Food Is Not Your Enemy

When the Number on the Scale Starts to Creep Up …

Inevitably, this seems to happen to all of us at one time of life or another. Maybe you haven’t weighed yourself in a while. And then you do. And the number is not what you expect. Wait, really? When and how did that happen?

I myself have remained in the same five-pound weight range for many years. But I am now in my mid-40s, and it’s clear that as I get older I cannot continue to eat the same way I did when I was 25. Looking down at the scale for the first time in months let me know that some changes were in order.

I didn’t feel any big changes were required. I just wanted to be sure to stop a potential upward creep, and maybe get down a few pounds back into my usual range (or at the top end of it, anyway). So here’s what worked:

-No seconds. I realized that I never really needed a second plate of food at dinner. I would often just take another helping because the food tasted good. I stopped this habit.

-A big lunch, then no snacks. I’m very hungry for lunch, and like having a big hearty meal mid-day. If the meal is filling enough, then I don’t need snacks and can comfortably make it until dinner. This is a good thing for me, because once I start snacking I often find it hard to stop.

-One or two fewer drinks. Moderate alcohol consumption is good for heart health. Unfortunately for women, drinking alcohol raises our risk of breast cancer. Once I read that fact, I decided I wanted to cut down my own alcohol consumption—which would have the added benefit of reducing my caloric intake for the week. So now instead of having two to three drinks when I’m out socializing, I’ll have one or two.

-Dark chocolate is dessert. Sugar is addictive, and the more of it you eat, the more of it you want. I feel much better keeping my sugar and calorie consumption lower by sticking with a few squares of dark chocolate as my only dessert. (Except for perhaps a weekly indulgence in something a bit more decadent.)

-More greens, less charcuterie. When out in restaurants, I now tend to order an appetizer that is vegetable based, like a salad of some kind. In the past I would more often pick charcuterie plates, or pate, or something cheesy.

-More fish, less pasta. And I now order pasta in restaurants less frequently, opting instead for fish when I can.

What small changes can you make to reverse the upward creep?

Do You Suffer From “Portion Distortion”?
May 25, 2016, 8:54 am
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, Restaurants, Water, weight loss | Tags: , ,

The more meals we eat outside of our homes, the more food we’re likely consuming. Why? Because restaurants give us huge servings of food—enough to feed a family of four sometimes. We get so used to these serving sizes that they start to feel normal. That’s when we hit peak “portion distortion,” where we’re only satisfied by eating overly large amounts of food.

The Perils of Supersizing

Eating too much food in one sitting is hard on your body. Here’s why:

  • Overdosing on too much food at one time causes pain, upset, and sluggish digestion.
  • A surge of glucose is released into your blood. Your pancreas has to work overtime, pumping insulin through the body to absorb all that extra glucose. This can make you feel spacy, weak, irritable, or headachy.
  • Thinking there is some type of emergency, your adrenal glands go into “fight or flight” mode and release adrenaline and cortisol, which is the body’s natural response to stress.
  • When your blood sugar levels finally plummet, you experience cravings for more food–specifically simple carbs or sweets.
  • Research has found that immune system function is affected for at least five hours after consuming large amounts of simple carbohydrates.

6 Tips to Kick Portion Distortion

  • Cook and eat at home more. We never serve ourselves the amount of food restaurants do.
  • Don’t over-order–go for salads, soups, and appetizers, which are typically more reasonably sized than entrees.
  • Choose high-fiber foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains to keep you feeling full and energized.
  • Chew well to aid digestion and give your brain time to register you’re full before you overeat.
  • Get enough water. Often we mistake thirst for hunger.
  • Carry your own snacks so you’re not tempted to grab pizza or a candy bar when the 4 p.m. munchies hit you. Stock up on snack-sized containers and fill them with baby carrots, popcorn, or nuts.

How the “Umami” Taste Affects Appetite
July 28, 2015, 2:53 pm
Filed under: Beans, Dairy, Eggs, Meat, Mushrooms, Restaurants, Vegetables, weight loss | Tags: ,

Growing up, you may remember learning about the four tastes that our tongues can detect: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. But it’s now generally recognized that there is a fifth taste, a taste that’s prevalent in such foods as mushrooms, parmesan cheese, miso, tomatoes, and meat—“umami.” And this umami taste, a recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found, can actually have an effect on our appetite.

Umami was first recognized in 1908 by a Tokyo researcher, Dr. Kikunae Ikeda, who postulated that there exists in many foods a savory, meaty taste that does not really fit into the categorizations of sweet, sour, bitter, or salty. He found that ground zero of this flavor is a compound called glutamate, or glutamic acid, which occurs naturally in the umami-rich foods. His work went mainstream only in the 1980s, and is now lovingly paid homage to by chefs worldwide as well as by the wildly popular burger chain known as Umami Burger (the burgers contain such toppings as truffle cheese, shiitake mushrooms, and roasted tomatoes).

