Friday, March 26, 2010

Nutrition Labeling in Restaurants: Loving It!

I just have to tell you, one part of the new health care bill is making me ready to start dancing in the streets! Chain restaurants with 20 or more outlets will have to show calorie counts for every menu item AND indicate how many calories a normal, healthy person should be consuming. Its about time!

This info will be displayed on menus, on drive-thru menu signs, on food items in vending machines, and even on foods in buffet lines and salad bars.

Why is this party time for the nation? Over half of the money spent on food in the United States today is actually spent eating out. With 2/3 of our population now overweight or obese, we need all the help we can get.

When the calories are clearly posted, along side the 2000 calories the average American needs, the consumer will have more information to make their purchasing decision besides all the wonderfully effective marketing done on TV, billboards, colorful photos, and the like. How often have you been to a restaurant without prices on the menu? Never? I haven't either. We need the prices to determine if that item fits within our money budget for the meal. If we only have cash with us, let's say $20.00, and we order a $25.00 item, we're in a bit of trouble, right?

We need to start thinking like that with calories, too. Are our menu choices fitting in our daily calorie budget? If the large fries are 500 calories extra, and you are eating those every day as a "side," that could easily be 1/4 of the calories you need to eat all day!! Those extra pounds can creep up ever so quickly.

It's time to get this info posted. Everywhere. I want to know both prices of my food: dollars and calories. They both matter to me, and they should to you, too.

This is a starting point for health awareness, certainly not the full answer. It would be great to have grams of saturated fat, total fat and fiber listed, but we need to start somewhere! This is a good thing. What do you think?

Fire Up! Together, We Can Do This!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"Go-To" Quick Meals for Fast, Healthy Dinners

Once again, the meeting ran long. Everything was crazy all day long. At this point you are so exhausted and there is really no time to prepare a good healthy meal anymore. Drive through or pizza tonight. No choice. Or is there?

One reader sent in a great idea, asking that we share some ideas for healthy meals that we can throw together in under 10 minutes. This is the ultimate challenge! We need some protein, fruits/veggies, whole grains, and maybe a little healthy fat to round out our meal. Are you ready?

Question: What is your "go to" meal when you have to make dinner in a flash and you still want it to be healthy?

Reader krispy kreme's 5-minute meal:
  • rotisserie chicken
  • bag of steam in the bag frozen veggies
  • Uncle Ben's 90 second brown rice
Dinner done!

Loaded Bean Burritos are a quick meal for us:
  • whole grain soft tortillas
  • canned fat-free refried beans, zapped in microwave until hot
  • low fat shredded cheddar cheese
  • salsa
  • shredded dark leafy lettuce
  • sliced olives or tomatoes, if I have them
  • plain Greek yogurt or low fat sour cream
Roll it up & eat!


What are your "GO TO" QUICK MEALS for healthy dinners in a flash?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Weight Watchers In Business With McDonalds??

Wow. Weight Watchers teamed up with McDonalds in New Zealand. It sounds like they have chosen 3 meals to mark with the Weight Watchers logo/seal of approval. These will count as 6.5 points on the WW weight loss plan, where daily points plans run from 18 - 40 points per day, and the average is 28. The approved meals will be the Filet-o-Fish sandwich, 6 piece chicken nuggets, and a sweet chili chicken wrap. Diet drinks and salads come with the meal.

Fast food in cahoots with a weight loss industry giant seems wrong on so many levels. What's happening here? I do see some good things but I also see some major warning lights flashing overhead. When I look at this from a weight loss angle, it reminds me of Taco Bell's "Drive thru" diet, but let's tackle that one in another next blog.

What's good about McDonalds and Weight Watchers in business together?
  • Someone trying to lose weight can readily see the lower calorie choices: the WW logo is recognized and respected world wide. I would have appreciated this when I was getting rid of my 69 #.
  • Helps people see they can go to fast food restaurants while losing weight, which reinforces the "life-style change" behavior approach. Its all about what you choose when you get there.
  • McDonalds is offering some healthier choices, which is a good move.

