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Feb. 26

Nutrition panel urges American’s to eat green, limit sugar, drink coffee and more

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post on the new report from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC):  Nutrition Panel urges American’s to eat green , limit sugar, drink coffee and more.

You can also read it HERE.

new report by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which convenes every five years and advises the federal government on the official dietary guidelines, calls for some changes to the American diet.

The purpose of the Advisory Report is to inform the government on the scientific evidence related to diet and nutrition. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) jointly write the Dietary Guidelines, which are due out later this year.

According to the DGAC:

… about half of all American adults — 117 million individuals — have one or more preventable, chronic diseases, and about two-thirds of U.S. adults — nearly 155 million individuals — are overweight or obese … Poor dietary patterns, over consumption of calories, and physical inactivity directly contribute to these disorders.

Americans eat too much sugar, saturated fat, and salt. We don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and fish.

The report further states that:

… individual nutrition and physical activity behaviors and other health-related lifestyle behaviors are strongly influenced by personal, social, organizational, and environmental contexts and systems. Positive changes in individual diet and physical activity behaviors, and in the environmental contexts and systems that affect them, could substantially improve health outcomes.

The report by the committee eased certain restrictions (those for cholesterol, total fat, and coffee) and stressed limits for other restrictions (such as those for added sugar and saturated fat).

Rather than obsess over individual nutrients, the committee urges Americans to strive for a healthy dietary pattern: a diet with more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, seafood, and low- or non-fat dairy, and less red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, and refined grains.

According to Dr. Marion Nestle, my NYU colleague, author, and nutrition policy expert: “The DGAC has produced an honest, straightforward, courageous report thoroughly based on research and at long last without mincing words.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer advocacy group in Washington, D.C., also supports the report and issued the following statement:

The report of the DGAC is mostly unchanged from the reports of 2010 and years past, and in the ways it differs, the changes are mostly for the better. Contrary to some media accounts, the pendulum is not swinging wildly back and forth on most of these scientific questions; the basic advice to eat less saturated fat, sugar, and salt, and to eat more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, is largely the same.

Here are some of the committee’s key recommendations.

SUSTAINABILITY

The committee, for the first time, urges American’s to eat green.

The report recommends that the government consider the environment — along with their heart, of course — when advising Americans about what they should eat.

The panel wrote “The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.”

This move could have a significant impact on how much meat people eat. Not surprisingly, the meat industry called the report “flawed” and “nonsensical.”

ADDED SUGAR

The committee stressed that Americans consume too much added sugar and recommended a daily intake of 10 percent of calories, which amounts to around 12 teaspoons for a 2,000-calorie diet. To put this in perspective, “12 teaspoons of sugar” is just a tad more than a can of soda. Americans currently consume 22 to 30 teaspoons of added sugar daily, half of which come from soda, juices and other sugary drinks. This is why the report recommends that Americans drink water instead of sugary beverages such as soda.

Previous dietary guidelines have included warnings about eating too much added sugar, but this is the first time the committee made a specific recommendation for limiting sugar. Indeed, too much sugar is linked to obesity and chronic disease.

The CSPI welcomed the DGAC suggestions to consume less sugar along with the report’s blunt advice to drink fewer sugary drinks. They said, “The strong recommendations on added sugars are important and have far-reaching policy implications.”

I also applaud the recommendation for limiting added sugar along with environmental and policy changes like those suggested by the committee. As I toldFood Navigator, “The DGAC report supports the possibility of soda taxes as an incentive to promote purchasing healthier beverages, policy changes for SNAP…and limiting food marketing to kids, all steps in the right direction to promote a healthier food environment.”

The American Beverage Association (ABA), however, issued a different sentiment on restricting sugar and sugary drinks. According to Food Navigator, the ABA said: “Numerous studies have shown that restricting one food or food group is not the best approach for achieving calorie balance and maintain a healthy weight.”

Indeed, drinking less soda would be bad for their business.

FAT

The Committee is recommending that we limit saturated fat to no more than 10 percent of total calories. Saturated fat may promote heart disease by elevating blood cholesterol levels. Americans are urged to eat unsaturated fat — found in nuts, fatty fish, olive and vegetable oil — instead of saturated fat, found in red meat, cheese, butter, coconut, and palm kernel oil. While many celebrities and Atkins devotee’s heavily promote both coconut and red meat, the committee report advocates the contrary.

The DGAC, however, dropped a suggestion from previous guidelines to restrict total fat intake to no more than 35 percent of daily total calories. While previous editions of the Dietary Guidelines have advised Americans to eat a low-fat diet, the committee suggests that reducing total fat intake does not appear to decrease our risk for heart disease. Rather, replacing saturated fat with refined carbohydrates — including low-fat cookies and cakes — increases our disease risk.