Interestingly, two University of Sussex researchers found that when given umami-rich soup, their study participants initially felt an increase in their appetite as they ate, but eventually experienced greater satiety after the meal compared to the control group. This increased satiety, of course, can lead to eating less later in the day. Helpful if you’re looking to lose weight!

Given that umami flavors are generally delicious, why not seek them out then? Other foods that are considered umami-rich are seaweed, green tea, eggs, shellfish, soybeans, asparagus, and carrots.

My Dark Fast-Food Secret
September 27, 2013, 11:08 am
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, Meat, Restaurants, weight loss | Tags: ,

As a holistic nutrition counselor, my job is to help people eat better and live healthier lives. Which is probably why at some point one of my kids said to me, “What if your clients found out you were eating McDonald’s right now?”

I shrugged and said that I wouldn’t try to hide it–in fact, I would happily confess that I indulged in this meal. Here’s why.

Does McDonald’s, like virtually any fast-food chain, serve low-quality, genetically modified, factory-farmed food that is overloaded with fat, salt, and sugar? Yes. Do I advise my clients to avoid such food? Yes. And I generally avoid this food also.

But two or three times a year, I do eat it. I have to admit that while I do know that the food is disgusting, I enjoy the taste of it. You can’t beat those fries! And whenever I’m done with my Quarter Pounder with Cheese, I always wish there were just a few more bites left.

I don’t feel guilty about these meals, because I know that these two or three McDonald’s runs are not going to undo the healthy eating I do the rest of the time.

It is very important to strike a good balance with your eating–once-a-week fast food WILL lead to weight gain. But if you try to be too “perfect” or “pure” with your food choices, you can drive yourself nuts. This kind of stringency can also lead to binge-eating or secretive eating, where you end up shoveling Oreos into your mouth at 2 a.m. while everyone else in your house is asleep and unable to witness what you’re doing.

So cut yourself some slack. When it comes to your food choices, aim high, but don’t feel bad about missing the mark sometimes.

How Cooking Protects Us From Disease and Obesity

At the start of the 20th century, eating a meal out was a rare treat–only 2 percent of meals were eaten outside the home, in fact. But now, 50 percent of our meals are eaten away from home. And when we are actually eating at home these days, many of those meals involve peeling a film off a microwave dinner.

It’s not such a mystery why this has happened. We’re busy! Most men and women are working full time, and there’s usually not someone at home cooking up a roast with three sides to have on the table by 6 p.m. Kids have to be shuttled around to sports practices and lessons. And it’s just so easy to not cook.

But not cooking comes with risks. Relying on fast food means high-calorie, low-nutrient meals. Takeout from the local Chinese or Thai or Indian place means huge portions and perhaps a lot of oil and who knows what else in the food. Frozen dinners tend to come with lots and lots of sodium and additives we’d be better off avoiding.

Taking the time to cook a meal with real, fresh, whole foods can make such a difference when it comes to your health and your weight, even if you cook just a few times a week (make extra for leftovers!). You’ll know exactly what’s in your food. You’ll have better control over your portions. And you’re more likely to make vegetables part of the meal.

These benefits will translate to weight loss and the prevention of the kinds of chronic diseases that come from eating too much sugar, fat, salt, and refined carbs (such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease). Isn’t all that worth some of your time? Plus, you won’t believe how much money you’ll save!

The Chain Restaurant Trap: 1,300-Calorie “Healthy” Choices

We’re all super busy. We have to juggle work, chores at home, maybe taking care of kids as well. Unfortunately, cooking often falls to the wayside. And with so many places to eat out, well, why not just eat out instead?

For many people, eating out means hitting a chain restaurant, like TGI Friday’s, Applebee’s, Cheesecake Factory, or P.F. Chang’s. These places are relatively inexpensive, often conveniently located, and have huge menus full of very tempting foods.

The problem? The dishes at these restaurants are making us fat.

It’s not surprising to anyone that bacon cheeseburgers with ranch dressing, fettuccine Alf redo, or brownie sundaes are high in calories. But what does tend to catch people by surprise is how many calories are in some of the dishes that sound “healthy,” like salmon, chicken, salads, and vegetarian fare.

So you walk into Cheesecake Factory, and maybe you feel determined to make a better choice than you did the last time you were here and walked out feeling like your stomach was going to explode. You winnow down your list to the following items, which all sound pretty healthy: the grilled portobello on a bun, grilled turkey burger, miso salmon, orange chicken, grilled eggplant sandwich, and the Caesar salad with chicken.

Now here are the calorie counts for these foods:

  • Grilled Portobello on a Bun = 1,377 calories
  • Grilled Turkey Burger = 1,331 calories
  • Miso Salmon = 1,670 calories
  • Orange Chicken = 1,790
  • Incredible Grilled Eggplant Sandwich = 1,020
  • Caesar Salad With Chicken = 1,510

These dishes hardly seem healthy now, right? And if you also get an appetizer and/or dessert, you’re looking at way more calories than you should consume for the whole day, or maybe even for two days. Eat a meal like this once a week and don’t be surprised if you put on 10 pounds a year. I invite you to look at Cheesecake Factory’s full list of nutrition facts for more eye-opening info.

