Coping With Food Pushers

Original Content: Washington Post

One of my clients, who came to me to lose about 30 pounds, has a real problem. He loves to eat, and he loves to please people. In fact, he said pleasing people is the main reason he overeats. This tendency becomes especially troublesome during the holidays when friends, family and colleagues invite him for meals. My kind-hearted client literally cannot say no.

As a result, he says holidays are a time of joy but also frustration, because his need to be polite is in stark conflict with his goal of trimming down.

Many of us can appreciate his dilemma. Holiday delicacies can be difficult to navigate, especially if you’re trying to avoid gaining weight from Thanksgiving to the New Year. And that can bring out the best and the worst in people.

We all know hosts who aren’t satisfied until they convince us, beg us, to eat more, more, more. Their entreaties are hard to resist, if only because we want to be polite.

To be fair, “food pushers,” as I call them, aren’t necessarily bad people. Your mom, your spouse, your friends — they just want to please you. They are people who think they have your best interests at heart and know more than you do about what and how much food (and drink) you should be consuming.

My clients and I have tried various tactics through the years, most of them utter failures. I’ve tried explaining that I wasn’t hungry. I even went through a phase of telling people I was allergic to this or that. That didn’t work, either. And I learned that the worst thing you can say to a food pusher is, “No thanks, I’m on a diet” or “Thanks, I’m watching it.”

You might as well say, “Talk me into it!” Your excuse is giving the food pusher a double signal — that you really want it but have to refuse. It might also sound insulting, implying that the food isn’t good enough for your refined tastes. And finally your response might make the pusher feel guilty, as if he or she should be “watching it,” too. All of these things challenge the food pusher to seduce you.

But I finally began to make headway when I learned the most basic rule of all: Never give excuses. I’m delighted to say that one of the foremost authorities on etiquette told me that this approach is both appropriate and wise.

“The best answer is a simple but firm ‘No thank you,’” declared Judith Martin, the syndicated columnist who writes as Miss Manners. “Once you give an excuse, you open yourself to argument.”

Martin also offered clear advice in her column to food pushers, and their “endless patter of coercion — ‘Oh, come on, one won’t hurt you . . . I made this especially for you . . . it doesn’t have any calories . . . you’re too thin anyway . . . it’s good for you . . . you’re not going to make me eat leftovers tomorrow.’ Miss Manners asks them to cut it out.”

“To offer and provide food is lovely, but to badger people into eating it isn’t pleasant,” Martin told me. “Politeness consists of offering food and drink without cajoling or embarrassing people into taking it.”

While “no thank you” is fine for hosts, I learned I had to use a different tactic with my family.

During visits to my grandparents in Sweden, for instance, every day I felt overstuffed from too many fattening (and, yes, delicious) Swedish meatballs, cheeses and cakes. Inevitably with each visit I came home several pounds heavier.

I decided I’d drop subtle hints and compliments to guide them into serving me food that wasn’t going to make me look and feel like a Swedish meatball.

This technique of continued positive reinforcement took several years (in psychology, it’s called “shaping”), but it eventually worked. When they served seafood, salads, fruits — food I wanted more of — I complimented lavishly. “Sweden has the best fish in the world!” or “I just love your salads!” (which was all true, by the way). Over time, whenever I’d visit, they’d feed me what they learned I loved: seafood, salads and fruits. (Yes, I also loved the fattening stuff, but that was easily obtained, and I wanted to limit my indulgences without announcing it.)

The same technique can work with your colleagues, friends and family, and it doesn’t have to take years. At Thanksgiving or during the holidays, instead of focusing on what you don’t want or can’t have, and using turn-off words such as “healthy” or “diet,” simply compliment your hosts and stay positive. Instead of saying “I can’t have dessert, I’m watching it,” say “The meal was so satisfying, I can’t have another bite!”

When given a choice at, say, the Thanksgiving meal, a work party, a potluck, or in restaurants, instead of, “I don’t eat mashed potatoes and gravy,” say: “The green beans look fabulous!”

My client tried these tactics with his family and friends and has been losing weight ever since. He was surprised at how a simple compliment could stop food pushers in their tracks.

Even Miss Manners agrees that this approach is okay as long as you don’t go into too much detail. In the end, no food pusher can resist a happy guest.

Of course, as a guest, you have obligations, too, which I’ll discuss in my next column.

Katherine Tallmadge is a Washington nutritionist and the author of “Diet Simple” (Lifeline Press, 2004). Send e-mails to her at food@washpost.com.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

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Just Say No

Original Content: Washington Post

My client Julie used to fight every holiday with her family. She would unwittingly start the argument at the dinner table by mentioning that she was on some sort of diet and couldn’t eat this or that. Then other guests would chime in with their own dietary viewpoints. This would cause the host to worry whether her guests were really complaining about the lavish spread she had slaved over. And the negativity didn’t help Julie; she would feel so frustrated that she would just give up on her dieting goals.

I’m afraid this is a familiar scene. As the party season begins, many of us are fearful of the delicious yet fattening holiday foods offered at countless gatherings. Although we want to enjoy ourselves and be appreciative guests, there’s the little (or not so little) issue of the weight we don’t want to gain.

Our fears are well founded. Studies show we are susceptible to weight gain at this time of year. Just about every party revolves around food. And when there is a variety of tasty foods in the vicinity, many of us simply can’t resist them. In fact, the more food that is available, the more we tend to eat. You could say the holidays, with all these temptations — plus the pressure of wanting to please our friends and family — provide the perfect environment for overeating and weight gain.

So, the challenge is how to be a gracious guest yet navigate the minefield of delicacies.

Our first obligation as guests is visiting friends and loved ones with a generous spirit. If offered food that we don’t want or can’t have, a simple “no thank you” is perfectly acceptable. Forcing your likes, dislikes and preferences for certain foods on the host or other guests can be downright unappetizing.

“It’s important not to treat private hospitality as a restaurant and announce what you want or don’t want,” said Judith Martin, the syndicated columnist who writes as Miss Manners, via telephone.

Today it seems almost impossible to escape people on this diet or that, freely espousing their views and theories. Worse, some guests expect their hosts to cater to their particular dietary requirements: no carbohydrates, no fat, no white flour, no sugar, no dairy, ad nauseam. Although it is fine to be following a diet, and may even be essential for your health, expecting the host to be a short-order cook is unfair. And discussing dietary views at the table is a no-no.

“This attitude that other people haven’t seen the light and you have to make them see the light makes the experience of eating unpleasant,” Martin told me. “Cooking has improved enormously over the decades, but the experience of eating has gone downhill because people are so self-righteous and willing to boss other people around.”

Martin also warned against bringing your own food or drink to a party, even if you have a serious dietary need or allergy, unless that is requested by the host. It is commonly mistaken as a lack of confidence in your hosts’ culinary tastes.

“Your family and intimate friends should know your condition, but if you are eating with hosts who do not, fortify yourself with food before going so that you are not starving, and then simply avoid dangerous foods,” said Martin. “This does not require an explanation.”

With family or close friends on extended visits, though, it’s perfectly acceptable to offer to contribute by going grocery shopping or providing food for everyone (not just yourself), while at the same time fulfilling your dietary needs. When I stay the night at friends’ or families’ homes, I’ll often bring a large basket of fruit, for instance, for everyone to enjoy. On an extended visit, I might offer to go grocery shopping or to make dinner for everyone.

This is a way to be generous but also to help myself have foods I feel comfortable with. However, it is important that this be done graciously, in the spirit of thanks and not as an obvious rejection of your hosts’ food or hospitality.