CHOLESTEROL

The committee 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.) The committee cites research showing that cholesterol from the diet has little or no effect on blood cholesterol levels for most people.

Dr. Nestle, however, wrote a thought-provoking blog post raising several important points on the research. She states, “I’m wondering if research sponsored by the egg industry could have anything to do with this.” Furthermore, she writes, “if the Advisory Committee is dropping the cholesterol recommendation, could it be because so many people are taking statins that dietary cholesterol doesn’t appear to matter so much anymore?” These are certainly points to consider.

COFFEE

If you enjoy several cups of coffee, you are in luck. The committee advised that drinking 3-5 cups of coffee per day (or up to 400 mg of caffeine) is okay. However, I suggest you watch the size of your mug to partake healthfully in those “five cups of coffee.” As I told Food Navigator, “3-5 cups translates into 2-3 Starbucks-sized cups … I worry that the public may think they can drink more coffee than the guidelines really suggest. Education on serving size is necessary here…”

Finally, will the feds accept these recommendations, and how will we implement them?

The DGAC report states:

It will take concerted, bold actions on the part of individuals, families, communities, industry, and government to achieve and maintain the healthy diet patterns and the levels of physical activity needed to promote the health of the U.S. population. These actions will require a paradigm shift to an environment in which population health is a national priority and where individuals and organizations, private business, and communities work together to achieve a population-wide “culture of health” in which healthy lifestyle choices are easy, accessible, affordable, and normative — both at home and away from home.

According to Dr. Nestle, a former member of the DGAC:

Whether the agencies — USDA and HHS — will accept its recommendations remains to be seen. Congress has already weighed in and said that the Dietary Guidelines cannot consider sustainability in making dietary advice. Much will depend on the response to the call for public comments.

Stay tuned.

We would love to hear our thoughts on the DGAC report. And you can tell the gov’t what you think by weighing in here.

Follow Dr. Lisa Young on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drlisayoung

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Feb. 12

Eat your heart out with these healthy tips.

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post, Eat your heart out with these 11 healthy tips.

You can also read it HERE.

February is American Heart month sponsored by The American Heart Association. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States; 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease.

For some good news, however, heart disease can often be prevented by making healthy food and lifestyle choices. As a nutritionist, I often work with clients to help them develop a healthy diet and lifestyle to prevent heart disease.

Below are 11 simple — and healthy — tips for heart health.

1. Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal.

Oatmeal not only tastes yummy but it is also good for the heart as it is rich in soluble fiber, shown to reduce cholesterol levels. Beta glucans, the kind fiber in oatmeal, may be particularly beneficial for heart health and for weight control. Oatmeal also contains magnesium and potassium, minerals which contribute to a healthy heartbeat.

2. Watch your portion by using a smaller bowl and spoon.

A simple way to practice portion control is to use smaller plates; we tend to eat less when we use smaller plates and bowls. And… use a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon — you will probably eat even less.

3. Top your oatmeal with sliced banana.

Bananas are rich in vitamins and minerals, in particular potassium, which help promote heart health. They are also relatively low in calories and high in fiber to help keep your weight at bay.

4. Include a bean soup for lunch.

Beans contain soluble fiber which help lower cholesterol. Lentil and split pea soup are great choices. They are also filling and help keep you satisfied.

5. Snack on a handful of mixed nuts.

Nuts contain heart-healthy unsaturated fats and have been shown to reduce heart deaths in the elderly. Nuts also help to control weight. The key is to snack on nuts instead of chips, and practice portion control. Aim for approximately ¼ cup or one layer of your palm.

6. Start your dinner with a colorful salad.

Starting your meal with a colorful salad is a great way to boost heart healthy nutrients in your diet. Vegetable salads are full of fiber, vitamins and minerals, and low in calories. The different colors provide different nutrients so throw in dark greens which are high in folate, tomatoes high in lycopene and yellow peppers which are full of vitamin C.

7. Dress it with olive oil.

Olive oil contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Best to use an olive oil based dressing over creamy varieties such as blue cheese. However, it’s important not to over pour; aim for 1-2 tablespoons, or a shot glass worth.

8. Cook dinner at home.

People who cook dinner at home tend to eat healthier and take in fewer calories. No surprise. Restaurant portions are huge and full of all sorts of hidden ingredients which are loaded with calories.

9. Enjoy grilled salmon or arctic char as your main course.

Fatty fish contain omega-3 fatty acids which are known to be good for the heart. Grill your fish with your favorite spices and a drizzle of olive oil.

10. Have cauliflower as a side dish.

Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, a cousin to broccoli and Brussels sprouts, high in fiber and low in calories. It is an excellent, low-calorie source of potassium. One cup of chopped raw cauliflower contains 320 mg in only 27 calories

11. Enjoy a small piece of dark chocolate for dessert.

Saving the best for last, research found that people who eat dark chocolate have lower rates of heart disease than people who do not. Chocolate contains flavonols, phytochemicals which may reduce heart disease risk. However, remember that amounts count and aim for one small square.

