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Archive for August, 2007

Say What?: The Savory, The Sweet, and the… Ugh

Yesterday evening, after a grueling workout, I passed by a Domino’s. There’s usually nothing to see except for a few bored employees.

However, yesterday was different. I couldn’t help but laugh when my eyes fixated on the poster you see on your right.

If you’ve ever dreamt of a pile of Oreo bits and streams of vanilla sauce on sweet pizza crust, your processed food genie has granted your wish!

Part of me wants to get one for taste-testing purposes. I can’t help but wonder — are there cold toppings on a hot crust? Hot toppings on a hot crust? Warm Oreos but cold vanilla sauce?

Oh, what I would give to be a fly on the wall at these product development meetings…

More importantly, though, here are the nutrition facts:

One 10-inch pie contains 8 servings. Each serving breaks down like this:

120 calories
4 g fat
1 g saturated fat
8 g sugar (2 teaspoons)

In reality, two people are probably splitting one, meaning they are each taking in 480 calories, 16 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, and a Coke can’s worth of sugar.

As far as the ingredients go…. well, if you’re trying to only eat foods that contains a handful of ingredients, I’d suggest skipping this one.

10″ THIN DESSERT STYLE CRUST:
Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour), Water, Soybean Oil, Malt Extract, Chocolate Flavor (Natural and Artificial Flavors, Cocoa, Maltodextrin, Gum Acacia), Yeast, Dextrose, Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate, Corn Starch, Monocalcium Phosphate), Calcium Propionate and Soy Lecithin

VANILLA SAUCE: Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Starch, Contains less than 2% of Salt, Titanium Dioxide, Cellulose Gel, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Polysorbate 60. Freshness preserved with Potassium Sorbate and Sodium Benzoate

Oreo® Cookie Crumbs: Sugar, Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate {Vitamin B1}, Riboflavin {Vitamin B2}, Folic Acid), Palm and/or High Oleic Canola and/or Soybean Oil, Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Baking Soda, Cornstarch, Salt, Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier), Vanillin (an Artificial Flavor), Chocolate

WHITE ICING: Water, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch. Contains less than 2% of Each: Soybean Oil, Cellulose Gel, Mono and Diglycerides, Polysorbate 60, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Titanium Dioxide. Freshness Preserved with Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate. Contains Soy, Wheat (Product is manufactured in a facility that processes peanuts and tree nuts.)

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Numbers Game: Answer

According to a recent study at Brown University, the average college student gains 7.8 pounds throughout the course of their freshman year

So it seems we’re technically speaking of the “freshman half-fifteen”. I can’t say this figure surprises me.

Although university dining halls can be the source of nutritious meals, they can also provide abominable food day in and day out.

A typical all-you-can eat situation allows someone to customize a salad with various salad greens, vegetables, seeds, and lean protein sources, or have sandwiches on whole grain bread.

At the same time, if you want to eat hot dogs, cheese fries, and ice cream for lunch and dinner in unlimited quantities every day, no one’s going to stop you.

What we’re looking at are the consequences of an absence of portion control and nutrition education.

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Speaking With…: Mary Dye

With millions of young men and women starting college over the next few days, I decided to pick my friend Mary Dye’s brain for advice, suggestions, and a “Nutrition 101″ crash course for the Class of 2011!

Ms. Dye studied anthropology and art history at Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL, but, upon realizing her passion for food and health, enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Public Health Nutrition Master’s program. There, she also completed coursework to become a Registered Dietitian.

While completing her academic degree, Miss Dye was UNC Chapel Hill’s campus nutritionist.

She then moved to New York City and was a member of Fern Gale Estrow’s Food and Nutrition Team, focusing on nutrition policy and advocacy.

Miss Dye is currently a nutritionist at New York University’s Health Center, where she counsels a multitude of students on a variety of goals and concerns, including body image and eating disorders.

Below, some very helpful information for anyone navigating through all-you-can eat cafeterias, regardless of your age.

