole grains, giving them some extra sustenance. And they provide 8 percent of your daily calcium needs.
ON THE WEB: www.quakersnackbars.com
EDY'S FRUIT BARS (NO SUGAR ADDED)
Strawberry, tangerine and raspberry flavors, 30 calories, 0g fat, 8g carbs, 0g protein
Not only do these fruit bars make excellent desserts (or snacks), they are also filled with real fruit juices and vitamin C. Try substituting them for ice cream after dinner or sodas during the day; they're just as refreshing and satisfying, with a fraction of the calories.
JENNIE-O TURKEY SAVORY-SEASONED TURKEY BURGERS
160 calories, 9g fat, 0g carbs, 20g protein, 280mg sodium
These turkey burgers are seasoned to provide even more taste than your average ground-beef burger, with many fewer calories and a lot less fat. Throw on some lettuce, mustard and ketchup and you won't even be able to tell the difference.
Sensible Foods Dried Fruit and Vegetable Snacks 100 percent Organic Apple Harvest
1 bag, 0.75 ounces, 80 calories, 0g fat, 19g carbs, 0g protein
100 PERCENT ORGANIC SUPERSWEET CORN
1 bag, 0.75 ounces, 70 calories, 1g fat, 17g carbs, 0g protein
These crunchy, dried treats are fat-free and 100 percent natural. They really are delicious. With just 70 calories per package, the salty Supersweet Corn is an excellent substitute for potato chips. If you're in the mood for something sweet, try the Apple Harvest.
Each bag contains one serving, which keeps an eye on portion control. One package is equal to 1/2 cup of fruit, or one serving. Other flavors include Orchard Blend, Tropical Blend and Cherry Berry. Perfect for a midafternoon snack.
ON THE WEB: www.sensiblefoods.com
Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public-health advocate, and author of "Breaking the FAT Pattern" (Plume, 2006). Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter at www.dietdetective.com.