And, finally, because no one got heart disease from a deficiency of chocolate, if you are not a chocolate lover, no need to start indulging. Finishing off your meal with fresh fruit will do just fine.

We would love to hear your favorite heart-healthy foods.

Follow Dr. Lisa Young on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drlisayoung

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Feb. 10

Kosher Food and Wine Experience 2015 with a healthy twist

As I was getting ready to attend the 9th annual Kosher Food and Wine Experience (KFWE 15) held this year at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City, I received an article with the headlines “Cheers! Study says red wine may help burn fat.” This is good news, as I was about to embark on a kosher wine and food fest, one of the largest gatherings offering a sampling of the latest in kosher fare. With 2400 attendees this year, KFWE 2015 has become the destination event for kosher wine and food lovers.

The event is produced by the Royal Wine Corporation the leading producer, importer and distributor of kosher wines and spirits in the world.

Attending KFWE is not a time to be watching calories, or worrying about health. After all, it is just one night.  As a nutritionist, however, I am always paying attention to the latest in healthy food and nutrition trends.

If you were hoping that drinking wine does, indeed, burn fat, there were many varieties of wine to choose from. KFWE 2015 showcased some of the best kosher wines from all over the world, with several labels premiering at the show. Baron Herzog, Bartenura, Weinstock, Joseph Zakon, Jeunesse, Pacifica, Harkham, Rashi, Alfasi, and Ovadia were just some of the selections featured. My favorite: Moscato from Bartenura.

KFWE 2015 also featured a large selection of food from top kosher restaurants, gourmet food companies, and caterers. The selections included traditional Jewish cuisine—including cholent, potato kugel, chopped liver and other choices you would likely see at a Shabbos Kiddush—along with lots of steakhouse fare, French, Mexican, and Asian cuisine.

My favorite healthy selections included a variety of  dishes from Pomegranate: the purple cabbage and apples salad, winter squash quinoa salad, sunrise salad, and honey chamomile roasted root vegetables; and the healthy assortment from Basil including the chilled cantaloupe soup, the arctic char, and the black cod ceviche.

The event also featured a large variety of decadent desserts and specialty coffees. The peanut butter pareve ice cream from Mr. Penguin along with the halvah and assortment of caramelized nuts from The Nuttery were among my favorites.

If you had no room left for dessert, or you happened to be trying to practice portion control, you could fetch a “to go” bag from Shlomy’s Heimeshe bakery and pack up your favorite cookies for another day.

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Jan. 22

5 tips for building a healthy salad

Below is my blog for Huffington Post “5 tips for building a healthy salad.”

You can also read it HERE.

As a nutritionist, I am a huge fan of salads. After all, colorful veggies are great — chock full of nutrients without too many calories. However, just because you order a salad when you go out, (while thinking you are being virtuous), does not necessarily mean that it is good for your waistline. The mantra “I’ll just have a salad” can be a dieter’s dream or a diet disaster depending on what goes into that salad.

For example, the chicken Caesar salad at The Cheesecake Factory contains a whopping 1,510 calories. That is the number of calories that certain people should eat in an entire day. It contains globs of dressings, croutons, and more. And the Quesadilla Explosion Salad at Chili’s contains 1,430 calories. Many sandwiches contain far fewer calories. Who would have guessed?

So next time you order a salad, get a custom blend if possible, and follow these tips. You’ll save lots of calories while getting plenty of nutrients.

1. Choose an assortment of deep greens.

Romaine lettuce, kale, and spinach are great choices, high in fiber, folate, and vitamin C. Skip the iceberg lettuce, which is mostly water, and not nearly as many nutrients as the deeper greens.

2. Add a mix of colorful non-starchy vegetables.

Adding an assortment of colorful vegetables are your best option, as the different colors impart different nutrients. Throw in some orange veggies such as carrots which are rich in contain beta carotene and add tomatoes which contain lycopene. Other great options are vitamin C-rich yellow and red peppers, broccoli, cucumbers, and mushrooms. You get the idea. It’s okay to throw in the kitchen sink, as they say.

3. Add a healthy protein.

Add grilled salmon, chicken breast, canned tuna, or sliced turkey as a healthy protein option. Aim for around 4 ounces (a little larger than your palm). Tofu or tempeh makes for a great vegan option. Protein is filling and also helps to stabilize blood sugar. Skip the fried chicken, fried fish, and fatty deli meats such as pastrami. And go easy on the cheese.