Cheesecake Factory is certainly not the only offender when it comes to high-calorie “healthy” foods. Boston Market’s Rotisserie Chicken Salad Sandwich has 1,050 calories. Cosi’s Tuna Melt has 774 calories. P.F. Chang’s Chicken Chopped Salad With Ginger Dressing has 940 calories. Romano’s Macaroni Grill’s Seared Sea Scallops Salad has 1,170 calories.

Why do these dishes have so many calories? Portion size is certainly a contributing factor–these restaurants are notorious for serving enormous amounts of food. And fat and sugar are the other big issues. The goal at these eateries is to get you to keep coming back, and piling on lots of butter, cream, mayo, and sugar certainly ups the pleasure factor when you’re dining.

So the next time you’re thinking of heading out to a chain restaurant, think twice. An entire week’s worth of healthy eating at home can be undone by this one meal.

LYFE Kitchen: Truly Healthy Food Brought to You By Former McDonald’s Execs?

Crazy! But great! Apparently a couple of former execs from McDonald’s are planning to open a “fast food” restaurant, LYFE Kitchen, that will serve truly healthy foods, including grass-fed beef and dishes under 600 calories, all for low dough. Dr. Mark Hyman, the brilliant integrative medicine doc, has been advising them on their vision, so I can’t help but think this might be the real deal.

Will Ronald McDonald Retire?

The Wall Street Journal ran a piece today about the pressure being put on McDonald’s to stop marketing its food to kids, and to send its cherry-haired clown packing. People will pooh-pooh this kind of campaign, being waged by the likes of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Chicago Hispanic Health Coalition, and Dr. Andrew Weil. But the bigwigs at McDonald’s know full well what Happy Meals and clowns are all about, no matter how much they go on about how their restaurants offer lots of choices and that they believe in nutritious food–it’s about money. And getting kids excited about McD’s, so that they then bug their parents to take them there so they can get the Buzz Lightyear with their burger, is just good business. Good business like pushing Camel cigarettes via the cartoon character Joe Camel was good business.

Why You Should Feel Okay About Cooking With Salt

“I don’t cook with salt.” I’ve heard this refrain many times from people who have high blood pressure. I picture them slurping down tasteless soups and suffering through bland steaks, and am happy for my own salt shaker at home.

But then they’ll tell me in passing that they go out to restaurants and/or get takeout several times a week. At which point I may ask, “Do you know how much salt is in the restaurant food you’re eating?”

The answer will shock anyone. Often restaurant entrees have more salt in them than you’re supposed to have in an entire day (which is 1,500 mg, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest). That Olive Garden Garden-Fresh Salad with Italian dressing? 1,930 mg. Chipotle chicken burrito? 2,120 mg. Panera Full Smoked Ham & Swiss Sandwich on rye? 2,350 mg. And forget about Chili’s Texas Cheese Fries with jalapeno ranch dressing–you’re looking at almost four days’ worth of salt in that mess (5,530 mg).

And it’s not just the chain restaurants. New York magazine sent a few entrees from popular NYC restaurants to the lab last year to see how much sodium they contained, and it wasn’t pretty (Momofuku Noodle Bar’s ramen with pork belly, pork shoulder, and poached egg has 3,440 mg, for example).

The fact is that only 10 percent of salt in Americans’ diets comes from salt used in the home. The other 90 percent comes from the restaurant and prepared foods that we eat.

So if you have high blood pressure, or want to prevent yourself from getting it, stop worrying about using salt in your own cooking. If you instead cut back on restaurant, take-out, and frozen meals, you’ll be making a much, much bigger impact when it comes to salt reduction. And your waistline will love that home-cooking as well.

The Best and Worst Foods to Eat at Subway (the Sandwich Shop)
March 31, 2011, 1:56 pm
Filed under: Meat, Restaurants, weight loss | Tags: , ,

It seems that tons of people on a regular basis search for “the best” or “the worst” foods to eat at Subway, and end up being directed by Google to my story about the best and worst foods to eat ON the subway, as in the NYC trains.  So I imagine that plenty of people wondering whether they should order the meatball sub or the veggie sub now have a full but perhaps unlooked-for understanding of my feelings about people who clip their nails during the morning commute.

In the interest of providing the information that many people so clearly crave, here is a link to the full nutrition information for Subway, the sandwich chain.

As chains go, Subway isn’t terrible. The calorie counts are very modest compared to what you’ll see on the nutrition info sheets for, say, the Cheesecake Factory or KFC. But just remember that cold cuts are not particularly healthy, and there’s nothing about Subway’s fare that will promote weight loss–Jared lost all that weight simply by cutting calories.