Small Bites: Many students starting college this fall are living in kitchen-less dorms. What are some good snacks you recommend they keep in their room to prevent from ordering in pizza every night at 2 AM?

Mary Dye: The key to a great snack is to keep it around 300 cal or less and make sure it contains fiber, protein and some healthy fat. These components help you to feel satisfied, which can prevent further snacking throughout the night.

In a kitchen-less dorm, healthy eating may be a challenge, but it’s easy to store items such fresh produce and canned fruits in light syrup (to avoid added sugars drain off the excess liquid and run fruit under water), nuts and nut butters and a variety of grains.

I’m probably not supposed to advocate this, but I always advise students to grab at least one piece of fruit every time they leave the dining hall. These fruits can be incorporated into snacks throughout the day. Here are some healthy snack ideas:

If you have a sweet tooth try:

  • Graham crackers with soy milk (if there is no refrigerator available, stock up on individual cartons that are shelf-stable)
  • No-sugar added applesauce mixed with peanut butter spread on whole grain crackers, such as Kashi’s TLC
  • Sweet snack bars such as Pure bar or Lara bar or granola bars such as Kashi
  • Bananas with almond butter and raisins
  • Dried fruit, sunflower seeds and nuts

For a crunchy snack, turn to:

  • High fiber cereal (such as Cheerios, Kashi Heart to Heart or Barbara’s Bakery Organic Shredded Oats) mixed with almonds and unsweetened banana chips – you could even throw in a few chocolate chips
  • Sliced vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers or peppers dipped in salsa or hummus
  • Air popped pop-corn with chili powder or cinnamon
  • Apples or pears with sliced cheese (Cabot brand makes great 50% and 75% light cheddar varieties in small “snack packs”)
  • Melba toast or Wasa crackers with cashew butter

For a savory snack, how about:

  • Whole wheat tortilla shell filled with canned beans and salsa
  • Mini bagel topped with canned tuna and sliced tomato or green pepper

SB: All-you-can eat cafeterias can be found on every college camps. What eating strategies can students develop to resist from grabbing hamburgers, French fries, ice cream, and brownies every day?

MD: First of all, eat throughout the day to avoid being overly hungry when you arrive at the dining hall. This means eating something roughly every 4 hrs beginning with breakfast. Between meals, snack on a small handful of nuts, yogurt or fresh fruit (taken from the dining hall, of course).

Once you arrive at the dining hall, take a look at the menu before you go through the cafeteria line so you’re prepared to order a healthy meal. Many schools now post menus on their website and include nutrition information to help students make healthier choices.

Do a quick walk-through of all the foods available and then proceed to grab your tray. Notice how many different sizes of plates, bowls and utensils are offered. Always opt for the smaller size. This will limit your portions while making you feel like you’re eating a full plate of food.

Now, I do actually have a strategy for all you can eat dining. It goes like this: try to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables (like broccoli, tomato, asparagus, peppers, onions) and fruits. Fill one-quarter of the plate with lean protein (meat, beans, legumes, nuts, dairy) and the remaining one-quarter with grains or starchy vegetables (such as potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, corn).

By doing this your meal will consist mostly of fruits & vegetables, which are low in fat and calories while high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Remember to be creative!

Sometimes creating a healthy meal can be somewhat of a scavenger hunt, so be prepared to combine foods from different stations into a balanced meal. For example, if your school offers a grill station, have them prepare a grilled chicken breast or veggie burger, then carry that over to top your salad for some lean protein. Mix steamed vegetables from the hot bar into your pasta sauce for an added boost of fiber.

As far as the junk food you mentioned, I prefer to refer to them as “treats,” as they can be a part of healthy diet, but should be limited. Allow yourself to enjoy the items mentioned at one to two meals per week. This way they are kept in moderation without making you feel deprived.

SB: A lot of guys really get into working out and the gym in college. What would you say to one
who asks you whether or not he should go to GNC and start loading up on creatine and protein shakes?

MD: Oh, I have so many cases just like this one! Please stay out of GNC, there’s nothing nutritious about that place!

