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  • Archive for the ‘diets’ Category

    5 Problems with US News & World Report’s Diet Rankings

    Yesterday marked the release of US World & News Report’s annual “best diets for healthy eating” rankings.

    I am not a fan of diet rankings (our nutritional landscape’s Achilles heel is the obsession with dieting, as opposed to learning and developing healthful habits), but this list particularly disappointed and frustrated me.

    Below, the five main problems I spotted.

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    7 Habits of Highly Successful Healthy Eaters

    success

    This was originally written as a guest post for the Awaken Your CAREERPreneur blog, but I liked it so much, I wanted to share it here as well!

    Most everyone has the potential to become a healthy eater.  I say “most everyone” because, unfortunately, millions of Americans live in what are known as “food deserts” (vast areas in low-income neighborhoods that are absolutely saturated with fast food chains and severely lack access to fresh produce and basic healthful foods).

    I point that out as a reminder that the opportunity to become a healthy eater is one we should truly cherish and be grateful for.  All it takes is awareness and time to hone certain abilities and skills.  Below, I list what I consider to be seven must-have qualities in order to improve your relationship with food.

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    Three Things I Want Recalled

    RawPotatoC-listers all over Tinseltown must be insanely jealous of eggs’ press agents.  If you were one of the millions of recalled Salmonella-tainted eggs over the past week and a half, you were everywhere — form the morning talk shows to CNN to thousands of blogs and tweets.

    Alas, all this recall business got me thinking about other things I would like taken back as of yesterday.

    1) Potato hate:

    Apparently, some nutritionists and Registered Dietitians are stuck in the “net carb” days of 2003 and consider potatoes to be a “no no”.  Some go as far as claiming “it doesn’t count as a vegetable.”  Magical realism and denial rolled into one big ball of “huh?”.  Pretending something “doesn’t count” if you don’t like it is the new black!

    Since, these nutritionists reason, most Americans eat potatoes in unhealthy ways, then it only makes sense to make a gross overgeneralization and claim the potato itself is not healthy.  Because, hey, why try to educate people when you can just keep a myth going?

    Truth is, when eaten in a healthy way (think baked, with its skin on, topped with some olive oil, salsa, or guacamole), potatoes provide fiber, vitamin C, and potassium.  This notion that a baked potato and an order of large fries are essentially the same thing is reductionist, simplistic, and absolutely inaccurate.  And, please, spare me the “but potatoes are a white food” speech.  So are bananas.  And cauliflower. And garlic.  And most onions.  And coconut meat.

    2) Food/Supermarket Scoring:

    In theory, it sounds helpful.  “Let’s score supermarket foods so people know what’s healthy and what’s not.”  Well, befriending your old high school friends on Facebook also sounded good in theory.

    Truth is, a lot of these systems either state the obvious (“broccoli is healthy!”) or are mired by huge flaws (“if a product is high in fat, it gets lots of points taken off, even if it’s something as simple and healthful as almond butter.”)

    This is something I have personal experience with.  For several months, I was a consultant on a food-grading system (one that, I must say, successfully escapes the pitfalls others plummet into).  Though I exerted a significant amount of effort helping developers come up with algorithms that would lead to an accurate system, it was impossible to not face limiting restrictions (“yes, take off a lot of points for long ingredient lists… oh, well, but, wait, here is a 100% whole grain sprouted bread with no added sugars made from 16 grains.”).  Still, that said, the developers did as comprehensive a job as possible.

    My main concern is that ttoo many variables that come into play.  For example — what’s “healthier”: a full-fat chocolate ice cream made from local, organic grass-fed milk or a reduced-fat ice cream that is lower in calories (with no artificial sweeteners or fake fats) but made from conventional dairy, possibly from cows injected with Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone?

    Food comparison programs and apps are at least more customizable and can capture more nuances than supermarket scoring systems like NuVal, which despite much hyperbole, have yet to be mplemented in more than a handful of stores.  For example, someone concerned with GMOs or a company’s labor practices can find a particular app for their interests, while a supermarket scoring system may only look at variables that may seem irrelevant to a consumer (for example, I don’t give grams of protein a second of thought when food shopping, whereas some supermarket scoring systems do).