How did Julie solve her holiday eating problem? She and I decided she would drop the drama of the dieting daughter and assume the role of the gracious guest instead. She would not initiate or participate in any conversations about dieting or food during her visits.

Her strategy worked, and there were no more arguments during the holidays about her weight, dieting or food. Everyone, including Julie, enjoyed the holidays so much more. She has since lost 40 pounds.

TIPS (original content: Wednesday, December 1, 2004; Page F04)

To enjoy the holidays without tipping the scales, and to maintain the role of a gracious guest:

• Give away fattening leftovers. One splurge won’t interfere with your goals, but multiple indulgences will.

• If you’re afraid there won’t be foods you would like, or you would like to control your intake at a party, eat a snack or a meal before going.

• Don’t starve yourself the day of the party, or you may overeat once you get there.

• After you’ve arrived at the party, sip some sparkling water and wait at least 15 to 30 minutes before making a food choice. This gives you time to relax and to scope out the offerings.

• Prioritize your favorite holiday foods. Splurge on two or three special delicacies you can get only once a year.

• Wear close-fitting clothes to help remind you when you’ve had enough.

— Katherine Tallmadge

Katherine Tallmadge is a Washington nutritionist and author of “Diet Simple” (Lifeline Press, 2004). Send e-mails to her at food@washpost.com.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

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Rough It

photo by ADA

Original Content: Washington Post:, 15 December 2004

Our grandmothers have been extolling the virtues of “roughage” for generations. Turns out, they were right. But the benefits of roughage, aka fiber, are far more vast than grandmother ever realized.

High fiber diets have been shown to reduce the occurrence of several chronic diseases. Because of this, in 2002 the expert scientists on the National Academy of Sciences’ Food and Nutrition Board, the group which issues periodic dietary recommendations for Americans, for the first time recommended Americans double their daily fiber intake to 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women. That’s the level they found is protective against heart disease.

Fiber is mainly carbohydrate, the undigestible part of plant foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts)– it travels unchanged through the intestines. Fiber comes in many different forms in food. It is concentrated, for instance, in the skin of fruits and vegetables, such as apples, corn, and legumes, the seeds of vegetables and fruits such as berries and cucumbers, and the germ and bran or coating which surrounds wheat kernels and other grains. These essential parts of the grain are removed to create white flour and other refined grains.

Americans eat very little fiber – half of what is recommended, eating a highly refined diet, instead. And if you’re on a low carb diet, you’re lucky to be eating any. There are plenty of great reasons to increase your intake of fiber. My clients who do discover multiple benefits.

Easier Weight Loss

Not eating enough fiber may be one reason why people are getting fatter.

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last year found that women with the highest fiber intake had a 49 percent lower risk of major weight gain compared with women eating less fiber.

High fiber diets are usually lower in calories. Though fiber is mainly carbohydrate, very little of it, if any, is actually digested. So, with foods high in fiber, you’re actually eating food which only partially counts as calories (and you thought that was only in your dreams!).

High fiber foods are also bulky, and often watery foods, which means they fill you up for fewer calories. Studies have shown adding high fiber foods, such as vegetables, before or during a meal decreases the overall calorie content of the meal by about 100. While saving 100 calories a day may not sound like much, it translates into losing ten pounds in one year.

Another factor which helps you feel satisfied with fewer calories is the “chew” factor, High fiber foods require more chewing and take longer to eat, which leads to more physical and psychological satisfaction with your meals.

Improve Intestinal Function

Digestive disorders are on the rise and a main reason may be the dearth of fiber in our diets. For most digestive disorders such as reflux disease, constipation, diarrhea, hemmorhoids, diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome, a higher fiber diet relieves symptoms and can even prevent the disorder in the first place.

Many people with these disorders, particularly Crohn’s disease or diarrhea, think they should avoid fiber, but that’s a mistake for most. Fiber increases bulk and motility and this relieves pressure, keeps everything regular and more comfortable for the whole gammit of intestinal disorders.

Imagine fiber as a dry sponge in your intestinal tract. Fiber pulls water into the system, keeping everything larger, softer and moving more quickly and easily.

Lower Diabetes Risk

Numerous studies have shown that high fiber diets improve diabetes control and may even prevent diabetes. In fact, it’s been estimated that fiber, especially cereal fiber from whole grains, reduces diabetes risk by about 35 percent.

There are several theories explaining why this may be true. First, high fiber foods tend to have a lower glycemic index. This means that after eating, blood sugar levels rise less (diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar). And studies confirm that people eating high fiber diets usually have lower fasting insulin levels, an indicator of overall lower blood sugar levels.

Also, high fiber foods contain many nutrients which may improve diabetes. For one, magnesium, a nutrient found in whole grains, legumes, tofu and some vegetables, improves insulin resistance, a cause of Diabetes Type II, the most prevalent type of diabetes. Vitamin E, found in whole grains and nuts, may also improve insulin resistance.

Prevent Heart Disease

Fiber helps prevent heart disease in a variety of ways. Lower circulating insulin caused by a high fiber diet reduces heart disease risk and heart attacks. Also, research shows viscous fiber found in legumes, oats, rye, barley and some fruits and vegetables, reduces LDL cholesterol (the bad kind which correlates with heart attack). In fact, it has been estimated by the NAS expert panel that for every gram of soluble fiber you eat, you’ll reduce heart disease risk by 2.4 percent.

High fiber diets reduce triglycerides, or blood fat, another heart disease risk factor. New evidence shows fiber intake is linked to lower C-reactive protein, an indicator of inflammation, which is an emerging heart disease risk factor.

Whole grains and some legumes contain many beneficial healthful substances, including phytoestrogens, which affect circulating hormone levels and may impact heart disease positively. Diets high in fruits and vegetables, containing high levels of the nutrient potassium, also significantly lower blood pressure and stroke.

High fiber foods such as dark green vegetables, legumes and fortified cereals contain the nutrient, Folate (or folic acid). Researchers have found that low blood levels of folate are linked to heart disease.

Reduce Cancer Risk

In populations eating low dietary fiber, doubling fiber intake from foods could reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by forty percent, according to recent findings in the EPIC study (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition), an on-going study of 500,000 people in 10 European countries.

In fact, the majority of studies suggest that dietary fiber is protective against colon cancer, according to the NAS expert panel’s report on fiber. But, a few important studies have not found a link so the issue remains to be resolved, concluded the report.

Several mechanisms have been proposed for this beneficial effect. First, because it pulls water into the intestinal tract, fiber dilutes carcinogens and other tumor-promoters, and causes a more rapid transit, thus causing less exposure of your body to potentially damaging substances. Fiber also causes other beneficial chemical reactions, such as lowering the ph. And lower insulin levels caused by high fiber diets are correlated with lower colon cancer risk. The EPIC researchers stressed that foods supplying fiber also contribute many other nutrients and phytochemcials (beneficial plant chemicals) that have been linked to cancer protection, according to the study reported in The Lancet last year.

Reasons given for some disappointing results connecting fiber to cancer prevention are that the benefits of dietary fiber may not occur until fiber intake is sufficiently high, and Americans eat very low levels, compared with Europeans, so it’s hard for scientists to measure an effect in American diets. Also, some studies tested fiber supplements, as opposed to fiber in food, and researchers say that’s a completely different animal.

Human studies specifically looking at fiber supplements haven’t shown good results and did not find a lower incidence of colon polyps, a precursor to colon cancer. In fact animal studies suggest fiber supplements might increase cell proliferation, which suggests a negative effect, increasing one’s risk of developing cancer rather than reducing the risk.

