Does Your Food Contain More Calories the Food Label Indicates?

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If you rely on counting calories on your food labels and restaurant menus, you may be getting more calories than you bargained for according to a study published in this month’s Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Tufts University researchers examined the accuracy of labels and nutrition facts information on 29 reduced-energy restaurant foods and 10 frozen meals purchased from grocery stores. Total calorie content from the quick-serve and sit-down restaurants averaged 18% more than what was listed on the restaurants nutrition facts. What’s really disturbing though was that there was a large range that averaged out to that 18%.  Some individual restaurant items contained up to 200% more than their stated calorie level and with the free side dishes (which some restaurants don’t count in their nutrition facts), these meals contained up to 245% more calories than what was listed.

It’s frozen food month and overall, the frozen meals fared much better – they came in at an average of 8% more calories than what was stated on the nutrition facts panel.

If you are red hot mad and blaming your favorite restaurant for your lack of weight loss progress, hold on just a minute and think about logical this data is.  Frozen foods stuffed into a small piece of plastic and slightly larger box are fairly consistent on portion sizes and preparation (thanks to the consistency of machines).  However, restaurant chefs and cooks like to make people happy and happiness to them involves butter, grease and yet another tablespoon of dressing.

So, if you eat out but want to watch your waistline, ask how the food is prepared or request that it is prepared a certain way. Oh, and share those meals that are large enough to 2-3 people.

Making Your New Year’s Resolution a Reality

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It’s day 6, where’s your New Year’s resolution?  If you are having trouble sticking with it or you just don’t believe in yourself, I’m going to give you the top determinants of success for behavioral change:

1) You have to believe in yourself. Yesterday I met with a lady who was basically talking herself out of getting past this 30 lb weight loss barrier she’s had in the past. We hardly talked about nutrition but instead worked on reframing her mind.  Without the right vision of yourself, you’ll never reach your goals. If that means having your friends and coworkers stop you every time you beat yourself up out loud or that you need to put sticky notes on your bathroom mirror with positive affirmations, so be it. Do what it takes.

2) You need a good support system. If the people around you constantly telling you what you can’t do or holding you back, it’s time to sit down and have a serious discussion with them (probably several) or spend less time with these people. Classic example: a + 300 lb lady I met whose husband was constantly trying to feed her. On the flip side, I know another young lady trying to lose weight whose husband (a busy PhD student) created a detailed excel spreadsheet to help her track her food intake – she is successfully losing 2-4 lbs a week.

3) You need goals. SMART goals. Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-sensitive. An example of a wishy washy goal: I want to lose weight.  A better example: I want to lose 15 lbs by March 1 so that I can avoid being put on gluclose-lowering medications the next time I go to my physician.

4) You need a realistic plan. Make exercise a habit. Even if that means you are committing to just 20 minutes a day.  Find a plan that suits your lifestyle. If you want to do it on your own, take a look at Bodybuilding.com: http://www.bodybuilding.com/guides/  or  Muscle & Fitness: http://www.muscleandfitnesstrainer.com/ for a wealth of information.

5) It’s time to ditch the black or white thinking. Eating a cookie isn’t going to wreck your weight loss goals. But, eating a cookie, beating yourself up about it and then eating the entire bag of cookies will. People who are successful at making changes accept the fact that they aren’t perfect but they are trying their best. They don’t let missing a workout, an injury or illness or a day full of beer, wings and fries derail them.

What’s the bottom line?  After years of working with a variety of people, I can attest to the fact that success with weight loss, weight gain, physique change or performance nutrition is largely dependent on your 1) commitment and desire and 2) your vision and belief in yourself. There’s tons of information out there and awesome trainers, sports nutritionists and resources to keep you on track. But, you have to be committed and believe.

Dietary Fat Intake – Does it Affect Weight?

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The following advice has become a mantra engrained in our society’s battle of the bulge: “If you want to lose weight and improve your health, eat a low fat diet”. And for years I bought into this during the carb-frenzy fat-free 1990s. But then I entered graduate school and started reading the research (and I was just plain hungry all the time).  A low fat did work for many people who were obese or overweight because cutting fat meant they cut calories and therefore dropped weight. And for those with cardiovascular disease risk factors, slashing the fat in their diet automatically meant a decrease in bad fats so their cholesterol levels improved. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that taking someone off fried foods and partially hydrogenated snack foods will improve their cholesterol levels.

But do we need low fat for weight loss?  According to my good friend and well respected scientist, Jose Antonio, the answer is no. And, a recently published study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition backs this viewpoint. In this particular study, scientists analyzed data from 89,432 men and women from 6 cohorts of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) study. They analyzed data between baseline fat intake (amount and type from total fat, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fats) from food frequency questionnaires and annual weight change and, after adjusting for anthropometric data, lifestyle and dietary factors, they found no significant relationship between dietary fat intake and weight gain. The authors concluded that “these findings do not support the use of low-fat diets to prevent weight gain.”

