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Apr. 3

Want to eat less? Choose single-serving packages

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post “Want to eat less? Choose single-serving packages.”

You can also read it HERE.

New research published in the online Feb. 18 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports some promising findings for overweight individuals. Eating foods packaged in single servings may help overweight people eat less. Eating less means fewer calories, and hence the opportunity to lose weight.

University of Tennessee researcher Holly Raynor and colleagues wanted to know if single-serving packages would give people cues about what is considered an appropriate amount of food to eat (aka an appropriate portion size).

As reported in Reuters Health:

Half the participants received a box of 20 single-serving packs of pretzels, each just under one ounce. The rest received two standard-size bags of pretzels, each 10 ounces. Researchers told everyone to take the pretzel bags home for four days, eating as much or as little as they preferred, then return them. Participants were also asked to fill out a form detailing when and where they ate the pretzels.

Overweight subjects who received the single-serve packages ate considerably less than those receiving the large packages.

The findings make perfect sense. People tend to eat more when served more and when eating from bigger packages. Single-serve packages offer built in portion control.

It is important, however, for consumers reading food labels to be able to understand what they are actually consuming. With the food labels getting a makeover, this will hopefully be possible.

As I’ve previously written here,, FDA has proposed that single-serve packages generally consumed in one sitting — small bags of snack foods, a 20-ounce soda bottle — be labeled as one serving. This will enable consumers to see the calories and nutrients found in the entire package, which most people eat.

I’ve been a big fan of single-serving packages and have recommended them to dieters trying to lose weight and gain an awareness of portion control. They have a built in stop sign which signals us to stop; this is important especially in today’s world of supersize portions.

Take home message: Divide and conquer!

Try buying single-serve packages when you can. Since many single-serve products cost considerably more than oversize packages, if you prefer to purchase a large package, I suggest repackaging the contents into single-servings. For example, when you open a large bag of pretzels, divide the contents into 1-ounce single-portions (approximately a fist full) and place them in small baggies. This way, when you crave a snack, you just grab a small baggie and resist the temptation of overeating.

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Mar. 24

Fruits and vegetables to enjoy during National Nutrition Month

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “7 Fruits and Vegetables to Enjoy for National Nutrition Month.” You can also read it HERE.

This month March, is National Nutrition Month. This year’s theme is “Enjoy the taste of eating right.” While of course, it is important to eat foods that are nutritious, taste is a key reason why people choose to eat what they do. Pairing good nutrition with great taste creates a win-win situation. National Nutrition Month, created annually in March by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is a nutrition education campaign which focuses on the importance of making good food choices.

One way to “enjoy the taste of eating right” is to include a colorful diet. In particular, when choosing fruits and vegetables, I always suggest to clients that they choose a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables as different antioxidants exist in the different color spectrums. The deep orange color found in cantaloupe and sweet potatoes contains beta carotene. The dark blue color of blueberries contains polyphenols which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The deep red pigment found in tomatoes and watermelon contains the antioxidant lycopene.

Below (in alphabetical order) are several nutrition powerhouses, of varying colors and nutrients that I love to include in my diet and recommend to clients.

1. Avocados contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fat which may contribute to heart health. They are also high in vitamin E, a fat soluble antioxidant. Not only is this green fruit (yes, it is a fruit) good for the heart, it tastes great. Sprinkle a half of avocado with some lemon and olive oil and add it to your favorite salad.

2. Beets contain healthy doses of iron, the B-vitamin folate, and fiber. Red beets offer betacyanin, a plant pigment which may protect against colon cancer. Beets add color and taste to a green salad.

3. Blueberries are one of the healthiest foods around, and have been shown to contribute to health. These tasty blue gems are full of fiber, phytochemicals, vitamin C, and the mineral manganese. Blueberries contain a category of phytonutrients called polyphenols which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and can contribute to a reduction of chronic diseases. Blueberries contain only 80 calories per cup and make a tasty topping to yogurt or cereal, and also taste great plain as a snack.

4. Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, and part of the Brassica family rich in phytochemicals with antioxidant properties. Broccoli is chock full of vitamin C, the mineral calcium, fiber, and vitamin A. It also contains sulforaphane, a health-promoting compound that may fight cancer and other chronic diseases. Sauteed broccoli makes a great side dish paired with grilled salmon or chicken.

5. Cantaloupe is high in the antioxidant beta-carotene, a plant-based vitamin A precursor that helps with eye health, among other conditions. It also contains potassium, a mineral which may help lower blood pressure and the risk for stroke. And, it is a great choice if you are watching your weight — a one-cup serving contains a mere 50 calories. Cantaloupe mixed with other melons such as watermelon and honeydew makes for a tasty fruit salad after dinner.

6. Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, and also part of the Brassica family. It may be white in color but don’t let that fool you. It is a super nutritious veggie. One cup contains under 30 calories!, and is super high in vitamin C and fiber. It also contains vitamin K and folate. Roasted cauliflower tastes delicious.

7. Spinach contains the minerals iron and potassium, as well as vitamins A, K, C and the B-vitamin folate. Spinach also contains phytochemicals that may boost your immune system and flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties that may be preventative against certain cancers. Spinach makes a great veggie side dish and tastes great sautéed in olive oil and garlic.

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Mar. 2

FDA proposes larger–more realistic–serving sizes for food labels

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post on the new food labels:  FDA proposes larger–more realistic–serving sizes for food labels.

You can also read it HERE.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just released its proposal to update the Nutrition Facts label found on packaged foods and beverages. If approved, the new food label will update serving sizes. The label has not changed much in 20 years.

FDA is proposing to change the standard serving sizes to reflect what people actually eat. The FDA defines the current serving sizes as amounts of foods commonly consumed based on dietary intake surveys conducted in the 1970s and 1980s.

We eat larger portions than we did 20 years ago, so current serving sizes are smaller than what people actually eat. As I’ve written in my book The Portion Teller Plan andresearch articles, these serving sizes may be confusing to people trying to follow dietary advice.

The new serving size will, most likely, increase for most foods. By law, the standard serving size on a food label is supposed to reflect what people actually eat, not what they should eat. Therefore, the new serving size standards are not meant to be interpreted as recommendations for how much to eat.

With larger serving sizes on food labels, that would mean that a pint of ice cream that currently has four servings per pint (each serving is ½ cup), will have two servings for the new proposed label (each serving size will increase to 1 cup). The calories listed will, therefore, also increase. If a 1/2 cup serving of ice cream contains 200 calories, with the new 1 cup serving size, the label will now display 400 calories.

For the new label, the number of servings per package and the calories per serving will be more prominently displayed.

FDA is also proposing a makeover for single-serve foods and drinks. For example, a 20-ounce bottle of soda, which is typically consumed in one sitting by one person, would be labeled as one serving instead of 2.5 servings. After all, are you going to share your soda with 1.5 other people? Probably not. Other foods marketed for one person that often contain multiple servings per package include muffins, cookies, and small bags of chips.

What can we make of this?

For the good news, as I discussed on CBS Morning News, the serving sizes will be more realistic and reflect what people really eat. Many people today just glance at the calories and think that whatever amount they eat is a serving. For the ice cream example, a consumer reading food labels will now see 400 calories displayed instead of 200 calories.

This may mean that you would think twice before scarfing down the entire pint.

I also think it is excellent that FDA is finally addressing packaged foods and drinks marketed for one person but that have multiple servings listed on the package label. This may clear up some confusion regarding the calorie content of what we are actually eating.

A note of caution: FDA is not telling us to eat more. At least, the agency is not advising us to eat a bigger portion of ice cream. Rather, the agency is informing us as to the calorie and nutrient content in a standard serving size which is more in line with what we really do eat.

It would be useful if FDA follow up with nutrition education materials to further educate the public on the relationship between portion sizes, calories, and obesity.

FDA is accepting comments for 90 days.

We would love to hear your thoughts.

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Feb. 13

10 Smart Food Swaps for a Healthy Heart

Below is my latest blog post for American Heart Month “10 Smart Food Swaps for a Healthy Heart.

You can also read it on Huffington Post.