What are the problems with MickeyD's and WW teaming up?
  • Reality. When a person is trying to lose weight, they need to be really strong and well prepared mentally to walk into McD's and order the lighter fare. Why? As soon as you walk into a fast food establishment you are bombarded with an incredibly strong offensive line. You have to be on guard as your senses are highly stimulated there, and dangers lurk everywhere. You smell the fries and burgers. You hear the fries sizzling and you hear the servers asking you if you want fries with that. (Yes, of course I do! But, maybe I wouldn't choose to if you didn't ask me.) You see wonderful pictures of beautiful burgers, shakes and fries. Let the drooling begin...If you aren't mentally on the defense, chances are the idea to choose a WW item will take a turn toward the "Yes, I'll take the large fries, please," adding 500 calories to the meal.
  • Too much temptation? Perhaps we giving a false sense of security by knowing WW has OK'd McDonalds. How often will someone actually order from the lighter menu when the photo of the double cheeseburger and shake look so much better? Granted, people need to take responsibility for what goes into their own stomachs, but is this aiding and abetting overweight people in their quest to lose weight? Hmmm...
  • It may be healthier, but it's not health food. Just by reducing the fat and calories as was done for this venture in New Zealand, they aren't creating a health food. It's getting better, but it's not there yet. When do we get the whole grain buns loaded with extra deep green lettuce, 2 slices of tomato and all things wonderful like that, with a grilled chicken breast not infused with fat?
  • Why is diet soda the only beverage included in the meal? Why not non-fat milk, bottled water, unsweetened tea and coffee? Milk is loaded with protein, vitamins and minerals--totally nutrient dense. Tea and coffee have the antioxidant edge, and water is the ultimate hydrator. All with no artifical sweeteners.
I'm sure the ultimate decision for the McDonalds and Weight Watchers joint venture is a sound business one having a bit to do with money. And so far, the McD & WW combo will be served only in New Zealand.

What do YOU think about this duo in business together?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Heathy Eating Feels Good

It's time for a little push in your motivation. I know, there are days when you're tired, stressed out, and life is just not in that happy place. It just seems easier to grab a coffee on the way out the door in the morning, join the gang at the donut box for breakfast, and pop a diet coke and Snickers bar for lunch. You skip the gym and head home to zip open that blue box of mac & cheese. Then you just slurp it up from a cereal bowl comatose-style while curled up on the sofa watching TV at night. Add a few cheese curls and some Oreos, and you're good, right? All right, let's get your head together with a little kick in motivation!

How many of you can relate to days like this? That's what I thought, you are not alone! While it may seem easier eat this way on emotionally exhausting days, work with me on this. Think...

Self-Assessment Quiz:
  • How do you feel as the entire day of your eating and exercise choices go on?
  • How is your attitude: grumpy, happy?
  • How sharp is your brain? Are decisions coming easily to you or are you a bit dull in the thought process today?
  • How's your energy level? Ready to go or dragging through the trenches ready to crash?
  • What about your physical body? Are you feeling great or lousy, maybe noticing more aches and pains today than you usually do?
  • How does your stomach feel?
  • How happy are you with yourself at the end of the day? What do you imagine your facial expression is as you think about this? Visualize it!
Evaluate yourself without calling yourself any nasty names. Go in deep for your feelings and separate them from your actions. You are not stupid, fat, dumb, a failure or anything negative like that. You just simply collected some data, and we are now in the process of analyzing it. OK? What do you feel like when you eat like this and skip your exercise. Got it?

Now, what do you feel like when you make really healthy choices of food all day and get that exercise in? Go through the same self-assessment quiz.

Which day of eating makes you feel better? When you eat healthy foods all day your head and body feel better. Your attitude is more positive, happier---and that tends to rub off on those people around you. Your brain is clearer and simply does its work better. (Just a note, I don't want any surgeon of mine coming at me with a scalpel if she's been running all day long on Cheetos. Nope, not good for either of us!) When you eat well, your body will feel more energetic, and ready to give you good energy all day long.

It does make a difference what you eat. If you put low grade fuel into a car that requires premium fuel, what do you get? Pinging, lower fuel economy and performance. It's true for us, too. We need premium fuel if we don't want to ping all day and have lousy performance!

Moral of the story: Twinkies in, Twinkies out!

Remember how much better you feel when you go that extra mile for those healthy, premium foods!