The first thing I’d do is look at his diet and find out if he is getting enough protein, which more than likely, he is.

When you consider that that protein needs are generally 0.8-1.0 g/kg of body weight, it’s not hard to see why most Americans consume too much protein, not too little. Once you realize that a 4 oz breast of chicken contains 35g of protein, one 8 oz glass of milk contains 9g, most people start to realize that they really can meet their protein needs by diet alone, making protein supplements unnecessary.

Since the body cannot store excess protein, the unused portion is excreted in the urine once the excess calories have been absorbed. Digesting excess protein overworks the kidneys and when done for a long period of time, can lead to decreased kidney function.

I find creatine in particular to be a huge waste of money. It retains water in the body, so muscles may appear larger, when in reality they’re just swollen with fluid. Creatine has not been shown to improve athletic performance and has no impact on actual muscle mass.

Plus, it’s effects over the long term are not known and as a nutritionist, this makes me worry when so many students report using this supplement.

Unfortunately, creatine and protein shakes are big money makers with a great marketing team. To stop people from spending their money on these products, everyone needs to understand that the only way to increase muscle mass is by consuming more total calories and spending more time weight training. It’s that simple.

Extra protein will not lead to muscle growth. In fact, without proper exercise it will only lead to adipose tissue (fat) growth and, judging from the students I work with, that’s the last thing anyone wants.

SB: In your experience, what are some common nutrition issues that tend to come up for college freshmen?

MD: Freshman year is such an interesting and exciting time. For many students, going away to college is the first time in their lives that they have to make their own decisions regarding their diet. Not only are they choosing what they will eat, but when they will eat it, where it will come from and how much they will consume.

In high school, many students live with family members who control their access to food and attend schools with set lunch times and menu offerings. They also have a set schedule between class, jobs, extra-curricular activities so high school days are often filled up.

When students begin college, that schedule is turned upside down. There are often large breaks between classes or, sometimes, no break at all. All time management decisions are put on the student, which can result in over-eating from boredom and stress to undernourishment from not know what food choices to make and where to fit eating into the daily routine.

Some of the most common issues I see are dehydration, stress and emotional eating, fatigue often due to lack of proper nourishment, skipping of meals, and extremely low fiber, fruit and vegetable intake and lack of physical activity.

So many of these issues can be addressed by planning ahead. For all students, I suggest putting those back-packs to use and carrying a bottle of water (to be replenished throughout the day) and at least one snack at all times, such as a piece of fruit or a high fiber granola bar.

Set small goals to drink the water, such as ‘by the end of my 10 AM class, I will have emptied this bottle’ and so on. To ensure that physical activity is not neglected when the demands of school go into full force, schedule workout into your week aiming for at least 30 minutes of physical activity four times per week.

This can be as simple as extended walks around campus with new friends. Not only will it help to prevent the infamous freshman fifteen, it will also provide much needed opportunities to de-stress.

For overeating due to stress and emotions, I suggest thinking of ways to deal with such feelings that do not involve eating. Perhaps writing e-mails to friends back home, practicing yoga, keeping a journal, exploring the campus or reading a new book – for pleasure, not for class!

When eating, remember to listen to your body. Eat when you feel hungry and stop when you feel full. Just because the dining hall is all you can eat, does not mean that you should eat more than you can comfortable handle.

SB: Some students have never cooked before going to college. For those who have kitchens in their dorms, what would you suggest as quick meals or snacks they can make without having to turn on an oven or frying pan?

MD: Use that microwave! Burritos are quite easy and cheap. I like to fill them with fresh vegetables, salsa, low-fat cheese, fat free sour cream or plain greek yogurt, beans or Morning Star farms “Grounds” (a great vegetarian soy-based beef substitute which is great in the microwave). The same ingredients can be used to make quesadillas in the microwave.

Stock up on frozen vegetables and steam them in the microwave. Simply put them in a bowl with a small amount of water, cover with a paper towel, heat and voila! I think steamed broccoli spears are make for a very tasty snack.