Scientists believe that fiber supplements will probably not produce most of the health benefits found with high fiber foods (regardless of what the commercials on TV say), except for improved gastrointestinal function and slightly lower LDL, if the supplement is made from viscous fibers such as guar gum or psyllium. But fiber supplements’ role in chronic disease prevention remains unproven. It’s best to get fiber from whole foods in your diet.

Supplemental Evidence

Adding Fiber To Your Diet

The key to adding fiber while preventing gas or cramps sometimes associated with increased fiber intake, is eating fiber consistently, adding it slowly, and drinking plenty of fluids. If you eat a low fiber diet and suddenly at a party scarf down a large bowl of baked beans, you may suffer negative side effects. To prevent this, Leslie Bonci, author of “The American Dietetic Association Guide to Better Digestion,” recommends adding fiber by just five gram increments each week until you get to the recommended daily intake of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Then, it’s important that you consistently eat regular amounts of fiber throughout each day.

Fiber content of selected foods:

Grains

Whole grains and are the largest source of fiber in your diet.

Grains              Grams fiber

whole wheat bread, 1 slice (1 oz) 1.4

whole wheat spaghetti, 1/2 cup cooked 2

Bulghur, ½ cup cooked  4

Brown Rice, ½ cup cooked 2

Wasa Sourdough Rye Crispbread, 2 slices 4

air popped popcorn, 1 cup  1.0

Oats, ½ cup dry 4

Swiss Muesli, ½ cup 4

Post Great Grains Cereral, ½ cup 4

Kashi Good Friends Cereal, ½ cup 6

Fruits

Fruits contain about 2 grams per 4 ounce serving, but they vary.

Fruits     Grams fiber

apple  3.5

apricot  1.8

banana  2.4

blueberries, 1/2cup 2.05

cantaloupe, 1/4 melon 1.0

cherries, 10 1.2

grapefruit, 1/2 1.6

grapes, 10 0.3

grapes, 1 lb. 2.7

mango  3.7

orange  2.6

peach  1.9

pineapple, 1/2 cup 1.1

strawberries, 1 cup 3.0

kiwifruit  2.6

Vegetables

Vegetables contain 1 – 2 grams per serving, or 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw.

Vegetables, 1/2 cup cooked      Grams fiber

asparagus  1.0

beans, green  1.6

beets  2.0

broccoli  2.2

Brussels sprouts  2.3

Cabbage  1.4

carrots  2.3

cauliflower  1.13

cucumbers, sliced 1 cup 0.8

eggplant  1.2

greens  2.0

mushrooms  2

onions  1.5

zucchini squash  1.3

pepper  1.0

tomato  1.0

Starchy Vegetables, 1/2 cup cooked Grams fiber

corn   2.9

green peas  3.6

parsnip   2.7

potato, with skin  2.5

Legumes

Legumes are a great protein source and can substitute for meat. They average 6 grams of fiber per 1/2 cup cooked serving.

Legumes, 1/2 cup cooked  Grams fiber

kidney beans  7.3

lima beans  4.5

navy beans  6.0

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Those Liquid Calories

Original Content: Washington Post

My client Caroline, who had been losing weight successfully for a month, was disappointed one recent week when she failed to do so. It didn’t make sense. Her food intake was stellar, and she had been even a little more physically active than usual. It wasn’t until we reviewed her food diary thoroughly that we discovered the culprit: liquid calories. They added up in a way that surprised her.

As for many of us over the holidays, that extra glass of wine or mixer here and there adds up in ways that you might not expect. Though liquid calories in alcohol, juices or sodas are stealthy, their impact can be enormous.

When food is consumed before or during a meal, the volume and caloric content of that food will limit what else you eat fairly proportionately. Most caloric drinks consumed before or during a meal are not satiating and have little or no effect on how much you eat in one sitting or over the course of several meals.

Scientific evidence is confirming that our bodies don’t detect the calories in these liquids the same way as when we eat solid foods.

“Fluid calories do not hold strong satiety properties, don’t suppress hunger and don’t elicit compensatory dietary responses,” says Richard D. Mattes, professor of food and nutrition at Purdue University. In fact, “when drinking fluid calories, people often end up eating more calories overall.”

It’s fairly well established that alcoholic beverages and sugary liquids, especially sodas and fruit drinks, simply add more calories.

This may help explain the results of the recent Harvard Nurses’ Health Study of more than 50,000 women over eight years. Researchers found that those who increased their intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, such as sodas or fruit punch, from one per week to one or more per day consumed an average of 358 extra calories per day and gained a significant amount of weight. The women who reduced their intake cut their calories by an average of 319 and gained less weight.

Studies in previous years demonstrated that consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks increased the likelihood of obesity in children, but this is the first finding from a long-term observational study in adults.

The mechanisms controlling hunger and thirst are completely different: Although liquids may contain calories, they don’t seem to satisfy hunger even if they quench your thirst. Physiologically, your thirst is quenched once your blood and cell volume are increased by water. This sends signals to your brain that you are no longer thirsty.

In contrast, hunger is regulated in your stomach and intestines. While you’re eating, nerves in the stomach wall detect that the stomach is stretching and send satiety signals to the brain. The intestines also release nerve regulators and hormones. At the same time, the level of the hunger hormone (called ghrelin), which is released by the stomach when it’s empty, is suppressed. All this helps you feel full.

Because liquids travel more quickly than food through the intestinal tract, they alter the rate of nutrient absorption, which can affect satiety hormones and signals.

Several theories may help explain why liquid calories cause lower satiety, increasing overall calorie intake, but the process is still not fully understood. The mouth feel of a liquid versus solid food may generate different signals; it takes less time and involvement to gulp down a drink, and that might reduce the psychological satisfaction of eating.

New research has found that ghrelin doesn’t work as well with liquids: “When the number and type of calories are the same, the calories in liquid form won’t suppress ghrelin as effectively as if the same calories were in solid form,” says David E. Cummings, associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington and the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System.

A study that will be published soon in the journal Appetite tested the effect of drinking water, diet cola, regular cola, 1 percent milk and pulpy orange juice during meals. It found that drinking water or diet cola had no effect on the total caloric intake of the meal. But with the caloric beverages, each of which contained 150 calories, the subjects consumed 105 more calories overall at each meal.

“People need to be mindful of the calories in beverages,” says Barbara J. Rolls, who conducted the study and is co-author of “The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan” (HarperTorch, 2003). “Most people think calories in beverages don’t count and that’s how they get into trouble.”

When you consider that an appropriately sized meal is anywhere from 400 to 700 calories, and one 44-ounce Super Big Gulp is 800 calories, you understand the scope of the problem. A 16-ounce Starbucks blended coffee Frappuccino is 470 calories. A single mixed drink can set you back 300 calories or more. One glass of wine contains at least 100 calories. Double or triple these numbers at any given party, tack on the calories in your meals, and you can understand how weight gain is the inevitable.

My clients who have become aware of liquid calories have achieved impressive results. Take Bob Levey, former Washington Post columnist, who wrote about the importance of cutting out his daily lemonade in his successful weight loss effort. Another client, Julie, easily switched from her daily Frappuccino to a cafe skim latte (coffee with steamed nonfat milk) and saved 250 calories. My friend Linda slowly phased out her daily soda ounces by filling her glass with increasing amounts of ice each week. She lost 30 pounds over a year.