    3) Overcomplicating the Issues:

    Find me one person whose weight did not drop (and health did not improve) by eating fewer calories, eating fewer processed foods, and amping up their physical activity.  Yes, there are a myriad of factors that can affect how well those behaviors play out (i.e.: hormonal changes, genetic makeup, etc.), but I don’t understand the need to reinvent a wheel that works (“eat negative calorie foods”, “drink 9 glasses of green tea every day”, “never EVER mix a carbohydrate with a protein”, “no carbohydrates for dinner”, “dairy products make you fat”, etc.).

    As I always ask the “calories don’t mean squat” groupies, please show me examples of people who gained weight as a result of eating fewer calories or individuals who lost weight by doubling their daily caloric intake (without any change in physical activity).

    Of course, the quality of what is consumed is of the utmost importance.  Whether one wants to gain or lose weight, the idea is to fill up with nutrients and other healthful components from whole foods (not chalky astronaut beverages in a can or an “energy bar” more fitting for a chemistry class experiment than your digestive system).

    Oh, PS: if anyone could offer me a time machine, I want to go back to the early 90s and immediately recall the fat-free era.

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    Fad Diet Book Drinking Game!

    6a00d834204f4c53ef00e54f54c0ed8833-800wiAs regular readers of this blog — and Twitter/Facebook Small Bites followers — know, a visit to any bookstore’s “diet” section usually elicits groans, eyerolls, sighs, and even a little dry-heaving from yours truly.

    These sections are much like sifting for gold; the occasional golden nugget is lost among a sea of useless dirt (except a lot of this dirt has publicists, deep pockets, and VIP connections).

    Alas, in the spirit of channeling anger and frustration into positive emotions and good times, here is a fun drinking game to accompany your next bookstore field trip.

    You may want to have 911 on speed dial; you’ll probably go into alcoholic shock within two or three minutes.

    This list was partially constructed with the help of some Twitter and Facebook followers.  Their names appear next to their respective contributions.

    FAD DIET BOOK/BOOKSTORE “DIET AISLE” DRINKING GAME

    Take a shot each time you see a book…

    * With a “lose x pounds in x days” banner/statement on the cover (take an extra shot if the number of pounds is higher than the number of days)
    * With the word “skinny” in the title (Jamie Pierce)
    * With a “perfect” ideal-sized (AKA size 0 or 2) woman on the cover (Karen Tims) (Andy’s addition: Take an extra shot if that woman is a dewy, abs-rippling-under-the-studio-lights Jillian Michaels. Take TWO extra shots if she has that trademark “I mean BUSINESS” sneer on her face)
    * With a shirtless, hunky, Bowflex type man on the cover
    * With a mention of “fat burn(ing)” or “boost(ing) your metabolism” on the cover (Kristen Douglas)
    * With the word “miracle” in the title or anywhere else on the cover (Adam Laupus)
    * With the words “detox” and/or “cleanse” in the title (@koshtoo, via Twitter)
    * With an “As Seen On… [Insert Name of TV Talk Show/News Show Here]” sticker on the cover
    * With any mention of a “revolutionary” or trademark system (example: Jorge Cruise’s trademarked “Carb Swap System”)
    * That mentions how “easy” and “simple” the diet is
    * That mentions results are “guaranteed”
    * That includes specific timeframes in the title (“The 3-Hour Diet”, “The 5-Minute Zone”, “30 Days to Health”, etc.)
    * That is a recycled version of an old diet with a new buzzword (ie “South Beach Supercharged”, “The NEW Atkins Diet”, etc.)
    * That touts non-nutritional methods as its main premise (ie: weight-loss through hypnosis, weight-loss through affirmations, etc.)
    * That includes a mention of the diet being a “breakthrough plan” or a “groundbreaking way to lose weight.”
    * That promises you will “eat the foods you love”, “never feel deprived”, and “never go hungry” (take an extra shot if these promises include exclamation marks).
    * That makes reference to a population (ie: “The Eskimo Diet”), historical time (ie: “The Paleo Diet”), or geographical location (ie: “The Okinawa Diet”)
    * That alludes to “secrets” or “never-before-published” information
    * “Written” by someone with little qualifications (Jessica Seinfeld’s “Deceptively Delicious” being the perfect example here; if her name were Jessica Smith, she would just be a random New York City mom pureeing two leaves of spinach into a dozen brownies every Saturday; Dr. Phil also comes to mind)
    * That fetishizes one food (i.e.: papaya, coconut oil, olive oil, grapefruit, etc.)
    * Tied to a separate product you have to buy (ie: A “cookie diet” that goes with a particular brand of “diet cookies”) (Nilsa Duran)
    * With a photo of someone posing inside a pair of a random person’s (er, I mean their own) old, size 56 jeans (and stretching out the pants’ waist so as to make sure we see how BIG those jeans looks now)

    Any others you want to share?