February marks the 50th anniversary of American Heart Month. Heart disease is the number one killer in Americans. For the good news, however, following a heart healthy diet and lifestyle can make a big difference in helping to prevent heart disease.

The American Heart Association recommends choosing a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and to include nuts and seeds, fatty fish and heart-healthy fats. It also recommends limiting foods high in trans fats, saturated fats and sodium.

As a nutritionist counseling clients on heart health, rather than advise clients just on what foods to avoid, I like to empower them by offering healthy food choices and substitutions to make.

Below are 10 smart food swaps which can make a huge difference to the health of your heart. These are simple tweaks to your diet that can boost your nutrition and they also taste great.

1. Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal instead of cream of wheat.
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.

2. Top your oatmeal with blueberries instead of sugar.
Blueberries are one of the healthiest foods around, and they contribute to health, including heart health. With only 80 calories per cup and low in fat, these tasty blue gems are packed with fiber, phytochemicals, vitamin C, and an excellent source of the mineral manganese. Blueberries contain a category of phytonutrients called polyphenols which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and can contribute to heart health and a reduction of other chronic diseases. You can also include them in your diet all year long: they can be purchased fresh and are also available frozen throughout the year.

3. Eat a bean-based veggie burger instead of a hamburger for lunch.
Bean and legumes are a great plant based protein while also contributing to heart health. They are rich in soluble fiber, devoid of saturated fat, and fairly low in calories. Hamburgers on the other hand, are high in unhealthy saturated fats which have been shown to elevate “bad” LDL cholesterol.

4. Top your burger with lettuce and tomato instead of cheese.
Lettuce and tomato are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber and contains few calories and virtually no fat. They contain the antioxidants lycopene and vitamin C, potassium, folate and fiber.

5.  Snack on walnuts instead of chips.
Hungry for a snack? Adding walnuts to your diet is a great way to boost your intake of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids’s that can benefit the heart, brain and skin. These tasty nuts also contain the antioxidant vitamin E.

6. Start your dinner with a colorful salad instead of fried mozzarella sticks.
Starting your meal with a colorful salad is a terrific way to boost heart healthy nutrients in your diet. Salads and vegetables are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals, and low in calories. The different colors provide different nutrients so throw in romaine lettuce rich in the B vitamin folate, red cherry tomatoes rich in lycopene and carrots which are full of beta carotene.

7. Top your salad with avocado instead of croutons.
Avocados contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, a good fat which may contribute to heart health. Avocados are also high in the antioxidant vitamin E. Not only is this green fruit (yes, it is a fruit) good for the heart, it tastes great and adds a zest of flavor.

8. Choose olive oil instead of butter.
Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat, also known as a heart-healthy fat. Diets rich in olive oil have been associated with heart health. This oil is is also rich in antioxidants, including vitamin E and polyphenols which protects blood vessels and other components of the heart. Next time you visit your favorite restaurant, dip your bread in olive oil instead of butter.

9. Choose grilled salmon instead of fried flounder.
We hear that fish is good for the heart. In particular, fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines are chock full of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fats that have been shown to benefit the heart as well as the brain.

10. Drink a glass of red wine instead of a soda.
Moderate amounts of alcohol (one drink for women and two for men) have been shown to contribute to heart health and may improve good HDL cholesterol levels. For an added boost, red wine in particular, contains polyphenols, including resveratrol, which have been associated with an increase in good cholesterol and a decrease in inflammation.

Let’s toast to a healthy heart. We would love to hear any heart-healthy food swaps you have made.

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

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Jan. 31

Hawaii to cap sizes of sugary drinks

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post “Hawaii to cap the sizes of sugary drinks.”

You can also read it HERE.

In New York City, we are patiently awaiting the court decision on whether or not a 16-ounce soda will become the default “large” at eating establishments including fast food restaurants delis, and movie theaters.

I am pleased that Mayor Bill de Blasio said that he would move forward with many of former Mayor Bloomberg’s initiatives, including a cap on the sizes of sugar sweetened beverages.