Since liquid calories don’t contribute to feelings of satiety, cutting back on them doesn’t make people feel deprived; most find the change is an easy one to make. There are so many great substitutes. The one liquid that’s important to keep drinking is water. In the wintertime, I love sipping (mostly water) herbal teas through the day. In the summer, it’s seltzer with a twist of lemon or lime, and the occasional diet soda.

Of course, if we are mindful of our calorie intake, a moderate daily dose of wine or other caloric beverage can easily be integrated into our routines. Moderation is the key.

Katherine Tallmadge is a Washington nutritionist and author of “Diet Simple” (Lifeline Press, 2004). Send e-mails to her at food@washpost.com.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

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Supermarket Dining: 10 Smart Ways to Eat In

Original Content: Washington Post

The first time I walked into Wegmans, I felt overwhelmed by the choices. I wanted to sample everything. So brace yourself whenever you go into any store with such a dazzling array of options. With good decisions and a clear plan, you can have an enjoyable — yet not-too-filling- — lunch in a supermarket. Here is my guide:

1. Walk a lap around the store and survey all the options. If you are famished, grab a low-calorie food such as a fruit or salad to take the edge off your hunger before you decide what to buy. Choice is great, but it can get you into trouble. “Variety has an enormous passive effect on calorie intake,” says Susan B. Roberts, professor of nutrition at Tufts University School of Medicine. “The higher the variety of items you are confronted with, the more most people consume without even realizing it.”

2. Plan your meal. Your goal is to find a satisfying, balanced meal containing about 500 to 600 calories for women or 700 calories for men. Half of the meal should be fruits or vegetables for your nutritional needs, but also because studies show they help you feel full without too many calories. One- quarter of your meal should be a grain — whole grain, if possible, for instance, from whole-wheat bread (two one-ounce slices) or brown rice (about one cup). The other quarter should be a protein, which might be three to six ounces of chicken, seafood, lean beef, lean pork or vegetarian protein sources such as tofu or legumes.

3. Stick with items for which you have nutritional information. “Calories at a glance” are posted at each prepared food station, but more complete nutrition information is posted on the Web site (www.wegmans.com)where you can find the carbohydrate, protein, fat, fiber, sodium, vitamin and mineral content of the foods.

4. Start with vegetables and fruit. The Wegmans black takeout plate, found at the Wokery, is divided into four sections, each of which holds one cup. Fill one-quarter with vegetables such as sauteed green beans (110 calories per cup) and the second quarter with cut fruit, such as strawberries, watermelon and pineapple (100 calories per cup). Try to choose as many colors, shapes and textures of fruits and vegetables as you can find to take advantage of our natural desire for variety. Each color represents a unique class of nutrients. Studies show that people who eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables eat more of them and are leaner and healthier.

5. Select a grain, preferably whole. If you would like rice, fill the third quarter of your plate with steamed rice (160 calories per cup). Make the portions level, not heaping, so they don’t contain more than one cup. You could also choose a whole-grain roll (170 calories), a slice of whole-wheat pizza or the brown-rice sushi (140 calories). Avoid the larger or fattier breads such as bagels (240 to 420 calories each), muffins (420 to 510 calories each), scones (at 4.2 ounces, 420 calories each) or croissants (at 2.5 ounces, 250 calories each).

6. Steer clear of the Sub Shop, where the 14-inch sub uses a 12-ounce slab of bread. Bread is about 80 calories per ounce, so the bread alone contains about 960 calories, more calories than you want your whole lunch to be.

7. Choose a lean protein. Go to the Wokery and select the pepper steak (80 calories per cup), pork with scallions (120 calories per cup) or chicken with vegetables (160 calories per cup). If you’ve chosen a whole-wheat roll to make your own sandwich, go to the deli counter and choose four to six ounces of the Wegmans seasoned roast beef (30 calories per ounce), Columbus fire roast pork (35 calories per ounce)or the Healthy Choice mesquite chicken breast (30 calories per ounce). Vegetarians might try the vegetarian chili (180 calories per cup). To hold down the calories try to take as little of the Wokery sauce as possible. Ask for a slotted spoon if necessary.

8. Fulfill your calcium requirement. Go to the dairy case for skim milk, calcium-fortified soy milk, yogurt or soy yogurt (90 to 150 calories).

9. Avoid the obvious pitfalls, such as anything deep-fried, crispy or creamy. Such items are loaded with calories. Also, be careful about the liquid calories. Stick with items for which you have nutritional information.

10. Want a menu, ready to go? Jane Andrews, Wegmans corporate nutritionist, suggests the following healthy meals without excessive calories:

• Spicy red lentil soup, (Prepared Foods section, 12 ounces, 255 calories) with cheddar cheese (Cheese Shop, 1 ounce, 110 calories) and 1 large apple (Produce, 100 calories), ice water. Total: 465 calories.

• Just roast beef (Deli, 4 ounces, 120 calories) on whole-wheat or multigrain roll (Bakery, 2 ounces, 170 or 230 calories) with mustard (10 calories) and fresh cut fruit (Prepared Foods, 1 cup, 100 calories), ice water. Total: 400 or 460 calories.

• Beef, chicken or seafood and vegetable stir-fry (Wokery, 1 cup, 120 calories) with sauteed green beans or mushrooms (Wokery, 1 cup, 110 calories), fried rice (Wokery, 1 cup, 220 calories), shrimp spring roll (80 calories), ice water. Total: 530 calories.

• Roasted vegetable and provolone wheat wrap (Prepared Foods, 6 rolls 405 calories), clementines (Produce, 2 small; 80 calories). Total 485 calories.

• Vanilla yogurt (Dairy, 6 ounces, 150 calories), fresh cut fruit (Prepared Foods, 1 cup, 100 calories), roasted almonds (Bulk Foods, 22 almonds, 170 calories.) Total: 420 calories.

Katherine Tallmadge is a Washington nutritionist and the author of “Diet Simple” (Lifeline Press, 2004). Send e-mails to her at food@washpost.com.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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Fit and Frugal

Photo: CA Walnut Commission

Original Content: The Washington Post

There is, I believe, one widespread myth in the world of food and nutrition that urgently needs to be debunked. That myth is that it is too expensive to eat a nutritious diet.

Lately, I’ve seen reports in the media that say eating healthy is very costly, but that doesn’t jive with my professional or personal experience. When my clients switch to healthier diets, they tell me their food costs plummet. When I was a poor college student and 20-something professional starting out, having little money to spend on food kept me healthier than ever! In today’s economic crisis, I and my clients are experiencing the same thing, cutting back on food expenses forces a person to eat healthier.

Am I just being naïve? Could my experiences be so off-base?

Some argue that eating healthy is expensive in several respects.

First, they say that 1,500 calories of McDonald’s burgers and fries is cheaper than 1,500 calories of healthy food. While this may be true, this argument rests exclusively on considerations of calories and neglects to take into account the quality and the health benefits of the calories consumed. It also fails to recognize the astronomical health costs of being overweight or unhealthy as a result of regular (though cheap) fast food dining.

Second, they contend that eating frugally, which requires shopping and cooking, is time-consuming and has significant opportunity costs; that is, you could be doing more valuable things with your time. I find this argument unpersuasive because I believe it both overemphasizes the time required to prepare a good meal and fails to account for the positive benefits of food preparation. Anyone who has strolled through the Farmer’s Market with a friend, cooked a healthy meal with family members and children chipping in, or felt the warmth and nurturing of sharing a home-made meal would dispute that these activities are wastes of time and have no value.