If you’re willing to boiling a pot of water, whole wheat pasta or Shirataki tofu noodles are highly nutritious.

Serve either topped with bottled marinara sauce or make your own using canned stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, dried basil and oregano. Mix in some canned beans and perhaps some spinach and you’re in for treat. Serve with a salad for a great, high fiber meal.

There are some great brown rice products that can be made in the microwave. Top them with beans or vegetarian chili, made as follows:

1 can diced tomatoes with juice

½ c water

¼ c TVP (texturized vegetable protein)

½ can beans

1 1/2 Tbsp chili powder (or more if you like it hot)

½ can corn.

Microwave until heated through, about 4 minutes.

Baked potatoes do very well in the microwave. Simply wash, poke several holes in them (this is the fun part) and cook. For small potatoes, about 4 min, for larger baking potatoes, about 7 min. Turn them mid-way through cooking. Split them open and top with chili (above), salsa, or 1 Tbsp olive oil and steamed vegetables.

Super easy salsa: Mix 1 can of black beans, one can of corn, 1 diced green pepper, 1 diced tomato and ½ an onion, diced in a bowl. Dip in corn chips and enjoy!

Tuna salad can be made using 1 can tuna (packed in water), ¼ c diced water chestnuts, ¼ c diced green pepper, 1 Tbsp diced onion, 1 tsp dijon mustard, 2 Tbsp Nayonaisse (a mayo substitute available in most grocery stores). Serve on bread or crackers or roll into a leaf of romaine lettuce.

Fruit parfait: fresh fruit slices (or you can use frozen fruits defrosted in the microwave) in plain yogurt flavored with 1 tsp all fruit preserves or honey. Mix in ¼ c of Kashi Go Lean Crunch Cereal and 1 tsp ground flax seed

SB: Many college students are on limited budgets, which greatly affects their food shopping decisions. What advice can you share with someone who is strapped for cash but does not want to eat greasy Chinese takeout night after night?

MD: Greasy take out can add up in dollars and on your waistline! I find it can be much more healthy and cost effective to prepare your own food.

Anyone who is strapped for cash yet wants great fresh foods should shop at their local farmer’s market. Here you can find the highest quality, best tasting produce available for great prices – and your supporting local agriculture.

One tip here is to shop at the end of the day, usually 5-6 pm, when farmers are preparing to leave. This is when you can get the absolute best deals.

Eat fresh foods seasonally. If you want a strawberry in December, it’s going to cost you quite a bit – and it probably won’t taste that great. By waiting until strawberry season (May – August) you’ll be able to buy pints of delicious berries and a much lower cost.

During winter months, turn to fruits like citrus and apples or rely on frozen items. If you have access to a freezer, stocking up on frozen produce can save you a bundle. These foods are picked at the peak of ripeness and immediately frozen, bringing a high quality product to your table at a low cost.

Buy foods in their whole form. Yes, this will take some extra time and effort on your part, but the cost difference, and often the taste difference, is well worth it.

For example, it is much cheaper to buy whole carrots and peel them yourself than to buy baby carrots. Likewise, a bag of dried beans is far more cost effective than canned and ready eat varieties. Just be sure that you can soak them overnight and boil them prior to eating.

Buy in bulk. If you find yourself liking items such as granola bars and cereal, you can often stock up buy ordering them on-line straight from the manufacturer at about half the price.

Get to know the neighborhood. One store may have great prices on cereal while the store across the street has low priced yogurt. And as an added bonus, you get a little physical activity by walking to both!

Always make a list before going food shopping. Consult recipes and plan out your meals and snacks for the week so that you only have to shop once. Budget out the shopping list and estimate the total cost. Only carry a set amount of cash to the store so that you will stick to your list and not be tempted to buy other items. Just make sure you stick to that list and don’t forgo your planned items for that two for $5 ice cream special!

If you are going to do take-out, combine restaurant meals with homemade items. For example, if you and a friend are really in the mood for Thai food, order one take-out entrée, split it and serve it with steamed vegetables or a salad. You’ll save money and calories.

