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Aug. 15

8 portion-control hacks that really work.

Below is my blog post for HufPost “8 portion-control hacks that really work.”

You can also read it here.

photo credit: Oleksandra Naumeko/Bigstock.com

As a nutritionist and portion-size researcher, I’ve helped thousands of clients slim down while eating foods they love with my “Portion Teller”program. My philosophy is simple. All foods are allowed—-some in unlimited amounts (non-starchy vegetables and fruits), some in moderate portions (whole grains, dairy, and healthy fats) and others in small portions (alcohol and sweets). To lose weight, it is necessary to eat fewer calories than you burn.

So where does portion-control fit in?

When you eat less, you take in fewer calories. However, as a portion-size researcher and clinician, the term “portion-control” doesn’t mean eating tiny portions. In fact a dieter’s worst enemy is staring at a half empty plate and being hungry—and hangry!—all the time. The key to successful weight loss is being able to distinguish between which foods you can eat plentifully and which foods you do really need to watch. It also means being able to correctly estimate how much you should be eating (and are actually eating) so that you can stick with a healthy food plan. And certain practices also make it easier to control your portions.

Below are my tips and tricks to helping you manage your portions while shedding a few pounds along the way without feeling in the least bit deprived.

1. Load up on colorful fruits and veggies.

I’ve said this before. No one got fat eating fruits and vegetables. While a banana may have more calories than a cup of cantaloupe, enjoying a banana will not make you fat. Similarly, while a cup of carrots contains more calories than a cup of lettuce, this orange sweet-tasting veggie will not fatten you up. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with fiber and water helping you to feel full while also giving your body vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants good for your health.

Size it up: Fill half of your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables at each meal. Practicing portion control will feel a whole lot simpler.

2. Mix and match.

To practice portion-control effectively, you do not want to feel hungry. To avoid such feelings, I suggest eating foods that contain nutrients that promote feelings of fullness. Protein, fiber, and heart-healthy fats do the trick. Therefore at each meal, try “mixing and matching:” eating a combination of foods to keep you satiated. Include protein-rich foods such as fish, chicken, eggs, beans, and grass-fed beef; fiber-rich fruits, vegetables and whole grains (brown rice, sweet potato, quinoa); and a sprinkling of healthy fats including olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.

Size it up: A yummy—and filling—dinner includes grilled salmon, roasted asparagus and cauliflower, and cup of quinoa.

3. Smartsize your dishes (and your spoons!).

Considerable research has shown that the size of our plates, bowls and even utensils (yes, spoons!) can play a major role in the amount of food we eat. The larger the plate the more we serve ourselves and tend to eat.

Eating off of a larger plate can actually be a good strategy for salads and veggies that we want to eat more of. And not all portion-control strategies are about eating less. However, for a pasta meal, I’d certainly suggest downsizing your bowl.

Spoon sizes and drinking glasses make a difference too!

In a study by Cornell researchers, nutrition experts given a larger bowl served themselves 31.0% more without even noticing. And, when given a larger serving spoon, their servings increased by 14.5%. And these are experts! Imagine how food novices would respond.

University of Cambridge researchers reported that people drank more wine when their glass was bigger. A larger wine glass may change our perception of how much wine constitutes a portion, perhaps leading us to drink faster and to order more.

Size it up: Want to enjoy an ice cream treat in the dog days of summer? Use a small bowl and a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon.

4. Make a fist and use your hand as a portion guide.

When you go out to eat, which Americans do quite often these days, you’re not likely to bring along a food scale and measuring cups but you always have your hand.

Since so many of us overdo our starch portion (think rice, pasta, and potato), I advise clients to make a fist and enjoy a healthy 1-cup portion instead of banning starch altogether.

This method is not an exact science (after all, we all have different size hands) but it sure does come in handy.

• a fist = 1 cup of rice, pasta, cereal

• palm of your hand = 3 ounces of poultry or meat

• 2 fingers (a peace sign) = 2 ounce of cheese

• bent thumb joint = 1 tablespoon of oil or peanut butter

Size it up: Want to include an occasional serving of red meat in your diet, without overdoing it? Think a palm’s worth. And, add lots of colorful veggies to round out your plate.

5. Don’t leave home without your checkbook and dental floss.

Visualizing everyday objects can also be a great way to estimate serving sizes. Check out these familiar items to help keep your portions in check. For additional visuals, check out my book The Portion Teller Plan.

• baseball = 1 cup of starch (rice, pasta, potatoes)

• deck of cards = 3-4 ounces of poultry or meat

• checkbook = 4 ounces white fish

• shot glass = 2 tablespoons oil or salad dressing

• package of dental floss = 1 ounce of a treat: a cookie or piece of chocolate

Size it up: No need to ban healthy grains from your dinner plate. Fill half of your plate with your favorite veggies, a quarter of the plate healthy protein (1-2 decks of cards) and the other quarter (think one baseball’s worth!) with healthy grain such as wild rice, whole wheat pasta, or whole sorghum.

6. Indulge, once in a while

As I tell my weight-loss clients, it is OK to include a daily treat to keep you from feeling deprived and to make your eating plan enjoyable. This practice makes it easier to practice portion-control and stick to a healthy food plan for the long term.

Size it up: Enjoy an occasional glass of wine with dinner or a cookie for dessert. Include a large bowl of mixed berries too!