Third, some argue that inexpensive food doesn’t taste good. My personal experiences and those of my clients’ suggest that the exact opposite is true. Is there anything tastier than a summer watermelon? A crisp, Fall apple? Or a piping hot bowl of home-made chicken soup? These are some of the simplest, most healthy and inexpensive items you can eat, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS).

I’ve been heartened by a number of studies which confirm my own experience and demonstrate it is possible to eat delicious, healthy food at reasonable prices.

Let’s take a look at fresh fruits and vegetables. I think we can all agree – and scientific evidence confirms – that a healthy diet can be largely defined as one which contains at least five cups of fruits and vegetables. But the price of fresh produce is often cited as too exorbitant for the average consumer and is one reason why Americans fall alarmingly short of the recommendation.

But the reality is fresh produce gives you some of the best bang for your buck. In fact, in June 2008, the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service studied the prices of produce throughout the country. They concluded “A person needing 2,000 calories per day could meet the dietary recommendations for fruit and vegetables for under $2.50 per day.”

Why the disconnect between perception and reality?

“Our advice to consumers is they need to be savvy. Don’t just consider the cost per pound, but think about the number of servings you’re getting,” says Jane Reed, Agricultural Economist with USDA’s ERS and co-author of the study.

The researchers said people may balk at paying $1.36 cents for a pound of peaches because they don’t realize they’re getting four fruit servings at just 37 cents per 1 cup serving. Some don’t mind paying 75 cents for a soft drink but would object to paying 75 cents for an apple. There’s a perception that these aren’t important foods, that they’re side dishes. But plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, are the foundation of a healthy diet, a Mediterranean diet, too, and should make up the majority of what you’re eating if you want to stay healthy.

Things to consider when you’re buying fruits and vegetables are seasonality, comparing the number of servings in the can or frozen container to the price. Canned vegetables, for instance, contain liquid which is included in the total weight, but the liquid is thrown out and not eaten. Many people find the convenience and shelf-life of frozen produce outweighs the small price difference. Throwing out rotted fresh produce, of course, is no savings, which is why planning your weekly meals and shopping with a list is always an important money saver.

Planning and organization is emphasized by all the experts as important for saving money. Take an inventory of what you have on hand and shop from a list based on your needs and weekly menu plan. And make good use of leftovers.

My clients call me the leftover queen. When I was in college, I first mastered batch cooking. I found that I could save money and time by making big batches which I could eat – and share with friends – through the week. I built my meals around beans, a very inexpensive, but excellent protein source. I ate plenty of vegetables, fruits and skim milk (it’s all I could afford!). Some of my favorites were a very tasty veggie chili, split pea soup with ham, chicken corn soup, carrot yogurt soup, lasagna, Asian chicken or tofu stir fries, and spicy bean- and grain-based salads. I made them in huge pots on my boyfriend’s two electric burners or my tiny group house kitchen– later my efficiency apartment. I had wonderful impromptu dinner parties and delicious leftovers for days! I couldn’t afford to eat out so there were no temptations there. Funny, I still batch cook and usually build meals around beans and other plant foods. It’s not only inexpensive, it’s healthy, delicious, and it saves time (my clients agree).

Shopping and preparing food at home is not only cheaper, but studies show people who lose weight and keep it off prepare most of their meals at home, so you’re killing two birds with one stone.

A study confirmed that when families switched to healthier diets and lost weight, their food budget decreased while protein and nutrient density of their meals increased.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2002, gave 24 families, each with an obese 8 – to 12-year-old child, lower calorie diets with increased nutrient density. After 12 months, the children and parents lost a significant amount of weight and the total cost of the diet significantly decreased.

Among the families, servings of unhealthy, high calorie, nutrient-poor foods decreased (high fat/sugar foods), and servings of low calorie, nutrient-dense foods increased (lean protein sources, fruits/vegetables, etc.). The reduced intake of the unhealthy foods had the greatest impact on the cost of the diet, according to the authors.

High fat and sugar, calorie-laden convenience foods such as bakery goods, snack foods, fried foods and sodas can be very expensive. A 10 ounce bag of potato chips is $2.59 (ten servings of a high fat/calorie, nutrient-poor food), which may seem like a cheap source of calories. But you could buy four pounds (16 servings) of fiber and vitamin-C rich fresh red potatoes – or three pounds (12 servings) of vitamin, mineral and beta-carotene-rich carrots – for the same price! In the long run, the nutritious food wins hands down. The calorie density is lower but the nutrient density is higher.

Also, when switching to a healthier diet, many people cut down on the amount and portion size of expensive, fatty meat cuts. Switching to smaller portions of leaner meats, poultry and vegetarian protein sources is not only a healthy savings, but often a cost savings, too.

This is all great news, but none of this research explains why the majority of Americans still don’t eat a healthy diet. There may be barriers such as inability or lack of desire to cook or, for some with lower incomes, difficult access to grocery stores. But, in my opinion, the studies and my own experience rule out expense as a barrier!

“Within the limitations of your budget, you can set a table that has variety and distinction. You can serve gourmet food… It is not the basic cost of the food but the care with which it is selected and prepared that makes it gourmet rather than pedestrian,” James Beard in “How to Eat Better for Less Money” (Simon and Schuster, 1970)

Shopping List
Tips for Healthy Inexpensive Meals

Plan before you go shopping by taking an inventory of what you have on hand and what you’ll need,

* Make a shopping list to avoid impulse purchases or costly mistakes,
* If your storage space permits, buy in large quantities,
* Buy store brands, as they usually cost less,
* Compare prices based on how many servings you’ll get,
* Build your meals around legumes and whole grains, less expensive, but nutritious protein sources,
* Buy seasonally. Food will usually be cheaper when it is in season,
* Buy locally. The less a food has to travel, often the less expensive it is,
* Buy cheaper meat cuts such as the beef round,
* Buy whole chickens and cut them up yourself,
* Batch cook, divide into servings and save the leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer for future meals,
* Bring lunches to work. Simple sandwiches, salads, soups, wraps and leftovers make terrific meals at work,
* Make sure each meal is balanced with at least four food groups, and plenty of fruits or vegetables at each meal,
* Compare the cost of a home made version verses a store- or restaurant-made version of the same dish.
* Try canned salmon or frozen fish filets to save money on seafood
* Compare the fresh, canned and frozen version of your foods. Buy the one which gives you the best price for the serving size,
* USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion has many ideas for saving money while eating healthy meals at http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/foodplans.html. For a copy of CNPP’s “Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals,” call the government printing office at: 202-512-1800, $5.50 each (GPO Stock number: 001-000-04680-2).

Katherine’s Chile Non-Carne

excerpted from Diet Simple (LifeLine Press, 2004)

I love this simple, quick – ten minutes – chili recipe. Of course, there’s zillions of ways to make chili, most don’t need a recipe. But this one’s easy to follow and everyone loves it. It’s meatless but you don’t miss the meat because it’s so flavorful. You should use the amount of garlic or chili powder that appeals to you. I like it hot and spicy!

I double the recipe so I have plenty for the week. I use this dish as a lunch or dinner alongside a green salad. I also serve it at parties as a dip next to fresh tomato salsa, light sour cream and guacamole. It’s perfect rolled up in a tortilla or stuffed in a taco with some reduced fat cheese. Great for informal super bowl or Halloween parties.

