Category Archives: Weight loss

Heartburn: Turning down the heat

Do you ever experience a burning sensation in your chest, especially when lying down after a meal? You’re not alone! In fact, 7 to 8% of the population experiences this discomfort, which is a symptom of acid reflux disease commonly called heartburn.

Normally, a valve at the junction between your esophagus and your stomach opens to let food pass through and then closes again. But if the valve opens too frequently, or does not create a proper seal upon shutting, the acidic contents of the stomach can flow back into the esophagus. That’s when you feel pain radiating from your upper abdomen toward your throat.

Occasional heartburn may not be cause for alarm, but chronic acid reflux can have serious consequences, like increasing your risk of developing esophageal cancer. Persistent or worsening symptoms should be brought to your doctor’s attention. 

There are a variety of over-the-counter and prescription drugs that may provide relief, including Tums, Zantac, Pepcid and Prevacid. But, if you’re like me, and you want to minimize medication usage, try making these simple dietary and lifestyle modifications…

1. Avoid common trigger foods, like coffee, alcohol, vinegar, citrus fruits, tomatoes, chocolate, peppermint & spicy dishes.

2. Skip the Big Mac and fries. Large meals, especially those with a high fat content, take a long time to be digested, which raises your chance of feeling the burn from it later.

3. Fight the flab and start a weight loss program if you’re overweight. Abdominal obesity puts pressure on your stomach, forcing stomach contents back into the esophagus.

4. Quit smoking! Cigarettes may actually increase stomach acid production and weaken the function of the valve between the esophagus and the stomach.

5. Stop eating 3 hours before bedtime.  Remaining upright after meals puts gravity to work and keeps food down in the stomach where it belongs.

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Filed under Fats & Oils, Heart Healthy Choices, Medical Conditions, Weight loss

Mustard vs. Mayo

So you’re at the deli counter and ready to order a sandwich. Your stomach’s grumbling for turkey and provolone on whole wheat, with lettuce, tomato and…mayonnaise or mustard?  Let’s explore the two condiments.

Basic mayonnaise is a mixture of egg yolk, oil and a bit of lemon juice or vinegar. Mayo is virtually all fat, with the egg yolk providing artery-clogging saturated fat. One tablespoon of regular mayo packs around 90 calories, mostly coming from 10 grams fat (3.5 g saturated fat). Light mayonnaise totals only about 35 calories per tablespoon, with 3 grams fat (0 g saturated fat).

Whether it’s Dijon, honey or deli style, mustard is prepared from the seeds of a mustard plant, blended with spices and vinegar. Mustard is relatively harmless at less than 30 calories per tablespoon and no saturated fat.

So it seems obvious that mustard is a healthier choice than regular mayo, but why not choose light mayonnaise? Some foodies shy away from reduced fat products because added ingredients make the item more processed and less natural. Maybe it’s best to use the real thing, but sparingly? (I’m undecided.) If it’s between regular, full-fat mayo and mustard, go with the mustard. A teaspoon or two adds strong flavor, but negligible calories to your sandwich.

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Filed under Fats & Oils, Heart Healthy Choices, Meal Tips, Weight loss

Are There “Negative-Calorie” Foods?

Q: A “negative-calorie diet” seems too good to be true. Is it?

A: A negative-calorie diet causes you to expend more calories chewing, digesting and absorbing certain foods than the food actually contains. As an example, proponents of this diet claim that if you eat a cup of chopped lettuce that has 10 calories, you’ll burn that off and then some! While this sounds great, I haven’t found any research validating this theory. The “thermic effect of food” refers to the energy spent processing food in our system for storage and use, but we do not yet have the metabolic tools to determine this value for single food items.