7. Stock up on baggies and small containers.

comprehensive report from researchers at the Behaviour and Health Research Unit (BHRU), University of Cambridge confirmed that larger portions and packages contribute to overeating. We tend to eat more when our food packages are bigger! And, we do not even feel more full.

Instead of surrounding ourselves with temptation, I suggest buying single-serving packages or pre-portioning your favorite snacks and putting them into baggies which you can grab when you are hungry.

Size it up: Keep small containers handy too so you can store leftovers in perfect portions.

8. Slow down, you move too fast…

Yes, this brilliant phrase comes from the lyrics of the popular Simon and Garfunkel song, The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling’ Groovy). Here’s my food spin on it. When you eat slowly, you tend to be more mindful, and are more in tune with your body’s needs. You also end up eating less! A win-win!

Size it up: Savor your meal, enjoy your dining companion, and breathe in between bites.

I offer more portion hacks here and here.

We’d love to hear about your favorite portion tricks.

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Jul. 4

5 patriotic hacks to try this 4th of July. They are healthy too!

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post,  “5 patriotic hacks to try this 4th of July. They are healthy too!”

You can also read it HERE.

July 4th marks the official start of summer and a time for celebration—with family, friends, and of course, food. It does not, however, have to be a time for weight gain. First off, what you do every day (think portion control, more fruits and veggies, less junk food, exercise) is more important than what you do on just one day of the year (think July 4th, Thanksgiving, Halloween).

With that said, you can enjoy a summer barbecue with loved ones while also enjoying summer favorites, and still come out healthy and, perhaps, even down a pound or two! Let’s face it, it’s hard to have a holiday party without eating, but these simple hacks will help you eat less and stay on track.

Eat off of red plates.

This is the perfect trick to try this holiday. Researchers from the University of Parma, Italy, conducted a study that found that eating off of red plates reduced portion sizes. While the authors conclusion states, “Although the origin of the intriguing effect of the color red on consumption remains unclear, our results may prove useful to future potential explanations,” it can’t hurt to give it a try!

And, while you’re at it, use a patriotic tablecloth as well.

Choose a patriotic—and healthy—breakfast.

In my nutrition counseling practice, I recommend that clients eat a healthy breakfast to prevent hunger later on. If you are not a breakfast eater, no problem; it’s OK to keep it light and to eat something mid-morning instead.

Eating something healthy before heading out to a summer barbecue is one of the best ways to avoid overeating. Not only do I recommend this to my clients, but I practice it religiously.

Here’s a healthy patriotic choice to enjoy this July 4th (and all summer long): a low-fat yogurt topped with blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and red raspberries; include at least one blue and one red fruit. And in celebration of the holiday, top it with a sprinkle or two (1-2 teaspoons) of unsweetened coconut flakes.

Infuse your water to stay hydrated.

While we know we should drink more water to stay hydrated, easier said than done. especially if you are bored with the taste of plain water. Here are some tricks to try this Independence Day. Choose sparkling water or water and add fruit. Think red, white and blue this holiday!

I love adding watermelon cubes into my water or making ice cubes from the juice of watermelon. Another option is to throw in fresh or frozen blueberries, blackberries, red grapes, red raspberries, strawberries, or cubes of apple and pear (not exactly white, but close enough!).

Enjoy a (small) glass of sangria or red wine.

While it’s OK to enjoy a glass of wine or sangria, drink it out of a small glass. University of Cambridge researchers found that the larger the wine glass, the more people drink. This makes perfect size, as larger plates, bowls, and spoons, also lead to overeating.

To help keep your portion sizes in check, as I suggest in my book, The Portion Teller Plan, eat off of smaller plates, use smaller cutlery, and drink from a smaller glass this 4th of July holiday! Your waist will thank you.

Choose watermelon for dessert.

While your festivities will likely end with some sweet stuff—ice cream and cookies—with a little luck, it may often end with healthy watermelon slices as well. Watermelon is a delicious fruit, which will not only quench your thirst; it will also give you a boost of antioxidants (think lycopene!) And, remember, no one got fat eating watermelon, or any other melon for that matter, so please don’t skip this sweet tasting fruit. If you are not sure your guests will serve watermelon, offer to bring it along.

Here’s to a terrific—and nutritious—summer!

We’d love to hear your healthy summer hacks.
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May. 22

11 tips to make your grocery trip a whole lot healthier

Below is my post for Huffington Post, “11 tips to make your grocery trip a whole lot healthier.”

You can also read it here.

One of the best ways to practice healthy eating is to surround yourself with a variety of nutritious foods. Having spent a good part of my career helping clients get healthier, one of the first things we discuss is food shopping. If you buy healthy foods and ingredients, you will cook with them and eat them. If you bring lots of junk food into the house, guess what? That’s what you’ll eat.

Making smart choices in the grocery store really is the key to good nutrition, at least when eating at home. While some people love grocery shopping (I do and love seeing the new products!), others see it as an onerous chore. Picking up a few simple shopping tips, however, can make your trip to the market much healthier.

1. Shop from a list.

Before heading out to the supermarket, plan ahead, and take stock of what ingredients you need to prepare healthy meals and snacks for the week. You can keep a paper shopping list or keep a running list on your phone so you know you won’t forget it. You can also download your favorite smartphone app.

2. Enlist your family.

To be sure your family will want to eat what you serve, get them involved in the preparation, and ask them if there’s anything special they want around the house; keep it healthy, of course. This will help them feel like they are part of a team.

