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Archive for June, 2011

Certain foods may pack on pounds.

Certain foods may pack on the pounds.

A new study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine by researchers from Harvard University found that certain foods pack on the pounds while other foods can actually be diet-friendly and help people lose weight when consumed regularly.

The researchers stressed that the quality of food choices, and not just calories, are key to maintaining a healthy weight.

French fries, potato chips and sweet drinks can pack on the pounds, the researchers found. Subjects who regularly consumed potato chips and other potato products, soda, and processed and unprocessed meat gained on average 3.35 pounds in four years. No surprise, especially since the portion size—and the calorie counts– of some of these foods have more than doubled in the last 30 years. These days, it is easy to buy a 20-ounce bag of chips, a 64 ounce soda, and a single-serve order of French fries which weighs in at a half a pound.

In an interesting twist, the research found that certain foods can actually help you lose weight. Yogurt, nuts, fruits, and whole grains may actually help eaters lose weight.

Eating whole grains as opposed to processed grains can make a big difference in weight loss, according to the research. Refined grains can add a half-pound every four years, while whole grains can subtract a half-pound during the same time period. Including an extra serving of nuts also prevented participants from gaining a half-pound.

While some of the findings need further explanations—why, for instance, did eating all types of potatoes (including baked potatoes) cause more weight gain than say eating sweets and desserts?!—the general take away message offers support for eating more fruits, veggies, and whole grains, and eating fewer chips and processed foods, and drinking sugar-laden soft drinks.

As a nutritionist counseling clients trying to lose weight, here is a key take home message: eating certain foods may help you lose weight and they should be included in your diet while others can pack on pounds. Making simple swaps to your diet can help you lose weight. Here are a few examples.

  • Skip the chips and add mixed nuts as a healthy snack.
  • Limit the soda and drink flavored seltzer instead.
  • Skip the fries and have a salad instead.

And a few other lifestyle habits which the researchers found make a difference: include regular physical activity, limit TV viewing, and be sure to get enough sleep.

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Overweight is the new normal

Overweight is the new normal and society is accommodating our ever expanding girth. Robert Nolin wrote a terrific piece in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times highlighting this sentiment. (I’m quoted discussing portions.)

Here are some startling stats:


  • Two thirds of Americans are overweight.
  • The average American is 23 pounds heavier than “ideal” body weight.
  • 72 Million Americans are obese.
  • 9 million children over age 6 are obese

Food portions:

  • Food portions continue to increase.
  • Fast-food portions are two to five times larger than they were in the 1950s.
  • We are gulping more soda—Today, Americans drink around 44 gallons soda per year, up from 27 gallons in the 1970s.

What else is expanding? Here are some examples of products that are expanding to accommodate our expanding girth:

  • Clothing companies have expanded plus size inventories.
  • More plus-sized fashions are available for our expanding kids.
  • Some scales can now hold up to 500 pounds.
  • Revolving doors have widened from 10 to 12 feet.
  • Many movie theaters have seats as large as 26 inches wide, up from 20 inches wide in the 1980s.
  • Toilets can handle bigger bottoms.
  • And, sadly, coffins can now hold up to 700 pounds.

What can we do to reverse this trend?

As I’ve been saying, we need to eat less AND move more. As the USDA’s new icon food—myPlate–stresses: let’s make half of our plate fruits and veggies. They are rich in nutrients and relatively low in calories. We want to enjoy our food but avoid oversized portions, and limit sugary beverages. And, of course, as far as our plates go, we should eat off of smaller ones.

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USDA’s new food icon: from pyramid to plate!

USDA’s new food icon: from Pyramid to Plate

Big news in the nutrition world. Yesterday, the Obama administration unveiled a circular plate as its new food icon to replace the Pyramid graphic we have known for nearly 2 decades. The plate is divided into wedges to represent the different food groups—fruit, vegetables, grains, and protein. It reflects what a balanced meal is supposed to look like. Fruits and vegetables take up half the plate. The dairy group is seen on the side much like a cup.

I watched as First Lady Michelle Obama, along with Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, unveiled MyPlate at yesterday’s morning press conference.

The government’s website provides extensive details on how to use the plate both for professionals and consumers. The new icon is designed to reflect the consumer messages from the 10th edition of the Dietary Guidelines which were released in January.

Balancing Calories
• Enjoy your food, but eat less.
• Avoid oversized portions.
Foods to Increase
• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
• Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
Foods to Reduce
• Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and choose the foods with lower numbers.
• Drink water instead of sugary drinks.


Here’s what I think of the new icon:

Good points:

  • The plate is very simple and easy to understand. Consumers probably can relate more to a plate than a Pyramid. After all, we usually eat off of a plate, not a pyramid.
  • It is easy for kids to understand and hence, is an investment in our future. Many children that I have counseled did not relate well to the previous pyramids.
  • MyPlate has a greater emphasis on fruits and vegetables than MyPyramid. With the new food icon, half the plate consists of fruits and vegetables, with the vegetable group being the largest wedge. This is an excellent message.
  • The food groups on the plate are not overflowing which conveys the message “avoid oversized portions.” But of course, we need to make sure that our plate is not too big. Over the years, plates have gotten bigger and so have our waistlines. Take away message: In addition to the choosing the proper proportions of foods, we must watch plate size.

Pet peeves:

  • There is no food on the plate. I would have loved to see some healthy choices within each food group. I would have liked to see pictures of nutrient dense foods from each food group such as brown rice in the grain group and fish in the protein group.
  • The meat and alternatives group was renamed to protein. This is confusing: protein is a nutrient, not a food. The other 3 wedges—fruits, vegetables, and grains–are foods. The other issue is that dairy (a food group off to the side of the plate) and grains also contain ample protein in our diet. A 6 oz Greek yogurt, for example, contains more than 15 grams of protein.
Where’s the protein? Below are some examples of how much protein is in various foods from the different food groups.
Protein (grams):
1 oz meat/fish/chicken: about 7g
3 oz meat/fish/chicken: about 21g
1/2 cup beans: about 7g
6 oz Greek yogurt 16 g
8 oz yogurt: about 11-12g
2 oz cheese: about 14g
1/2 cup quinoa (cooked): 4.5g


Nonetheless, the plate icon is a marked improvement from the 2005 Pyramid. Obesity is a huge crisis in the US and let’s hope that this new simple symbol helps to shape dinner plates around the country. Now, if we can get the restaurant industry to serve us a plate where half would be filled with fruits and vegetables that would be great progress.

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