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

Archive for the ‘Weight’ 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.

Energy Bar or Candy?


The public has been duped into believing energy bars are healthier than candy bars. Conscientious mothers pack them in their kids’ lunch boxes, believing they are providing a healthy snack. Some of these bars do offer protein and fiber, which candy may not, but they pack a wallop of sugar in a small treat. Fruit or a small treat with peanut butter or cheese would be as nutritious, satisfy longer and contain a lot less sugar.

You be the judge. Listed below is the sugar content in grams, of a portion of some candy and health bars. Interestingly, the 4 highest in sugar are health bars and the lowest two are candy!

10 grams: A package of Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Squares
11 grams: Reeses Peanut Butter Cup
13 grams: Lemon Zest Luna Bar
13 grams: Iced Oatmeal Raisin Luna Bar
14 grams: Twizzlers Cherry Pull ‘n Peel
18 grams: Chocolate Craze Balance Bar
18 grams: Hershey Take 5 Bar
18 grams: Yogurt Honey Peanut Balance Bar
19 grams: Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar with Almonds
20 grams: Almond Joy
22 grams: Peanut Butter M&Ms (24 pieces, 1 pkg)
24 grams: Apricot Cliff Bar
24 grams: Carrot Cake Lara Bar
24 grams: Large package of Jelly Beans
24 grams: Key Lime Pie Lara Bar
25 grams: Spiced Pumpkin Pie Cliff Bar 25 gms
29 grams: Met RX Big 100 Meal Replacement Bar Crispy Apple Pie
31 grams: Met RX Peanut Butter Caramel Crunch Bar

While we need glucose (which is found in candy and REAL food like fruit) for proper brain and muscle function, an excess of energy (sugar) over what is expended, results in the storage of fat around and in the internal organs, and clogs the blood vessels.

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!

Living with Vegans


Please forgive my hiatus. Between a new job and studying for my national registration, my brain could not focus on anything else. Yes, I passed the exam; thanks for wondering. Now that I am on vacation, I can get back to business. (Now that’s an oxymoron!)

Today’s topic of conversation is veganism. Two of my sons’ friends are vegans. It started with a personal challenge, then they kept on doing it. It has been three and a half years for one; 4 years for the other. At the beginning, they ate all kinds of “imitation” foods like fake bacon and fake hot dogs. I questioned them about the spirit of going vegan, and the contradiction of eating foods that would be unhealthy if they were real. Further, they were eating a lot of processed foods, with ingredient lists 3 inches long. Since then, they have grown and become more educated about eating a healthy vegan diet.

Many people approach the decision to go vegetarian or vegan without enough information. While it is a healthy lifestyle choice, one must adhere to some nutrition guidelines to ensure healthy intake of essential nutrients. Giving up animal products entirely (strict vegan) presents a few challenges that can be overcome with attention to the diet.

The staples of the vegan diet should include: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, soy and seeds. The less processing, the better, to provide the best nutritional quality.

Plant based diets contain sufficient protein, iron, calcium, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, iodine, and zinc. A crucial ingredient missing from the diet however, is Vitamin B-12, which is necessary for proper nerve and brain function. Lack of it, over an extended period of time can cause irreversible damage to the nervous system. Some soy and rice drinks are fortified with B-12, as well as breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast.

Animal products provide the most efficiently absorbed form of iron. When eliminated from the diet, extra care must be taken to ensure enough of this vital element. Iron is plentiful in fortified cereals, legumes and soy, dark leafy green vegetables, whole grains, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, molasses and potatoes with skins. Iron is absorbed from cast iron cookware. To boost the absorption of iron, consume foods with vitamin C along with iron-rich foods. Vitamin C is plentiful in citrus fruit, peppers, tomatoes, dark greens (like kale and collard greens) cabbage and broccoli. Note however, that iron and calcium compete for the same absorption receptors, so they should not be eaten together. Caffeine also interferes with iron absorption, therefore should be avoided at mealtimes.

Consume protein rich tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, soy (milk and other products), whole grains, legumes and vegetables daily.

Calcium can be a challenge if meals are not carefully thought out. Dark green leafy vegetables, beans, some tofu, almonds, seaweed, fortified soy milk, beans, figs, and unrefined molasses supply calcium. Vitamin D is required for calcium absorption. You can get it by exposing your skin to sun 10-15 minutes per day or by consuming fortified soy or rice milk or a supplement.

Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids include ALA, EPA and DHA. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found mainly in the oil of flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, rapeseed (canola oil), and soybeans. ALA reduces blood clotting, and is good for the heart. The body converts some of the ALA into two other essential omega-3 fats called EPA and DHA. These two are also found to a small degree in seaweeds, and there are vegan DHA supplements available made from micro-algae. Low levels of DHA have been associated with depression. A tablespoon of ground flaxseeds or a teaspoon of flax oil per day will meet the needs of most people.

You need iodine for normal cell metabolism, and it is easy to get enough if you used iodized salt. Fancy salts such as sea salt, are not iodized. If you use them, you need to get your iodine elsewhere. It is found in seaweed and some vitamins.

