Archive for the tag - calories

What to Look for on Nutrition Labels.

nutritionlabelDeciding whether a food product is healthy can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, nutrition labels make things easier and give you an even playing field. You just need to know what to look for.

When doing my grocery shopping, there are five major nutrition label elements to which I pay attention.

  1. Saturated and trans fat. Fat gets a bad rap. But the truth is, not all fats are created equal. And your body does need some essential, good fats to function properly – and that’s why some fats like olive oil can be part of a healthy diet. It’s the saturated and trans fats that you’ll want to limit or avoid. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats to 7% of total daily calories. If you need 2,000 calories a day, that means 140 calories from saturated fats – which translates to about 16 grams per day. Trans fats should be limited to less than 1% of total daily calories. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s about 20 calories from trans fats or about 2 grams of trans fats per day. Consuming excessive amounts of these bad fats can increase your bad cholesterol, decrease good cholesterol, increase stroke, heart disease and type II diabetes risk.
  2. Calories. When it comes to calories, the first thing to understand is your daily caloric requirement. Based on the Harris Benedict Calculator, most people will find that they need between 2,000 and 2,5000 calories a day to stay in a neutral state. Once you know how many calories you need, it’s easier to make smarter choices. Many seemingly innocuous foods and beverages are packed with calories but totally devoid of nutrients. Spend your calories wisely!
  3. Sugar. Many sugary foods are labeled as fat-free. Marshmallows, for example, are marketed as a fat-free food. And while they don’t contain any fat, they will still make you fat thanks to a very high sugar count. I like to limit sugar to less than 10 grams per portion, especially when it comes to breakfast cereals and smoothies – both of which can be secret sugar bombs. Sugar consumption has been associated with higher levels of bad cholesterol, type II diabetes, weight gain and even aging of the skin.
  4. Ingredients. Read the ingredients. If you find things that aren’t in your grandmother’s pantry, view it as a red flag. As a general rule, it’s wise to go with food that’s actually food – and not something that’s highly processed and loaded with chemicals. If you can’t even pronounce it, do you really want to eat it? Also, know that there are many ingredients that are really just sugar in disguise (here are 45 other names for sugar). If sugar is high on the ingredient list, opt for something else.
  5. Serving size. Last but not least, look at the serving size. Marketers are clever; a food may seem healthier because the serving size is ridiculously small. Ice cream servings, for example, are often listed at one half of a cup. When was the last time you ever saw someone eat half a cup of ice cream? You’ll need to adjust the nutrition information depending on the size of the portion you’ll actually eat.

Of course, there are other important aspects of the nutrition label – like fiber content or vitamins and minerals – but these five elements are a great place to start. They’ll set you on a smarter path and help you make some easy upgrades to your diet.

What do you look for on nutrition labels? Let me know in the comments below!

Don’t Drink Your Calories.

Day-beveragesWhile many calorie-conscious people pay attention to the foods they eat, there is a secret calorie culprit that’s easy to miss. What is it? The beverages we consume.

Consider this: Drinking just 8 ounces of orange juice, a medium mocha, 20 ounces of Coke, a 16-ounce fruit drink, a 16-ounce sweet tea and a 12-ounce beer amounts to a whopping 1,370. For an individual looking to maintain a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s nearly 70% of a day’s calories. While that example might sound extreme, consider a night out with friends. If you consume six, 12-ounce beers over the course of the night, you’ll be at nearly 50% of your daily limit.

It’s amazing how quickly beverage calories add up. And it’s even more amazing how easy it is for those calories to go undetected – and thereby sabotage your diet.

On the flip side, cutting beverage calories is really picking the low-hanging fruit of weight loss. Studies also show that if you drink extra calories with a meal, you don’t compensate by eating less food. A glass of water is just as filling as a glass of soda, and so you can eliminate calories without experiencing any increased hunger. Really, it’s a no brainier.