In fact, if you are really looking for a deal, many restaurants offer early-order specials, such as a list of entrees for half price when ordered before a certain time. Go ahead and order early to get the discount then store the food in the fridge until you’re ready to eat it later – along with more vegetables.

A big thank you to Mary Dye for her time and exhaustive answers!

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Quick and Healthy Recipe: Yogurt Dip (With A Kick!)

Yogurt is commonly paired up with berries, bananas, and oatmeal, but it can also serve as a wonderful base for savory dips.

This is one of my favorites — the texture and taste go excellently with some freshly toasted pita wedges or your favorite tortilla chips.

You will need:

1 cup non-fat (0%) or low-fat (2%) Greek yogurt (if you don’t use Greek yogurt, the dip will be too watery)
3 garlic cloves
1/8 cup chopped onions

2 teaspoons tomato paste

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

Salt and pepper to taste

OPTIONAL:
2 teaspoons cilantro/cumin

Blend ingredients and enjoy a low-sodium, hearty, delicious dip!

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In The News: Obesity: 1 Health & Nutrition: 0

The new weight statistics are out, and the results aren’t too promising.

Obesity rates have increased in 31 states over the past 12 months, and not a single state’s obesity numbers have declined since last year.

Mississippi now “boasts” 30% of its adult population as obese (note: this is not the same as overweight; obese indicates a much higher body mass index).

What really surprised me was that Colorado, the state with the lowest percentage of obese adults, clocks in at 17.6%!

Consider that figure in the global context:

Percentage of Obese Adults Per Country

Japan: 2.9%
Korea: 3.2%
Switzerland: 7.7%
Italy: 8.6%
Denmark: 9.5%

Ironically enough, the United States is also the country with the world’s largest diet industry. Hmmmm….

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You Ask, I Answer: Alcohol and the Battle of the Sexes

Is it true that women get drunk quicker than men because they are smaller and have more body fat?

– Luke Rington
Orlando, FL

Although this has long been the laymen’s explanation for why women often get drunk more quickly than men, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

As an answer, it is rather simplistic, erroneously assuming that all women are smaller and have more body fat than all men. I have seen my share of short, stout men to know this can’t possibly be true!

Besides, if you compared a man and a woman are similar in height and weight, you’ll find that after the same amount of drinks, the woman gets intoxicated more quickly than her male counterpart.

For the real answer, we must travel to the stomach and say “hello” to an enzyme named dehydrogenase.

Dehydrogenase is quite the efficient enzyme, breaking down some alcohol in our stomachs (the rest is metabolized in our livers) to help lower the amount that eventually travels into our bloodstream and affects our motor skills (and places ‘beer goggles’ over our eyes).

What does this enzyme have to do with our question?

Well, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that >women have lower levels of dehydrogenase which translates to approximately 25% more alcohol from each drink going into their bloodstream when compared to men.

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The Mayo Myth

Time to shatter a myth I have heard every single summer.

Here’s how it starts.  Someone complains of an upset stomach after attending a picnic or outdoor event.  Cue someone who asks, “did you have anything with mayo in it?”

Guess what? Commercial mayonnaise is so acidic that pathogens have a terribly tough time growing on it.

If you ate potato salad that sat under the sun for a few hours and don’t feel so fresh the next day, don’t blame the mayo — blame the potatoes!

That’s right. Potatoes are a high-carbohydrate food with the right amount of moisture and the perfect pH for pathogens to cavort in.

Another likely foodborne illness candidate during the hot summer months? Melons. If that fruit salad that spent four hours outside the refrigerator contains this fruit, save your stomach the trouble and opt for another dessert.

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Numbers Game: Pizza + Beer + Late Night Snacking = ?

According to a recent study at Brown University, the average college student gains ______ pounds throughout the course of their freshman year

a) 12.4
b) 5.3
c) 7.8
d) 11.9

Put on your alma mater thinking cap and leave your guess in the “comments” section. Then, come back on Thursday for the answer!