3. Don’t shop when hungry.

When you shop on an empty stomach, you tend to fill up on impulse purchases which are generally unhealthy. Eat a light meal or snack before heading to the market and you are more likely to skip to junk and shop from your list. This really does make all the difference.

4. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store first.

This is where you are likely to find healthy foods such as produce. Start by filling your cart with colorful fresh fruits and vegetables. This will set you up for healthy shopping habits for the remainder of your trip. Avoid the center aisles where the junk foods lurk; skip that section entirely or save it for last.

5. Choose the rainbow.

The different colors of the rainbow reflect the different vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables. Red produce, including tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruits, tend to be rich in the antioxidant lycopene while orange produce, including carrots and cantaloupe, tend to be high in the antioxidant beta carotene. Go for color, including white (think cauliflower, onions)

Considering organic produce? Check out the Environmental Working Group for a list of the “dirty dozen” and “clean 15. The dirty dozen, including strawberries, spinach, and apples, are the produce with highest levels of pesticides so you may want to purchase these in organic varieties.

In addition to healthy produce, fill your cart with healthy foods from the various food groups: whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, beans, legumes, nuts, and lean meats, and healthy oils such as extra virgin olive oil.

7. Choose packaged foods with a short ingredient list.

Choose minimally processed foods without lots of added sugar and salt. Choose foods that contain five ingredients or less and skip foods containing artificial ingredients, additives, and ingredients you can hardly pronounce. Frozen fruits and vegetables with nothing added are also great options to add to your shopping cart if you live alone and are worried your produce may go bad.

8. Don’t be fooled.

Read packaged food labels including the product’s ingredient list. Ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance by weight so the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first. Review the serving size and the calories per serving. And check the sugar and sodium content.

Hopefully by next summer, (if the release new food labels are not delayed), you will be able to clearly see the calories and serving-size information along with a product’s “added sugars” on the package label.

For the time being, check out the sugars section and read the ingredient list for the added sugars (look for terms including sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, honey, corn syrup).

And, as I wrote here, don’t be fooled by certain terms which give off the impression that a food is healthier than it really is: multigrain, fat-free, and gluten-free. Gluten-free cookies are still cookies.

9. Don’t buy in bulk.

Stocking up on paper towels can be a good idea (if you have the storage space) and save you money, but buying food in oversize packages will probably cost you lots of calories. We tend to eat more food from large packages and we usually do not even realize it so I don’t suggest stocking up on jumbo packages of nuts, cereal, chips, and crackers. Try purchasing snack foods in single servings; it will help you eat less. If you must buy in bulk, stock up on small baggies too—and divide and conquer!

10. Try a new food.

Be adventurous; aim to try a new fruit or vegetable each week. There are also so many yummy whole grains besides the usual whole wheat breads and cereals. Try Ezekiel bread, amaranth, spelt, quinoa, and Bulgar. Try soba noodles or chick pea pasta instead of whole wheat pasta for a change. Variety really is the spice of life.

11. Yes, make room for a treat.

I am not a fan of deprivation, so I do think it’s ok to buy and enjoy an occasional treat. If you are buying a treat food for the family, follow the rule of ONE: bring one fun food into the house at a time. Want to splurge on ice cream? Stick to just one flavor. The more flavors you have around the house, the more you will end up eating. Stick to a portion-controlled amount and choose a splurge you love. And, there are certain foods you may not want to even bring into the house if you know you will be tempted to overeat.

Enjoy!

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Apr. 9

Spring clean your diet with these 6 easy tips

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, “Spring clean your diet with these 6 easy tips.”

You can also read it HERE.

Spring is in the air. I love to be outdoors and listen to the birds chirping. With springtime comes decluttering; we clear out our winter sweaters and boots in exchange for spring dresses and sandals. With daylight savings time upon us, we can spend more time outdoors, which can boost our moods and also enable us to exercise outdoors while also being one with nature. Spring is also time for renewal and rejuvenation with the smell of flowers in bloom. As the season changes, since I am a nutritionist, I love to focus on helping others take on some new healthy rituals too.

Here are my top tips to help you recharge this spring. I hope you can give them a try, if you are not already practicing them.

1. Cook more.

You gain so many benefits when you cook at home. First off, home cooked meals are healthier and contain fewer calories than those eaten away from home. Research recently published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that eating out frequently was associated with a lower diet quality and more ‘empty calories’ as compared to cooking at home.

When we cook and measure out ingredients, we tend to become better at estimating portion sizes, which I promise you, will help you slim down. Cooking is also a great way to bond with family and friends. While eating out is lots of fun and very social, (and it’s always great to try new foods!), try to eat at least a few meals at home each week. It will help both you wallet—and you waist. If you don’t know how to cook, take a cooking class or turn on your TV; there are many shows which teach you how to prepare healthy foods.

2. Try a new food.

We often associate a new season with newness-new things (new shoes or clothes (for the current season), new habits, new rituals. How about trying a new food you haven’t yet tried. Give it a go. Whether you decide to make it at home or enjoy it while eating out, go for it. My tip: keep it healthy. Perhaps let’s start with visiting your local farmer’s market and trying a new seasonal fruit or vegetable to add to your diet. There’s got to be a fruit or veggie you haven’t yet tried and may really end up loving!