Serves 4

1 Tbsp Olive or Canola Oil, or more
1 Large Onion, Chopped
3 Large Garlic Cloves, Minced
3 Tbsp Hot Chile Powder
1 Large Fresh Green Pepper, Chopped
1 28- oz. Can Italian Plum Tomatoes, Chopped, including the liquid
1 Pound Can Kidney or Black Beans, whichever is preferred
1/2 Cup Water or Bouillon (To Hydrate the Bulgur)
1/2 Cup Bulgur (Cracked Wheat).
2 Seeded Jalapeno Peppers, Chopped, if desired
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Saute the onions and garlic in the oil over low heat in a large pot until soft, 15 or more minutes. Add the chile powder and simmer for a few more minutes. Add the Fresh Green Pepper and cook until al dente. Meanwhile, soak the bulgur in the boiling water for 15 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients including the bulgur and simmer slowly over low to medium heat until flavors are well blended and vegetables are cooked to the desired consistency … a few minutes or longer, if desired. Adjust seasonings to your preference. Since many canned items were used, additional salt will probably not be needed.

Calories 320
Total Fat 7g 10%
Saturated Fat 1g 6%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 730mg 31%
Total Carbohydrate 59g 20%
Dietary Fiber 13g 54%
Soluble Fiber 1.59 g
Omega 3 Fatty Acids 0.07 g
Sugars 17g
Protein 12g
Vitamin A 70%
Vitamin C 120
Calcium 15%
Iron 30%

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Deep Purple

photo by ADA

Original Content, The Washington Post, Wednesday, October 6, 2004; Page F01

Reader Question:

Lately Larry King [a paid spokesman for Welch’s] has been touting Welch’s Concord grape juice on TV, implying it has the same antioxidant value as red wine. Is this true? Can you address the issue of the value of alcohol as a health food, especially wine and most particularly red wine?

This is a question which has intrigued me for years. I’m a huge fan of Concord grapes, the dark purple- almost black- intensely flavored grape in season now. I’ve always wondered, as I enjoy these delicate treats, if they, or juice made from them, would give me or my non-wine-drinking clients the same health benefits as red wine.

Recent research is bolstering Welch’s claims that Concord grape juice is similar to red wine in many respects, but the issue is very complex and the answer far from definitive.

To get the bottom of this mystery, let’s start at the beginning: with the grape. Concord grapes have one of the highest antioxidant scores among fruit, surpassed only by blueberries, blackberries and cranberries, according to Ronald Prior, research chemist and nutritionist at the Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center in Little Rock. “Concord grapes contain at least fifty to sixty compounds which may play a variety of roles in the body,” says Prior.

Concord grapes are high in a class of phytochemicals (beneficial plant chemicals) called polyphenols, antioxidants which are concentrated in many fruits, some vegetables and in wine, tea and cocoa. They protect against heart disease by reducing blood clot formation. They also prevent cellular and organ damage caused by oxygen radicals, molecules which are believed to be a primary cause of many diseases including cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Certain polyphenols, such as anthocyanins, which give grapes and blueberries their purple pigment, have been found to reverse both physical and mental deficits in aging rats. Preliminary studies in humans are showing similar promising results.

Other polyphenols, called tannins, responsible for the astringent flavor in cocoa, tea, grapes, and other fruits, are powerful antioxidants.

Concord grapes also contain a tiny amount of a newly discovered polyphenol called resveratrol, primarily in the skin, which may help prevent cell proliferation and cancer. Other polyphenols found in the seed, proanthocyanidins, may also prevent cell proliferation and cardiovascular disease.

Another class of antioxidant polyphenols in grapes are called flavonols. Grapes contain the flavonols quercetin, also in apples, and kaempferol, also in broccoli, which are thought to reduce cellular proliferation and cancer.

“All of these compounds work in synergy to create health benefits,” says Beverly Clevidence, research leader of the Diet and Human Performance Laboratory at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center in Beltsville, MD. “They’re showing promise in our fight against cardiovascular disease, cancer, and even inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.”

But if you’re eating a standard American table grape, you may not be receiving many of these benefits. That’s because half of the antioxidants are in the seed and, to please the American consumer, table grapes (and raisins) have been bred to be seedless. Much of the rest of the antioxidants are in the skin. The darker the skin, the more beneficial compounds are present, which is why green and white grapes contain a small fraction of the antioxidants that red or purple grapes contain.

And that brings us to the juice of the grape. Since most of the antioxidants are found in the seed and skin of the grape – 80% unless the flesh is darker and has more antioxidants, a juice’s or wine’s antioxidant content will be higher if it includes the seeds and skin.

This is why red wine contains eight to ten times the polyphenol content as white wine. Red wine is made by mashing red or purple grapes with their skin and seeds and letting it sit to ferment, whereas white wine is made skin and seedless.

“Both wine’s and juice’s antioxidant content depends on the amount of exposure to the skin and seeds and how much extraction of the polyphenols occurs,” says Andrew Waterhouse, wine chemist at UC Davis. “With red wine, you get maximum extraction, with the darker reds usually containing more antioxidants.” Also, the more astringent the wine, the more tannins. Waterhouse says the presence of tannins is a good marker for all antioxidants: the more tannins, the more polyphenols, in general. Polyphenols are responsible for the flavor, the color and the preservation of wine.

The concept of wine as a health food has been intensively researched since the “French Paradox” was first described by French researcher Serge Renaud in the early 1990s. Renaud found that while the French ate the same fatty diet as Americans, they suffered only half the heart disease rates. He attributed that “paradox” to daily low dose wine drinking. His observation made sense since the Framingham study, a long term study established in 1948 which follows peoples’ diet and health, found a link between moderate alcoholic beverage intake and reduced death from coronary heart disease.

Since then, other large epidemiological studies have confirmed a link between moderate alcoholic beverage intake and reduction in heart disease, as compared to no alcohol or high alcohol intakes. But uncovering the most health-giving types of alcoholic beverages – wine or spirits – and even if alcohol itself plays a beneficial role, have been the subject of heated debate ever since.

On the pro-alcohol side, researchers have found in clinical studies that pure ethanol, in any form, raises HDL, or good cholesterol, by five to ten percent. But that doesn’t explain the whole beneficial effect of alcoholic beverages seen in studies. Researchers have found that wine, for instance, reduces blood clotting, hypertension-related and cardiovascular disease-related deaths and increases polyphenols in the blood, which researchers have found prevents various cardiovascular disease risk factors. But studies comparing pure alcohol with wine show that alcohol alone does not have all of these benefits. Some researchers doubt that ethanol is the most important beneficial ingredient in alcoholic beverages, and especially in red wine. In fact, in clinical studies, consuming high amounts of alcohol has been found to promote oxidation and inflammation, both of which are risk factors in the development of heart disease and cancer. But alcohol is often consumed together with antioxidants contained in the alcoholic beverage that may outweigh its negative effects. In addition, researchers believe alcohol may help the body absorb the antioxidant polyphenols.

“Alcohol may enhance the bioavailability of the antioxidants so that when you drink wine or other beverages or food high in antioxidants, you get more antioxidants in your blood,”

says John Folts, professor of medicine and nutritional sciences at the University of Wisconsin Medical School. “Very few people drink straight alcohol; they mix it with juices like cranberry, orange or tomato juice, which contain antioxidants.”

Food digestion produces increased oxidative stress and oxygen radicals for several hours after the meal. Eating plenty of antioxidants with meals, including wine, fruits and vegetables, helps reduce oxidation caused by the less healthy components of the meal, for instance, saturated fat or carcinogens. This may be another reason why the French get more benefits from drinking wine: they drink it with meals.

