Tag Archives: 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

The Acai Berry: A Superfood?

Q: What are the health benefits of Acai?

A: The Acai berry is a small, round, black-purple fruit that grows on a certain species of palm tree found in Central and South America. You may have seen acai juices, snacks, powders and capsules flood the market in the past few years, as companies increasingly tout the berry as a “superfood,” packed with antioxidants that can protect against aging and cancer. Acai berry products are also said to help people lose weight, fight heart disease and improve arthritis.

In short, evidence to support these health claims is limited. Studies of the antioxidant capacity of acai berries are conflicting. Though supported by a competing company (POM), one study found that pomegranate juice, red wine and blueberry juice have greater antioxidant potency than acai juice (Seeram et al, 2008). In addition, acai products are marketed as dietary supplements, so they escape FDA regulation. The acai berry may not necessarily be harmful, but its presumed power – to enhance sleep and guard against wrinkles, for example – has yet to be verified scientifically. If you’re looking to save a buck, stick to what’s proven to work. Get your daily dose of antioxidants by meeting the recommend 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit per day.

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Filed under Fruits and Vegetables, Supplements, Vitamins & Minerals

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

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

Fast Facts on Fats

Q: There are so many types of cooking oil on the market. Which one should I use?

A: The healthiest oils are those with the least amount of saturated fat. Choose canola oil, corn oil, olive oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil. These varieties are higher in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which are heart healthy, because they are able to lower total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol if used in place of other fats. No matter which oil you pick, however, it’s important to use it sparingly. Each tablespoon of a vegetable-based oil packs 120 calories! Stay away from coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil – these three oils are high in saturated fat, which raises your risk for heart disease.

Here’s how to choose among some of the “healthier” oil options:

Canola oil: Has the least amount of saturated fat (only 7%)! Great for sautéing, stir frying, baking and salad dressings. Canola oil does not give off a strong flavor and can be used over high-heat.

Olive oil: Contains a large amount of good, monounsaturated fat. Use it for dressings, marinades, roasting, grilling and low-heat cooking. Olive oil will start to break down at very high temperatures.

Vegetable oil: This oil is usually made from soybeans. It is an all-purpose oil that can be used for baking, sautéing and pan frying. Since vegetable oil has a relatively high saturated fat content, canola oil is a healthier choice.

Corn oil: With about 13% saturated fat, corn oil is not the best option. It can be used for deep frying, stir-frying, sautéing and baking, because of a very high tolerance to heat.

Peanut oil: While it is often used in yummy Asian-inspired stir fry dishes, peanut oil has a very high saturated fat content (about 18%)! This makes it costly to your cardiovascular health.

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

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