Now, it looks like Hawaii may cap the sizes of sugary drinks. The Hawaii State Senate recently introduced a bill that would prohibit the sale of sugar-sweetened drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces anywhere in the state.

As written in the bill:

The purpose of this Act is to promote the consumption of healthy beverages by ensuring that healthy options are available and accessible, and to reduce incentives to purchase and consume excessively large sugar-sweetened beverages.

Kudos to Hawaii!

Perhaps Bloomberg’s proposal initiated back in May 2012 was on to something. I recently wrote about the United Arab Emigrates’ proposed cap on super size beverages.

After all, does anybody really need to drink more than a pint of soda at one time? With obesity a major public health crisis in the U.S. and abroad, sodas that come in half-gallon containers may certainly be adding to the problem. Indeed, these jumbo sodas contain nearly 800 calories and 50 teaspoons of sugar, are pure liquid calories and contain more than a third of the calories many people should consume in an entire day.

And, as I’ve written before, obesity rates have increased in parallel with growing soda sizes and calorie labeling alone will not solve the problem. Consumers need an environment that encourages healthier choices. And the healthy choice must be the easy choice.

In the meantime, the NYC Department of Health continues to highlight the risks of drinking too many sugary beverages for children and adults. As part of its Pouring on the Pounds advertising campaign, the department recently introduced a new catchy ad, “A sip in the right direction.

In a continued effort to promote healthier New Yorkers, the health department is urging consumers to replace sugary drinks with water, seltzer, unsweetened teas, fat-free milk and fresh fruit.

Certainly a good idea!

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Jan. 24

Smart food swaps for a healthier 2014

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “Smart food swaps for a healthier 2014.”

You can also read it HERE.

It’s that time of year — a new year and a new beginning. As a nutritionist, I often hear from new clients that they make New Year’s resolutions early January and by Valentine’s Day, they are discouraged and back to their same old patterns. Resolutions such as, “I have to lose weight” or, “I want to eat healthier” tend to be too broad, and therefore do not generally work. What I have found in my private practice is that small action-oriented steps and simple substitutions tend to work a lot better.

Here are some smart-and simple food swaps that you can actually implement and incorporate into your everyday routine to help you lead a healthier life.

1. Choose whole fruit instead of juice.

Juice tends to be high in sugar and low in fiber. Fresh fruit, on the other hand, contains more fiber than the juice and has a higher water content, both which are excellent for weight loss. Eating an orange instead of guzzling down a pint of orange juice can save you over 150 calories. Imagine how many calories you can save if you make this switch daily.

2. Start your day with a low fat Greek yogurt instead of a doughnut.

Greek yogurt is an excellent breakfast as it is high in protein, which can keep you full longer. Top your yogurt with fresh fruit and a handful of walnuts to round out your breakfast. A doughnut, on the other hand, is full of calories without much nutrition.

3. Choose whole grains instead of refined grains.

Grains and starches are not taboo and do not need to be avoided to be healthier and lose some weight in the process. The trick is to eat the right kind of grains. Whole grains are the best choice as they are chock full of nutrients and fiber. Include brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal instead of white bread, white rice, and white pasta.

4. Drink water and seltzer instead of soda.

Soda contains pure sugar, is liquid candy, and a waste of calories. Why not eat your calories instead of drink them? Swapping soda for water or seltzer can save you hundreds of calories. For flavor, add a splash of lemon, orange, or cucumber or throw in a few fruity ice cubes (pour your favorite juice into an ice cube tray and freeze for flavored ice cubes).

5. Eat an English muffin (whole grain, of course) instead of a bagel.

Making this swap can save you over 200 calories. While both a bagel and an English muffin are just one item, a bagel is equivalent to approximately five bread slices whereas an English muffin is more like two bread slices. Save the bagel as an occasional treat.

6. Start your meal with a vegetable salad (dressing on side) instead of a fried appetizer.

Starting your meal with a fresh salad is a great way to include vegetables into your diet. Salad and vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals, full of fiber, and low in calories.