3. Spring clean your kitchen.

One of the best ways to get your diet in order is to de-clutter your kitchen and keep healthy foods around. Get rid of most of the junk and keep healthy foods at arms reach. As I wrote here, put out a fruit platter, keep the breakfast cereal stashed away in the cabinet, and keep healthy foods in the front of the fridge where you can easily see them. I love keeping assorted berries in a bowl as well as baby carrots and red peppers easily accessible. It is also best to store goodies like cookies in an opaque container so that they are not as tempting.

4. Eat the rainbow.

Besides helping us feel fuller on fewer calories, eating a colorful diet high in fruits and vegetables (both fresh and frozen) can give your diet a boost of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber which cut your risk of chronic disease and help fight aging. Eating the rainbow and choosing a colorful assortment of produce is best, as different health benefits exist from the different color spectrum.

I often counsel families and like to choose a “color of the week” where we incorporate produce of that color into the diet. For example, the color red is the “R” of the rainbow (remember the acronym “ROY G BIV”!). Let’s think of a bunch of healthy red foods and try including them into the diet this week—pink grapefruit, tomatoes, red raspberries, strawberries, and red peppers. Next week, think of the orange color scheme for “O” and all the healthy orange foods—orange, carrots, cantaloupe… It’s a lot of fun and helps to incorporate a lot of colorful produce. And guess what? Even white colored produce have lots of health benefits: think cauliflower and white onions!

5. Get outdoors.

This is a great season to get outside and play. Go for along walk with your dog, go for a run or a bike ride, or enjoy a structured hike. It stays light outside for longer this season so you can take advantage and exercise outdoors after work. Being one with nature is also so good for the soul, helps improve mood, and helps you feel centered.

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude leads better sleep, improved mood, better self esteem, better resiliency, and stronger relationships. Research has found that cultivating gratitude leads to better psychological and physical health. One ritual that I practice myself daily (almost!) is to write down 5 things I am grateful for each day. While certain things can certainly often be better, we must remember, that they can also be worse. Try looking at your “cup” as half full instead of as half empty. When we appreciate what we have, we also tend to ultimately get more out of life and relationships.

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Mar. 14

Healthy or hype? 5 food label claims that may seduce you to over-eat

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post: “Healthy or hype? 5 food label claims that may seduce you to overeat.” 

You can also read it HERE.

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you ever purchased one food item over another because the nutrient claim on the package gave you the impression that it was the healthier choice? You may have been misled.

Many terms on food labels can confuse even the most educated consumers into thinking that a packaged food product is healthy when in fact, it is anything but healthy.

As I previously wrote, while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be giving food labels an overhaul after 30 years (with updated serving sizes, disclosure of added sugar, and more), and even changing the definition of some terms manufacturers can use on labels (including “healthy”), it is still easy to be tricked into thinking a packaged food product is healthier than it really is.

Here are several—often misleading—terms that manufacturers often use on packaged food labels along with my tips on how not to be fooled. Such terms are often “health halos,” giving consumers the impression that the product is healthy thereby encouraging you to eat more than they may ordinarily consume.

1. Multigrain

When shopping for healthy grains, including bread, pasta, and crackers, looks—and words—can be deceiving. A loaf of bread, for example can be flavored with molasses or caramel coloring and have that brown “healthy” look but may not be any healthier than refined white bread. The term multigrain, for example, means that the product must contain two or more grains. But those grains may or may not be healthy whole grains.

Whole grains, including whole wheat breads and pasta, oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice contain more nutrients and fiber than refined products which have been stripped away of the bran and germ, the grain’s healthy components. The Dietary Guidelines advises that at least half of our grains be whole grains so read labels carefully.

My tip: When reading food labels, if you want to be assured that your product is healthy, look for the words 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat as opposed to multigrain. And be sure to read the ingredient list which tells a lot. According to FDA, “ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance by weight,” meaning that the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first. The ingredient list tells you like it is.

2. Zero trans fat

Trans fat is just about the most unhealthy fat you can have. It is bad for your heart, is generally found in heavily processed foods, and the ideal amount to have is none at all. However, products are allowed to say that they contain “zero trans fats” if one serving contains less than 0.5 grams. This is deceiving because if you eat multiple servings—which so many of us do—the grams of trans fats add up quite easily.

My tip: Read the ingredient list and if “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” is listed, then the product contains trans fats, and I suggest you keep it on the shelf instead of adding it to your grocery cart.

3. Fatfree

The term fat-free can be notoriously misleading. Many products that bear this label are not as healthy as you might think and just because a label says fat-free, it doesn’t mean that the food product is calorie-free and that you can eat as much as you want. Fat-free products often tend to be loaded with sugar and are not healthy at all, despite what many consumers often think.

I’ve had many clients over the years that think they don’t have to pay attention to their portion size of fat free products. However, many fat-free cookies have just as many calories as their full-fat version. And many fat-free versions taste awful and just leave us wanting more.

My tip: Check the label for calorie content, and compare it to the full-fat version. And watch out for the added sugar.

4. Sugarfree

According to FDA, the nutrient claim sugar-free means that a product contains less than 0.5 grams of sugars per serving. These products, however, may still contain calories and carbohydrates from other sources. As many consumers often think, the term sugar-free doesn’t mean the product contains fewer calories than the regular version. Oftentimes, it contains more.

Sugar-free products often contain sugar alcohols such as xylitol, maltitol, or sorbitol which do contain calories (although fewer calories than table sugar) and may also cause stomach discomfort and diarrhea. Therefore, it is very important to practice portion control.

My tip: Compare the labels of the regular and sugar-free version and be sure to check the number of calories as well. And do not eat too much of either version. In fact, the sugar-free version will probably give you a stomach ache if you eat too much.

