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14 small and simple steps to be healthier in 2018

It is now a full week into the new year, a time full of promises and hope. Whether you want to lose weight, get in shape, or just be a bit healthier this year, small and simple steps can help you to improve your well being. As a nutritionist, I help people develop healthy habits and make better food choices. I tend to be more of a fan of taking small actionable steps to improve your health than I am of making resolutions which we often never act on.

As 2017 came to an end and 2018 just began, now is a great time to assess our lifestyle, diet, and habits, and consider the tweaks we can take that could improve our health and nutrition. While no one magic pill, food, or exercise can make you healthier, these small and simple steps can certainly help get you there.

Here, I share some of my favorites.

1. Be thankful.

Before you can resolve to be healthier and eat better, it’s so important to get your head in the right place and focus on being positive. The best place to start is by expressing your gratitude for the good in your life. To get you started, jot down 5 things you are grateful for each day.

2. Get fresh air.

Whether you live in a sunny warm climate or it’s cold and cloudy, get outside. While you may not be able to do a full workout outdoors, take a walk around the block and be one with nature. It boosts your mood and helps get you going.

3. Enjoy a berry parfait.

Whether or not it is healthier to eat breakfast first thing in the morning is still a topic of debate. I advocate starting your day with something healthy even if it’s not first thing in the morning. I recommend choosing a healthy protein, whether it’s eggs, yogurt, or nut butter and adding a fresh fruit or a whole grain. If you don’t like to eat a big meal in the morning, make a yogurt parfait—Greek yogurt, your favorite berries, and a sprinkling of walnuts and flax-seeds.

4. Prep in advance.

As a clinician for over 20 years, my most successful clients planned their meals and prepped in advance. A few simple tips: always keep a variety of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables on hand and stock your pantry with healthy choices including nuts, olive oil, beans, legumes, and whole grains.

5. Try something new.

Whether you decide try a new food (after all, there’s got to be a veggie you haven’t yet tried!), do a different workout, take a class, or travel a different route to work, changing things up gets you out of a rut. It gets you off to a fresh new start and the change is good for your brain too.

6. Be wise about portion size.  

Watching your portion size is by far the best way to watch calories without having to actually count them. Aim for approximately 4 ounces fish or poultry (a little larger than deck of cards or your palm). As for a healthy starch such as quinoa or brown rice, you do not need to skip it. Stick with a cup’s worth (your fist) as a side dish. And enjoy fresh fruits and veggies in unlimited portions. No one I know got fat from eating too many carrots or bananas.

7. Move daily.

Being active has been shown to have many health benefits, both physically and mentally. Exercise not only helps you lose weight, it improves your mood and outlook, lowers your heart rate and is good for your bones and your brain. Pick an exercise you enjoy and stick to it. Just don’t forget to breathe!

8. Eat a salad.

Eating salad may be one of the healthiest eating habits you can adopt today. Eating salads are a great way to get in a few servings of fruits and vegetables. They are packed with fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They also fill you up so you eat less of the wrong stuff. Try mixing up your assortment of fruits and veggies to vary your nutrients.

9. Go fishing.

Fish is among the healthiest foods. It is full of nutrients, including protein and vitamin D. Fatty fish such as salmon is also one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are incredibly important for brain and heart health. Include fish in your diet at least twice a week.

10. Snack smart.

Enjoying a healthy snack between meals is a great way to prevent you from being hungry and then overeating it later. My favorite snacks include an apple or pear with nut butter, cut up vegetables with hummus, a handful of nuts and berries, or 1/3 avocado with whole grain crackers. And, as I tell my clients eat before you eat! Having a light snack before heading out to dinner will help you eat less.

11. Write it down.

Keeping a food diary is a great to track your food intake. It helps to keep you accountable as well as identify your triggers and weaknesses. You can keep a food journal or you can use an app. Choose the method that is less cumbersome for you. Keep track of what you eat, how much, as well as how the food is prepared.

12. Cook more.

Home-cooked food tends to be healthier than restaurant and store bought food, containing fewer calories and less fat, sugar, and salt. If you eat out most nights of the week (and that includes ordering in!) , tweak your routine by eating home a few nights. If you don’t cook regularly, you may think you don’t know how, but give it a try and experiment your mom’s favorite recipes.

13. Souper-size it!

I am a huge fan of eating soup either as a snack or as a n appetizer. What I like most about including soups in your diet is that they are filling and often times, you get to eat a large portion without too many calories. Perfect for volume lovers! In fact, people who eat a large vegetable-based soup as an appetizer often end up eating fewer calories at the rest of the meal. My favorites — minestrone, tomato kale, lentil soup, and white bean. Several caveats: skip the cream soups and go easy on salt.