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Shame on You: Burger King

This pathetic commercial was shown nationwide last summer, advertising Burger King’s Texas Double Whopper.

We’re talking about one burger that contains:

1,050 calories
106% of one’s daily recommended fat intake
130% of the daily saturated fat limit

80% of the maximum daily sodium amount

And… 2.5 grams of trans fat (ideally, we should be getting zero)

So, how do you advertise a triple bypass in between two buns? Why, resort to many men’s ultimate fear — that of being compared to, gasp, a woman!

And thus the creation of Burger King’s “Manthem”, in which men brag about their unhealthy eating habits and practically equate the Texas Double Whopper to a shot of testosterone.

Below, the cringe-worthy lyrics:

I am man, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore

And I’m way too hungry to settle for chick food

‘Cause my stomach’s startin’ to growl

And I’m goin’ on the prowl
For a Texas double-whopper, man that’s good

Oh, yes, I’m a guy, I’ll admit I’ve been fed quiche

Wave tofu bye bye, now it’s the whopper beef I reach

I will eat this meat until my innie turns into an outtie

I am starved, I am incorrigible

And I need to scoff a big burger beef bacon jalopeno good thing down
I am hungry

I am incorrigible

I am mannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

PS: Eating like “a man, man” and stuffing yourself silly with saturated fat, trans fats, and sodium (as this commercial dares male viewers to do) is a surefire way to become obese and increase your risk of developing prostate, colon, and rectal cancer. Enjoy!

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Say What?: The Diet Fork

Any weight loss aid can potentially become a money-making machine, but I’m not sure the creator of the Diet Fork will recover his initial investment any time soon.

The idea? A smaller surface area results in less food being scooped, which means less calories are consumed in a meal.

Except the Diet Fork is a mere band-aid to a larger problem. It does not encourage eating healthier foods or making better selections. Using the Diet fork does not mean you are eating more fruits and vegetables or consuming less saturated fats.

Not to mention — a lot of highly caloric foods don’t call for any silverware: chips, ice cream sandwiches, French fries, burgers, and supersize sodas.

The advertisements refer to the diet fork as a “portion control tool”, although I don’t see how this is the case. Eating with this special utensil doesn’t necessarily mean your plate isn’t overflowing with sausage links and 8 inch pancakes drenched in maple syrup.

This gets a grunt and an eyeroll from me, but I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Numbers Game: Answer

Which of the following foods provides the most potassium?

1 medium baked potato

That’s right! Although bananas tend to be the potassium representatives, one medium baked potato (eaten with skin and all) provides 610 milligrams of this crucial (yet often under-consumed) mineral.

In comparison, 1 cup of skim milk contains 382 milligrams, eight ounces of yogurt provide 579 milligrams, and the mighty banana clocks in at 422 milligrams.

Aim for approximately 4500 milligrams of potassium a day to keep blood pressure as well as bone health in check. Remember, the more natural your food, the more potassium it contains.

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Food For Thought: Katie, Is That You?

See the photo accompanying this post?

On the left, you have what Katie Couric looks like in real life. Looks healthy and in shape to me!

On the right, the CBS art team’s creation, tailor made for advertisements — an airbrushed version of the newscaster, featuring a Barbie doll-sized waist, of course.

This is why comparing your body to what you see in a magazine, or even on television, is nothing but self-flagellation. You are pitting yourself against an artificial creation.

Isn’t this why The National Enquirer has a “celebrity cellulite” cover story practically every four weeks?

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Special? I Beg To Differ

I am sure you’ve seen various weight loss promises proudly displayed on a number of cereal boxes at the supermarket.

Special K, for instance, advertises that you can lose six pounds in two weeks just by having it twice a day!

Mind you, healthy guidelines of weight loss call for approximately one to one and a half pounds per week (this assumes your weight loss is consistent and you don’t hit any pleateaus, which are normal to encounter when losing a significant amount of weight)

In any case, a closer look at how Special K! (and other cereals) “helps you lose weight” reveals the following diet plan:

• Eat a serving of Kellogg’s® Special K®, Special K® Red Berries, Special K® Vanilla Almond, Special K® Fruit & Yogurt or Special K® Low Carb Lifestyle Protein Plus cereal with 2/3 cup skim milk and fruit for two meals a day.

