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Archive for February, 2016

5 Tips to Keep Your Restaurant Meal Way Under 1,000 Calories

Below is my blog for Huffington Post, “5 tips to keep your restaurant meal way under 1000 calories.”

You can also read it here.

pasta primavera

Americans love eating out. Unfortunately, most restaurant meals exceed calorie recommendations. It’s no surprise that we have an obesity epidemic in this country.

Chain restaurants in the U.S. are currently required to post calorie counts on their menus. Hopefully, this information will nudge us to make healthier choices and also encourage chains to re-formulate their menu items.

In the meantime, more than half of restaurants are not chains, and therefore, are exempt from calorie labeling.

So just how many calories do these meals contain?

To answer that question, researchers from Tufts University conducted a study on the calorie counts of non-chain restaurants between 2011-2014 in three metro areas (Boston, San Francisco, and Little Rock).

Here’s what they found. Most restaurant meals are super-sized and contain very high calorie counts, similar to those in chain restaurants. Nine out of 10 meals from non-chain restaurants exceeded calorie recommendations for a single meal. The average meal contained 1,200 calories (yikes!), which amounts to more than a half a day’s worth of calories. American, Italian, and Chinese cuisine fared the worst, with meals averaging 1,500 calories.

While we would expect some meals to be high in calories, such as tempura dishes (which are fried), the high calorie counts in other dishes such as chicken teriyaki may come as a bit of a shock to some people. The researchers found that even a Greek salad contained nearly 1,000 calories.

As a long time portion-size researcher, I am not at all surprised. Most meals at both chain and non-chain restaurants are much too big, and therefore, provide far too many calories.

The researchers wrote: “This study extends previous work and indicates that restaurants in general, rather than specific types of restaurants, can facilitate obesity by exposing patrons to portion sizes that induce overeating through established biological mechanisms that are largely outside conscious control.”

Indeed, it would be a great idea to cook at home more often. But if you do want to dine out, here are some simple tips to help you trim down the calories of your favorite meals.

1. Share, share, and share!

This is a great portion-control trick and will help you save calories. Share a main dish with your dinner companion and you will get half the number of calories. To avoid feeling deprived, start with a healthy salad or appetizer.

2. Order an appetizer as your main meal.

You may not want to eat the same thing as your dining companion, so sharing may not be possible. Many restaurants these days offer half portions or appetizer sizes which I promise you is enough food for one. If you are still hungry, you can always order more.

3. Order sauces on the side.

So often, it is the dressings and sauces that cause the calorie counts of your favorite meals to jump. Three simple words — “on the side” — can make a huge difference. Just one tablespoon of oil contains around 120 calories, and many salads contain at least 4 tablespoons of dressing! If you order sauces and dressings on the side, you do still get to enjoy the flavor while using less.

4. Wrap it up.

Leftovers make for a great accessory! Just because your favorite restaurant serves a super-size portion doesn’t mean you have to finish it. My research found that many pasta entrees, for example, contain 3-4 cups pasta! (No wonder people think carbs make us fat.) If you ate half that amount, and wrapped up the rest, you’d probably be satisfied (instead of super stuffed).

5. Order more veggie-based dishes.

In some cases, you can enjoy a big portion without breaking the calorie bank. Veggie based dishes are often the way to go. A generous portion of veggies goes a long way. Not only are veggies high in fiber which signals you to stop eating, but they are so low in calories, that as long as they do not contain too much sauce, you can certainly keep your dish way under 1,000 calories. For example, I’m not worried about the calories in a jumbo plate of spaghetti squash primavera.

I provide additional portion control tricks here.

And I offer smart swaps for your favorite restaurant cuisine here.

We would love to hear some of your favorite tricks to minimize the calories in restaurant portions.

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Add These Foods to Your Diet for a Healthy Heart

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “Add these foods to your diet for healthy heart.”

You can also read it HERE.

ADA stock photos-veggies low res

While the death rate from heart disease has dropped in recent years, it is still the leading cause of death in the U.S. According to the American Heart Association, this year, 915,000 Americans will be told they have heart failure.

February is American Heart Month, and for the good news, there is so much we can do as individuals to reduce our risk of heart disease. Eating a heart-healthy diet, reducing stress, and getting more exercise and sleep can help decrease our risk of getting this disease.

A heart-healthy diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins (fish, legumes) and low in added sugar, saturated fats (margarine, butter, fatty meats), and salt.

