Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. ~Hippocrates

Archive for the ‘exercise’ Category

Foods of Different Cultures and Weight

I have a great excuse for the long hiatus. I was traveling. For nearly three weeks, I ate in England, South Africa and Israel. Very different cuisines, I can assure you. To be honest, I won’t even count England because I ate Italian food in London while in transit to the other two  countries. I had already made up my mind that I didn’t care to eat traditional English food such as kidney pies and blood pudding. Too much carnivorous fare for my taste, and not necessarily the body parts I would choose.

In South Africa, at a resort in a game preserve, I found the food not to be too unfamiliar. There were just a few new flavors, but nothing exotic. I was surprised to find chicken livers with onions (secretly, a favorite), but I first had this food at my Jewish grandmother’s house. The most exotic I would say, was the venison stew. Nicely flavored and tender. I waited until after tasting it to ask what kind of meat it was, lest the answer influence my perception. “Oh, it’s wildebeest,” I was told. All I could think of was those stampeding animals who killed Mufasa in the Lion King. It was actually quite good. They served a lot of meat, in spite of the fact that vegetables and fruit grow in abundance in those parts. I guess it is their perception that Americans want their meat – and they accommodate.

Israeli food is really not a specific cuisine; rather a mix of the many cultures that inhabit the land and those of the people who came to live in Israel from around the world. You will find Moroccan, Mediterranean, Turkish, Eastern European, Spanish and Indian influence. For sure, fruits and vegetables are dominant in most meals. Produce is abundant and cheaper than in the US.

As a nutritionist, I am always looking at the composition of healthy to unhealthy weight in the population, and the foods that are commonly eaten, the lifestyle, etc. I was struck that obesity was prevalent in the bush of South Africa until I visited the supermarket and saw an entire aisle with chips and other junk foods. Also, prepared foods were fatty, greasy meats and white floured grains and bread. There was plenty of soda, and kids were seen carrying bottles of Coke and sipping other very sweet drinks.

In contrast, there was much less obesity in Israel, in spite of large portions of foods at mealtimes. Because the meals consist of so much more vegetable than meat, caloric intake is lower. In the cities, many people walk and use bicycles; another healthy lifestyle habit contributing to healthier weights.

We should take a lesson. I will be. This weekend I am entertaining friends. The menu will be vegetarian. Tonight I had a vegetarian meal. I am committed to making at least 2 nights per week “meat-free” in my home. Prepared with a variety of spices and herbs, vegetables are actually delicious! Check out my recipes. I will be adding more vegetable inspired dishes.

Strategies for Managing Holiday Eating

Pardon my hiatus. No, I haven’t been absent because I went off the healthy eating wagon and started eating junk food (though the impending holiday season is beginning to present many challenges to my commitment to remain sugar-sober).

With this in mind, I began seeking treats that would not compromise my commitment, while allowing me to partake in the eating festivities. Lucky you! My search will deliver some healthy alternatives to the sugar and fat-laden holiday treats. Caution: they will still be on the cusp of healthy, so don’t get too giddy. It will make traditionally VERY unhealthy options into HEALTHIER options. Stay tuned for recipes in upcoming posts.

While you wait, I will offer some pearls of wisdom about eating during the holiday season without feeling deprived. First let me preface this by saying it is OK to indulge a little. Serial overindulgence – not such a good idea.

Focus on the purpose of holiday gatherings. Surely it is about being with family and friends first, and yes, that goes with eating. But, food need not be the focus alone. Plan other activities: walks, movies (hold the high calorie candy), trips to the city, shopping together, etc.

The most common temptation and least healthy choice is the appetizer. Those pretty, flaky little things passed on trays during cocktail hour are laden with fat and calories – more pound for pound than nearly any other food. So how do you dodge this bullet? Try to eat something healthy or have a hot cup of broth or tea before you go to the party. It will curb your appetite. When there, look for shrimp cocktail. The sauce typically is tomato based with spice and nearly fat free. Shrimp has no fat, though it is high in cholesterol, so eat modestly. Vegetable crudities and fruit are often available on a table. Fill up on these so you are less tempted to eat less healthful options.

Avoid anything wrapped in bacon or flaky pastry dough (ie.-cocktail franks), food that is  deep fried or swimming in cream sauce. If you are trying to monitor desserts, look for fruit, sorbet, or just limit yourself to one small pastry or one cookie.

It is possible to survive the onslaught of holiday festivities if you prepare yourself mentally and look for healthier options. If you are going with a partner, ask him or her to help remind you with a gentle signal (or a hammer to the hand if they need more severe assistance).

Happy holidays!

Heat and Hydration

Much of the United States is experiencing a heat wave this week, so it’s a good time to revisit the issue of hydration.

With temps in the high 90’s and humidity making it feel even hotter, it is best to limit time outdoors if possible. But when you must be exposed to the heat, it is imperative that you drink much more that you would normally. If you are working or exercising outdoors, you may need a sports drink as well. Don’t reach for the sports drinks routinely however. While they have their place, they add sugar and calories you may not need. Athletes engaging in continuous, strenuous exercise need the sugar to fuel their muscles. If you are not exercising, the sugar will just be stored as fat. Electrolytes in these drinks are needed if you are sweating profusely, as that is when you lose them. For the average person, water alone would be best.

How much? On a normal day, a good rule of thumb is 8 (women) to 12 (men) glasses. That is what we lose through perspiration, normal metabolism and elimination. On a hot day, you need more, depending on how much you sweat.