You Are Worth what it takes to be healthy.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

It's Time for Kale

If you haven't tried Kale yet, its time! This veggie is one loaded super food, not just a garnish on your plate. Kale is actually from the cabbage family, a cruciferous vegetable that has been showing some really wonderful abilities. It has phytochemicals called glucosinolates that are transformed into cancer-fighters in your body. When you eat more, you lower your risk of colon, breast, lung, ovarian, and bladder cancer. Who can argue with that? And eating lots of those cruciferous veggies can even reduce your risk of cataracts.

Kale's filled with vitamins A, C, K, and fiber---all for 35 calories per cup. It's also a good source of carotenoids, vitamin B-6, calcium, iron, and manganese. It even has a bit of vitamin E and omega 3's. Pretty amazing stuff! Ready to try kale?

So, how do you cook it? We've been talking a lot about kale in our Health & Nutrition support groups. This week, they asked me to write down my recipe in a blog. So here's my favorite way to make kale:

Wonderful Kale
  • Buy 1 bunch of fresh looking, crisp, deep colored kale (no wilted or pale yellow.)
  • Wash leaves just before cooking.
  • Trim off the stems (toss them in freezer to chop for soup later.)
  • Tear leaves into smaller pieces, if you wish.
  • Place into steamer or into pan with small amount of water. Cover with lid.
  • Steam for 8 minutes, or until bright green. It will still be a bit chewy (its supposed to be this way!)
  • While steaming, saute 2 cloves chopped garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil until lightly browned.
  • When kale is done, drain (save liquid to freeze for soup!) and toss into saute pan.
  • Sprinkle with 2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. (I love sea salt in this, and it allows me to use less.)
  • Optional: add 1/4- 1/2 tsp of dried red pepper flakes for a lively kick.
  • Toss it up and enjoy!
  • For a main dish: toss in 1-2 packets of chunk light tuna-- I love the one in sunflower oil. Canned tuna is fine, just drain it really well first. (Plan on 3 ounces per person.)
This recipe has turned many people into kale lovers! Several of our group members love it cold the next day for lunch...

Try it, you'll like it!
Kale, it does your body good!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More Fat Talk: Olestra and Butter

Do you remember all the WOW chips that came out in the late 90's offering the answer to our prayers? They satisfied our crunchy, salty urges and were actually fat-free. No, not just fat-free baked kind of things, but they tasted like they were made with fat. Lots of people trying to watch their weight were in chip heaven. Yep, life was good. hour after they ate a bunch of them. One gal I was working with ate a whole bag of chips and described her ordeal of cramps as worse than labor with her 3 kids. Whoa...

Olestra. The miracle that wasn't. Reader krispy kreme thought olestra's days were over, and then noticed quite by accident that it is still hidden in some products. What's the real scoop on olestra?

Olestra is actually a "fake-fat" molecule. Chemically, they start with a sucrose molecule (sugar) and attach 6-8 fatty acid chains to it, so it looks kind of like a big octopus. Natural fats usually have 3 fatty acids (ever heard of triglycerides?) These octopus dudes are so big, that our body can't digest them, so they just run on out of our digestive system. Literally. The enzymes that usually break down the fats we eat can't touch them: the untouchable octopuses. Olestra creates such havoc in some systems that it creates gas, cramping, diarrhea and something called steatorrhea. (*Don't read this if you are easily grossed out: people were noticing leaking of yellow-orange oily stuff on underwear and in toilets. Egad! You need to wear diapers to eat this stuff?) The FDA received a record 20,000 consumer complaints in the first 5 years of olestra in food, which is more than all other food additives combined. Ouch!

As if that weren't enough of a problem, olestra was grabbing all the fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,& K) and carotenoids (like beta-carotene) and running off with those before the body had a chance to absorb them. So, manufacturers started adding vitamins back in. Excuse me, but why? We have a major problem here, and throwing a few vitamins in is not going to make it go away.

Great news, though. Proctor & Gamble is now using olestra to make eco-friendly paints and lubricants under the name Sefose. That, I love. It's the perfect use for the stuff.

Olestra isn't used very often anymore since consumers' rebelled, but it is still OK'd for use by the FDA and you will find it occasionally in foods.

Though many would tell you it's just fine used in moderation, I am going to take a stand here. Avoid olestra like the plague. Use the baked chips, or an occasional small serving of regular chips. Your body will thank you!