5. Gluten free

Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye and should not be consumed by people with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. These days, gluten-free products are very easy to find with the proliferation of new products regularly hitting store shelves.

Gluten-free products, however, are not necessarily any healthier than those with gluten and can often actually be less healthy and contain more sugar and salt, and less fiber.

While gluten-free products are important for those who cannot digest gluten, there is really no advantage for everyone else to buy them. And they certainly will not help you lose weight, unless of course, they are lower in calories than the regular version which is not necessarily the case.

My tip: Read food labels and compare the calories, fiber, sugar, salt, and ingredient list of the gluten-free and regular varieties. And remember gluten-free cookies are still cookies!

One final thought: Before turning to packaged foods, I’d suggest you aim to eat more whole foods—including fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, fresh seafood, and quinoa or brown rice—without fancy packaging and lots of added ingredients.

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Feb. 5

Eat more of these foods for a healthy heart

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, “Eat more of these foods for a healthy heart.” 

You can also read it HERE.

 

Welcome to February, American Heart Month. American Heart Month is a great way to remind Americans to focus on keeping their hearts healthy. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death with more than 17.3 million deaths each year and this number is expected to rise to more than 23.6 million by 2030.

As a nutritionist, I’ve seen firsthand how a heart-healthy lifestyle, including a healthy diet, can make a huge difference in improving one’s health. A heart-healthy diet consists of foods rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins (fish, legumes); and low in added sugar, salt, and saturated fats (margarine, butter, fatty meats).

This February, in honor of American Heart Month, eat your heart out with my top picks below. Your heart will be happy! And keep a focus on including more heart healthy foods all year long—not just for the month of February.

Berries

Berries, including blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries, are chock full of heart-healthy antioxidants, polyphenols and fiber, which help fight chronic disease including heart disease. They are also a good source of vitamin C which has been linked to a lower risk of stroke. And they taste great too! For an added nutrition boost, add your favorite berries to cereal, yogurt, smoothies, and salads. Your heart—and your waist—will be happy.

Cruciferous vegetables

Cruciferous vegetable, which include broccoli, kale, collards, cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are members of the Brassica family and known to be rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals which have have antioxidant properties and help fight heart disease.

Broccoli, for example, is chock full of vitamin C, the mineral calcium, fiber, and vitamin A. It is also rich in sulforaphane, a health-promoting compound that can fight disease. Cauliflower may not be green, but it is full of heart-healthy properties; it contains antioxidants, fiber, and allicin, a component found in garlic known to reduce cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attacks. Cruciferous vegetables taste great when roasted with a little olive oil and your favorite spices.

Salmon

Salmon and other fatty fish, including arctic char, trout and sardines, contain heart-healthy fats know as omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lower triglycerides, reduce inflammation, and decrease the risk of plaque in the arteries. Current guidelines suggest eating fish twice a week, and for good reason. Whether eating out or eating in, choose grilled salmon instead of a steak as your protein option.

Beans and legumes

Eating small amounts of beans and legumes is good for your heart. They are high in soluble fiber which helps to lower cholesterol and heart-healthy flavonoids shown to lower your risk for heart attack and strokes. Eating just one serving of beans or legumes per day has been shown to reduce LDL or “bad cholesterol.” Beans and legumes are also high in fiber and are a terrific source of plant protein helping to keep you full—and trim, an added bonus for maintaining heart health. Top your salad with chickpeas, enjoy a lentil or split pea soup, or have a snack of hummus and veggies.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal contains soluble fiber which has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels. The type of fiber in oatmeal, beta glucans, may be particularly beneficial for heart health and for weight control. Oatmeal also contains the minerals magnesium and potassium also good for the heart. So next time you are looking for a healthy breakfast cereal, choose the oatmeal instead of the cream of wheat. And for an added boost of nutrition, top it with berries and a tablespoon of chia seeds.

Nuts and seeds

I am a huge fan of nuts and seeds and always recommend them to my clients for heart health. Nuts contain protein, the antioxidant vitamin E, and heart-healthy fats. Sprinkle chopped walnuts and flaxseeds into your morning yogurt and enjoy a handful of almonds or an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter for a healthy afternoon snack. One handful of your favorite nuts will satisfy both your hunger—and your heart! One caveat: eat your nuts unsalted of course!

Olive oil

Olive oil, especially extra virgin, contains high levels of “heart healthy” monounsaturated fats and antioxidants to help unclog your arteries. Best to use an olive oil based dressing instead of creamy varieties such as ranch and blue cheese. However, it’s important not to over pour; aim for 1-2 tablespoons, or a shot glass worth.

Red wine

Yes, you can enjoy a glass of red wine with your grilled salmon and vegetable medley. While moderate alcohol is good for the heart and elevates good (HDL) cholesterol, red wine, in particular contains resveratrol, a compound with antioxidant properties, which can help prevent heart disease and other chronic diseases. Practice moderation, of course. Women can enjoy one drink a day while men can enjoy two drinks a day. Enjoy!

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Jan. 16

Try these 10 simple tips for a healthier 2017

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “Try these 10 simple tips for a healthier 2017.”

You can also read it here.

Welcome to 2017! The New Year creates an opportunity to start fresh and set simple achievable goals for getting healthier and losing weight.

