Eating Healthy When Eating Out

Over the last several decades, an odd thing has been happening… Our food portion sizes have grown! In restaurants and in our homes, we have gone from plates to platters…from glasses to tumblers…and from reasonable serving sizes to “super” sizes! For instance, in the 1970s, a typical fast food meal consisted of a hamburger (small by today’s standards), a 12 ounce soda, and a small order of fries. That is now labeled as a meal for very young children, and adults are eating more. However, these food portions were then, and still are, adult servings! So we are feeding toddlers adult portions and adults are quite simply overeating! We have become used to these “super” sizes and this has added to our obesity and health problems, like diabetes and heart disease.

Here are some tips for cutting down on portion sizes and eating healthier when eating out.

  • First of all, limit eating out to 1-2 times a week, less if possible. Eating homemade meals at home is usually a healthier option.
  • Select low fat (like fruit or vegetable) appetizers instead of chips, bread or fried foods like cheese sticks. These appetizers can add A LOT of extra calories if you don’t watch your intake. Also many appetizers can work just fine as your whole meal!
  • Look for menu items with smaller portions, or ask for half size portions. Many restaurants, including fast food establishments, have smaller meals, but these are not always on the menu…so ASK!
  • Choose baked meats instead of fried (baked chicken vs. fried chicken).
  • Choose non-fried and/or non-starchy vegetables for sides, including steamed or baked veggies.
  • Salads can be a very good option for sides or as a meal, but watch out for too much dressing and high fat meats/eggs/cheeses in excess. Use a minimal amount of dressing and choose healthier toppings like grilled chicken instead of fried or breaded chicken.
  • Limit the servings of bread or grains and starchy vegetables (like tortillas, rice, pasta or potatoes) to 2-4 servings per meal. A serving is one slice of bread or ½ bun, one 6 inch tortilla, or ½ cup rice/pasta/potatoes. Don’t forget the chips or bread you ate as the appetizer! They count!
  • Choose WATER instead of soda. Water and milk are also better options for children.
  • Share a meal instead of ordering separate meals. Especially for children!
  • Get a take home box or “doggie bag”. It’s a good idea to ask for this before you start eating. Put half of the meal away before you start!
  • Use the calorie counts and other nutrition information now available in many restaurants. Limit meals to 500-800 calories. This is plenty for most people! Think of 1/3 of your daily calorie needs. Most people need between 1500-2400 calories a day.
  • Most of all, DO NOT SUPERSIZE!!!! EVER!!!!

To see how much our portion sizes have grown over time and what this means, visit https://www.choosemyplate.gov/tools-portion-distortion and take a look at the Portion Distortion slides and quiz!

Nutrition Fact vs. Fiction: Where to find information?

There are NO MAGIC BULLETS!!! When it comes to nutrition and health, watch out for media (websites, books, magazines, etc.) that promise cures and quick results. These most often DO NOT WORK and can actually be harmful. These articles or sites often use buzz words like “cleanse” or “super food”, and they like to use scare tactics and words like “toxic” and “poison”. Many also suggest completely eliminating a food group from your diet and/or they want to sell you a supplement. They may actually start with a smidgen of truth, but the “truth” gets lost in all of the false information that follows.

So, where to find good and valid information?

Here is a list of some good places to get information.

Below are a couple of examples of Extension Service resources!

Consult a Nutrition Expert! Consulting a Dietitian or Nutritionist, the nutrition experts, can be a benefit, but if you do, make sure they are licensed with the New Mexico State Nutrition and Dietetics Practice Board. Many who say they are “nutrition experts” do not have the educational background and credentials needed for licensing. There are some web-based programs offering a “certification” in nutrition after only a few days’ worth of learning online, but Licensed Dietitians and Nutritionists are health professionals who have at least a 4 year college degree or higher in nutrition and have proven their knowledge and skills by taking an accredited national exam.

Pink Slime: Fact vs. Fiction

There has been much in the news lately about “pink slime”. It sounds disgusting! But what is it really? Other names for this product are “Lean finely textured beef” or LFTB and “Boneless lean beef trimmings”. You may have heard some in the news saying this is actually beef. Well, in reality, it is. Let’s take a look at how it’s made.