This study did have some drawbacks. After all, food frequency questionnaires are limited, they only analyzed fat intake at one point in time and not over time and they didn’t examine data on trans fat intake. After all, this wasn’t a clinical trial in rats (the most compliant subjects ever) where they could manipulate variables and see if people grow or shrink in size.

These results are different than those from some other studies but overall, the research is equivocal on the subject of fat and weight. A review of 9 studies examining fat and weight change found 3 studies found a positive association between type of fat and weight change, 3 found no association and the last 3 reported negative association.

What’s the bottom line? Eat your fat, but choose healthy fats (fish fat, nuts, seeds, oils) and avoid partially hydrogenated oil (man made trans fats) and if you have heart disease risk factors, watch your saturated fat consumption too.

Eat Produce, Fight Fat

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It always amazes me when I meet people who will spend serious cash on random weight loss supplements or prescription drugs known to have serious, adverse side effects, yet they have little motivation to make simple changes – like adding tasty foods that can fight fat.

Despite the fact that body fat seems lazy, like it sits around doing nothing all day (except cushioning your body from any blows), it’s actually very active and waging a war against your health.  Fat tissue, especially the kind in your gut, is spewing inflammatory compounds while you sit at your desk innocently chowing down on office Christmas cookies and egg nog. And those compounds may continue to make you fatter and set you up for several chronic diseases down the line including insulin-resistance (Type 2 diabetes) and cardiovascular disease.

The logical step to taming the inferno in your belly fat is to drop weight and start doing so right away. And, there’s something else you can do as well – load up on phytochemical-rich fruits, vegetables, nuts, tea and legumes. University of Florida researchers found that a diet rich in phytochemicals fights oxidative stress (free radicals) and inflammation in your excess fat tissue.

So how do you start?  Simple – eat fruits or vegetables (colorful ones) before every single meal.  Drink tea (black, white, green or oolong), snack on nuts (all nuts are heart healthy and can help satiate your appetite) and think twice about over-indulging in heaps of Christmas cookies, alcoholic drinks and egg nog.

Can Women Bulk Up from Weight Lifting?

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Here are two statements I’ve heard more times than I can count:

1) I’ve been lifting weights and my clothes are getting tighter.
2) The scale hasn’t changed on my weight loss program but muscle mass is replacing my fat.
So what’s the truth behind women and lifting? Women can gain muscle mass but you aren’t going to put on much size lifting light weights or using your own body weight. You may get stronger but you certainly won’t get noticeably bigger. Especially for those who are new to weight lifting. In the beginning stages of a resistance training program, muscles get stronger but not bigger. Size and strength do not continue on an upward trajectory at the same rate. And, because women don’t have the same hormonal profile that men do, it takes a LOT for us to put on size – eating the right kinds of foods at the right time within proximity to training, eating enough total calories, taking creatine and a following a training program to put on size (heavy weights, low reps, periodized training). And even then, this program takes time and consistency.
In one study, scientists placed 161 previously sedentary, obese women into 6 groups: a control group (no exercise or diet), an exercise only group and 4 different diet groups. All of the groups (except the control group of course), followed the Curves program 3x a week for 14 weeks (28 minutes of circuit training). Not only were there no massive muscle mass gains but, all groups lost a little lean body mass except the control group.
If you still think you are an outlier, keep in mind that we are all built a little differently and therefore respond differently to exercise. Consider getting your body fat and weight tested every few months to see if you are gaining fat or muscle (better yet, get a DEXA done which will separate lean mass from fat mass and is a more accurate way to measure body fat than calipers).

Lessons Learned from 09-11-01

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Today I’ve heard a number of “where were you when” stories. Where were you when you got the chilling news that our own American aircrafts had been hijacked and the Towers and Pentagon the target of mass destruction? Destruction that led to war and, subsequently, American soliders sacrificing their lives for the sake of our nation’s safety.

It’s hard to not think of the events of 9-11 today, the families who were affected by this tragedy and what life means to you. I remember a period of several hours where I couldn’t get in touch with any family since the phone lines were down in the DC area – land lines and cell phones. I remember wondering where my cousin was in the city and if she was watching this horror from a streetside view. And I remember being stunned and saddened for all of the familes who lost their loved ones.

What on earth does this have to do with nutrition you are wondering? Not much. But it has to do with life and health. We may have little control over tragedies and freak accidents but we do have a heck of a lot of control over our own health. Sure, people get diseases and many are sidelined with injuries or illness. But, many people feel “powerless” over their situation or food or an injury when really, they have a lot more power than they think. Anyone reading this was lucky enough not to be in that part of the Pentagon or the Towers or on a flight that was taken down in PA. We owe it to ourselves to live the best life possible and take care of the years we’ve been given. Because there are many young men and women who’ve given up their lives to keep us safe.