14. Say no to liquid candy.

Liquid candy is a term used for soda, sweetened iced tea, fruit punch and the like. Not only do sugary beverages contain unnecessary calories, (all from added sugars!), you often don’t even realize you are getting any calories at all, and you often eat a not so healthy snack with it. A triple wammy! Drink water instead. Sparkling water is great too. And feel free to add lemon, cucumber, sliced apple or mint leaves for added flavor.

Happy New Year. Here’s to a healthy year and to 365 days of endless possibilities.

We’d love to hear your favorite New Year’s hacks.

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Foods to enjoy without added sugar

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post 10 foods to enjoy without added sugar.

You can also read it HERE.

The problems with consuming too much added sugar seem to be getting lots of attention these days. From contributing to inflammation, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity, sugar has been recently singled out as a cause for concern.

The recently released report from the Dietary Guideline Committee (DGAC) suggests, for the first time, that Americans limit sugar to 10 percent of calories. That would translate into roughly 200 calories–and 12 teaspoons–for a 2000 calorie diet. TheWorld Health Organization (WHO) also suggests we limit added sugar to less than 10 percent of total calories. And the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed that manufacturers be required to declare the amount of “added sugars” on food labels to help consumers understand how much sugar has been added to a product.

Indeed, we love sugar and eat too much of it. Americans currently consume 22 to 30 teaspoons of added sugar daily, half of which come from soda, juices and other sugary drinks. Sugar contributes to the sweet taste of our foods and drinks while also acting as a preservative in many of our favorite foods.

Acting as a food sleuth, I recently visited a local New York City supermarket with a reporter for a public radio station for a story on hidden sources of sugar. While we know that sugary drinks such as soda and sugar-sweetened cereals such as Fruit Loops are a main culprit of added sugar, it is often surprising to people when they hear that sugar is also lurking in breads (even whole-wheat varieties) as well as salad dressings (even healthy sounding ones especially low-fat varieties.) Perusing the supermarket aisles, while we were sure that we would see lots of sugar in fruit punch, ice cream, and candy bars, we also found considerable amounts of added sugar in many commonly consumed foods including waffles, ketchup, teriyaki sauce, and granola.

So what can we eat without too much added sugar?

Below are 10 foods to enjoy without having to worry about exceeding sugar budget.

1. Plain Greek yogurt
Finding the added sugar on your cup of yogurt can be tricky these days which is one of the reasons why the FDA wants to require manufacturers to list “added sugars” on the food labels. While on first glance, yogurt appears to be high in sugar, unsweetened yogurt contains only the naturally occurring simple sugar lactose, called milk sugar. Flavored yogurts, on the other hand, often contain lots of added sugar, in addition to the naturally occurring sugar. Many sweetened yogurts contain several teaspoons of added sugars.

2. Apple
While fruits contain sugar (called fructose), it is a naturally occurring source of sugar. Apples, as well as other fruits, also contain fiber which will help you feel full without the calories.

3. Peanut butter
Spread a tablespoon of peanut butter on your apple for flavor and fullness while also getting a dose of healthy fats and added nutrients. Steer clear, however, of the sugar-sweetened peanut butters. Stick to the plain unsweetened varieties.

4. Tossed salad
Fresh vegetables of all kind contain carbohydrates as their primary source of calories but you really do not have to worry about their sugar content. While a carrot may have more sugar, and therefore more calories, than a stalk of celery, vegetables contain naturally occurring sugar while also containing fiber, high water content, and a fairly low calories count. Fresh vegetables in their natural state do not contain added sugars.

5. Avocado
Throw in some avocado which contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. While avocado is not low in calories, (due to its fat content), this fruit is not a source added sugar.

6. Homemade salad dressing
To skip the added sugar often found in store-bought bottled salad dressings, I suggest making your own. Ingredients such as olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, and lemon are very low in sugar.

7. Grilled Salmon
Top your salad with grilled salmon which contributes protein as well as heart-healthy fats called omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon as well as other fish and high protein foods are not a source of added sugars. However, watch the teriyaki glaze, soy sauce, and breadcrumbs which can contribute sugar, salt, and added calories. Drizzle your salmon with olive oil and spices to save on added sugar and salt.

