Tag Archives: Calorie

Are Carbs The Enemy?

Of all the major nutrients, carbohydrates have gotten a pretty bad rap. Personally, I don’t think it’s justified.

Carbohydrates are the core energy source for our body and brain and can be converted into amino acids to serve as the building blocks for protein. Certain sources of carbs are also chock-full of nutritious vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Grains, milk, beans, fruit and starchy vegetables, like potatoes and corn, all contribute to our daily carbohydrate intake. In fact, the U.S. government suggests we consume 45-65% of our daily calories from this nutrient group. So why the notoriety?

Not all carbs are created equal. There’s a big difference (nutritionally-speaking) between “refined” and “complex” carbohydrates. Refined carbs include chips, cake, candy, cereal, sweetened beverages (e.g., juice, lemonade, soda) and bread and pasta made with white flour. These foods are literally stripped of nutrients during processing. Due to their lack of fiber, they don’t fill us up and are digested quickly, causing our blood sugar to spike. Refined carbs contain few vitamins and minerals and likely end up replacing healthier foods in our diet. Eating too many of these foods can also lead to high triglyceride levels.

On the other hand, many complex carbohydrates are packed with nutrients. Examples include brown and wild rice, whole wheat pasta and bread, oatmeal, quinoa, bulgur and barley. Such whole grains are naturally low in fat and added sugars and supply iron, folate, zinc, magnesium, B-vitamins and fiber – a nutritional powerhouse. Fiber cannot be digested by the human body and therefore, this complex carb passes through our system without adding calories! Fiber can help lower cholesterol, regulate bowel function, reduce spikes in blood sugar, protect against colon cancer and help us lose weight by warding off hunger! The fiber in whole fruit is what makes it a much better choice than juice, which is high in sugar and calories and not a dieter’s friend.

When it comes to weight loss, the low-carb Atkins diet certainly gets a lot of press. However, weight loss occurs when you consume fewer total calories than your body needs, whether you’re cutting back on fat, protein or carbs. A sustainable strategy for weight loss should reduce calories from all nutrient groups, so that you do not feel deprived. Reduce your intake of sugary beverages, desserts and foods made with refined flour, like white bread and pasta and be sure to include nutrient-dense and fiber-packed sources of complex carbs in your meal plan!

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Filed under Dairy, Food Groups, Fruits and Vegetables, Grains, Heart Healthy Choices, 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

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