Zinc is important for would healing. Rich sources include eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, sprouts, legumes, whole grains, tofu, tempeh, miso, millet and quinoa.

Being a vegan or vegetarian can be a healthy lifestyle choice. It will require more attention to your diet however, to ensure adequate nutrient intake.

Safe Weight Loss


Frankly, I was alarmed when someone recently said that she was losing a lot of weight in a very short period of time. I don’t know the details – perhaps she is under medical supervision and I hope it is not using a clinically unproven fad diet. But it prompted me to address the issue again, in general.

The Mayo Clinic and other reputable sources, cite a safe weight loss rate of 1-2 lbs per week. Rapid loss not only puts your health at risk, it is unlikely to result in sustained loss. Why? There are 2 factors going against you – one biological and one psychological. The first is the body’s natural desire to keep the weight on. When extreme dieting begins, weight will come off at first, but then the metabolism slows down to preserve that weight. Secondly, we are creatures of habit. The only way to sustain weight loss is to develop new habits. Therefore, if a diet is temporary, so will the weight loss be temporary. The way to keep it off is to change your diet habits forever.

I have written past entries about safe weight loss and maintenance. For more information see:

-Why diets fail
-How to keep your weight off after losing it
-Weight loss is not magic, and
-Diatta – from the Greek for “manner of living”

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.

Follow up on Healthy Dining Out


Because it is hard to know what is in each menu dish (and the waiter/waitress often doesn’t know either), here is a quick and dirty way to know which foods to select and which to avoid, to reduce the fat in your meal.

AVOID:

  • Battered, breaded
  • Pot pies
  • Crispy
  • Tempura
  • Parmesan
  • Alfredo
  • Cheese sauce
  • Buttered, buttery
  • Hollandaise
  • Au gratin
  • Casserole
  • Prime meats
  • Hash (browns, corned beef, etc.)
  • Braised
  • Fried, deep-fried
  • Creamed

Instead, look for these words, which indicate the meal is prepared with less fat:

  • Poached
  • Broiled
  • Sautéed (without breading)
  • Flame broiled, grilled
  • Steamed
  • In own juices
  • Loin and flank meat cuts
  • Roasted
  • Baked
  • Teriaki (high in sodium)
  • Marinara or tomato sauce
  • Picante, pico de gallo, salsa

Who and What Should You Believe?


I recently had a lively online debate with someone who coaches people on weight loss. She maintains that the elimination of a certain food enables people who struggle with weight, to lose it. I challenged this, citing recent scientific studies on the substance but she was adamant, as were a few of her clients who weighed in (no pun intended) on their success. Mind you, after a little information was shared, I learned that they also changed their diets. When you have confounding factors, how can one be so sure of which caused the result?

What about the hundreds of diets out there (check them out: the tapeworm diet – ewww!)? Some reasonable ones, based on what we know about the body’s needs, are healthy. But many diets eliminate nutrients or focus on eating a lot of a particular nutrient, which contradicts everything we in the dietetics field know to be healthy. While every person is unique, we all need protein, carbs, fat vitamins, minerals and water to survive.  And the more we learn about phytochemicals, the more we understand how they contribute to optimal health. How we gain, lose and maintain weight is a complicated dance, where genetics, lifestyle, diet, temperament, situation, mental health and attitude all play a role. Most of us eat for reasons other than nutritional needs alone, so adherence to a healthy diet may be affected by what is going on in our lives. How we feel about ourselves plays a big role. Do we feel we “deserve” to be well and healthy?

There is a lot of dubious information out there and many people call themselves a diet counselor without the proper training. Counselors, while they may have the best intentions, must be held accountable for their advice.  Even those with the best intentions must be held accountable for their advice. If a person is generally healthy, anyone who is good at coaching can help. But beware the person who is willing to coach someone with medical complications, multiple medications and diseases. using a trained professional ensures that the advice you receive is based on scientific rigor and best practices.

Look for credentials such as RD or DTR, CDN. These credentials guarantee that the practitioner has earned a science-based degree and sat for a national registration exam.

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.

Weight Loss is Not Magic


Because people want instant gratification, the promise of quick weight loss is ever enticing. We want to believe that it will work. It may work in the short term, but it never works in the long term. Quick weight loss inevitable results in regaining even more than what was lost. Even worse is that losing weight too fast is downright dangerous. Nothing replaces a sensible eating plan and exercise, for the rest of your life. It’s just that simple.

The worst thing you can do is skip meals. Your metabolism shuts down as your body believes it is starving. That’s why the old wisdom that breakfast is the most important meal is actually true! After a night of fasting, you need to stoke the fire and get the metabolism going. Fat cells burn less energy than muscle cells, hence the importance of converting the fat into lean muscle tissue. We now also know that sleeping too little can also make you fat. Rest is needed for proper functioning.

Use common sense. Any diet or supplement that seems too good to be true, is. You need just change one small behavior, stick with it for 21 days and form a new habit. Try making small changes in the composition of and/or quantity of your foods. Little by little you will achieve your goal of losing unhealthy weight and keeping it off.

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