8. Air-popped popcorn
Hungry for a mid-afternoon snack? Skip the candy bar and choose air-popped popcorn instead. Air-popped popcorn is low in sugar and calories and contains fiber which will help you feel full. And, what’s even better, is that you can enjoy a generous serving. 3 cups of popcorn constitutes one serving from the grain group.

9. Hummus and veggies
Hummus contains protein which helps you feel full. Enjoy this yummy chick pea spread with your favorite fresh vegetables.

10. Sparkling water
Hydrate yourself with sparkling water instead of soda and other sweetened drinks. Add a twist of fresh lemon or lime for a hint of flavor. Many sparkling waters are flavored naturally without any added sugar. Read labels carefully, however, because some healthy sounding beverages often contain added sugars. And those without added sugar often contain artificial sweeteners, which aren’t much better than sugar.

We would love to hear some of your favorite foods which are low in added sugar?

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

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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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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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NYC to appeal appellate court ruling on sugary beverages.

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post “NYC to appeal ruling on sugary beverages.”

You can also read it HERE.

New York City became the first city to almost make supersize soda cups a thing of the past. But an appeals court issued a ruling on Tuesday that that the city’s health department exceeded its legal authority by trying to place a size limit on sugary beverages served in fast food restaurants and other eating establishments.

The proposed portion size cap was set to restrict the sale of sodas and other sugary drinks that are larger than 16 ounces in food establishments, including fast-food chains, restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas, delis, and street carts. It would have included the now-typical 20-ounce soda bottle from the corner deli and most oversized fountain drinks available in fast-food establishments and movie theaters.

The beverage industry called the measure unfair and ineffective.

The city has promised an appeal. Indeed, as the city points out in the headlines of its press release: Obesity Kills More Than 5,000 New Yorkers Annually; Sugary Beverages are Key Driver of the Obesity Epidemic.

Mayor Bloomberg issued the following statement in the release:

Since New York City’s ground-breaking limit on the portion size of sugary beverages was prevented from going into effect on March 12th, more than 2,000 New Yorkers have died from the effects of diabetes. Also during that time, the American Medical Association determined that obesity is a disease and the New England Journal of Medicine released a study showing the deadly, and irreversible, health impacts of obesity and Type 2 diabetes — both of which are disproportionately linked to sugary drink consumption. Today’s decision is a temporary setback, and we plan to appeal this decision as we continue the fight against the obesity epidemic.

I hope the city wins its appeal.

As a nutritionist and health activist, here are five reasons I support the mayor and city’s health department.

1. Sugar-sweetened beverages provide nothing but empty calories. Soda offers no nutrients and no health benefits. No one needs to drink more than a pint size of sugar water at one sitting.

2. The larger the cup, the more calories (and sugar) a drink contains. For example, while a small soda (16 ounces) at KFC contains 180 calories, the Mega Jug (64 ounces) contains nearly 800 calories — more than one-third of an entire day’s recommended calories for some people. It is no surprise that obesity and other diseases including diabetes have been linked with the consumption of soft drinks

3. While a 16-ounce soda was once considered large, today it is called small. It would be great if we can go back to more normal size cups. As I previously wrote, the portion sizes of soft drinks and other foods have grown considerably over time and so have our waistlines. The sizes of soft drinks have morphed into jugs and half-gallon containers large enough for a family of eight.

4. The portion size restriction is not a “ban” as many headlines call it. The city is not banning soda or telling consumers that they cannot drink soda. Rather, the portion size cap is calling attention to how much is considered a reasonable portion at one time.

5. And, finally, the 16 ounce size restriction is quite a reasonable size: It is A PINT size and double a standard Food and Drug Administration (FDA) serving size.

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Why current size labels can be deceptive

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, “I’ll have a medium soda”–Why current size labels can be deceptive. You can also read it HERE.

As a nutrition researcher tracking portion sizes and labels manufacturers use to describe such sizes, I have seen food portions not only grow larger over the years, but the labels to describe foods and drinks have also changed.

For example, when McDonald’s opened in the 1950s, the company offered one size soda, which was 7 ounces; today’s 12 ounces is labeled a kid’s size and the 16-ounce is labeled small. Similarly, when Burger King opened, the company offered a 12-ounce small and a 16-ounce large soda. The 12-ounce is no longer sold and the 16-ounce comes as part of the value meal. Burger King’s small soda is now 20 ounces, the medium is 30 ounces, and the large is 40 ounces.

Does anyone pay attention to these label descriptors? And do they influence how much we really eat? Apparently yes, according to a new study published in Health Economics by Cornell University researchers David Just and Brian Wansink.