Other purported negative-calorie foods include celery, carrots, cucumber, onion, spinach, apple, cranberry, orange, peach, strawberry and watermelon. The eBook The Negative Calorie Diet states that you can lose up to 14 pounds in two weeks by eating these foods! At that drastic rate, it must mean that you can only eat these foods and nothing else. But, a prolonged diet of only fruits and vegetables lacks several key nutrients, including protein and essential fats. Weight loss should always be gradual (1-2 pounds per week) and accomplished by exercising and eating smaller portions of well-balanced meals, including several daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Weight management is a delicate balance between calories in and calories out. The foods deemed “negative-calorie” are nutritious, low-energy fibrous fruits and veggies that fill you up and leave less room for higher-calorie items. If including these foods in your diet induces any weight loss, it’s likely only due to the fact that you’re eating fewer calories in general, not because your body’s digestive tract is working overtime.

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Filed under Fruits and Vegetables, Heart Healthy Choices, Weight loss

Rethink Your Drink

As a follow-up to my post on laying off the booze, it’s important to discuss the effect other types of caloric beverages, including juice and soda, have on weight loss efforts.

The scientific literature demonstrates that gulping water instead of high-calorie beverages at mealtime results in a lower total energy intake. In one particular study, no matter what drink subjects were assigned, participants consumed the same amount of calories from food (Della Valle et al, 2005). In other words, people don’t compensate for a highly caloric beverage by eating less. The beverage then ends up tagging unnecessary calories onto the energy tab.

But can water, specifically, help you lose weight? According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, adults who drink water have significantly lower total energy intake than non-water drinkers.

Scientific evidence also shows that water boosts lipid oxidation, or the breakdown of fat.  Experiments show that drinking water during exercise, rather than a sugary beverage, results in a greater breakdown of fat tissue stores (Stookey et al, 2009). Caloric beverages promote the release of insulin in the body, which inhibits fat oxidation.

Another study examined fat oxidation in healthy adults after eating (Brown et al, 2006). In the hours following breakfast consumption, fat breakdown in those who drank water with their meal exceeded the amount of fat contained in the actual test food. Fat breakdown was significantly less in subjects who had orange juice with breakfast. Put simply, constantly sipping on caloric beverages slows fat breakdown.

The bottom line? Switching to water is an effective way to reduce energy intake and stimulate the breakdown of fat. No wonder the ancient Greek poet Pindar once said, “Water is the best of all things.” Intake of all types of caloric beverages – be it alcohol, juice, regular soda or sports drinks – has the potential to make weight management a losing battle.

 

Reference: Stookey JD. Will drinking water help me lose weight? What healthcare professionals can say in response. Clinical Nutrition Insight. 2010; 36(2):1-4.

 

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Filed under Meal Tips, Weight loss

Beer: Better to “stay thirsty, my friends”

Q: How many calories are in a typical alcoholic beverage?

A: The quick answer? More than you probably think! One 12-oz beer has around 150 calories, while a 5-oz glass of wine contains about 100 calories. One small shot of an 80 proof spirit (e.g. gin, rum, vodka, whiskey), however, packs 96 calories and that’s not accounting for the mixer you’re using!

Simple math tells us that just two glasses of wine with dinner tacks another 200 calories onto the energy bill, while a tumbler of rum & cola adds anywhere from 150 – 200 calories. Most surprisingly, a single piña colada can supply nearly 300 calories! Yikes.

Do you remember the term “empty calories” being tossed around in health class? Alcoholic beverages are high in energy, but nearly devoid of any beneficial vitamins and minerals. Weight maintenance is all about balancing ‘energy in’ with ‘energy out,’ so if you’re worried about your figure, be careful how many frozen margaritas you’re slugging back and try to order drinks made with diet or club soda.

This post wouldn’t be complete without briefly mentioning other potentially harmful effects of alcohol consumption. Chronic heavy drinking raises your chance of developing future health complications, including liver problems, cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, quantity and frequency are independently associated with risk. In most cases, it is the number of drinks in one sitting that is detrimental to your health, rather than an occasional social cocktail. Frequent, but modest alcohol intake actually lowers your risk for cardiovascular disease, but may still be associated with an increased risk of cancer. To balance these effects, the American Heart Association recommends drinking only in “moderation,” if you’re going to do it at all. “Moderation” is defined as no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 for women.