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    A Very Gimmicky View

    425.the.view.081208The View is no stranger to”did they really just say that?” moments (remember Sherri Shepherd’s claim that not only she did not know whether the Earth was round or flat but had no time to find out because she was too busy raising her  children?).

    This past Friday, what could have been your typical weight-loss-in-the-coming-year segment made my jaw hit the floor and my eyebrows catapult to the ceiling.

    Rather than bring on an expert (imagine that — someone who knows what they’re talking about!) to discuss three or four often-overlooked healthy changes that could make a real difference in people’s lives, producers thought it would be better to instead expose millions of viewers to five gimmicky diet plans that only further confuse the public.

    Oh-so-coincidentally, View co-host Whoopi Goldberg is on one of them right now.

    The first recommended diet?  None other than Dr. Segal’s Cookie Diet, which consists of “eating low-calorie cookies and one healthy meal a day.”

    Really, producers of The View?  That is what you consider groundbreaking and news worthy?  A diet plan that first made the rounds approximately five years ago?

    Despite the frothy advertising, there is no secret here.  This nonsense is nothing else than extreme caloric restriction that fools people into thinking they are being indulgent because they get to munch on a a few cookies a day.

    I’m surprised no one has come up with the “Ben & Jerry’s Diet” yet.  You know — eat nothing but a tablespoon of Ben & Jerry’s every three hours and a sensible dinner, and you’ll be at your goal weight in no time!

    Up next — Melissa Bowman Li’s Physio Cleanse, which Whoopi Goldberg is currently on and raving about.

    I was very surprised to learn Ms. Bowman Li is a Registered Dietitian, because the program relies on distracting gimmicks.

    For example — you start off with a 28 day “cleanse”, in which alcohol, caffeine, sugar, gluten, and dairy are off-limits.

    News flash: it is completely possible to avoid that entire list and still overeat, just like it is possible to eat all those items and lose weight.

    Even more annoyingly, Bowman Li claims this particular diet helps the body “eliminate toxins through the lungs, skin, kidneys, and bowels.”

    Perhaps Ms. Bowman Li has forgotten basic human physiology — the human body does that on its own.  A cup of coffee and a bowl of Greek yogurt are not toxin-releasing roadblocks.

    Once again, the real “secret” here is a meal plan high in whole foods and fiber and low in processed foods.  The removal of caffeine and dairy is irrelevant.

    The Perfect 10 Diet and the 7-Day Energy Surge were also featured, but are so vague and general in their descriptions that they aren’t even worth discussing.  Both employ your usual terminology of “key hormones”, “feel at your peak” and promises of “jumpstarting weight-loss” and “reducing stress” “in minutes.”

    By the way, why do so many diet books contain numbers in their titles?  Is it solely to make you feel like a complete loser if it takes you nine days to get that “energy surge” (oh, how awful!)?

    The absolute worst of this lot, however, is Jorge Cruise’s Belly Fat Diet, which is nothing more than Atkins revisited (again!).

    According to Cruise, his plan allows you to “lose troublesome belly fat without counting calories or going to the gym.”  A couch potato’s dream — and such a hokey late-night infomercial pitch!

    Like Atkins, Gary Taubes, and countless others, Cruise claims “belly fat” is all about “keeping insulin low by limiting carbohydrates and sugar.”

    This, says Cruise, is much more effective than simply eating less and exercising more.  In fact, Cruise considers calories absolutely irrelevant.

    Despite claims that you will not eat less on this plan, this “groundbreaking” diet is also about limiting your calories.

    For example, one popular tactic provided by Cruise is to ditch the hamburger bun and wrap your burger in a lettuce leaf.

    Yes, certainly a lower-carb option, but also one that decreases calorie content by anywhere from 200 to 300 calories!