The study found that labeling a food as “regular” or “double size” affects how much consumers will eat, regardless of how big or small the portion size actually is.

The researchers served subjects two different portions of pasta in either a one cup-portion or a two-cup portion. For some of the subjects, the two different size portions were labeled “half-size” and “regular.” For the other subjects, the identically-sized portions were labeled “regular” and “double-size.” The labels for the first group of subjects indicated that the two-cup pasta portion was the regular size, while it was suggested to the second group of subjects that the one-cup pasta portion was the regular size.

The study concluded that varying the “regular” portions affected how much the subjects actually ate. Subjects ate more food when the portion was labeled “regular” than when it was labeled “double-size” despite the fact that the two sizes were actually the same size.

The subjects were also willing to pay more for a larger sounding portion size.

As reported in newsLI.com, “These varying concepts of ‘regular’ portions made all the difference in how much people would spend and subsequently eat,” said Just. “Participants ate much more when their portion was labeled ‘regular’ than when it was labeled ‘double-size.’ In fact, participants who thought their portion was ‘double-size’ left 10 times the food on their plate.”

How does this study affect those of us who typically eat out at eateries that offer foods and drinks in different sizes? The chart below shows the sizes of fast food soda portions at top fast-food chains.

McDonald’s

Kids 12 oz.
Small 16 oz.
Med 21 oz.
Large 32 oz.

Burger King

Value 16 oz.
Small 20 oz.
Medium 30 oz.
Large 40 oz.

KFC

Small 16 oz.
Medium 20 oz.
Large 30 oz.
Mega Jug 64 oz.

As you can see, the benign sounding “medium” soda is actually quite large. McDonald’s medium portion is 21 ounces (a pint and a half) and Burger King’s medium soda is 30 ounces (nearly a quart). But because these items are labeled medium, customers may consider themselves virtuous by not ordering the large, and may in fact order a medium order of fries to go with the soda.

My advice: Next time you visit an eating establishment that sells food in several sizes, I suggest ordering the small. Unless, you are visiting a Starbucks where the small is labeled tall.

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Restaurant survival guide

Below is my blog post  Restaurant survival guide: 10 tips for healthful dining for Huffington Post. You can also read it HERE.

Restaurant survival guide: 10 tips for healthful dining

Being a nutritionist in New York City, with so many good restaurants on almost every block, so many clients that I counsel eat out more often than they eat at home. Whether dinner parties, business meetings, or just catching up with friends, eating out has become one of our favorite activities. While I always recommend that it is good to cook (or learn to cook) and eat home on occasion, so much of my time is spent coaching clients on how to eat out healthfully in restaurants.

It is possible to eat out and consume upward of 2000 calories in just one meal. However, it is also entirely possible not to break your calorie budget and to eat healthfully while eating out. The key is to be mindful of your food choices and to choose wisely. Here are my top tips for dining out healthfully.

1. Mind your portions. Portions have grown tremendously over the years and it is most noticeable in restaurants. As I wrote in my book, The Portion Teller Plan, many steaks often contain a pound of meat (yes that is 16 oz!), overflowing pasta bowls often hold 3 or more cups, and some sandwiches contain over 1000 calories. However, you do NOT need to eat an entire dish yourself. YOU can practice portion control by splitting an entrée in half and share with your dining partner, wrapping up leftovers, or ordering appetizer portions.

2. Order a salad or vegetable soup to start. Instead of eating the entire bread basket which we often do when we sit down in the restaurant and wait for our main dish to arrive, order a healthy appetizer. A salad with mixed vegetables (order dressing on the side) or a vegetable-based soup is a great way to start a meal. The veggies are fairly low in calories and will fill you up as they are rich in fiber (not to mention healthy).

3. Order dishes grilled, broiled or baked. How a meal is prepared is so important to determining the healthfulness—and calorie count—of the meal. Try to stick with baked chicken or grilled fish, for example. Steer clear of fried dishes such as deep fried chicken.

4. Choose red sauce over cream sauce. We all love eating at our favorite Italian restaurant and we may want to enjoy an occasional bowl of pasta. Besides minding our portions, it is also important to choose the right sauce. Marinara or tomato sauce is relatively low in fat and calories as compared to a cream sauce.

5. Order primavera. Adding vegetables to your pasta dish (or any other dish you can) is a great way to make your portion look larger, boost vitamins, minerals, and fiber content, and help you to feel more satisfied without providing unneeded calories.