As a nutritionist and wellness advocate, I have never been a fan of rigid diets or all-or-nothing New Year’s resolutions that you cannot keep. Instead, I advocate making small actionable changes that you can incorporate into your day-to-day life which can be kept throughout the year.

Planning in advance, looking at the positive, making small changes when food shopping, eating out, and eating at home can make a big difference to your overall health and weigh loss efforts.

To make your life healthier, and even help you shed some unwanted pounds, below are 10 practical suggestions to help you improve your diet this year.

1. Mind your bowls.

Food portions are not the only things that have increased over the years — our plate sizes have too. And we eat more if our plates and bowls are bigger. It makes perfect sense. Consider your favorite breakfast cereal. A recommended serving size for a starch serving at breakfast would be around 1 cup. If you pour a 1-cup serving into a big bowl, it won’t look like much and you will most likely feel deprived. Try pouring it into a smaller bowl, perhaps even a bowl from your grandmother’s set, and it will look a lot better, and you may feel more satisfied. Perhaps because for a dieter, nothing is worse than staring at a half empty bowl or plate!

Even if your cereal is a healthy whole grain, if you eat too much, the calories add up quickly. And after experimenting with clients, most of us would easily pour 2-3 cups of cereal into our breakfast bowl, thinking we are eating a healthy cereal.

A client of mine lost 20 pounds, effortlessly, when switching to smaller plates and bowls. If we downsize our plate, we tend to eat less. Give it a try! This study found that halving plate size led to a 30 percent reduction in the amount of food consumed. I offer more portion-control tricks here and here.

2. Swap refined carbs for healthy fats.

Gone are the days where going fat-free is the healthiest option. Nix the big bagels and oversize muffins and enjoy some healthy fats. Enjoy a schmear of avocado on your whole grain toast, spread your favorite nut butter on a rice cake or two, sprinkle olive oil on your salad, and don’t feel guilty! And swapping carbs for healthy fats is also good for your heart.

3. Eat more, weigh less.

Good news if you are a volume lover. As I referred to them in my book, The Portion Teller Plan, volume eaters like a large portion of food. A solution: fill up on fruits and vegetables which tend to be low in calories (while also being super nutritious and chock full of vitamins and minerals.) Good options include berries, melons, citrus fruit, leafy greens and, cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli. Enjoy a bowl of mixed berries at breakfast with your yogurt or oatmeal. Eat a large colorful salad every day composed of a variety of different vegetables. Just ask for the dressing on the side and hold the croutons. And as I often say, no one got fat eating too many carrots or bananas.

4. Shop from a list, don’t buy in bulk, and eat before heading to the grocery store.

What you bring into your house will ultimately determine what you eat, at least when you are eating home. So here are some shopping tips that can help you shop smart. Do not go food shopping on an empty stomach. Eat a healthy snack before heading out to the store and you will end up choosing healthier foods. I also suggest making a list of the foods you need and stick to the list. Finally, steer clear of jumbo portions; the bigger the package, the more most of us eat, even if we aren’t hungry.

5. Go meatless once in a while.

Incorporating plant based proteins including chickpeas, lentils, black beans, tofu and tempeh into your diet offer up many health benefits, ranging from weight loss to lower cholesterol and improved blood sugar. Beans and legumes are high in fiber and protein as well as vitamins and minerals such as folate, iron, and magnesium. And here’s another reason to swap red meat for legumes. According to a new study, beans and peas make people feel fuller after a meal than meat. Enjoy a split pea soup with a colorful salad or a bean-based veggie burger instead of a hamburger for a healthy meatless lunch. And at your favorite Chinese restaurant, order tofu with veggies and brown rice (with your favorite sauce on the side) instead of spare ribs with fried egg rolls. Your heart and your waist will be happy!

6. Think positive.

Rather than dwelling on the foods you cannot eat, focus on what you can eat. I tell my clients that there is no restaurant or cuisine that is completely off limits. You can always find something healthy on the menu. And you do not have to order off of the “diet” menu. For example, when going to an Italian restaurant, instead of dwelling on the fact that you shouldn’t eat garlic bread and fettuccine Alfredo, focus instead of what you can eat: start with an arugula and endive salad, minestrone soup, or grilled veggies and for a main dish, you can enjoy whole wheat pasta with veggies and fresh tomato sauce or grilled fish with sautéed spinach.

7. Roast your vegetables.

I love roasted veggies and enjoy them quite often. For a change from steamed veggies which are bland and boring for many of us, you can roast whatever veggies you have in your fridge—broccoli, cauliflower, onions, and red pepper and zucchini to name a few. For a healthy—and filling—starch option, you can also roast sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Just go easy on the oil and you won’t have to worry about the calories.

8. Write it down.

There is no better way to get a handle on what and how much you eat than by keeping food records. Don’t worry; you do not have to keep them forever. People who keep food records become more mindful of their mistakes are then able to make corrections. Food records help you see your patterns, both positive and negative ones. For example, are you nibbling mindlessly while watching TV, and how much are you really eating? By identifying your bad habits, you can easily substitute them for healthier ones. Today, more than ever, it is easy to keep food records as there are so many apps on your smartphone which you can use.

9. Want dessert? Serve yourself.

If you are trying to eat healthier, a new study found that serving yourself can help curb unhealthy indulgences. People who choose their own piece of cake and, cut it themselves, eat less of it. And, better yet, they may even end up not eating cake at all.