    Oh, but, no, Cruise says “carbohydrate [content is] the only number you need to know”.

    Of course, there are plenty of head-scratching tips.  While Cruise shuns dairy products and whole fruits because of their naturally-occurring sugars, he finds it perfectly okay for people on his plan to eat French fries and dip them in ketchup.  Huh?

    There’s also a pulled-out-of-who-knows-where concept of “carb servings”.  According to Cruise, a “carb serving” consists of anywhere from 5 to 20 grams of carbohydrates.  THAT is how you determine whether a meal is “belly good” or “belly bad” — by the number of “carb servings”.

    As a result of all this carbphobia, Cruise would much rather you drink a Diet Snapple (artificially-colored water spiked with artificial sweeteners) than an iced low-fat latte.

    It is a true shame that The View decided to devote camera time to these baseless diets that rely on gimmicks and hype, rather than factual information that can actually — gasp — help people lead healthier lives!

    Many thanks to New York City Registered Dietitian Elisa Zied for making me aware of this TV segment via Twitter.

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    In The News: How Many Misguided Nutrition Tips Fit In One Article?

    time_magazines_logoBack in August, Time magazine ran a bunch of ridiculous nonsense cover story which made the laughingly feeble case that exercise was not at all helpful for weight loss.

    In what seemed to be an essay right out of a middle schooler’s notebook, the author attempted to convince us of this theory by stating that on days when he exercises, he ends up eating more (and, apparently, he decided his personal anecdote somehow applies to the rest of the world).

    In any case, the folks at Time continue their bastardization of nutrition and health issues with their latest article (thankfully, not a cover one) titled “The Thoughest Diet”.

    In it, author Joel Stein talks to popular chefs who have managed to slim down despite working in kitchens  — and being surrounded by decadent food — all day.

    The article quickly goes South, though, when it turns into nothing more than misguided and inaccurate weight-loss tips from men who clearly have very little knowledge of nutrition.

    As can be expected when dealing with celebrity chefs, there is plenty of egotism, too.  In the second paragraph of the article, Food Network star Alton Brown credits himself and other television chefs for being “partly responsible for the fattening of America.”

    Uh, no.

    You want to talk about factors behind rising obesity rates?  Think crop subsidies, expanding portion sizes, food lobbyists, and issues with the National School Lunch Program.  Mario Battali’s alfredo sauce doesn’t even make the Top 100.

    Brown then goes on to make the following statement:

    “The old wisdom of everything in moderation was pretty much hogwash.”

    This from the man who has chosen to “boycott French fries” and  “now snacks incessantly on avocados, sardines, and almonds.”

    First of all, it is still very possible to gain weight while “snacking incessantly”.  Although avocados, sardines, and almonds are very healthy foods, they are by no means calorie-free.

    In fact, I recently spoke to somebody who didn’t understand why she wasn’t losing weight even though she stopped eating junk food.  A look at her dietary habits demonstrated that while she was eating healthier foods, she was getting just as many calories from those foods as she was in the days when potato chips, Skittles, and sugary cereals were staples of her diet.

    Furthermore, Brown’s example that moderation is ‘hogwash’ is based on the fact that he used to eat massive quantities of French fries, which sounds like anything but moderation to me.

    Then there’s chef Alex Stratta, who “decided to get off sugar, fatty meats, and carbs after his suit wouldn’t fit for an awards reception”.

    Sigh.  When I hear people say they “got off carbs”, I always have to count to ten and take deep breaths.

    Carbohydrates are not just in donuts, cookies, cakes, and 600-calorie muffins.  Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and healthy whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and barley are also “carbs”.

    Therefore, when people proudly beam that they “no longer eat carbs” , my response is often: “Wow, you stopped eating fruits, vegetables, and beans?”

    As for sugar — it is absolutely a source of empty calories, and undoubtedly overconsumed in the United States.

    However, what is with this notion of “swearing it off”?  Why not just set a goal of eating significantly less?  Besides, most people who I speak with who claim to be “off sugar” only mean white sugar, since they still consume honey, agave nectar, and maple syrup as if it somehow were calorie-free or chock-full of nutrients.

    Stratta’s “tips” get worse:

    “His new rules include starting the morning with a protein shake, having only three meals a day and never eating after 6 p.m.”