As a nutritionist counseling patients on heart-healthy eating, I like to impart positive messages, advising them on foods they CAN eat to promote health. In honor of American Heart Month, here are seven foods to add to your diet.

1. Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a good source of soluble fiber and contains beta-glucans, which may lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar levels. This tasty whole grain may also help with weight control as it contains the winning combination of protein and fiber.

2. Chick peas

Chick peas are legumes also known as garbanzo beans. They contain protein, fiber, and a variety of vitamins and minerals including folate and iron. Chick peas are also good for heart health and may help reduce cholesterol levels. They can be used in many versatile ways including dips (think hummus!), stews, stir fries, and even salads.

3. Tomatoes

I am a huge fan of tomatoes–tomatoes in salads, tomato sauce, tomato soup, you name it. Tomatoes contain vitamins and minerals which are good for the heart including the antioxidants lycopene and vitamin C and the mineral potassium. Tomatoes also contain fiber and are naturally low in sugar and salt. While I suggest topping your pasta with homemade tomato sauce, if you end up buying it, read labels and check the sugar and salt content.

4. Salmon

Salmon along with other fatty fish including sardines contain heart healthy fats know as omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation, lower triglycerides and decrease the risk of plaque in the arteries. No wonder the American Heart Association advises eating fatty fish twice a week. Next time you go out to dinner, swap a steak for a piece of grilled wild salmon for heart health.

5. Cauliflower

Cauliflower, the new “in” vegetable these days, is a cruciferous vegetable and a member of the brassica family alongside broccoli and Brussel sprouts. It is a nutrition powerhouse, chock full of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. It is also an excellent source of the mineral potassium which is good for the heart. And, it’s also very low in calories so you don’t have to worry about eating too much. To cut calories in your favorite side dish, instead of mashed potatoes, try making mashed cauliflower.

6. Almonds

I am a huge fan of nuts and seeds and recommend them for heart health.
Almonds contain protein, the antioxidant vitamin E, and heart-healthy fats. They are also rich in the minerals calcium and magnesium which can help lower blood pressure. Almonds are also very versatile and add great flavor and crunch to yogurt, cereal, and salads. For a great snack on the go, portion out a one-ounce serving (23 almonds) into a small baggie or tin.

7. Olive oil

Olive oil is rich in the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat and has been associated with heart health. It also contains antioxidants, including vitamin E and polyphenols, which protects blood vessels and other components of the heart. Because the calories add up quickly, watch your portion and stick to 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in your favorite salad.

And, in honor of Valentine’s Day, also in February, indulge in a small piece of dark chocolate every now and then. It may even be good for your heart.

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The New Dietary Guidelines Recommend Eating More Fruits and Vegetables, Less Added Sugar and Saturated Fat

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, “The new dietary guidelines recommend eating more fruits and vegetables, less added sugar and saturated fat.”

You can also read it HERE.

dga-2015

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released earlier this month. The guidelines, updated every five years by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are based on the latest research in nutrition science and serve as a basis for federal nutrition policy.

They also help to set the tone for how we should eat. The current guidelines recommend that Americans consume a “healthy eating pattern” consisting of more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and limiting added sugar, salt and saturated fat.

Here are several key take away messages.

1. Focus on healthy eating patterns.

For the first time, the report emphasizes that Americans focus on foods and healthy eating patterns as opposed to individual food groups and nutrients. I commend this as we do not eat individual nutrients in isolation, but rather a diet composed of foods, which forms an eating pattern.

According to the guidelines, a healthy eating pattern consists of a diet with more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy; and less added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat. The guidelines emphasize a variety of vegetables from the different subgroups (think colorful!) and half of all grains should be whole grains including oatmeal, quinoa, and whole grain breads, for example. Sorry Paleo lovers! Dairy and healthy grains are indeed part of a healthy diet.

2. Added sugar

This is the first time the committee made a specific recommendation for limiting added sugar. Too much sugar is linked to obesity and chronic disease and as a nation, we eat too much, with soft drink being a major contributor.

The guidelines recommend a daily intake of 10 percent of calories, which amounts to around 12 teaspoons of sugar, for a 2,000-calorie diet. This translates into just a tad more than a can of soda. Yikes!

We currently consume 22 to 30 teaspoons of added sugar daily, half of which come from soda, juices and other sugary drinks. So, for a first step, I suggest skipping these sugary beverages.