6. Order “on the side.” When ordering a salad or fish dish which may appear to be healthy, if the dish contains tons of dressing and sauce, you may be getting hundreds of added calories without even realizing. To avoid this, ask for dressings and sauces on the side. I do not think it is practical to eat everything bland and steamed with no sauce at all. However, if you order your favorite sauce or dressing on the side, you get to control how much you add on and you get a taste of the flavor you like.

7. Skip the soda and sugary drinks. Sodas and other sugary beverages add unnecessary calories to your meal. Opt for water or flavored seltzers instead.

8. Think ONE. If you want to indulge in an occasional glass of wine, think ONE. One drink on occasion is OK for most of us, but as I tell my clients, it is important not to drink several drinks daily. Not only does a lot of alcohol provide unneeded calories (as well as potential health risks), it tends to lower your inhibitions and you may end up overeating without realizing it.

9. Share dessert. It is ok to enjoy an occasional piece of pie for dessert but I suggest sharing it with your dinner companions. One great idea is to order your favorite “treat’ dessert while also ordering a fresh fruit platter. This way you can split both. The fruit adds volume so that you don’t feel deprived ordering just a few bites of pastry or pie.

10. Skip the WHITE (unless it is cauliflower). It is best to skip the white bread products which are refined and devoid of fiber and other important nutrients. Order brown rice instead of white rice, whole wheat pasta or soba noodles instead of white pasta, and limit the white bread and crackers on the table.

And, finally, remember that French fries count as a treat, and not as a vegetable.

Enjoy.

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Fighting Obesity in New York City One Cup at a Time

It has been a busy week in New York City surrounding discussions of Mayor Bloomberg’s portion-size restriction for sodas. Below is my blog post for Huffington Post on the topic. You can read it HERE.

I was pleased to participate in Mayor Bloomberg’s press event yesterday at Lucky’s Café on East 34th Street along with other public health activists. The mayor vowed that the city will appeal the ruling overturning the portion-size restriction for sugar-sweetened beverages that was set to go into effect. He also eloquently spoke about the health implications of consuming large sugary beverages for New Yorkers. The mayor mentioned that obesity is killing more than 5,000 New Yorkers annually and 100,000 people nationwide. Indeed, large portions of sugar-sweetened beverages are contributing to our obesity epidemic.

The proposed portion size cap was set to restrict the sale of sodas and other sugary drinks that are larger than 16 ounces in food establishments, including fast-food chains, restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas, delis, and street carts. It would include the now-typical 20-ounce soda bottle from the corner deli and most oversized fountain drinks available in fast-food establishments and movie theaters. It would even include many “small” sodas served at such eateries.

The press release from Mayor Bloomberg’s office cites new research from the city showing a strong connection between the consumption of sugary beverages and obesity.

The release states that:

… neighborhoods with higher rates of consumption of sugary drinks tended to have higher obesity rates. Nine of the top 10 neighborhoods with the highest obesity rates city-wide were also the highest in sugary drink consumption. At the other end, the three least obese neighborhoods were also the lowest in sugary drink consumption.

From a nutritionist’s point of view, this makes perfect sense. Sugar-sweetened beverages are purely liquid calories, provide no nutrients, no health benefits, and contribute unnecessary calories to our diets. And, as I found in my research, portion sizes of soft drinks and other foods have grown considerably over time and so have our waistlines. The sizes of soft drinks have morphed into jugs and half-gallon containers large enough for a family of eight. In the 1950s, a Burger King “small” soda was 12 ounces and the “large” was 16 ounces. Today, its “small” is 20 ounces. In 1916, a Coca-Cola bottle was 6.5 ounces, and in the 1950s, a Coca-Cola ad advertised the 16-ounce size to be shared among 3 people. Today, many people complain that 16 ounces is too small. Indeed, our perception has shifted.

As I previously wrote here:

… the mayor of New York City 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 should be considered a reasonable amount to drink at a time. And 16 ounces is certainly more than a reasonable — that is a pint-size worth of sugar water. I do not see the proposal as a ban, but rather as an attempt to reset the norm for how much drink constitutes an appropriate portion. This is a much needed proposal in an era of oversized portions.

I was pleased to offer my support to the city’s portion size restriction. As I indicated in the press release from the mayor’s office:

“I am in support of the portion-size restriction on sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Lisa Young, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University. “Large portion sizes of sugar sweetened beverages are a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. Capping the size of sugar-sweetened beverages is an excellent way to fight obesity. Large portions of soda contain many calories and absolutely no nutrients. No one should be drinking a 64 ounce (half gallon) of soda. A 16-ounce soda (a pint size) is certainly large enough for one person.”