Think of eating a steak with a layer of fat around the edge. You can cut that fat off with a knife, but there is always some meat still attached to the fat. This is similar to the meat cutting process in butchering cattle. The large cuts of meat are easy to cut, but there is always some meat left with the fat. This can be considered wasteful, so what can you do with it?

The makers of the LFTB take this leftover meat/fat and heat it to about 100 degrees to soften the fat. Then they spin it at high speed to separate the meat from the fat. What is left is about 90-95% fat free meat…beef! This process actually adds about 850 million more pounds of beef into our food supply every year, rather than going to waste.

It does have a finer texture than what we normally think of as ground beef, but some studies have indicated mixing some LFTB (10-15%) with regular ground beef actually improves the texture of the cooked product.

Studies have also shown that adding LFTB to regular ground beef improves the safety of the ground beef. One of the issues people have with LFTB is that ammonia is used in processing it. This has been greatly misunderstood. So here’s the truth.

The LFTB can be susceptible to bacterial contamination during processing. However, regular ground beef is at higher risk too because of processing. In the case of LFTB, to decrease the risk, the meat is treated with a puff of ammonia gas. This kills the bacteria on the meat because it comes in contact with the moisture naturally in the meat and forms ammonium hydroxide. This raises the pH of the meat and kills the bacteria. Ammonium hydroxide is a compound found naturally in many foods as well as the human body. So it is a completely safe process. Many other foods are also treated in this way to improve their safety.

Finally, what about the nutritional value of LFTB? Well, it is almost identical to that of 90% lean ground beef. It is a good source of protein, iron, zinc and B vitamins…just like other beef products. Keep in mind though that Nutrition professionals recommend people eat a variety of protein foods, and that red meat, like beef, should not be eaten every day. However, lean beef can be part of an overall healthy diet. One needs to also remember that an appropriate serving size of meat is about the size of a deck of cards, and most people only need 2-3 servings of meat or other protein foods (poultry, fish, nuts, eggs, beans) each day.

For more information, check out the “Top 7 Myths of “Pink Slime” by Gary Stauffer of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln Cooperative Extension Service. Also, the US Department of Agriculture has good accurate information, as do several universities. For this article, I used the following: from Penn State (http://live.psu.edu/story/58528) and from the University of Arkansas (http://newswire.uark.edu/Article.aspx?id=17999).

Did You Over Indulge During the Holiday Season? Slow and Steady Wins the Race!

Many of us did over indulge a bit over the holidays, I am sure. Now we are going through the “how do I get rid of the extra pounds” syndrome. While I am not a proponent of New Year’s Resolutions (I think any day can be a “new year”), maybe it is a good time to begin making some real lifestyle changes for better health.

A common lifestyle is yo-yo dieting. This is also known as weight cycling and is the practice of going on a strict diet to lose weight, then going off the diet once the goal is accomplished. However, many people who diet like this will see the pounds return, and often will gain more weight than they lost. This will then force them to diet again…lose weight…go off diet…gain weight…and the cycle continues.

Many research studies have shown that this type of dieting is not good for health or overall weight management. When you restrict your diet, your body recognizes this and enters a new metabolic state where your body is trying to protect itself from potential starvation. There are a number of hormones that regulate appetite, both positively and negatively, that change during this time. If your body sees that it is not getting as much food as it is used to, these hormones will kick in. This may be one of the reasons why weight gain reoccurs when the dieting ends. It takes the body some time to readjust to the increased food intake. A recent small study, not conclusive but worth another look, indicated that these metabolic changes may last even longer than previously thought.

Research also suggests that another negative factor related to yo-yo dieting is that it may lead to eating disorders. If one fixates too much on weight and wanting to lose weight, this could lead them to developing anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating. This is particularly a problem among young girls, but the problem is growing in males and other age groups.