And now the butter question. My nephew is doing a science fair project and wants to know: is it safe to leave butter out on the counter to stay soft? He and his teammate are doing a great experiment comparing butter and Smart Balance and are trying to see what happens over time when the two are kept in/out of the refrigerator. I'm so proud!

Butter needs to be refrigerated for food safety. If left out on the counter to soften for a few hours or days, it has the perfect environment for bacterial invasion. That puts us at risk for getting sick. I know, we've all eaten butter that's been left out and never gotten sick. That's great, but that doesn't mean there won't be a problem. The salt in butter acts is a preservative and the fat itself also acts a preservative, so the butter may not become "funny smelling" or rancid very quickly. But the butter could still smell, look and taste just fine, and still have bacteria in it. It's always better to be safe than sorry!

Keep your butter refrigerated, as you would any dairy product. Want soft butter? Try the Land O Lakes soft butter with canola or olive oil whipped in it. It's just butter, salt and the oil, nothing else. Stays soft in the fridge, and much healthier for you!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Butter or Margarine?

Once upon a time, we all enjoyed the sweet, rich cream taste of butter. But then, butter went over to the dark side: it was found to be loaded with saturated fats and cholesterol, increasing our LDL's and risk of heart disease. Bummer. At this point people started looking at margarine as a healthier choice. It was made out of healthier polyunsaturated oils, had no natural cholesterol since it did not come from an animal source, so Ta-da-ta-da! (A commerical for Imperial margarine, when you took a bite, the Ta-da-ta-da- jingle would play and a crown would pop up on your head. Guess you had to be there :)

But the butter vs. margarine issue isn't that simple. Butter does have 7 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon and 200 mg. of cholesterol. What does that mean to our health? The cholesterol you eat has less of an impact on your blood cholesterol than the saturated fat you eat does. (That is, unless you are a special case with very high cholesterol and high risk of heart disease, then listen to your doc as that small bit of dietary cholesterol may matter and you may want you to keep the cholesterol you eat under 3oo mg per day.)

Margarine, however, gets no free pass. Stick margarine gives us 3 grams of transfat and 2 grams of saturated fats on the average, even though it has no cholesterol. Margarine is created through a process called hydrogenation: polyunsaturated healthy oil is forced to suck up more hydrogen atoms by a process using heat. The more hydrogen it holds on to, the more saturated, firmer, and shelf stable it becomes, and the worse it becomes for us nutritionally. When these healthy oils go through hydrogenation they transform their shape and structure (think transformer trucks) so they're called transfats. The more transformation the oil has gone through, the more solid it becomes, pushing it to the dark side. They've now become saturated fats which increase our LDL (lousy) and decrease our HDL's (happy,) and make our platelets stickier, all of which increase our risk for heart attack and stroke--yikes!

So what do we spread on our toast?
  • Both have 100 calories per tablespoon, so there is no winner there if you are watching calories, unless you choose light.
  • We need to use less of both butter and transfatty margarine.
  • Ask yourself what are you using the butter or margarine for? So...
Major Health Rule: Use liquid oils whenever possible:
-olive oil on whole grain baguette
-canola oil and water to make biscuits, pancakes, etc.
  • Try nut butters on toast, or all-fruit jams, such as Simply Fruit (counts as a fruit serving!
  • Choose the softest margarine you can. Leave the stick margarine at the store. Find ingredients such as canola, corn, safflower, sesame, soybean, sunflower oils listed as the first ingredient.
  • Check labels: no transfats and less than 2 g. saturated fat on your spreads, if possible.
  • If your family loves butter, choose soft butter tubs that are whipped with heart healthy canola oil or olive oil. Land O Lakes makes a good one that has 4 g. saturated fats, 1.5 g. polyunsaturated fats, and 5 g. monounsaturated fats, and 0 g. of transfats. The heart healthy oils off set the not so healthy fat, and leave behind the creamery taste that you want.
  • Choose the lighter versions of margarine or butter for fewer calories: the first ingredient will be water, the second your healthy oils.
  • Cholesterol lowering spreads. Some spreads are available that have plant sterols or stanols that provide some heart health benefit in their ability to lower cholesterol. The trouble is, you need to consume 2 tablespoons of these to get the full benefit.
  • Use less spread. Period. A tablespoon is way too big a serving size. Think in terms of a teaspoon.
  • Increase the ratio of healthy oils to evil fats: more olive oil, less butter, margarine.
Moral of today's story: Go forth and take charge of your own heart health: go liquid first, and the softer the better.