If you are interested in giving back, here are a few organizations you may want to look into:
Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund
Rolling Thunder

Drink Tea, Lose Weight

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Tea is the 2nd most consumed beverage in the world, second only to water.  It’s loaded with heart healthy antioxidant polyphenols and naturally contains l-theanine – an amino acid that helps boost cognitive functioning and produce a relaxed, yet alert, state of mind.  And, it may boost your weight loss efforts.

In a recent six-week study, 102 overweight, obese and morbidly obese individuals drank 8 grams (approximately 4-5 cups) of oolong tea daily.  Seventy percent of the severely obese subjects showed a decrease of more than 1 kg body weight and 22% lost more than 3 kg.  Sixty-four percent of the obese subjects and 66% of the overweight subjects lost more than 1 kg.  Twelve percent of all participants showed a decrease in subcutaneous fat (fat under the skin).  In addition to the effects of oolong tea on weight and fat loss, those with hyperlipidemia showed significant decreases in triglycerides and total cholesterol.

This study showed that adding oolong tea to your day may help boost weight loss and do so even if you don’t change your diet.  Now, I recommend changing your diet as well if weight loss is your goal.  But, that is pretty powerful – just add tea and lose weight & fat!  And think about it this way, even if you don’t lose weight you’ll be boosting your health by consuming a calorie-free drink that is tied to a decreased risk of coronary heart disease, some cancers, and gum disease.

Beneficial effects of oolong tea consumption on diet-induced overweight and obese subjects.  Chin J Integr Med 2009;15(1):34-41.

 

Isoflavones – Estrogenic?

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Isoflavones are plant-based chemicals that have mild estrogen-like properties. By selectively binding to certain estrogen receptors in our body, they may help decrease the risk of some chronic diseases. And, isoflavones may help build bone density (this is one reason it is formulated into Citracal Bone Density Builder – I love citracal products because they can be taken on an empty stomach, but, I digress).

And no, there is no connection between soy and making a man less of a man. One study was published last year showing that men who ate soy food had lower sperm counts. The media hopped on it but failed to reveal that the majority of the soy eaters were also overweight or obese. Soy or fat tissue? Yeah, I’m pretty sure it was the excess body fat so quit worrying about soy and hop on a treadmill. Besides, sperm quality is a pretty darn important factor to fertility and the study didn’t examine soy and sperm quality. And, if you want babies and money, just take a fertility drug and pop out 6 at time and get a reality TV series, book and endorsements aka John & Kate Plus 8. Shoot, I’m tired so I’m digressing once again…

Anyway, if you want to know more about what foods contain isoflavones, check out the new Isoflavone Database which provides analytical values for three isoflavone compounds – genistein, daidzein and glycitein at:
www.ars.usda.gov/nutrientdata/isoflav

Thanks to the awesome USDA Agricultural Research Service for putting this database together!

Bug Juice, Literally

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Last week my SIL (that’s an acronym for sister-in-law) sent me an article about food coloring coming from bugs. Sure, I knew it was reality (and FDA approved) but its one of those things I can’t think about too much or I’ll start turning over the label of everything I consume checking code words for bug bits. Kind of like the first time I learned what hot dogs were made of, I was 13 and that’s the very last time I ate one. Or during microbiology when I learned about triconosis – you guessed it, no more pork for me (not that I liked it anyway). Now bug bits?

Carmine is a red food coloring made from, you guessed it, dried ground bugs. Not just any bug but the Dactylopius coccus costa insect that resides in South America. Apparently these bugs love red berries. So much so that the berries accumulate in the stomaches of the females and their little baby larvae. I’m not sure what scientist figured this out or if it was a small child that started smashing them like fireflies only to find out they have a brilliant red hue. I’m sure if I was a child growing up in the South America, I would have figured that one out. But I certainly wouldn’t have thought of capitalizing on the idea by creating red food coloring from the smashed bugs.

So, how will you know if you are ingesting color from smashed up bugs? You won’t. If it’s red and says “artificial coloring”, chances are good that you are eating the little buggers. By the end of 2010, the word carmine or cochineal should appear on labels. In the meantime, if you prefer not to ingest red food coloring made from insects, choose foods and beverages with natural colors – many of these are found in the health food section in your grocery store, in Whole Foods or in products that only use natural colors such as vitaminwater. In the meantime, products like Sobe LifeWater yumberry pomegranate don’t look so yummy to me with cochineal listed under the nutrition ingredients. Aside from the ik factor, food coloring made from this insect can lead to adverse allergic reactions. Thanks but I also don’t need puffy eyes and a swollen face thanks to a little food dye.

Even though this red food coloring is FDA approved for use, I’d prefer to leave insects out of my body and outside where they belong.