• Eat your third meal as you normally do.

• For snacks, choose from fresh fruits and vegetables or a Special K® Bar.

• Consume beverages as you normally do.

So, in essence, your breakfast and lunch each consist of roughly 300 calories. Considering that most people eat anywhere between 600 and 1,000 calories for lunch, the concept behind this “diet” is clearly the true and tested “eat less calories” method.

Even an 800 calorie dinner would give somebody eating Special K for breakfast and lunch a total calorie count of 1400. Those who choose to snack while on this plan are only having an additional 200 or so calories if they only consume the fresh fruits and vegetables that are allowed.

So, for someone on this diet who normally eats 2,400 calories a day, this is quite a caloric reduction!

The “consume beverages” as you normally do is confusing, since no real guidelines are given. If someone is drinking two twenty-ounce bottles of regular soda (hence drinking 500 calories a day), they are told to just continue doing so?

The concept of having a cup of cereal with milk and fruit for lunch is extreme and, in my opinion, unnecessarily restrictive and boring.

As I’ve mentioned before, if all you care about is calorie counting, you can lose weight with anything –even ice cream and pizza. However, since these two foods are highly caloric, it takes small amounts of them to reach your caloric goal.

Consider the following edxample. It would take you 15 ½ cups of tomatoes to eat 500 calories, whereas that same caloric amount can be found in ¾ cup of chocolate Haagen Dazs ice cream (that’s less than half the standard pint you buy at the supermarket!).

The key to successful and permanent weight loss is not about boring diet plans that ask you to eat a certain food at a given time, but rather in choosing foods that satisfy you and provide ample nutrition without adding on too many calories.

As Dr. Lisa Young recently told us, popcorn is a great snack for people she refers to as “volume eaters” (those who need to see a lot of food on their plate to feel satisfied). When air popped and eaten without butter, four cups of this whole grain only provide 125 calories!

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Diets, Deconstructed: The Boys’ Club

This marks the first installment of “Diets, Deconstructed”, where NYU clinical nutrition professor Lisa Sasson gives Small Bites the lowdown on today’s best-selling diets.

Today, representing the gentlemen, we have The Abs Diet, created and co-written by David Zinczenko, editor of Men’s Health magazine.

The premise of the Abs Diet is rather simple. Eat mostly foods from the following groups:

Almonds and other nuts
Beans and other legumes
Spinach and other green vegetables

Dairy (fat-free/low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese)
Instant Oatmeal (unsweetened, unflavored)
Eggs
Turkey and other lean meats

Peanut butter
Olive oil
Whole grains
Extra whey protein powder
Raspberries and other berries

The book also asks readers to incorporate weight-lifting routines to their day with a special focus on exercises targeting the abdominal muscles.

Here is Professor Sasson’s take on this best-selling diet:

What I liked:

I think the focus on exercise and fitness is really good, because a lot of diet books sometimes forget to stress the importance of adding physical activity to a healthy way of eating. This diet is also not unnecessarily restrictive. At no point are you told to completely cut out an entire food group.”

What I’m not so sure of:

“I do feel, though, that dedicating so much of the book to abs exercises is just part of the “abs” gimmick. I would have liked to see some more emphasis on aerobic activity. Someone who hasn’t done a sit-up in ten years can easily get discouraged by all this heavy fitness talk. Also, there’s too much emphasis on the glycemic index. A healthy meal does not lose this property if it’s accompanied by white rice instead of brown rice.”

What I don’t like:

This book suggests men need to have whey protein shakes every day, which is ridiculous since the average American gets more than enough protein. I don’t like the focus on one nutrient — protein — as if it is the magic answer to weight loss. Also, some of the studies the book cites are just preliminary research, but they are presented as tried and true facts. I especially took issue with one passage that makes a link between carbohydrate intake and the development of diabetes!