So, does Concord grape juice contain all the benefical compounds as red wine? Some compounds overlap. It helps that Concord grape juice is made by pressing and pulverizing the whole grape, including the seeds and the skin, before it is strained and made into juice, according to Welch’s spokesperson Geoffrey Raymond.

In preliminary animal and human clinical studies performed by Folts and colleagues, Concord grape juice and red wine produce similar cardiovascular benefits. They both raise levels of antioxidant polyphenols in the blood, reduce oxidative stress and blood clotting. But because Concord grape juice has half the polyphenol content by volume, you have to consume twice as much grape juice to produce the same effect you get from red wine.

Red wine is more than grape juice with alcohol. Each ounce of wine contains about 1-1/2 ounces of grapes, so it is more concentrated than juice. And the alcohol helps extract polyphenols as the wine ages. This changes the character of some of the polyphenols and different compounds are created, in ways that aren’t completely understood. These differences may help explain the potent health benefits of red wine found in studies.

“Think of red wine as whole grape extract,” says Waterhouse. “You’re getting the antioxidants out of the juice, the skin and the seeds plus the magnifying effect of the alcohol.”

Red wine contains different levels of antioxidants depending on how it’s processed. Antioxidant content will also vary depending on the variety of the grape, and exposure to sunshine and stress, which increases polyphenol content.

Trying to understand all the compounds and benefits is a complex issue. Experts agree grapes, grape juice and small doses of wine are good for you, but scientists are still unraveling the reasons why. For now, the recommendations are, if you’re an alcoholic beverage drinker, women should not exceed one 5-ounce serving and men should not exceed two 5-ounce servings of wine a day. Experts stress that while moderate wine intake may be beneficial for some, going above the recommendation can be dangerous for your health.

“Given the major problem that alcohol abuse is in many countries, it would not be good nutritional advice to tell people to start drinking wine for their health” says Dr Folts

If you don’t drink alcoholic beverages, eight ounces of Concord grape juice may provide similar benefits. In fact, eating a diet high in antioxidants has been proven to reduce cancer and heart disease, regardless of alcoholic beverage intake.

“People who eat several servings of fruits and vegetables a day have a high polyphenol intake,” says Beverly Clevidence. ”So if you don’t drink wine, just eat more fruits and vegetables!”

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Sweet Temptations

Original Content: Washington Post, Wednesday, October 20, 2004; Page F01

With the holidays looming, it’s important to determine your strategy for dealing with the temptation of sweets: what you eat, what you bring in your home, and what you serve others. My philosophy is that all foods can be enjoyed in moderation. But there are special challenges posed with some foods, particularly sweets, which have been confirmed by solid science – it’s not just in our heads!

Understanding the science behind sweet craving and overeating can help us eat in a more moderate and healthy way.

People have an inborn attraction to sweets. If you don’t believe it, simply watch an infant’s response to something sweet versus, say, a vegetable. There’s an automatic acceptance, even joy, after eating something sweet. On the other hand, vegetables are an acquired taste, which may take 10 – 20 tries before acceptance. This is partly explained by evolution. We’ve been eating naturally sweet foods such as breast milk and fruit for millions of years. They contain life-sustaining nutrients, and a love for those foods helped keep us alive. Also, during evolution, an attraction to scarce calorie-dense foods, such as sweets and fats, improved our chances for survival.

But there are other explanations. The research surrounding our attraction to sweets has stepped up in recent decades. Scientists are grappling with understanding the calorie imbalances causing the obesity epidemic, which is partly fueled by eating too many sweets.

Our brain chemistry holds an important clue. Research shows that sweets, like many antidepressants, increase the brain chemical, serotonin, which helps regulate mood and appetite.

“Without carbohydrates, your brain stops regulating serotonin,” says Judith Wurtman, the director of the women’s health research program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Clinical Research Center in Boston. “Eating carbohydrates profoundly improves mood; which is why a handful of candy corn will make you feel better.”

When we’re stressed, anxious or depressed, serotonin levels can drop, and one way people modify their moods is by eating carbohydrates. But, holiday sweet cravings may be uniquely influenced by seasonal changes, too. Studies show that as days get shorter and we are exposed to less sunshine, serotonin levels drop and this leads to increased carbohydrate cravings in susceptible people.

“It’s seasonal; if they sold holiday sweets in July, people wouldn’t be as interested,” says Wurtman.

Women are particularly vulnerable to sweet cravings because their brains have less serotonin than men, according to Wurtman.

There have been other explanations for women’s reported increased sweet craving and indulging. Some researchers attribute the difference to the female hormone, estrogen. It’s been reported that sweet cravings change according to where a woman is in her menstrual cycle, circumstantial evidence that estrogen may play a role. But the findings are inconsistent, as some report increased cravings during menstruation, while others report higher cravings as a premenstrual symptom, a time when serotonin levels may be low.

But the bottom line is clear: “Females overeat sweets compared to males,” says Lisa Eckel, assistant professor of psychology at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Eckel completed a study on rats, which will be published in the November issue of the American Journal of Physiology, which found that female rats ate more rat chow when it was sweetened, compared with males.

“In animals, having high levels of estrogen is associated with eating more sweets,” says Eckel. This theory has yet to be proven in humans.

Cravings and overeating are difficult to study because they can be so subjective and multifactorial. Other researchers stipulate sweet cravings are mainly determined by culture or by psychological and behavioral factors, rather than physiology.

In some cultures, people don’t crave sweets because they haven’t been exposed to them as regularly as Americans. A study of chocolate, for instance, found that American women crave chocolate significantly more than Spanish women. And while a large percentage of American women reported increased chocolate cravings surrounding their menstrual period, Spanish women did not.

Other studies confirm that exposure during childhood is the major determinant of what we crave and are susceptible to overeating.

I copied my mother’s love for sweets and love of baking; it was a fun activity we did together. In college, to combat loneliness, and heck just for fun, I over-indulged my love for sweets (as the pounds went up and up). I would regularly bake my favorite chocolate chip bars and caramel popcorn, both of which I made in childhood. Study after study shows the importance of parental modeling on a child’s preferences.

Availability and proximity are two of the most important factors science has found influences what we crave and overeat and they probably trump all of the other reasons combined. When tasty foods, such as sweets, are around, we simply eat more of them.

Chances are, a combination of factors is responsible for cravings and overeating sweets at Halloween.

“Holiday candy is novel, it only comes around once a year. It comes in small pieces so you fool yourself into thinking you’re not eating as much,” says Wurtman. “You put it in bowls around the house and eat it mindlessly!”

Wurtman says if you have a strong desire for sweets, it may be a sign that you’re depressed, anxious or stressed. But she insists you don’t have to indulge in sweets to raise your serotonin levels or to feel good. Exercising, stress management, spending time with loved ones are activities which will also help reduce depression, anxiety and stress. (My client discovered a psychological basis for her binges, which she is successfully averting these days).

Using candy to feel better is not a great solution for your waist line. It is so high calorie, it doesn’t take much to overeat and forget your weight loss plans. For the same calories in a candy bar, you could eat four apples, or maybe you couldn’t – and that’s the point!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not urging you to be a Holiday Scrooge. I believe it’s possible to have fun eating sweets during the holidays, but still avoid some of the excesses that many of us have fallen victim to in the past. Here are a few suggestions.

