With an ever-increasing number of books and articles touting the "right" way to shed pounds, it's hard to know which is the best way for your body. Should you cut out all sugar and processed foods and focus on lean protein and veggies? Or do you allow yourself some treats and simply reduce portion sizes? No matter how you view it, for most people the dilemma boils down to changing the kinds of foods you eat versus eating less food--or, more simply, counting carbohydrates versus counting calories.

In recent years, popular diets like Atkins and South Beach made it hip to completely shun carbs of any kind. Bread baskets were banned from the table, pasta was given the boot, and breakfast-cereal lovers became egg-white omelette devotees. But experts now say there are real risks to completely eliminating carbohydrates from the diet. A Tufts University study showed that dieters who avoid carbs perform worse on memory tasks than dieters who eat them and still cut calories. When the carb avoiders add carbs back to their diets, their memories improve.

They key? Eating the right kinds of carbohydrates. You're smart to skip the white bread, white pasta, and white potatoes, but don't overlook the complex carbohydrates that are found in foods such as fruits, dry beans and peas, whole-wheat bread, and whole grains. But no matter what you eat, it's crucial to keep an eye on your portion sizes. Since a pound of fat contains 3,500 calories, you'll need to either burn or shave from your diet that many calories to lose one pound. Remember, though, not to deprive yourself of the calories you need. The American Heart Association recommends that women not go below 1,200 calories a day, as there are health risks involved in such drastic dieting. Here are some smart swaps that will fill you up while giving your body the carbohydrates and calories it needs to keep itself functioning properly:


Skip: Bagel and cream cheese                      Go for it: Whole-grain toast with scrambled eggs

Skip: Fettuccine Alfredo                                Go for it: Whole-wheat pasta w/veggies

Skip: Baked potato with sour cream               Go for it: Sweet potato with yogurt topping

Skip: Store-bought blueberry muffin              Go for it: Homemade whole-grain blueberry muffin

Skip: Potato chips                                       Go for it: Air-popped popcorn spritzed with butter spray