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Filed under Heart Healthy Choices, Meal Tips, Medical Conditions, Weight loss

Ditch The Soda

The typical 12-oz can of soda contains about 140 calories and includes 40 grams of sugar. That’s equivalent to pouring 9 teaspoons of table sugar straight into your drink.

Sure, sugar makes things taste sweet, but it may also be detrimental to your health in excessive quantities. Sugar can promote tooth decay, increased triglyceride levels, weight gain and poor nutrition. As you guzzle sugary drinks, you’re loading your body with extra calories with no nutritional value. You’re then more likely to skimp on the healthy foods, which do contain important vitamins and minerals. In 2006, a research team aimed to quantify the energy imbalance that is responsible for the recent trend of weight gain in children (Wang et al; 2006). The scientists found that behavioral changes amounting to 110-165 fewer calories per day were enough to avoid weight gain. To clarify this point, this could be achieved by either eliminating one sugar-sweetened beverage or walking just over mile every day.  Ditching the soda can is probably easier.

Some sugar is naturally found in nutritious foods like milk (lactose) and fruit (fructose). “Added sugar,” on the other hand, is the offender. Processed foods, such as sweets and non-diet soft drinks are rich in added sugars. The average American consumes a whopping 22 teaspoons (370 calories) of added sugar each day. This number far exceeds what’s recommended. Due to the potential consequences of excessive sugar intake, the American Heart Association has suggested that women should not consume more than 100 calories a day (6 tsp) from added sugar and that men should consume no more than 150 calories a day (9 tsp) from added sugar. Again, that’s the equivalent of one soda a day, not counting any other sugary snacks you nibble on.

The bottom line? Minimize your consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, including iced teas, soda and fruit drinks. Water is still my #1 choice, but if you’re craving carbonation, try flavored club soda. Treat soft drinks as special snacks, rather than a staple at lunch.  Diet beverages are better than regular, at least for weight loss purposes, but some studies have shown that people believe that a diet soda entitles them to load up on extra junk; thus the phenomenon of ordering a double cheeseburger, super-sized fries and a diet soda at the drive-thru.

Lastly, remember to note serving sizes when checking the nutrition facts. For example, one 16-oz bottle of Snapple contains two servings. So while the label provides the info for one serving (80 calories & 21g sugar) you have to double that if you plan on drinking every last drop.

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Filed under Food Groups, Heart Healthy Choices, Weight loss

Are you a healthy weight?

Q: What is a ‘body mass index’ and how do I calculate mine?

A: Body mass index, or BMI, is calculated using weight and height and often correlates with body fatness. Therefore, your BMI can indicate your risk for health problems associated with being underweight or overweight. Calculate your BMI here.

BMI < 18.5

Underweight

BMI 18.5 – 24.9

Healthy weight

BMI 25 – 29.9

Overweight

BMI 30 – 39.9

Obesity

BMI ≥ 40

Extreme obesity

Two-thirds of the adult U.S. population is currently overweight or obese.  Excess weight drastically increases your risk for chronic diseases, including hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. If any of these conditions run in your family, it is particularly important to manage your weight.

Alongside BMI, waist circumference is also an important indicator of disease risk. BMI cannot differentiate between varying body compositions, but waist circumference can. Abdominal obesity – a so-called “apple” body shape – is especially dangerous. The fat stored centrally, known as visceral fat, is more swiftly released into the bloodstream, contributing to an increase in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and a higher heart disease risk. Fat around the thighs, hips and legs also does this, but at a much slower rate. In addition, abdominal fat promotes inflammation in the body, which has been linked to chronic illnesses. [For reference, a “high-risk” waist circumference is ≥ 35 inches for women and ≥ 40 inches for men. Use a tape measure to assess your risk: Keep it level with your navel, parallel to the floor and do not hold your breath while measuring.]

Even if your weight and body type are putting you at high risk, there’s still good news! Modest weight loss of just 5-10% of your body weight significantly improves health, control of diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol. And if you’re overweight, fitness still matters! A study by Lee et al (1999) demonstrated that fit, obese men had a dramatically lower all-cause mortality risk as compared to unfit, lean men! Now that’s a reason to exercise!

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Filed under Medical Conditions, Weight loss