As a nutritionist advising clients, I often get asked about eating fruit. Added sugar is NOT the same as naturally occurring sugar so you can enjoy fruit. All fruit fits into a healthy diet; however, I suggest skipping the juice and eating the whole fruit instead. Fruit is higher in fiber, contains a greater water quantity, and therefore, is lower in calories than the juice. As I say, “While I don’t suggest eating unlimited amounts, no one got fat eating fruit.

3. Saturated fat

Despite some observations that saturated fats are not linked to heart disease, the guidelines advise, like they did in previous editions, to limit saturated fat to no more than 10 percent of calories. Saturated fat is found in red meat, fried foods, butter, and full-fat dairy. The guidelines further recommend that teenaged and adult males should reduce their consumption of protein including meats because of heart disease, some types of cancer, and other health concerns. I think this advice should actually be embraced by the rest of us.

4. Cholesterol

The guidelines dropped its long recommendation that Americans limit their intake of dietary cholesterol from foods such as eggs and shellfish to no more than 300 mg per day. (One egg contains nearly 200 mg cholesterol.) However, the report also states that we should eat as little cholesterol as possible. This advice appears to be confusing. While the cholesterol recommendation is not in the headlines, the report does, indeed, recommend minimizing our consumption and says to limit cholesterol to 100-300 mg/day. So no, you cannot eat an unlimited quantity of eggs.

Also, since many foods high in saturated fats also contain cholesterol, if we reduce our saturated fat intake, this will probably help us lower our dietary cholesterol.

5. Sodium

The guidelines say we should consume no more than 2,300 mg sodium, which is no change since the 2010 edition. The report also advises that certain people include those with hypertension and diabetes — which comprise nearly two-thirds of us — further reduce sodium to 1,500 mg.

2,300 mg sodium translates into just one teaspoon of salt. So we certainly should throw away the salt shaker. We should also limit foods high in sodium including deli meats, breads, soups, and pizza. One great way to limit our salt intake is to eat less processed food and to cook more.

6. Portion control

While the previous edition of the guidelines advised us to “avoid oversize portions,” this edition says “focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount.” Since many restaurant portions are oversize and contain far more calories than most of us need, I do not think that the 2015-2200 guidelines emphasized portion control and calories nearly enough. Especially with obesity still on the rise.

Buried in the report, however, the feds do suggest reducing portions of sugar-sweetened beverages and decreasing portion sizes of grain-based and dairy desserts and sweet snacks.

So here’s my advice: With the exception of fruits and veggies, watch your portion size, and don’t eat and drink too much.

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6 reasons to include pulses in your diet

 

LegumesJamesPanARS

The United Nations (UN) declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses (IYP).  Pulses are comprised of dry peas, beans, lentils, and legumes and are protein-packed and sustainable vegetables.  I am a huge fan of pulses and regularly include them in my diet.

Below are some of the many benefits of eating pulses.

 

  1. Pulses are super-nutritious.

Pulses are packed with good nutrition. They are an excellent source of dietary fiber and contain a variety of vitamins and minerals including the B vitamin folate and the minerals potassium, magnesium, iron, and zinc.

 

  1. Pulses are a vegetarian source of protein.

Pulses are a terrific protein choice if you are a vegetarian or just interested in cutting back on meat and other animal proteins. A ½ cup serving contains 9 grams of protein. Unlike meat, pulses are low in fats, and as discussed above, are also packed with vitamins and minerals.

 

  1. Pulses may prevent disease.

Pulses are beneficial for disease prevention. They may reduce risk factors for heart disease by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. They have also been shown to improve blood sugar thereby reducing the risk for diabetes.

 

  1. Pulses may help you lose weight.

Pulses contain a blend of protein and fiber which make them very filling and, therefore, a great choice if you are watching your weight. People who eat diets high in fiber tend to be less hungry than those who eat low-fiber foods and also eat fewer calories over the course of the day.

 

  1. Pulses are sustainable plants and good for the environment.

Pulses have a positive impact on the environment. They use just one-tenth of the water of other proteins. Pulses also support a healthy farm system and enrich the soil by leaving behind nutrients such as nitrogen and beneficial microbes for the next crop.

 

  1. Pulses are versatile, affordable, and taste great.

Adding pulses to your diet is simple. You can enjoy a hearty lentil soup on a cold day, add chickpeas or hummus to your salad, or make a delicious three bean stew.

 

Ready to incorporate more pulses into your diet? I invite you to visit pulsepledge.com to take a 10-week challenge and get access to recipes, meal plans and other resources.

 

This post was sponsored by USA Pulses and Pulses of Canada.

Photo courtesy of James Pan, ARS.

 

 

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