7. Choose a low-fat tomato-based soup instead of a cream-based soup.

I am a soup lover. I enjoy eating soup in the cold winters in NY and also in the summer. Soups make a great snack, a healthy appetizer, and even a great meal. The key is to eat a vegetable based soup and to skip the cream. Great choices include 10 vegetable soup, minestrone soup, and white bean and escarole soup.

8. Eat an apple or a pear as a snack instead of a bag of chips.

When you feel the urge to nibble, go for a healthy piece of fruit instead of a bag of chips.

9. Choose salmon instead of steak.

I advise limiting read meat and choosing fish instead. Grilled salmon, for example, is high in protein, much lower in saturated fat than red meat, and full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

10. Finish your meal with a cup of blueberries instead of a slice of blueberry pie.

Berries are rich in antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients and low in calories. If you want to indulge in an occasional slice of pie, make it a sliver, and surround it with a cup of fresh fruit.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2014!

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Jan. 22

Save over 1000 calories with these simple portion swaps

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “Save over 1000 calories with these 5 simple portion swaps.”

You can also read it HERE.

A new study published in the January issue of the Journal of Nutrition and Behavior sheds some more bad news for foods consumed outside the home. The researchers from Drexel University reviewed more than 2,600 menu items from restaurant chains and reported that a typical adult meal (comprised of an entree, side dish, and one-half appetizer) contained nearly 1,500 calories. Add a drink and a half dessert, and the calorie content of this meal increased to 2,020 calories.

To put this in perspective, the average American adult should eat around 2,000 calories a day. According to the research, you can meet your daily allotment for calories in just one meal. Yikes! No surprise that we are in the midst of an obesity epidemic.

As a nutritionist tracking portion sizes, these numbers hardly surprise me. Restaurant portions are enormous, at least double what they were 50 years ago. Burgers, steaks, and pasta bowls have increased in size over the past 50 years. So have bagels, muffins and soft drinks.

While what you eat matters (choosing grilled instead of fried chicken, for example), how much you eat (how large your portion is), matters more than many of us realize.

Here are some simple portion swaps that can save you over 1,000 calories.

1. Order an appetizer portion of pasta instead of a main dish portion.
Many main dish pasta portions contain at least three cups which translates to an entire days worth of grains. Appetizer portions contain approximately 1.5 cups of pasta. Add some fresh tomato sauce and lots of veggies and your portion is far from skimpy. A typical appetizer portion is enough food for an entire meal. Switching from a main dish to an appetizer portion of pasta can save you at least 300 calories.

2. Order salad dressing on the side.
So often, we think we are being virtuous by ordering a salad. After all, a salad contains no bread, and so many of us fear the starch these days. However, many appetizer salads in restaurants contain at least four tablespoons of salad dressing, far more than most of us need. If you order your dressing on the side, you can control how much you add. Most of us do not need more than one to two tablespoons of dressing (which translates into three to six teaspoons). Make this switch, and you can save at least 100 calories.

3. Order the small coffee drink. (Note: in some places a small is called “tall.”)
In the U.S., we seem to want our food in larger portions. Hence, even the descriptor term ‘small” is considered taboo and not used in many food establishments. For example, when you go to Starbucks and order a “small,” you get a “Tall.” We often forget that our coffee drink contain lots of calories, especially if it is in an oversize cup. Ordering the smallest size can save you lots of calories. For example, switching from a Starbucks Venti 20-oz coffee Frappuccino to a tall 12-oz size can save you around 170 calories.

4. Chose bran cereal instead of a bran muffin.
Muffins these days are oversized, often weighing in at seven ounces, and containing more than 500 calories. However, because it is just one item, and contains the healthy sounding term “bran” in its title, we often overlook its high calorie content. A simple swap such as switching to a cup of bran cereal and a cup of fat-free milk can save you around 300 calories.

5. Go single, instead of double or triple.
The fast-food industry is notorious for offering single, double, and triple hamburgers. For the good news, YOU get to choose. My suggestion: order the single instead of the double or triple size. For example, while Burger King’s Triple Whopper which is 16 oz contains nearly 1200 calories, the company’s Whopper sandwich which is 10 oz contains around 650 calories. Just making this swap can save you 510 calories. To save an additional 300 calories, switch to the Whopper Junior sandwich which weighs in at nearly 5 oz (and contains enough food for an adult) and hold the mayo.