So is “dieting” the answer? No! Most nutrition and health professionals recommend a lifestyle change for health rather than periodic dieting. Research shows that slow and steady weight loss is more likely to be lasting weight loss.

While weight management is indeed more complicated, on a basic level it depends on calories in vs. calories out. In other words, we need to balance how much food we eat with how much physical activity we get. This is different for each individual and one should seek out valid research based information for their specific needs.

However, in general there are some things that each person can do to begin making these healthy lifestyle changes. Here are some ideas:

  • Use smaller plates. This will help you cut back on your portion sizes.

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. Fresh is best!

  • Eat more whole grain foods rather than processed. Whole grain contains more fiber and this can help you lose weight.
  • Cut back on added sugar and fat, and try switching to lower fat dairy products. If you sweeten your tea, try using a little less, if you can’t go cold turkey on sugar. Try the same with butter or margarine. Just put a little less on your toast. Making small changes, over time, can lead to bigger changes.
  • If you snack, think about better choices like fruit or low salt/fat popcorn.
  • A big one that we may not always think about is nibbling! A bite of something may not contain many calories, but several bites throughout the day can add up.

Following these suggestions could mean decreasing your daily intake by 200-500 calories fairly easily. This could translate to a few pounds lost in a month, which is a good start. Remember: Slow and steady wins the race!

Online nutrition counseling CAN work!

Two recent studies, noted by NIH, have shown that online/email nutrition counseling can help people lose weight. Check out http://www.nih.gov//news/radio/dec2011/20111214nhlbipower.htm for more information.

I am willing to help you with this endeavor! Feel free to review the services I can provide through this website and contact me if you want to get started with your own personal online nutrition counseling. I look forward to helping you achieve your goals in the new year!

HFCS: The cause of all our problems?

In recent years, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has been demonized as the cause of our obesity epidemic. It has been thought that it raises blood sugar and insulin response, among other things that could contribute to weight gain, diabetes and other health problems. But is this the case?

Today, I received a slide presentation from the El Paso Dietetic Association on HFCS. It mirrored in many respects a presentation I attended at the Food and Nutrition Conference in San Diego. The bottom line of both presentations...HFCS is NOT the evil that so many have thought.

Not having studied HFCS in detail until recently, I learned something from these presentations. I have pretty much always believed that this sugar (Yes, I said sugar) is simply an alternate sweetener for today's foods, but I learned more today, including about the actual ratio of fructose to glucose in this, and other, sugars.

While the studies behind the blaming of HFCS indicate some differences, though slight, between fructose and glucose on blood sugar, etc.; these studies used fructose and glucose alone, not in combination. The amounts used in these studies were also much higher than quantities found in a human diet. In fact, in nature most sugars are combinations of monosaccharides (fructose, glucose, etc.), rather than consisting of the single sugars alone. Also, while the term "high fructose corn syrup" sounds like it's made up mostly of fructose, this is not the case.

However, here is the real life difference. Sucrose (table sugar) is 50/50 fructose to glucose. HFCS is actually quite similar. HFCS can be either 42% or 55% fructose with 42% to 53% glucose...not really that much different in the scheme of things. It should also be noted that HFCS has a tiny bit of other sugars (5% or less), as does honey (49% fructose, 43% glucose, 5% other). Another interesting point is that agave nectar, the hot new thing in sweeteners, is 74% fructose. Huh...I thought fructose was "bad"? Maybe it's not after all.

So here are the facts.

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup is really not a good descriptive name for this sweetener.
  • While sources may be different, sugar is sugar is sugar is... All have the same amount of calories per gram and are treated the same in our bodies. Metabolically, our bodies cannot tell the difference between sugars, whether it's HFCS, sucrose, etc.
  • Studies have shown that overall both HFCS and sucrose have the same effect on blood sugar and insulin...no difference.
  • They also have the same effect on satiety.
  • So, if it's not HFCS that is causing us all to fat, what is it?