And me? I have 2 types of olive oil on hand one for cooking and one with a special rich taste for salads. I use canola for things like cornbread or pancakes when I want no flavor added. When I want a little buttery spread, I reach for my Land O Lakes soft butter with canola oil, and use just a little of it. Yum! Balance is key. For our family and our health issues, I am trying to choose no hydrogenated transfats at all. My husband lost his parents way too young to cancer. They consumed lots of transfat loaded margarine, thinking it was healthier than butter. My parents stay active and healthy and are butter consumers. Ancedotal, but interesting...

To your health! Fire Up! You Can Do This!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Burger and Fries, PLEASE!

Sometimes, you just want a burger and fries. You have to have them. Really. I know! So, where does this fit into a healthy lifestyle? Or, do we have to give up the fast food trips for the rest of our lives?

I am going to encourage you to approach this with moderation instead of with a "never, no way, bad-stuff" attitude. Fast food eating can be part of a healthy lifestyle once in awhile, it just should be looked at with a yellow light: caution.

When McDonald's started the fast food industry, they only served small burgers and small fries, as did all of the restaurants that jumped on board. Over the years, portion sizes have grown enormously, and so has the body size of the average American. Coincidence? Hmmm...Most people don't even think of ordering the small burger and fries anymore. It's the big burger, or double, tripled patties with all the stuff on it. Wendy's Baconator Triple is 2660 calories of which 1560 calories are from fat with 76 grams of saturated fat. After eating one of those, you could just imagine your arteries clogging shut... a heart attack is served on the side!

So, how do we manage to stay healthy and survive the fast food fest now and then?
  • Think kid-size! Those are what used to be normal portions, so go back and be a kid again. If you are craving the taste of a burger and some fries, a kid's meal is just the ticket. Really. I've ordered these for myself for years. No one checks ID's, you get all the taste, portion control, and you get a toy!
  • Burger Bites: Order single, regular burgers. Lettuce, mustard, ketchup, and tomato you can add to your heart's content. If you decide on cheese, use one slice. That will add about 50 calories. Very occasionally, if you are really craving a specialty burger, try to monitor the amount you eat. Portion control it. Take a friend with you to split your indulgence. Take care of your heart!
  • Small Fries. You want fries with that? Remember, the first bite tastes the same as the last, so why do you need twice as much to enjoy the flavor? At McDonalds, the big fries = 500 calories, small fries = 230 calories.
  • Hold the mayo. Burger King has a great choice for us in the Whopper, Jr. at 260, hold the mayo. This saves us 9 grams of fat and 80 calories. With all burgers, hold the mayo needs to be a phrase we use over and over again to protect our hearts from fat overload.
  • Bacon? If you absolutely need to have the bacon, think 1 or 2 slices--no more. Stick with the small burger patty at Wendy's on this. Remember no one, not even a major athlete in training needs that much saturated fat to support good health.
  • Shake it Small. A 32 ounce shake can rock 1110 calories at McDonald's, a small 12 ounce still has 420 calories. Yes, you will be getting some calcium and protein in this, but lots of sugar comes with it. Shakes are a sometimes treat. Another possibility would be to get the kid's size shake which would deliver around 200 calories. Much nicer!
  • Add some Nutrient Dense bargains. 100% fruit juice, fat-free milk, fresh fruit, tossed salads without all the extras (like cheese, croutons, bacon, creamy dressings, bacon.)
  • Drink Calorie Free Beverages. Water, coffee, tea, diet sodas.
Don't be afraid to enjoy an occasional fast food run. Just remember to stay in control of what you choose, and to keep your heart and body first and foremost in your mind. Calories and grams of saturated (evil) fats add up so quickly at these restaurants. Take a look online at the menus and nutritional info before you go may be a great way to plan for good choices.

Remember, just be a kid again!
Small portion sizes create a healthy, happy heart and well portioned you.