As I previously wrote here, you can take action to rightsize your plate and save lots of calories by splitting a dinner entrée, wrapping up leftovers, and being mindful of how much food is on your plate.

I would love to hear any portion tricks and tips you may have.

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Dec. 26

Bloomberg’s Cap on Supersize Soda May Be Contagious

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post “Bloomberg’s cap on supersize soda may be contagious”.

You can also read it HERE.

As Mayor Bloomberg prepares to leave office, his controversial proposed cap on the size of sugar-sweetened drinks may be contagious. While we wait for the courts to determine whether or not a 16-ounce soda will be the default “large” at eating establishments such as fast food restaurants delis, and movie theaters, the United Arab Emigrates (UAE) has decided to ban supersize sodas.

According to Arabian Business:

The UAE has banned supersized fizzy drinks as part of a raft of new health measures announced by the government, as the Gulf state looks to reign in burgeoning obesity and lifestyle disease rates. The federal cabinet came to the decision following the second day of what it described as a “brain-storming” session at a Sir Bani Yas island, and comes on the back of a similar idea being introduced in New York City earlier this year by mayor Michael Bloomberg. According to a recent United Nations report, more than one third of the UAE’s population is classified as clinically obese, while a separate study said that 20 percent of adult Emirati citizens suffer from diabetes.

In Europe, James Quincy, the president of Coca-Cola Europe, acknowledged that many soda sizes are too large. Appearing on BBC, Quincy said that the size of some of the large cups that Coca-Cola is sold in “needs to change” and that “the bigger cups need to come down.” And the sizes of European portions, including soda, are not nearly as large as our portions.

Meanwhile, back in New York City, at a recent roundtable sponsored by the Museum of Food and Drink debating the proposed cap on sugary beverages, I debated the merits of Bloomberg’s proposal. As discussed in Food Navigator, one of the reasons I support the proposed portion cap is that the marketing of supersize sodas has become the norm. In the movie theater, for example, a 32-ounce quart size soda is labeled “small” and a 44-ounce soda is labeled “medium.” Since when is a quart of soda considered small? I also discussed that obesity rates have increased in parallel with growing soda sizes and that calorie labeling alone will not solve the problem. Consumers need an environment that encourages healthier choices. And the healthy choice must be the easy choice.

As I further discussed in the debate and previously wrote in the NY Daily News:

Large portions contribute to obesity because they obviously contain more calories than small portions: A small soda (16 ounces) at KFC contains 180 calories, while the Mega Jug (64 ounces) contains nearly 800 calories — and is more than one-third of an entire day’s recommended calories for some people … Bloomberg is not banning the sale of soda. Nor is he telling consumers that they can’t drink soda. Rather, he is calling attention to how much is a reasonable amount to drink at a time. Sixteen ounces is certainly more than reasonable — a full pint of sugar water. Instead of viewing this as a ban, let’s see it as an attempt to reset the norm for how much soda truly constitutes an appropriate portion.

You can listen to the entire debate complements of Heritage Radio Network.

I hope that the courts favor Bloomberg’s proposal and that when we visit a concession stand at a NYC movie theater later in 2014, the largest single-serve soda is 16 ounces as opposed to the 50-ounce size available now.

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Dec. 17

Holiday survival guide: 8 Strategies to Avoid Overeating

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post, Holiday Survival Guide: 8 Strategies to Avoid Overeating.

You can also read it HERE.

With the holiday season upon us, food is everywhere. From festive holiday parties to dinners with friends and family, let’s face it, this time of year tends to center around food. And, it is perfectly OK to indulge on occasion, sans the guilt, without gaining weight. The trick is to enjoy what you are eating, and to eat mindfully while avoiding overindulging and gaining weight in the process.

For the good news, according to research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Americans, on average, gain just about one pound during the holiday season, with overweight individuals gaining a bit more. This is really not too bad, as long as we keep it to just one pound and get back on track come the New Year.

To help avoid gaining weight this holiday season while also enjoying your favorite foods, here are some strategies that I have used successfully with clients that I counsel in my nutrition practice.