4. Toss in your favorite beans or legumes.

If you have the urge, toss in some beans or legumes for flavor and added fiber. Chick peas, black beans, kidney beans or lentils are great options. Aim for around 1/2 cup (looks like a cupped hand.) Beans and legumes will add more substance to the salad along with fiber and nutrients. And they will certainly keep you full. But best to skip the re-fried beans.

5. Go easy on the dressing.

Salad dressing is high in calories and fat, and we usually get way too much dressing when we order a salad straight off the menu without specifying “light on dressing” or “on the side.” It is common for a restaurant salad to contain at least a quarter of cup, or 4 tablespoons of dressing. I suggest asking for dressing on the side, and then you can control how much you add. It’s also important to watch your portion when you are home, as a mere tablespoon of oil (while containing heart-healthy fat) contains over 100 calories. When choosing a dressing, best to aim for non-creamy dressings such as balsamic vinaigrette, Italian, or use olive oil and vinegar along with your favorite spices. Skip the ranch, Caesar, and blue cheese. When eating at home, try making your own dressing with olive oil, mustard, vinegar, and fresh lemon. Or choose a low-cal dressing. Aim for 1-2 tablespoons (or a shot glass worth) of dressing.

We would love to hear your favorite salad tips and recipes.

Follow Dr. Lisa Young on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drlisayoung

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Jan. 7

10 diet tweaks for a healthier 2015

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “10 diet tweaks for a healthier 2015.”

You can also read it HERE.

Welcome to 2015! As a nutritionist and health advocate, I am not a fan of rigid diets or New Year’s resolutions that you cannot keep. Unmet goals and resolutions just lead to frustration and feelings of failure. Instead, I am a fan of small actionable changes that you can incorporate into your day-to-day life.

What I have found in my work with private clients is that simple action-oriented steps or tweaks to your daily routine can be kept throughout the year, ultimately yielding positive results, whether it be losing weight, eating healthier, or learning to cook.

Here are some smart and simple diet tweaks that you can incorporate into your everyday routine to lead you to a healthier 2015.

1. Shop smart.

You will, likely, eat what you bring into your house. Trust me on this one. With years of experience helping clients lose weight, one of the most effective tools to eating healthier is to surround yourself with healthy food. Do not go food shopping on an empty stomach (as you will be tempted by unhealthy choices) and shop the perimeter of the supermarket first, stocking up on fresh fruits, veggies, and other real foods. Keep healthy foods around the house for you and your family that you can easily grab and eat: baby carrots, assorted berries, apples, part skim cheese, hummus, nut butters, and whole grain crackers.

2. Choose wisely.

When deciding what to eat, choose healthy food choices. Try to include protein at each meal. Healthy choices include fish, chicken or turkey breast, beans and legumes, eggs, and low-fat dairy. No need to eliminate grains and starches. Instead, pick the healthier ones: whole grains such as whole wheat breads, quinoa, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and oatmeal to name a few.

3. Be wise about portion size.

Aim for approximately 4 ounces fish or poultry (a little larger than deck of cards or your palm). As for healthy starch, stick with no more than a cup (your fist) as a side dish. Watching your portion size is by far the best way to watch calories without having to actually count them.

4. Fill up on lots of colorful fruits and vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and nutrients and low in calories. Include tossed salads, cooked veggies, and veggie-based soups to round out your selections. And don’t skimp on fruits. Aim for around 2 cups fresh fruits daily and choose the whole fruit over the juice.

5. Cook more.

If you rarely eat at home, I suggest you try it. Home-cooked food tends to be healthier than store bought food, containing fewer calories and less salt and sugar. If you don’t know how to cook, take a cooking class or experiment with your mom’s favorite recipe.

6. Don’t skip meals.

Eating meals at regular intervals prevents you from getting overly hungry that you would just eat anything. Best to start your day with a healthy breakfast. If you are not a morning person, no need to eat a huge breakfast but do include something light, at least mid-morning. Fruit and a yogurt is a good choice. Eat a healthy lunch and dinner including vegetables/fruits, lean protein, and healthy starch.

7. Snack wisely.

Snack on whole food instead of processed foods. A piece of fruit, a small bag of nuts, whole grain crackers and cheese, or hummus and carrots are all god choices. Skip the chips and candy.

8. Hydrate healthfully.

Don’t forget to drink your water. Flavor your water with lemon, lime, or a slice of cucumber. Flavored seltzer is also a great option. Skip the soda or other sugar sweetened beverages full of empty calories and devoid of nutrients.

9. Dine out wisely.

Do not arrive at a restaurant famished. Skip the bread basket and start with a salad or a vegetable based soup such as minestrone. Choose grilled fish, chicken, or tofu and include lots of fresh vegetables. Choose dishes sautéed or steamed as opposed to fried. Choose fresh fruit for dessert, or for a special treat, share dessert with your dinner companion.