Thirst not a reliable indicator of need for water. By the time we feel thirst, we are already dehydrating. Also, the thirst mechanism fails with aging.

Be safe. Drink water throughout the day. Eat fruits and yogurt, which have high concentration of water. And only consider sports drinks when you are exercising your muscles and sweating a great deal.

Why Diets Fail

Let’s begin by understanding the way the body works. The body is most efficient when calories taken in equal those expended in activity. The quality of those calories matters. Nutrient dense foods give us the most “bang for the buck.” Cells use glucose to fuel metabolic activity, which comes from the carbs we eat. Excess intake is stored as fat.

When we gain weight, we increase the number and size of fat cells. When we lose weight, the cells shrink, but the number of cells remain. Further, empty fat cells want to fill back up. That’s what causes yo-yo weight gain and loss.

Another issue when calories are reduced, is that the body prefers to break down muscle mass rather than fat stores. When dieting ends and the regular diet is resumed, fewer calories are needed, so weight is more easily regained – but it is fat, not the lean muscle mass lost. The end result is that we have replaced lean body mass with fat. Why is this so?

Each kilogram of fat tissue burns only 1 Kcal of energy
Each kilogram of muscle tissue burns 22 Kcal of energy

That is why it is desirable to have a greater percentage of lean muscle mass than fat.

Don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging and discouraged. Here are 2 things you can do to make weight loss stick and improve your health.

Exercise. I can’t stress this enough. Exercise has its obvious cardiac benefit, but it also builds that lean body mass that so efficiently burns calories.

Give up traditional or fad diets. THEY DON’T WORK! I repeat, “DIETS DON’T WORK.” “But,” you say, “I lost __ lbs.” Yes, you did. It was lean body tissue – and, you gained the weight back – and it’s now fat – and you may have done it multiple times, increasing the percentage of body fat.

Instead, change one thing at a time as you endeavor to change the way you eat for the rest of your life. Lose weight slowly; no more than 1 lb. per week, for sustained weight loss.

Make a commitment to your health. Enjoy advanced age by remaining fit and healthy. See other posts on this blog for more information.

National Nutrition Month

March is National Nutrition Month. This campaign is sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) and is bring awareness to eating and activity habits that promote good health. This website has great resources for all ages and educators, available free to the public. There you will find recipes, information about snacks, food groups, nutrients, shopping, food labels, games and activities: http://www.eatright.org/nnm/content.aspx?id=5342

Also visit the USDA’s website for more information for consumers and professionals. You will find health tips, recipes, activity and calorie trackers, information for special populations such as pregnant and lactating women, preschoolers, dieters, etc.  http://www.choosemyplate.gov/

Make 2012 the year YOU become healthy.

Vitamins. Do you Need Them or Not?

There is an ongoing controversy about whether or not to take vitamins and supplements. There would be less debate if we all ate a balanced diet, but the reality is that it rarely happens. Still, one must wonder. The vitamin and supplement market is enormous – $68 billion worldwide. Yes, that is BILLION!

My greatest concern is not that we aren’t getting enough vitamins (with exception of  malnourished individuals), but we may be getting too much. In some cases, it can do more harm than good. Fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K remain in your tissues and can build up toxic stores. Vitamin D is an exception as the upper limit is high, and more of us suffer from deficiency of Vitamin D than an overabundance. More on that in a future post. Though less risky, even water soluble vitamins in mega doses can be harmful. Further, supplements are not regulated by the FDA. That means there are no standards and you can’t be certain about the ingredients in the bottle. And no one is checking.

As a general rule, a daily vitamin is cheap and safe insurance to be sure that you are getting what you need if you skip the healthy, well balanced meal plan. It is not a license however, to eat poorly or to overindulge. Food quality and variety count. It is safe to take a formulation for your age, such as a senior vitamin for women. It will provide more calcium and Vitamin D as postmenopausal women’s bones need more support. Women in childbearing years for example, would benefit from a formulation made for them. It would include more folate, which is essential for the fetus’s developing brain and needed early in a pregnancy – before a woman may realize she is pregnant. It  also contains iron which is needed for premenopausal women.

So feel free to take a good daily vitamin supplement, with around 100% of the recommended daily allowances and supplement only up to the daily recommendations if more of a substance is required. Eat according to the Healthy Plate recommendations (www.health.harvard.edu/plate/healthy-eating-plate) and get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least 5 times per week.


How to Keep Your Weight Off after Losing It

The National Weight Loss Control Registry tracked 10,000 people who lost over 30 pounds and maintained it longer than a year. They collected data from annual questionnaires from 10 year registry members. Most held college degrees and 75% were women. Their average beginning weight was 225 lbs. and the average initial weight loss was 70 lbs. They maintained a 50 lb. net loss 10 years later.

The key factors leading to success in this group were:

Food habits:

  • They tracked what they ate and consumed 1,800 calories per day,with less than 600 of their calories from fat. Some chose their own food and other relied on programs such as  Weight Watchers.
  • They never skipped breakfast.
  • They ate out an average of three times per week and ate fast food less than once per week.
  • They didn’t use special occasions as an excuse for eating too much or the wrong foods. They kept to similarly healthful foods every day.

Non food habits:

  • They walked an average of one hour every day or replaced it with some other equal calorie burning activity.
  • They weighed themselves weekly.
  • They watched less than 10 hours of TV per week.
Nothing beats the combination of good eating and exercise habits, to keep weight off. That is the winning “recipe” to sustained and stable weight.

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