But consumers will only buy small portions if the price is right or if the large sizes disappear. The price is rarely right for small portions, however. Manufacturers rarely charge half price for a half portion, as it has to cover its costs. And the cost of food is cheaper than most other costs such as rent, labor, and supplies.

As I wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Daily News back in September after the proposal was approved by the Board of Health:

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. Bigger portions also encourage us to consume more and to thus underestimate how much we are really eating and drinking. And it is the destitute who are most frequently the victims of the ills that come with fast-food consumption.

Given the enormous health implications of obesity in New York and elsewhere, capping the portion sizes of liquid calories devoid of nutrients is a terrific place to start.
The city did indeed file an appeal of Judge Tingling’s ruling. It is unclear how long it will take before a decision is reached. While I do hope that the decision is made in favor of the city, regardless of the outcome, Mayor Bloomberg and the city accomplished a great deal. The proposal to limit supersize sugary beverages set the stage for a national discussion on the contribution of our food environment — in particular, large portions of sugary beverages — to the obesity epidemic. And, we can do something about it!

I do hope that while we are waiting, restaurants and other eating establishments follow Lucky Café’s lead and voluntarily offer smaller sodas. We as consumers should also pay closer attention to the sizes of our food portions. We should think twice before buying the larger size, even if we get twice as much for just an extra quarter. And, in the end, we must remember that portion size matters.

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Americans eating less fast food!

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post.

You can also read it here.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported some good news for nutrition activists and others hoping to help Americans eat healthier. A new study found that American adults are consuming fewer calories from fast food than they were several years ago.

In 2006, American consumed approximately 13 percent of calories from fast food. Data from 2010 found that adults consumed about 11 percent of their daily calories from fast food. This data included foods such as hamburgers and French fries, known for their high fat content. This is certainly a step in the right direction. Especially since two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese.

Here are some additional findings from the study:

  • Heavier people ate more calories from fast food than people who are normal weight.
  • Blacks consumed more fast food calories than both whites and Hispanics.
  • Black adults ages 20 to 39 had the highest rates of fast food consumption.
  • Americans 60 and over ate less fast food than younger adults ages 20 to 39.

During this time, caloric intake among adults did not change during these years.

A separate study reported that caloric intake among kids has decreased, revealing some more good news. This is the first decline in calorie intake among kids in more than 40 years.

Efforts such as first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign may be paying off.
As I told the Christian Science Monitor, “The take-home message is that public education messages to eat less [fast food] are working … We are shifting toward healthier options.”

Here are some thoughts that I share with USA Today, “Fast-food places continue to sell high-calorie items — many meals contain half a day’s worth of calories — but they are offering some lower-calorie items as well. Get the smallest size possible of everything from burgers to fries to soda so that you take in the fewest calories.”

Additional tips that I share with clients are:

  • Drink water instead of the soda.
  • Skip the double and triple burgers.
  • Order a salad with dressing on the side.
  • Share.
  • Eat slowly.
  • Enjoy your company.

You’d be surprised, but these small changes do add up.

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Diet industry supports Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to limit oversized beverages.

Here is my latest post for Huffington Post.

You can also read it below.

One week before the Board of Health is schedule to vote on Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to limit the sizes of oversized drinks, Weight Watchers and other diet companies including The South Beach Diet, Jenny Craig and Bob Greene of The Best Life Diet are supporting the proposal.

I have previously written about my support for the proposal and also testified at the hearing.

As reported in the New York Times, David Burwick, the president of Weight Watchers North America said, “There’s been a lot of hand-wringing about obesity but very little action.”

As reported in Metro NY, Mayor Bloomberg said “As the size of sugary drinks has grown, so have our waistlines, and so have diabetes and heart disease.” And, Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley added that “In a city with large sizes of high-calorie snack foods and beverages at your fingertips around the clock, it is no wonder many New Yorkers struggle to maintain a healthy weight.”

I could not agree more!

Here are 5 good reasons:

1. Portion sizes have exploded in recent years.

2. Large portions contain more calories than small portions.

3. Large portions encourage us to eat more.

4. Large portions encourage us to underestimate how much we are eating.

5. Sugary sweetened beverages are empty calories and have no nutrition benefits to offer.
The Board of Health is scheduled to vote on the ban on Thursday, Sept. 13 and would go into effect six months after, on March 13.

Stay tuned!

Your thoughts?!

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