The use of HFCS began around the same time a lot of other things were happening in our diets. Since the 1970's our lifestyle habits began changing. We started eating out of the home more. We started watching more TV and playing more computer games, thus exercising less. We are busier and are finding ourselves eating while we are doing something else, like working at our desk, watching TV, etc. All these things have been shown to increase the amount we eat overall. (See my article on Distracted Eating.) Since the early 70's, we are consuming about 600 calories more a day! That could lead to adding a pound of weight per week (3500 calories equals a pound).

Hum...maybe we are just eating too much?

Distracted Eating: What did I have for lunch?

Recently, I attended the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) in San Diego. This is the annual premier event of the American Dietetics Association (changing its name soon to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).There, I learned more about an increasing body of research into what has been called “Intuitive Eating” or “Mindful Eating”.It is truly fascinating!

This research is based on the idea that today, many are eating “mindlessly” or while distracted.Like “distracted driving”, distracted eating may have negative consequences.Distraction can come in many forms.Do we do something else while we are eating?Are we watching TV, playing computer games, talking with friends without paying any attention to our meal?These and other distractions have led us to developing habits related to eating that may be contributing to weight gain and unhealthy lifestyles.

In her FNCE presentation, “Mechanisms of Mindless Eating”, Professor Marion Hetherington of the Institute of Psychological Sciences cited a number of recent studies.In these studies, there were several situations that increased the amount of food people ate.In one study, participants were given soup.One group ate, unknowingly, from bowls that continuously refilled. This group ate more soup than the group eating from normal bowls that did not refill.

However, as pointed out in the presentation by Dr. Hetherington, food does not even need to taste good for people to overeat.Another study she cited stated that participants were given popcorn in medium or large containers.Those eating from the large containers ate more.But some of the participants were given 14-day old STALE popcorn…they still ate MORE from the larger container!

What is this about?!Why would we eat stale food?We are not paying attention to our meals.We have allowed distractions to take over our mealtimes and we are no longer enjoying our food.

I have long believed and taught that the increasing portion sizes have contributed to our obesity problem in the United States.In restaurants, we are no longer served on dinner plates, but platters. While an appropriate serving of soda is ONE cup, we can buy an 8-cup (64 oz) portion size from many convenience stores.(By the way, these 64 oz portions can have close to 800 calories, and 1 cup of sugar!)But maybe distracted eating is helping to increase our portion sizes as well.

In a recent presentation, I was discussing portion sizes with the audience.One woman said that she and family recently went to a high end restaurant where the meals were around $30-$40 dollars each.She said they were surprised and a bit unhappy to see the considerably smaller portions they were served (probably closer to an appropriate serving than we get in most restaurants) for the price of the meal.However, she said when she was finished with the meal, she was surprisingly satisfied.Could this have been because she was concentrating more on the food she was eating because it was a special occasion?

Family meals used to be more of a “special occasion”, I believe.Time was spent on preparing a wholesome, delicious meal, and time was spent eating it and enjoying it.Today, we are too much in a hurry, so we are eating less healthy foods more often.These foods also tend to come in larger portions than we need.

Think about your own daily routine.Are you eating “mindlessly” or with distractions?Or are you thinking about your food, and enjoying it more…and maybe eating less?

Go, Slow, and Whoa: Options for Healthier Eating

We are all hearing about the increase in overweight and obesity in our country and its effects on our health. We know we should eat better and exercise, but we often get mixed messages from the media about how to accomplish this. One way to help us in our food choices is to think about food in three categories: Go, Slow, and Whoa. This method is used by the Coordinated Approach to Child Health (CATCH) program and is now being used by the national "Let's Move" initiative.

“Go” foods are those that should be eaten every day. They are healthy and provide the proper nutrients and energy for a healthy lifestyle. These can also be thought of as “Every Day Foods”. These include foods that are lowest in fat and sugar and highest in nutrient density. “Go” foods include fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen or canned but without added sugar, fat, or sodium), whole grains, low fat or fat free dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, and egg whites or egg substitutes. We should also focus more on the fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in this mix, and less on the meat and dairy. These fall within the US Dietary Guidelines as well.