1. Eat healthy MOST of the time.

Make healthy low-calorie choices when you can and do not waste calories nibbling at home while watching TV. Celebrate only at a holiday dinner party or during a holiday event. Plan your day and even plan for your occasional splurge.

2. Eat what you LOVE.

Do not waste calories overeating on cookies and junk food that you do not like just because they are sitting there or because someone else is eating them. Save your extra calories for special foods you enjoy during this time of year.

3. Mind your PORTIONS.

What I love about portion control is that you can still indulge in your favorite foods instead of banning them completely. And you do not have to eat tiny portions. The trick is to eat larger portions of healthy foods balanced with smaller portions of more indulgent and high-calorie choices. For additional tips that I offered on portion control, click here and here.

4. Try eating off of RED plates.

Red is a festive color and red plates certainly go with the season. New research published in the journal Appetite found that we eat less when eating food on a red plate. Subjects who were given pretzels on a red plate ate significantly less than those given pretzels on a blue or white plate. Who knew? Certainly worth a try. The authors suggest that the color red may work as a subtle stop signal (like a red traffic light) which may guide us to reduce our intake.

5. Eat MORE fruits and veggies.

High in fiber, rich in nutrients, and low in calories, enjoying colorful fruits and vegetables is a win-win. Try filling half of your plate with fruits or vegetables at each meal.

6. Limit LIQUID calories.

When we drink our calories instead of eat them, we do not tend to register fullness and we often end up consuming extra unnecessary calories. For example, we often eat a bag of chips with the soda we are guzzling down. And liquid calories such as soda are pure empty calories. Many alcoholic drinks also tend to be high in calories and drinking tends to decrease our resistance to temptations. It is OK to enjoy an occasional glass of red wine, or white wine spritzer, but best to have the drink with dinner and not on an empty stomach. And, fill up on water or seltzer, both calorie free, before your meal.

7. Keep up your EXERCISE routine.

Choose an exercise routine you enjoy and pick a time that works for you so that you will stick to it.

8. DROP the guilt.

If you overate, do not feel guilty. And now there is now research to prove it.
New research found that people who feel guilty after eating large amounts of snack foods tend to gain more weight than those who don’t feel the guilt.

This year, enjoy the holiday season sans guilt!

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Nov. 28

Federal serving sizes exceed typical portions: 10 tips to avoid portion distortion

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, Federal serving sizes differ from typical portion: 10 tips to avoid portion distortion.

You can also read it HERE.

As a portion-size researcher, I have been tracking trends in growing food portions and how they compare to federal standards. As I have written in my book The Portion Teller Plan and demonstrated in my research papers, food portions have increased considerably over the past 50 years, continue to increase despite public health messages urging us to eat less, and greatly exceed federal standards. In addition to the implications for obesity that larger portions have (big portions contain more calories than small portions and can lead to weight gain), educating consumers on how to relate typical portions to federal standards has become increasingly more difficult.

Now, new research commissioned by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) of the U.K. has found that typical portions have changed over the past 20 years and the European guidance on portion sizes is out of date. The U.K. government has recommended that the food industry display per portion values on the front of a package label for calories, fat, sugar and salt. However, according to the new research, the information on the food labels are no longer based on realistic serving sizes.

The researchers write,

The portion size of several products — including single serve packets of crisps, portions of corn flakes and cheddar cheese — are all identical to the information provided twenty years ago…
However, this pattern is not reflected across the products analyzed as a whole, with some showing considerable growth since 1993. In particular, certain bread products and all of the ready meals analyzed showed substantial growth in portion size — as much as 98 percent for one ready meal.

The researchers also note that consumers are confused about portion sizes. Consumers tend to eat bigger portions and overestimate how much they should actually be eating.

As Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the BHF writes “Our research shows there is no meaningful understanding of what is an appropriate portion size. The size of some portions has doubled, while others are so varied between different suppliers and manufacturers that trying to make comparisons is nigh on impossible.”

Like the U.K. researchers found, my research found that U.S. portion sizes differ drastically from federal standards.