To reduce the possibility of seasonal cravings, make sure you’re getting 30 minutes to one hour of sunlight each day by taking a walk in the mornings or at lunch. You may be able to “catch up” on the weekend, if you didn’t get enough rays during the week,

    • Eat plenty of healthy carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, to keep serotonin at optimum levels and reduce cravings of less healthy carbohydrates, such as refined sugar,
    • If you feel driven to eat sweets, it may be a signal that you’re depressed, anxious or stressed. Reduce tension and anxiety by exercising, meditating or talking with loved ones. It’s important to understand the core of the problem and for that, you may need to seek help from a professional,
    • If you want to lose weight, keep your candy – or other “extra” calories – to no more than 10% of your daily calories (that’s 200 calories for the average 2,000 calorie intake, or 150 for 1,500 calories). You may even get away with one big splurge. But if you splurge for two or more days, it will probably effect your waist line negatively,
    • If you can’t resist eating too many sweets, wait to buy them at the last possible minute (or, don’t buy it). This way, the sweets won’t be sitting around as a constant temptation
    • Buy only what you need for the the holiday meal. Give away the remaining sweets at the end of the evening so that there’s nothing left,
    • Try fun and healthier alternatives to sweets to have around your home and serve to family and guests,
    • Most importantly, if you do find you overeat, lighten up, don’t dwell on the negative and get over it! Analyze objectively what you can do differently next time,
    • With awareness and good planning, you can have your sweets and eat them, too!

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Calcium & Weight Loss

Picture by striatic

Revised from original Content, The Washington Post, Wednesday, June 30, 2004; Page F01

Is it possible that one of my favorite food groups-milk and milk products-not only provides crucial nutrients but can also help people maintain and lose weight? The answer, while not yet conclusive, looks encouraging. New studies are finding that calcium, particularly when in milk products, may help shed unwanted pounds and body fat.

This is doubly important news because many people slash milk products from their diets to lose weight. The research is showing that move is not only a mistake for your bones, blood pressure and overall health (which nutrition experts have been saying for years), it may also make weight loss more difficult.

Uncovering the calcium-weight loss connection was, like many scientific discoveries, a case of serendipity. In the 1980s, scientists researching the positive effects of calcium on blood pressure found that people on higher-calcium diets not only lowered their blood pressure but also lost weight. The connection wasn’t taken seriously at the time. But when large government-funded studies found links between calcium intake and body weight, researchers decided it was worth looking into.

Since 2000, observational and clinical studies of men, women and children have consistently shown that people eating diets containing calcium’s recommended dietary allowance of 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams per day have lower body weights and lower body fat. In fact, it’s been calculated that with 300 more milligrams of calcium daily, adults will weigh about seven pounds lighter than they would without the calcium.

All of the biological mechanisms aren’t completely understood. But, after many years of animal studies, the scientists, led by Michael Zemel, director of the Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee, have formulated the primary reason for this weight loss. When there isn’t enough calcium in the diet, the body responds by releasing hormones to help conserve as much calcium as possible for critical bodily functions (heartbeat, for one). One of these hormones, calcitriol, tells arterial muscle to contract, which increases blood pressure. But calcitriol also acts on fat cells.

“Calcitriol sends the fat cells a message to start making more fat and sends another message to slow down the process of fat breakdown and oxidation,” says Zemel, co-author of “The Calcium Key” (Wiley, 2004). Since high calcium levels have been the norm through evolution, the body assumes that food is scarce and conserves when calcium is low in the diet.

The result is that we become more efficient at storing calories as body fat, so when we cut calories to lose weight, a low-calcium diet makes it harder to break down body fat. Higher-calcium intakes (in which the body senses, rightly or wrongly, that there is plenty of food around) cause lower calcitriol levels and increased fat breakdown. So weight loss is harder for people who don’t consume enough calcium, which is the case for average Americans, most of whom consume one half the daily calcium requirement.

In the first human clinical study of the calcium and weight loss connection, Zemel and his colleagues found that the amount of calcium and its food source made a huge difference in weight loss results.

In the study published in Obesity Research in April, three groups of people ate low-calorie diets containing 35 percent fat, 49 percent carbohydrates and 16 percent protein. The first group, which ate 400 to 500 milligrams a day of calcium ( an amount of calcium typical for many Americans and less than the minimum requirement) lost an average of 15 pounds in six months. While eating the same diet with an additional 800 milligrams of calcium from a supplement, the second group lost 19 pounds. But while eating a diet high in milk products containing about 1,200 milligrams of dietary calcium per day (not from a supplement), the third group lost 24 pounds. Fat loss followed a similar pattern. The people on the high-dairy diet lost a higher percentage of body fat, maintained more lean muscle and (a finding that surprised the researchers) lost more belly fat, known as a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease. In fact, the high-dairy group significantly improved its insulin sensitivity, but it isn’t known whether that was a dairy effect or the result of the weight loss, which alone improves insulin sensitivity.

Why milk products produced more weight and fat loss than calcium supplements isn’t completely understood. But there are some theories. One theory is that milk products are simply satiating – that is they provide a feeling of fullness for relatively few calories, and over time that can cause us to eat fewer overall calories. Another theory is that  milk products have many biologically active compounds, similar to the phytochemicals in plants, which work synergistically to produce a more powerful effect than a single compound, like calcium alone. And milk products also contain unusually high levels of an amino acid (the building block of protein) called leucine.

“Leucine plays a unique role in stimulating protein synthesis and is very important for maintaining lean muscle mass, especially during weight loss,” says Donald Layman, protein researcher and professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. “If you eat a higher-protein diet, with high levels of leucine coming from dairy products, during weight loss you’ll lose 80 percent body fat as opposed to the usual 60 percent body fat.”

Until more human clinical research can verify these findings, remember that calcium or milk products won’t cause you to lose weight alone. Calories still count. But while this research is being verified, it can only help to include three milk servings a day. Studies show people who consume more milk products have diets higher in many beneficial nutrients such as calcium, protein, vitamins A and D, riboflavin, phosphorous, potassium and magnesium.

Strategies

Calcium experts recommend three to four servings of high-calcium milk product, containing about 300 milligrams of calcium per serving, per day. About 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of yogurt or 1 – 1/2 (ounces of hard cheese are the best examples. Here are some sources provided in The Calcium Key (Wiley, 2004):

The High-Dairy Calcium Guide **

Food                        Amount    Calories    Calcium (g)
Buttermilk                    8 oz        91        264
Nonfat Milk                    8 oz        86        301
Alpine Lace Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese    1.5 oz        105        300
Brie Cheese                    1.5 oz        142        78
Cheddar Cheese                1.5 oz        171        307
2% Cottage Cheese                1 cup        203        155
Hard Parmesan                1 oz        111        336
Plain, nonfat Yogurt                1 cup        127        451
Lowfat Fruit Yogurt                1 cup        225        313

**Excerpted from The Calcium Key (Wiley, 2004)

Other tips:
* Check the Nutrition Facts Panel on your food label. A good source of calcium contains at least 30 percent of your daily requirement. Also, check the calories and saturated fat: How many calories or saturated fat grams does it take to get more calcium from the food? For people watching their health or weight, the more nutrient-dense, calorie-poor and the lower in saturated fat, the better.

* If you’re lactose intolerant, remember that yogurt is usually tolerated and cheese contains virtually no lactose. You can also try lactose-reduced products or drink smaller amounts of regular milk products through the day.

* If you’re a vegan, protein expert Donald Layman says the equivalent of one cup of dairy milk would be 1-1/2 cups of calcium-fortified soy milk, in terms of its leucine content, though no studies have been published on the weight loss benefits of soy milk.

-Katherine Tallmadge

See also: How to Have Yours Each Day

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