10. Enjoy!

Enjoy your food, enjoy the company you eat with, and savor each bite.

Here’s to a healthy 2015 with joy, peace, and contentment.

We would love to hear your healthy tips.

Follow Dr. Lisa Young on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drlisayoung

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Dec. 22

Holiday tips to keep you healthy this season

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post, “7 holiday tips to keep you healthy this season.”

You can also read it HERE.

The weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year’s are filled with lots of food festivities and socializing. Whether it’s dining out, going to a holiday party, or seeing treats everywhere, from the office to the candy jar at your favorite store, the holiday season really puts our willpower to the test. However, with some planning, and simple tips, there is no reason why you can’t come out healthier — and maybe even a few pounds thinner — than you were before.

Here are some tips that I’ve successfully used with clients in my nutrition counseling practice. Even if you just incorporate a few of them into your daily routine, you are taking a step in the right direction, and by the new year, these small steps may develop into full-fledged habits.

1. Eat structured meals.

Skipping meals often leads to overeating. I’ve had many clients rationalize that they can nibble on treats because they skipped lunch. I guarantee that you will probably end up eating far more calories in these so called “treats.” Skipping meals also leaves you hungry, so you are often inclined to eat just about anything you can get your hands on when you arrive at a holiday party. I suggest eating well-balanced meals with some protein and fiber to help keep your blood sugar steady. Yogurt with fruit in the morning and a salad with grilled chicken or beans for lunch can certainly sustain you and also leave some room in your tummy for your favorite treat here or there.

2. Pack a healthy snack.

This is the season for running around, shopping, and going all morning or afternoon without much of a break. You may be hungry before your evening festivities. To avoid making the wrong choices when you get to a holiday event, pack a healthy snack before you head out for the afternoon. A piece of fruit and string cheese, a yogurt with an apple, or a single-serving of nuts make great choices to keep your hunger at bay.

3. Indulge in favorite treats sparingly and watch your portions.

This is not the time to totally ban your favorite holiday treats. In fact, I have never been a fan of entirely omitting your favorite foods, unless you have no idea how to portion control them. The important message is to choose a treat you love and savor it. For example, if you are at a holiday dessert buffet, do a lap around to check out the selections, and pick a reasonable portion of the one dessert you enjoy most. No need to skip starches entirely either; a cup of brown rice, quinoa, or butternut squash can certainly fit into a well-planned diet.

4. Stay hydrated.

Drinking enough water will keep you hydrated. So often, we think we are hungry, when we really are just thirsty. When I say stay hydrated, I recommend water or seltzer or herb tea. Fruits and veggies with high water content also count toward fluid. However, skip the soda, and go easy on alcohol, which will just dehydrate you even more. As I previously blogged on HuffPost, develop the healthy habit of limiting liquid calories.

5. Include plenty of fruits and veggies.

Incorporating my two favorite food groups into your eating routine will enable you to get nutrients to keep you healthy (vitamin C, beta carotene, and potassium) and fiber which will help you to feel full. Plus, fruits and veggies do not have too many calories. And what I like best is: If you eat more fruits and veggies, you may just end up eating less of the more fattening treats.

6. Stick to your exercise routine.

I know you are busy at this time of year. Keeping to your exercise regimen, however, will help you keep your weight in check, and may even prompt you to make healthier food choices. Center yourself with a yoga class to help you be more mindful or grab in a morning run which doesn’t take too much time out of your day.

7. Don’t fret.

If you overate today, don’t fret about it. Tomorrow is a new day, and get back on track without calling yourself “bad.” After all, food should never define us as people. Also, no one gained 20 pounds overnight. Weight gain occurs from a steady accumulation of overeating. So if you ate too much today, eat a little less tomorrow, and get back on track.

We would love to hear your healthy holiday tips. Happy holidays!

Follow Dr. Lisa Young on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drlisayoung

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Dec. 15

Calorie counts on menu boards may help us eat less

Below is my latest blog post “Calorie counts on menu boards may help us eat less.”

You can also read it on Huffington Post by clicking HERE.

After much anticipation, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally announced its final regulations requiring food establishments with 20 or more locations, including restaurants, fast-food chains, movie theaters, and pizza places, to state the number of calories in their menu items. And those calories will be visible; the font size of the calorie counts must be, at least, the same size as the food item name and/or price.

The regulations came out of a 2010 provision of Obamacare. Americans spend nearly half their food budget on foods eaten away from home, and these foods make up nearly a third of the calories consumed. We ought to know how many calories are in these foods.

New York City, California, Vermont, many New York State counties, Philadelphia, King County (WA), and others have already implemented calorie labeling policies. And a handful of restaurants, such as McDonald’s, Au Bon Pain, and Panera already post calories on menu boards nationally.