While serving yourself stops people from eating unhealthy foods, it didn’t stop them from eating healthy food, the study to be published later this year in the Journal of Marketing Research found. So next time you are at a dinner party and your host offers you a fruit salad, go for it, but when it comes to the cake and cookies, serve it yourself.

10. Stress less.

When we feel stressed, many of us turn to food. Comfort food, that is as opposed to healthy salads. While it may be easier said than done, worrying will not make our problems go away. To beat stress and worry, exercise regularly and develop a daily meditation practice. It is also ok to start small. And be sure not to stress about the exercise: choose an activity you love (my favorite is yoga and swimming) and schedule it on your calendar at a time that works for you so you don’t feel rushed. As for meditation, start with 5 minutes before bed and work up to a longer period slowly. For an added boost, exercise and meditation also improves your mood and your health.

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Dec. 18

7 tips to keep your weight—and waist—in check this holiday season

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “7 tips to keep your weight–and waist–in check this holiday season”

You can also read it HERE.

Image courtesy of Suriya Kankliang at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Suriya Kankliang at                    FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With the festivities of the holiday season upon us, temptations are all around, and making healthy and smart food choices can be challenging. While people often think that they will gain several pounds during this season, truth be told, research shows that we only gain, on average, around a pound between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The greater challenge, however, is losing any weight we may have put on, and keeping it off.

Cultivating healthy habits during the holiday season (with some cheat treats allowed!) which we can take with us into the New Year will help keep us trim well into 2017.

1. Follow the 80-20 rule.

Yes, it is ok to indulge. Just not all the time. When I work with clients looking to lose weight, I generally advise them to follow a healthy eating plan most of the time while allowing them to enjoy an occasional treat meal, drink, or snack. For example, if you are going to a holiday party, eat a healthy breakfast and lunch and allow yourself to indulge (sans guilt) in your favorite holiday treat.

2. Plan in advance (when you can.)

Whenever possible, planning in advance, is a great way to go. If you are going to a favorite restaurant, decide in advance what you are going to order and work your day around that. If you know you want a pasta meal, have a salad instead of a sandwich for lunch. If you have an idea what will be served at a holiday party, you can plan what you will eat. While we may not always know what will be on the menu, often times we have an inkling, and for those occasions, pre planning helps.

3. Be a social butterfly.

Remember why you went to a holiday party in the first place. It probably wasn’t for the food, but rather the good company. Enjoy friends and family, and engage with them. Don’t make food the most important part of the gathering. When you arrive at a party, instead of running toward the buffet table, look around at the company and say hi to those you know and even those you don’t yet know.

4. Eat before you eat.

Rather than save up all your calories for a holiday party, I suggest eating a healthy snack before you go. Filling up with some protein and fiber will help satiate you and keep your hunger pangs at bay. Some of my favorites include a Greek yogurt with berries, hummus and fresh veggies, a bowl of lentil soup, or almond butter with an apple and whole grain crackers.

5. Size does matter.

As I like to say, it is OK to enjoy your favorite foods (just not all at once) and the key to avoid gaining weight during the holiday season is to watch your portion sizes. For a main meal, I love using the visual method—fill half of your plate with veggies and roughly a quarter with protein (fish, chicken, beans, lean meat) and the remaining quarter with a starch (whole grain such as brown rice or quinoa, if possible.) No need to go low carb at your favorite gathering! If you are having an alcoholic beverage, have just one drink (in a normal size glass) and enjoy it with the meal. Want a dessert? Choose just one treat—either your favorite pie or one holiday cookie. And, if your “one” cookie looks oversized, share it with a friend. Get the idea?!

6 Don’t start a diet.

The holiday season is not a time to begin a diet. Rather, think maintenance at this time of year and try keeping your current weight steady. While I find it courageous when a new weight loss client comes to see me during the holiday season, I outline a healthy food plan while also building in some wiggle room for holiday festivities. It is important to set realistic goals during this time of year and not be too hard on yourself.

7. Keep moving.

A great way to keep your weight in check without dieting at this time of year is to stick to a regular exercise routine. Whether it be a morning swim or run, or a weekend yoga class, keep the exercise going. It will help de-stress you while giving you some wiggle room to eat a little more than you usually do.

Wishing you and your loved ones a happy and healthy holiday season.

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Dec. 7

FDA wants to know how much Nutella YOU eat.

Below is my blog post “FDA wants to know how much Nutella YOU eat.”

You can also read it on Huffington Post HERE.

The maker of Nutella, the chocolate-hazelnut spread loved by many Americans, wants a smaller serving size to be listed on its nutrition labels.

Ferrero, Nutella’s parent company, says that a smaller serving size will reflect how consumers currently use the product, and has been petitioning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reclassify the spread.

Ferrero claims that nowadays Nutella is eaten in smaller amounts as a spread on toast instead of as a topping on ice cream or a filler in cupcakes.

According to CNN, the company surveyed over 700 mothers and claims that 60% of consumers now eat Nutella on bread, up from 8% back in 1991. And, only 2% of consumers today use Nutella on ice cream, down from 27% back in 1991.

Nutella is currently categorized as a dessert topping, with a serving size of two tablespoons. Instead, Ferrero wants the sweet spread to be classified in the jam and honey category.

Why this request? They can list a smaller serving size of one tablespoon—instead of two tablespoons—on its jars.

A smaller serving size on the food label means fewer calories and less sugar. This may give consumers the perception that Nutella is a healthier spread and may influence shopper’s decisions to buy more of it.

One tablespoon or two?