My take? I think the Abs Diet has a solid idea behind it. I like the “groups” of food it recommends people make staples of their diet, and am glad they explain why low-calories, low-carb and low-fat diets are not effective for weight loss.

Also, as Professor Sasson says, this is not a restricted diet. Eating dessert once in a while is fine, and enjoying the occassional junk food is not seen as weakness or a breaking of the rules.

I also appreciated the miscellaneous tips sprinkled throughout (ie: “Five Ways to Add More Fiber To Your Diet”).

I have a few issues with it, though:

1) It makes no mention of portions or amount of food eaten. Yes, almonds and olive oil are healthy. But, adding four tablespoons of olive oil to your salad add up to 480 extra calories, and two ounces of almonds contribute 330 calories to your day. Unless you are working out heavily, these extra calories will contribute to weight gain.

2) I absolutely agree with Professor Sasson that the emphasis on extra protein powder is overkill. As I explained in the sixth installment of the Small Bites newsletter, bulking up and adding mass to your frame is about eating more calories, not protein.

3) Branding calcium a “fat fighter” is a bit of a stretch.

4) The chapter titled “A Six-pack in Six Weeks” is too optimistic. I have a feeling most of the people who follow this diet might certainly shed pounds and eat in a more healthful way, but will not be displaying a six-pack in a month and a half. The fitness model shown on the very last page is obviously a man who has devoted much of his life to looking as buff and cut as he does, not a regular person who did the Abs diet for two weeks.

I would certainly not refer to the Abs Diet as a ridiculous or unhealthy one. I think its intentions are good and, for the most part, it dispenses practical and healthy advice. However, in order for it to make the grade, it needs to rely less on preliminary research (as Professor Sasson noted) and protein as the key to weight loss.

In my grade book, The Abs Diet receives a solid B.

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You Ask, I Answer: Yogurt Parfaits

I had a Starbucks yogurt and fruit parfait this morning. It also has granola. I saw that it has 38 grams of sugar. Is that too much to have at breakfast? What should my maximum intake be for one day?

– Patricia Roebuck
New York, NY

The combination of fruit, granola, and yogurt sounds very healthy. And, with the right ingredients, it can be. However, don’t forget that even healthy food has calories.

An 8.5 ounce Starbucks yogurt-fruit-granola parfait provides 320 calories and 4 grams of fat. Ironically, a yogurt parfait at McDonald’s is approximately half the size and only provides 160 calories and 2 grams of fat.

The 38 grams of sugar you saw noted for this parfait are a little misleading, since that number combines naturally occurring as well as added sugars. As far as healthy intakes are concerned, you only really need to be concerned with added sugars.

For example, yogurt naturally has lactose, or milk sugar. Even plain, unflavored yogurt will have approximately 10 or 12 grams of sugar per 8 ounce serving.

I suspect these parfaits are made with flavored yogurt, though, which contains added sugar. I would estimate the flavored yogurt is providing 15 grams (or almost 4 teaspoons’ worth) of added sugar.

On the bright side, it seems to me that the fruits used in this parfait are fresh, as opposed to sugary jam, so in their case we are also talking about naturally-occurring sugars.

If anything, the one ingredient to watch for is granola. Although it has long been associated with good health and clean living, granola is actually refined grains with sugar.

Does that mean you should you avoid it at all costs? No. However, a lot of people seem to believe granola is a health food, which it isn’t. After all, a Starbucks parfait only contributes 1 gram of fiber to your diet.

This is not to say that everything you eat needs to be high in fiber. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that your granola parfait counts as a serving of whole grains.

You should aim to have no more than 40 grams of added sugar a day. There are currently bills floating around Congress that would differentiate natural versus added sugars on food labels, which I think is a wonderful idea.

I personally find Starbucks’ and McDonald’s parfaits a bit too sweet for my palate. I prefer to make my own with non-fat Greek yogurt, fresh fruits, uncooked oatmeal, and a tablespoon of flaxseed meal.

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