Next year when these rules are set to take effect nationally, if you go to a movie theater, you will see how many calories are in your oversize jug of soda and a bucket of popcorn, both large enough to feed an entire family. I hope that after seeing this information, you will consider skipping these treats or sharing them.

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in the press release: “Making calorie information available on chain restaurant menus and vending machines is an important step for public health that will help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families.”

Will posting calories actually help us make better choices and eat less?

While the evidence is mixed, I remain optimistic and so do other nutrition policy experts.

New York City has required chain eating establishments to post calorie counts on menu boards since 2006. As a New York City resident, I have been able to see some of the results. I recall seeing one of my favorite Starbucks treats, the marshmallow dream bar, originally contain around 400 calories when posting calories first went into effect. Today, at my local Starbucks, the treat weighs in at 240 calories.

I hope that requiring eating establishments to post calories will encourage companies to make their products smaller and reformulate them to contain less fat, sugar, and ultimately fewer calories.

Some companies, in addition to Starbucks, are already marketing healthier choices, perhaps, at least in part, as a result of calorie labeling, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nutrition advocacy group in Washington D.C. Several popular chains have introduced smaller portions on their menus, such as: California Pizza Kitchen’s “Small Cravings,” The Cheesecake Factory’s “Small Plates & Snacks,” and T.G.I. Friday’s “Right Portion, Right Price.” Other eating establishments cut calories from some of its menu items. The chain Cosi, for example, introduced a new “Lighten Up! Menu,” featuring lower-calorie versions of menu items.

And if we have absolutely no idea how many calories our favorite foods contain, we sure will know when calorie counts are posted at our favorite eating chains nationwide.

Marion Nestle , my NYU colleague, author, and nutrition policy expert says “Calorie counts work for people who look at them and understand what they mean. They certainly work for me. If I see that a slice of pizza is 750 calories (not impossible), I don’t buy it. That’s more than a third of what I can eat in a day. Everyone is always saying that education is the first line of intervention in obesity and that people have to take personal responsibility for what they eat. Calorie labeling ought to help with that.”

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at CSPI, issued a similar sentiment. She told me that “Menu labeling will allow people to make their own choices about what and how much to eat. It also provides an incentive for restaurants to improve their menus and add items lower in calories. Unfortunately, most restaurants’ regular and children’s menus are dominated by high calorie choices that are hard to fit into a healthy diet, especially given how much most people eat out these days.”

It is my hope that when adopted nationwide, requiring chain eating establishments to post calorie counts of our favorite foods will help us make better food choices and order smaller sizes while also encouraging these establishments to market healthier options with fewer calories. And, we can do as Dr. Nestle does: don’t buy foods that comprise a third of our daily calorie budget. These are certainly steps in the right direction to help reverse the obesity epidemic.

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Nov. 27

Diet mistakes not to make on Thanksgiving

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “5 common diet mistakes not to make on Thanksgiving.”

You can also read it HERE.

‘Tis the season for overeating. This is the time of year that many of us give up healthy eating and tend to overindulge. However, with some smart planning and helpful tricks, the holiday season can be a time to enjoy special foods in moderation while still eating healthfully and not gaining weight.

Having spent the greater part of my career advising clients on weight loss, I have come up with common mistakes people make on the holidays that can derail their diets. Here are five common diet mistakes not to make this Thanksgiving.

1. Going hungry and skipping breakfast and lunch.

Many people skip early meals on the day of Thanksgiving in an attempt to “save up” calories and use them later. My advice: Don’t do it! You just may end up eating more. One trick to help keep your eating in check at the Thanksgiving meal is not to go hungry early in the day. It is OK to eat lightly, but I suggest you include some protein and fiber earlier in the day. Enjoy a yogurt with fruit or eggs and a slice whole wheat toast for breakfast and perhaps a salad with some kind of protein at lunch (beans, legumes, fish, chicken, hummus). Eating something before you get to the party will prevent you from being famished when you arrive at your guests’ house. It will be easier for you to pass up the high caloric appetizers, many of which you probably do not even like.

2. Wearing loose-fitting clothes

One sure way to avoid overeating is to wear form fitting clothes. When you wear loose clothes, you may not register that you are full, making it easier to overeat. Wear pants with a belt, a form fitting skirt, or your snug skinny jeans. These clothes will signal that you’ve had enough.

3. Treating Thanksgiving like your Last Supper

Thanksgiving is just one meal and I suggest that you not treat it like The Last Supper. Interact with the company, eat slowly, and savor holiday treats. I suggest that you enjoy your favorite foods in moderation, but I do think you need to exhibit some kind of portion control. While it is okay to fill up on salads, veggies, and turkey without meticulously worrying about amounts so much, I do suggest that you watch your portion of starch and do not eat every type of food available. Choose between the stuffing, sweet potatoes, and rice, and try to eat a portion that is around 1/2-1 cup (no larger than your fist), and making up no more than 1/4 of your plate. You can always get more turkey and salad if you are still hungry, and it’s best to save room for your favorite dessert.