    It is “thanks” to ridiculous articles like these that I come across so many confused individuals at workshops and classes that I teach.

    In essence, what Stratta is doing is — are you ready for it? — eating fewer calories than he used to!  Wow, imagine that.

    It would be much more helpful if he simply credited that for his weight loss, because it is very possible to do the three things he does and still not lose a pound.

    Depending on what goes into it, a protein shake can have anywhere from 200 to 800 calories.  As for “three meals a day”, there are plenty of people who only eat three meals a day and gain weight because their total caloric intake for the day surpasses what they need!

    Rules like “never eating after 6 p.m.” are not only unnecessary, but also overly rigid.  Munching on a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts at 8 p.m. is not going to make the magical weight-loss fairies disappear into thin air.

    Another example of misguided advice?  The article states that renowned chocolatier Jacques Torres (who intelligently lost a total of 32 pounds by joining Weight Watchers) “stocks up on 70% cocoa chocolate bars, with the goal of always having a low-sugar options on hand.”

    Let me be perfectly clear — chocolates with a high cocoa content are great.

    The intense flavor often helps one satisfy cravings with small amounts, and they offer some added health benefits as a result of having more cocoa than milk chocolates.  Low sugar values, however, are irrelevant.

    The reason why high-cocoa chocolates are a better snack than those with lower figures?  They are higher in fat, which means they take a longer time to digest, therefore allowing you to feel full with a lower amount of calories.

    And then the magazine industry wonders why it’s going down the drain…

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    You Ask, I Answer: Vinegar

    Does vinegar have any positive or negative affects on the body?

    –Lori (last name withheld)
    Ottawa, ON

    Although vinegar is a great low-calorie (roughly 14 calories per tablespoon) flavoring agent, it doesn’t offer significant amounts of any nutrient.

    Some fasts and detox plans claim that downing a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar before each meal helps reduce cravings and speed up fat loss.

    I have absolutely no idea how they came to such a conclusion, though, given that there is nothing in the scientific literature demonstrating that vinegar has specific fat-loss properties.

    There has been some preliminary research on vinegar’s effect on blood sugar levels of diabetics, but nothing that would warrant the suggestion of making vinegar a daily staple.

    There is no reason to avoid it, either — there are no harmful effects from consuming it in moderate amounts (i.e.: a tablespoon in salad dressing).

    That said, going overboard and drinking multiple tablespoons in an attempt to speed up the metabolism is not only futile — it can also cause tooth enamel damage.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Book Recommendations

    Is there a current diet/cookbook you can recommend for health and weight loss?

    – Greg (last name withheld)
    (City withheld), IA

    I don’t like the term “diet book,” so let’s make this a list of cookbooks and “health books”, shall we?

    Books that teach actual nutrition principles and lifelong healthy eating patterns are more useful than the latest diet fad telling you to clear your cupboards of anything with sugar and spend the first two weeks on “phase/wave” one, where you basically spend 14 days craving all the foods you are now FORBIDDEN to even have a single bite of.

    Anyhow, What To Eat by Marion Nestle is a great book for anyone looking to delve deeper into the food industry and how marketing and advertisement play a huge role in what we are eating.

    Don’t be confused by the title — this book does not tell you what to eat to lose weight. However, it helps you separate marketing hype from reality, a very useful skill to have when navigating the extensive supermarket aisles.

    Lisa Young’s The Portion Teller is a fascinating read. Not only does it highlight the increasing “portion distortion” epidemic that has increased caloric intake over the past few decades, it also communicates a pleasant message. If you’re looking to lose weight, don’t think so much about WHAT you’re eating, but how much of it!

    I have mentioned Buff Dad on this website before (click here to read my interview with author Mike Levinson). I appreciate its “no nonsense” approach rooted in nutrition science as well as its particular tailoring to men (too many weight loss books specifically target a female demographic).

    Linda Arpino, MA, RD, CDN, released a wonderful book titled Eat Fit, Be Fit: Health and Weight Management Solutions (pictured right.) It explains nutrition concepts simply yet thoroughly, and provides over 250 healthy — and very tasty — recipes.

    I also think Eat This, Not That by the Men’s Health team is a great guide to have handy when it comes to eating fast food. It can help you replace a 1,200 calorie lunch with one containing 500 fewer calories!

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