Now FDA may consider Nutella’s claims, but only if Americans agree. So the agency is now asking Nutella lovers how much they eat at a time.

Two tablespoons of Nutella contain 200 calories. The two tablespoon serving size originated in the 1990s, when the spread was used more as a dessert topping on ice cream.

As a nutritionist and portion size researcher, I’ve observed that most people rarely pay close attention to their portion and tend to underestimate how much they really eat. And they will probably spread a lot more than one tablespoon of Nutella on a slice of bread.

Secondly, even if people do spread Nutella on toast, many people use it more like a nut butter (which has a two tablespoon serving size) than as a honey or jam.

The FDA is now collecting comments about how much consumers are eating in a sitting.

Clearly, Ferrero is worried that the required two tablespoon serving size makes its product look unhealthy when compared to honey or jam.

I’ve written about food label serving sizes extensively, and have discussed how after 20 years, food labels are getting a makeover. Many standard serving sizes—known as reference amounts customarily consumed (RACCs)—will be increasing to reflect how much Americans typically eat. (We eat lots more now than we used to eat.)

The serving size for ice cream, soda, and other favorites will soon be increasing to reflect our changing eating habits.

Interestingly, research on consumer perceptions of larger federal serving sizes is mixed. On the one hand, if consumers see a bigger serving size on a package label, they will be more mindful. Especially after seeing a larger calorie count. On the other hand, however, research found that after seeing a larger serving size on the food label, many consumers will view that larger serving size as a recommendation to eat more.

As I’ve written, FDA serving sizes are not meant to be recommendations for how much we should eat. Instead, they are meant to reflect how much we typically eat.

Nonetheless, serving sizes do influence consumers’ decisions and the burning question is: How will consumers view a smaller serving size on a food label of Nutella?

So FDA wants to know how you eat Nutella and how much do you typically eat?
You can weigh in here.

Measuring spoons anyone?!

My guess would be that if we pulled out our measuring spoons, most of us would find that we eat much more than one tablespoon.

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Nov. 14

Avoid these portion pitfalls which can derail your diet

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “Avoid these 5 portion pitfalls which can derail your diet.” 

You can also read it here. 

Image courtesy of Praisaeng at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Praisaeng at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As a portion size advocate, I believe all foods can fit into a healthy diet. However, while you can enjoy larger portions of certain foods (fruits and vegetables), you should pay attention to how big your portions are for others foods (breads, baked goods, red meat, candy and chips).

No one I know got fat from eating too many berries, apples, or carrots. Therefore, when I work with clients, I encourage them to enjoy generous portions of produce. However, we need to be more mindful of how much we eat of other foods, especially treats and sweets. It often takes retraining your brain, paying close attention to how much food really constitutes a health portion size, and developing healthy habits to avoid eating too much.

Being conscious of the following food traps is half the battle. Avoid these portion pitfalls to prevent you from overeating.

1. You buy oversize bags of chips in search of a bargain.

We all love a good bargain! After all, it is hard to resist buying the oversize bag of chips when it only costs just a quarter or so more than the smaller bag. However, while it’s great to stock up on jumbo rolls of toilet paper, the same cannot be said about food, especially junk food. Keeping your health—and your weight—in check is a top priority and the best bargain you can find!

My suggestion: Avoiding buying jumbo bags of food unless you take the time to portion out the contents into individual servings in small plastic baggies or containers.

2. You eat straight from the tub.

One of the easiest ways to overeat is to eat straight from the package. Whether it’s a tub of ice cream, a half-gallon of juice, or a bag of chips, it is very difficult to portion control your food when you eat straight from the package. And leaving it up to willpower rarely works.

My suggestion: Portion out a reasonable serving size, pour it onto a plate, savor it, and enjoy. And do eat sitting down.

3. You pour instead of dip.

One of the reasons so many of us eat more calories than we think is that we order a healthy salad but then we pour on tons of dressing. While salad greens and veggies won’t break you in the bank, salad dressing calories add up very quickly. One tablespoon of olive oil contains around 120 calories, and many salads—even appetizer sized!—contain several tablespoons worth.

My suggestion: Dip your fork into a side dish of dressing instead of pouring it all on your favorite salad. You can always add more if you need.

4. You pay no attention to serving sizes on food labels.

While food labels will be getting a makeover and many serving sizes of our favorite foods are set to increase, most people look at the calories listed but pay little attention to the serving size and the number of servings per container.

While one serving of your favorite treat may contain only 100 calories, if you eat several serving’s worth, your calorie count will much higher than just 100 calories. Yet so many of us would still say that they have only eaten 100 calories or so. I often see this pattern with many highly educated clients that I’ve counseled. Especially since many snacks that look like single servings actually contain two to three servings. Many muffins, for example contain two servings, but who eats just ½ a muffin? It’s easy to be fooled!

My suggestion: Pay attention to food label serving sizes along with the number of servings per container. I also suggest getting a measuring cup and food scale and from time to time weighing your typical portion to see how many servings are really on your plate.

5. You serve food family style.

The best way to serve food whenever possible is to plate it in the kitchen. Placing large platters of food directly on the dinner table and serving food family-style is one of the easiest ways to end up eating lots more than you really need. And the larger the serving platter and serving utensil, the more food we are likely to take.

My suggestion: Plate out a reasonable size portion in the kitchen. If you are still hungry, you can always go back for more.

For additional portion-size tips and tricks, click here and here.

We would love to hear portion tips that have worked well for you.

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