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Hey H. Girl,

How goes it? I know you have addressed this before, but can you please give me a refresher course on how to make guilt-free coffee drinks? Not only am I trying to cut calories, but I'd also like to save some money. Thanks!

Just Brew It
Dear Just Brew It,

Yep, I talk about coffee chain swaps a lot, since it's a great way to cut calories and fat while still indulging. But now more than ever, people may want to master the basics, since you can save so much money by making your coffee drinks at home. There are a bunch of staples you should have around to make these java swaps. Here's a quick list of must-haves:

1. Instant Coffee. I like Folgers. And not just because of the shiny flavor crystals. It's just good.

2. No-Calorie Sweetener Packets. Splenda's my favorite, but Truvia is also good if you prefer stevia.

3. Cocoa Powder. It adds rich chocolate flavor without a lot of calories.

4. Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Breeze. If you can't find this stuff, light vanilla soymilk works, too. But this is the BEST flavored milk swap for making low-cal lattes and frozen blended drinks.

5. Sugar Free or Fat Free Coffee-mate Powdered Creamers. In plain and flavored, just a teaspoon or so adds a lot of creaminess to your drinks. BTW, the Sugar Free French Vanilla is the one we use most at the HG HQ.

6. Fat Free Reddi-wip. Whipped cream will make your homemade drink feel like the real thing, and this 5-calories-per-serving, creamy, fat-free version is fantastic. Especially considering a serving of the full-fat stuff served at coffee shops adds around 100 CALORIES to your coffee.

7. Torani Sugar Free Syrups. These come in a SLEW of great flavors -- order them online or find them at select markets (like Cost Plus World Market).

8. Good ice, bendy straws and a great blender. These are all important, too!

Keep in mind, these staples last a loooong time, and stocking up will save you a TON in the long run. Use 'em to make Starbucks-style drinks at home, like our Vanillalicious Cafe Freeze, Green Tea Crème Swappuccino, Raspberry Mocha Madness Swappuccino, and Strawberry Cloud. Sip it up!!!

Dear Hungry Girl,

I am seeing SO many products on shelves now touting "probiotics". That word scares me! What do probiotics do, and how do I know which products are the best for me?

Puzzled by Probiotics
Dear Puzzled,

I feel your pain. I, too, am confused by all the probiotic claims on so many mainstream products these days. I was actually glad to receive your question because it encouraged me to contact a friend of mine over at Good Housekeeping. She's Samantha Cassetty, M.S., R.D., Nutrition Director of the Good Housekeeping Research Institute. Samantha shed some light on the subject by making a few excellent points. Here they are. And read Samantha's advice carefully -- it's good stuff!

1. While probiotics have potential benefits, there's no simple way for consumers to know what they're getting. Often, products are not labeled adequately: They may not state the specific strain or the levels present through the end of a product's shelf life. Still, probiotics have enormous promise if you're looking to improve GI tolerance during antibiotic therapy, control symptoms of lactose intolerance or irritable bowel syndrome, and possibly even shorten the length of colds.

2. If you're in the market for a probiotic, do some homework. Learn the specific strain associated with the benefit you're looking for, and make sure there's evidence that the product works by looking for research citations on the manufacturer's Web site. Also, look to see if the manufacturer lists the level of probiotic through the end of the shelf life on the package.

3. Finally, if you're shopping for food, hedge your bets by choosing a product that would be good for you even if it didn't tout probiotics. For example a cereal that is high in fiber and low in sugar, or a yogurt that provides calcium and protein. These products have health benefits even without probiotics.

Thanks, Samantha! To sum it all up, while you can't tell everything about probiotic products (research helps), they can still offer health benefits. And your best bet is to go for products that are also good for you in other ways. Hope this info helps! BTW, one of the best-tasting probiotic foods I've chewed is Kashi Vive cereal -- YUM!

Hey! Today, February 25th, is National Clam Chowder Day. Stick with Manhattan clam chowder (the red kind), unless you can get your hands on a can of Progresso's or Campbell's reduced-calorie, low-fat New England (white) versions. Those ROCK!
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*The PointsPlus® and SmartPoints® values for these products and/or recipes were calculated by Hungry Girl and are not an endorsement or approval of the product, recipe, or its manufacturer or developer by Weight Watchers International, Inc., the owner of the PointsPlus® registered trademark and SmartPoints® trademark.

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