4. Starting a diet and banning all treats

The holiday season is NOT a time to start a diet and to ban all of your favorite foods. While I do suggest that you avoid your trigger foods — foods that you tend to eat too much of — it is not a time to ban all foods, especially your favorite holiday treats. As a nutritionist, I think it is perfectly ok to have one portion of your favorite starch — approximately a half cup portion of rice ,stuffing, or sweet potato; and one small piece of your favorite pie. Skipping these foods entirely, may end up causing you to feel deprived which can end up leading to overeating later.

5. Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach

While it is unrealistic to say that you will not drink at all on Thanksgiving, I suggest that you choose to enjoy a glass of wine or your favorite cocktail with the meal. Drinking alcohol tends to decrease your inhibitions and if you drink early on, you may end up overeating and having several drinks. Looking forward to a drink with dinner is the best way to avoid eating too much.

We would love to hear your common Thanksgiving mistakes and some tricks that have kept your weight in check.

Wishing you a happy — and healthy — holiday season!

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Nov. 19

Healthy snacks to keep your hunger at bay

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post ” Healthy snacks to keep your hunger at bay.”

You can also read it HERE.

For the German translation, click HERE.

As a nutritionist counseling clients on healthy eating and weight loss, I am often asked about how to choose a healthy snack. Let’s face it: Most of us don’t just eat three meals a day without any snacks. Snacking can be a good practice if we make healthy choices. Snacking can be a great way to boost our intake of fruits and vegetables, and nutrients such as fiber, which so many of us fall short on. Here are a few tips for choosing a healthy snack: eat real food, keep it portion-controlled (and calorie-controlled), aim for a fruit or veggie serving, and try to get some protein or fiber in your snack to help you feel full and stabilize blood sugar.

Here are some healthy choices to eat if you get a snack attack.

1. Hummus and veggies

Hummus and vegetables makes for a great snack. Here is a good chance to get a dose of colorful vegetables including carrots, red and yellow peppers. All veggies are great choices. Hummus contains protein which will help keep you feel full. Aim for around a quarter cup serving of hummus and as many fresh veggies as you like.

2. Greek yogurt with fresh berries

Greek yogurt makes for a great snack as it is a good source calcium and protein. Choose the low-fat varieties which makes this tasty snack relatively low in calories. Top it with your favorite berries for a healthy dose of antioxidants and fiber.

3. Vegetable/bean soup

Soups make for a great snack. Eating soup is a great way to pack in several servings of vegetables. Soup is filling and takes a while to eat, and because most of us eat soup sitting down, we eat it mindfully. Great choices are veggie based soups such as minestrone, white bean, and lentil soup. One caveat: If you are eating it out, be sure to check sodium content, as many soups contain too much.

4. Part-skim cheese and whole grain crackers

Cheese and crackers can make for a healthy snack. The cheese contains protein and calcium while the whole grain crackers contain fiber which will help us stay full. A healthy portion is around an ounce of each. An ounce of cheese is one slice or if it is cubed, looks like four dice. Check the nutrition facts label on the crackers to see how many crackers constitute a one-ounce serving and be sure that the first ingredient is a whole grain (such as whole wheat, rye, or oats.)

5. Sliced apple with almond butter.

Apples make for a great snack — high in fiber and low in calories. Add a schmear of almond butter (approximately 1 tablespoon) for a serving of good fat and fiber which will keep you full and help keep your hunger at bay.

6. Mixed nuts and (low-sodium) vegetable juice

This is a great snack if you are on the run. Low-sodium vegetable juice (such as V8) is filling and chock full of nutrients such as potassium and vitamin C. Nuts contain healthy fats along with some protein and fiber; just be sure to keep your portion to 1/4 cup serving or one layer of your palm. A quarter cup serving also looks like a golfball.

7. Frozen banana and peanut butter

This is a yummy snack to keep in your freezer if you are craving a frozen treat. Peel a banana and spread it with peanut butter (no more than 1 tablespoon), place it in a baggie, and freeze. The banana contains fiber and potassium, and the peanut butter contains a serving of heart-healthy fats.

8. Air-popped popcorn

The great news about popcorn is that it is a whole grain, and unlike pretzels and chips, where a serving is one cup or less, a serving of popcorn is 3 cups. To avoid added fat and calories, stick to air popped popcorn. And feel free to drizzle it with parmesan cheese, garlic, or your favorite spice.

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Nov. 3

Healthy habits to adopt now

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post “8 healthy habits to adopt now.”

You can read it HERE.