For example, while the serving size of pasta on a food label is one cup, most people eat a lot more than that. Indeed, a restaurant portion of pasta is around three cups. And, when making a peanut butter sandwich, how many people actually scoop out the two-tablespoon serving size that the food label suggests?

However, it is a complicated issue.

As I discussed in a thoughtful Q&A with Food Navigator about the portion problem with food labels of packaged foods in the U.S.:

“While unrealistically small serving sizes can make unhealthy products appear in a more favorable light, simply making serving sizes bigger to reflect what people eat is not without it’s own risks.”

As I further explained, “Current serving sizes used for food labels were based on what people reported eating decades ago and we all know that what people say they eat and what they actually eat are two different things, so it makes sense to look at them again. However, if you make the serving sizes too large to reflect what many people are likely to eat, the risk is that people will think the government is telling me I can eat more.”

As summarized in a paper I co-authored with my NYU colleague Marion Nestle, in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine “federal standards bear little relationship to typical marketplace portions.”

And complicating the problem in the U.S., the FDA sets standards for food labels and the USDA sets standards for dietary guidance and education. These standards are smaller than typical portions, differ from one another, and may be creating more confusion. As we suggest, “One uniform system is needed to better advise the public on the relationship between portion size, calories and weight gain.”

So, until the federal government (both in the U.S. and the U.K.) addresses the portion distortion issue, what is the take home message for consumers? I advise clients that I counsel that referring to the serving size information on package labels can be educational but should be looked at with a critical eye.

Here are some tips.

1. Do not assume that the serving size information listed is what you will actually eat.

Reading serving size information can be very educational, if you pay close attention to the actual size (weight or volume) listed on the label. The label will tell you, for example, that if you eat a three quarters of a cup of cereal, it will contain 100 calories. However, if you eat double that amount, you will need to recognize that you are actually eating double the calories as well. Sounds like common sense, but for many of us, it does not register that bigger portions contain more calories.

2. Pay close attention to the number of servings per container or per package.

Even if you eat an entire muffin or candy bar that appears to be marketed for one person, the information on the serving size often states that it contains multiple servings.

3. Use visuals to help you estimate your serving size.

One cup of pasta is the size of a baseball. Two tablespoons peanut butter is the size of a walnut in a shell. Three ounces of meat is the size of a deck of cards. Becoming familiar with visuals can help you eyeball standard serving sizes so that you can then compare these servings to how much you actually eat. Because most of us can visualize common objects it’s a great way to keep portions in check. It makes you think about how much food you’re piling on your plate.

Here is my visual guide to eyeballing serving sizes.

• Nuts, quarter cup = golf ball
• Salad dressing or olive oil, two tablespoons = shot glass
• Peanut butter, two tablespoons = walnut in a shell
• Ice cream, half cup =half baseball
• Cheese, two ounces = eight dice
• Pasta or rice, one cup = baseball
• Oil, one teaspoon = water-bottle cap
• Meat, fish, or poultry, three ounces = deck of cards
• Bread, one ounce slice = CD case

4. Don’t snack out of a jumbo bag.

Familiarize yourself with the serving size on the food label, pour yourself one serving, and put the bag away. Practice this for chips, nuts, pretzels and other treats

5. Don’t be fooled by health halos and health claims on package labels.

Just because a food is labeled organic, gluten free, or low-fat doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you want. Calories are calories!

6. Fill up on fresh fruits and veggies.

You can’t go wrong by adding more fresh fruits and veggies that do not bear package labels to your plate. Eat an apple as a snack, add fresh berries to your yogurt, and fill half of your dinner plate with fresh vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are relatively low in calories and rich in nutrients so you can eat more without worrying too much about gaining weight.

7. Avoid your trigger foods.

If you can’t stop at one serving of chips or pretzels, then don’t even buy it. Choose a treat you can control and portion out.

8. Pay attention to how hungry you actually are and what else you are eating throughout the day.

9. Remember, you don’t need to eat the whole thing.

10. And finally, less is more!

As I often highlight in my talks, “What kind of sandwich isn’t fattening?” My answer: “half a sandwich.”

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