“Slow” foods are those that are still largely healthy, but include higher calorie, fat, sugar, and sodium amounts. These foods should be eaten less often than “Go” foods and include vegetables with added fat (butter), 2% milk, lean ground beef, peanut butter, whole eggs, low fat mayonnaise, and foods made with white refined flour, like white bread.

“Whoa” foods are those foods that can be considered a treat or foods eaten for special occasions. These are the high fat, high sugar, high calorie, and low nutrient dense foods like whole milk, whole-fat cheese, untrimmed or fried meats, hot dogs and bacon, fried potatoes, fruit canned in heavy syrup, muffins, croissants, creamy salad dressing, and of course desserts. Note that these guidelines say “Whoa”, not “NO”. These guidelines do not say “Never eat these foods”, but just save them for special occasions and eat small portions when you do eat them. We all enjoys these foods from time to time, but we should eat these foods in moderation and only sometimes. They should be “treats”.

Next time you go shopping, think about “Go, Slow, and Whoa” when you are making your choices. Look at the Nutrition Facts Labels and compare. You can make it a game with your kids and have them identify what category each food should go in. This way they learn about healthy eating as well. Remember to focus on the “Go” foods and limit the others.

To learn more about this, go to http://www.letsmove.gov/choices/index.html and click on the “food choices” link under “Healthy Shopping” on the right hand side of the page. Also, check out more of the links and information on this page. This page provides much information about making healthy choices for yourself, your children and your whole family. This “food choices” link will also give you information about where to go on the web for a more complete list of “Go, Slow, and Whoa” foods to help you when you shop.

Nutrition for the Real World

Today, the flow of information is so fast and furious, it’s sometimes difficult to keep up, but we do try. The media outlets (television, radio, Internet) all provide us with information. While we need to be careful of the source of our information, legitimate media does do a good job of providing accurate and valid information. However, I believe we need to learn how to interpret what they give us.

Every day, new information comes out about nutrition and health. Research is constantly going on at universities and institutes, and it is (mostly) valid and science based. Researchers (I used to be one) work in their labs conducting research on very specific things. It is always exciting when new information is learned and can be added to the vast volumes of current knowledge. When something new is learned, the media rightly reports on it. We read or hear headlines like “Garlic fights heart disease!”, “Oatmeal lowers cholesterol.”, and “Fish oil is good for health”.

These are all very true and very scientifically based. However, because this new information is presented as such a manner, I get concerned that the “snippets” of information like this overshadow the bigger picture. We “don’t see the forest for the trees”! Just eat a healthy diet! An overall good and balanced diet will contain everything you need to be as healthy as possible. Like a beautiful, healthy forest, it may have a few trees here and there that aren’t so healthy, but overall the forest is nice and it is what we want to see after all. In the same way, an overall beautiful and healthy diet may contain a few foods here and there (treats on special occasions) that aren’t perfect, but overall the diet is healthy…what we want.

I know of many people who are very conscientious and want very much to improve their health. I say FABULOUS! We all should be striving for this. But many people focus like a laser on these “snippets” of information and rather than simply looking at their overall diet and making sure that it is healthy and well rounded, they go out and buy nutrition supplements containing the newest thing that is going to magically make them healthier. It simply doesn’t work that way.

By doing this, focusing on the “snippets”, we make nutrition far more complicated than it needs to be. Yes, the science of nutrition as a whole is complex and ever changing because of the research being done. So I’m not suggesting it is simple in that respect. However, we can simplify it if we don’t get caught up in the “snippets”, but rather look at the big picture. Yes, listen to and be aware of the “snippets” because they contribute to our knowledge, but don’t let them complicate your nutrition.

Nutrition professionals are constantly trying to help by synthesizing all the science-based information available into usable forms, such as the new MyPlate icon (http://www.choosemyplate.gov/). While it does not give a detailed picture of all we know about nutrition, it is adequate for its purpose: an overall guide to healthy eating. By using something like MyPlate, we can look beyond the “snippets” and instead focus like a laser on simply improving our overall diet and being as healthy as possible.

So, I would urge everyone to KEEP IT SIMPLE! Don’t focus on the trees and miss the forest.