You can also read it in Portuguese at the Brasil Post HERE.

Eating healthy does not have to be difficult. In fact, if you develop a routine of adopting positive healthy practices, which you engage in regularly, eating healthfully can become second nature. Consider brushing your teeth. Most of us regularly brush our teeth so the practice has become easy to sustain on a regular basis. That is the goal of developing healthy eating habits. I teach clients to engage in a few practices regularly until they become second nature, and it feels unnatural not to do them.

As most of you know, I am not a fan of diets. The reason is that we follow a certain diet for a while, and then we fall off the wagon as we are unable to sustain it, and so often, end up discouraged. Better to adopt a healthy lifestyle you can sustain for the long haul.

One key, however, in adopting healthy habits is to know yourself. As bestselling author of the upcoming book on habits, Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin says, “I’ve realized that the secret to good habits — for nutrition, or anything else — is to know yourself. For instance, some people do better when they give up a temptation all together, others when they indulge in moderation … You have to think about what works for you.”

Here are eight simple healthy habits which will help you to lead a healthier lifestyle.

1. Stock up on healthy foods.

We tend to eat what we buy and keep around the house. It is, therefore so important to stock up on healthy foods. Keep fresh fruit and veggies handy which you can grab and eat easily — baby carrots, apples, pears, berries. Buy whole grains instead of white bread products — oatmeal, brown rice, and whole wheat breads. Keep healthy protein options around — nuts and seeds, fresh turkey breast, and eggs. Try not to keep soda, cookies, and sugary cereals around.

2. Eat sitting down.

When you eat meals while you are sitting down, you tend to eat more slowly, enjoy what you are eating, and may even end up eating less. When you eat standing, you often do not even realize that you are eating. If you want a scoop of ice cream, instead of eating straight from the pint (and wolfing down the whole pint), place a portion in a bowl, sit down, and enjoy it. It’s also great to eat with others and enjoy the social experience of dining.

3. Drink water instead of liquid calories.

Limiting liquid calories — soda, sweetened drinks, fruit juice — is one of the simplest ways to cut out calories and sugar. Sweetened drinks like soda provide no nutritional value and are just empty calories. Diet sodas also provide no nutritional value, taste too sweet, and do not help most of us lose weight. So why even bother drinking them? Instead, get into the habit of opting for water or flavored seltzers. They will keep you hydrated without providing any calories. Try drinking a glass of water before eating each meal or snack, and you may just end up eating less.

4. Snack on fruit instead of chips.

It really is pretty easy to eat fruit if you keep it handy. Opt for a variety of fresh fruit in season, and plan for it. So often, we grab a bag of chips because it is convenient. Choosing fruit can also be convenient, if we set it up that way. The trick is to either know where to get fruit if you are out, or to stock it in your fridge, and bring it along if you are going to be out all day. Throw an apple in your bag on your way to work; this will help to ensure that you eat it if you need a mid-morning snack. Also choose a fruit with breakfast. Throw a handful of berries into your yogurt or oatmeal or have a piece of melon when in season. Fruit also makes a great after dinner snack.

5. Eat a colorful salad — or veggies — each day.

Eating salads are a great way to get a variety of nutrients without too many calories. (Of course, that means” dressing on the side.”) The different colors of vegetables impart different nutrients, so it’s best to choose a colorful variety. And fill up on what you like — you’ve got enough to choose from. Several top picks include romaine lettuce, kale or spinach topped with a colorful assortment of tomatoes, carrots, red peppers, beets, mushrooms, or cucumbers. If you don’t love salads or are not in the mood, another way to get your veggies is to have a vegetable-based soup or to eat steamed or sautéed dressing. You will still get so many of the healthy nutrients including antioxidant vitamins A and C, potassium, fiber, and more.

6. Chew your food well.

When we chew our food and pay attention to what we are eating, we eat more slowly, and usually end up eating less. It takes at least 15 minutes for our bodies to register that we are full. Also, our eyes tend to be bigger than our stomach, and when we eat quickly, we often tend to eat too much and end up feeling uncomfortable and stuffed.

7. Put leftovers away.

Leaving leftovers sitting out on the counter signals “eat me.” It is so hard to resist temptation when food is just sitting around. Why tempt yourself?

8. To thyself be true.

It is so important to know yourself and recognize what works — and what doesn’t work — for you. I’ve counseled many different types of clients over the years, and some need an after dinner-treat while others end up overeating if they have one small cookie or piece of chocolate. In an email, Gretchen wrote me the following: “My sister’s Kryptonite is French fries, so she gave them up altogether — that was easier for her. But some people feel rebellious if they can’t have that one square of chocolate every day, and if that describes you, keep a chocolate bar in your desk drawer.”

So, take some time to reflect on what you like and on what works for you.

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