If you just don’t like the taste of water, too bad. Drink it anyway. Water tastes better than being overweight and unhealthy feels. That’s the truth. And you can add a slice of fruit to your water to infuse it with a little flavor. For the waterphobes among us, it can make a difference.

The bottom line: If your goal is shedding excess fat from your body, then replacing any unhealthy or non-essential beverage choices with water needs to be a goal. Save your precious calories for the foods you eat – not the beverages you drink.

Does Sweating More Burn More Calories?

Young athletic man taking a break during a challenging jogging outdoorLet’s talk about sweat. Steamy, hot, dripping sweat.

In fact, even as I write this blog post, I’m still sweating from my morning workout – so the topic seems more than appropriate.

Sweating is a glorious thing and it’s my secret to a clear complexion. But there’s a popular myth that sweating more means more calories burned. It’s simply untrue.

In reality, the intensity of your workout (and not the amount you sweat) determines calories burned. Sure, you may sweat more at higher levels of intensity, but sweating is largely influenced by other factors including clothing, outside temperature, body weight, genetics, diet, medications and even hormone levels.

Simply put, sweat is really just your body’s way of getting rid of heat. It isn’t necessarily an indication of workout intensity and the amount of calories or fat that you’re burning.

Some people exercise while wearing plastic “weight loss” suits during hot weather to increase sweat output. And while these suits do increase perspiration and thus result in immediate weight loss, it’s all water weight – and not the result of fat being burned. Moreover, it’s an unhealthy practice that can result in heat exhaustion.

There are few things as satisfying as a workout that leaves you dripping in sweat. But if you really want to lose weight through exercise, focus on the intensity of your workout and a calorie deficit rather than the amount of sweat that you’re producing.

18 Empty Calorie Foods.

251726The other day, I referenced empty calories in a post – and I received a number of emails asking about the term.

The USDA defines empty calories as:

Calories from solid fats and/or added sugars. Solid fats and added sugars add calories to the food but few or no nutrients. For this reason, the calories from solid fats and added sugars in a food are often called empty calories.

Solid fats are solid at room temperature like shortening, lard or butter. Added sugars are sugars or syrups that have been added to foods during preparation or processing.

In order to stay in a calorie balance and avoid weight gain, it’s important to stay within your daily calorie allowance. For example, many people may aim to eat 2,000 calories in a day. While this number may sound lofty, those calories can go fast; it’s important to get the vast majority of calories from foods that provide the essential nutrients our bodies need. Let’s spend our calories on foods that actually nourish us!

With all that in mind, here are 18 foods and beverages loaded with empty calories; these should be consumed sparingly. Empty calorie calculations provided by the USDA:

  1. Soda – 100% empty calories
  2. Fruit drinks – 100% empty calories
  3. Beer – 100% empty calories
  4. Cheddar cheese – 66% empty calories
  5. Frozen yogurt – 53% empty calories
  6. Ice cream – 76% empty calories
  7. Fried chicken – 80% empty calories
  8. Chocolate chip cookies – 68% empty calories
  9. Chocolate cake – 77% empty calories
  10. Fruit flavored low-fat yogurt – 61% empty calories
  11. Cinnamon sweet roll – 61% empty calories
  12. Onion rings – 58%
  13. Butter – 92% empty calories
  14. Margarine – 89% empty calories
  15. Frozen whipped topping – 92% empty calories
  16. Cream cheese – 88% empty calories
  17. Glazed doughnut – 67% empty calories
  18. Beef bologna – 57% empty calories

This list isn’t exhaustive – but you get the idea. In a nutshell, it’s all about replacing foods that are high in solid fats or added sugars with healthier options.

How Much Food Does the Average American Eat in a Year?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American eats nearly 2,700 calories a day. With the exception of athletes and very active individuals, this caloric intake exceeds expert recommendations by several hundred calories. Over time, all those extra calories add up – and it’s no wonder that 2/3 of Americans are overweight.

In the journey to eating smarter, we need to look at where we’re at today. We need to assess the situation before decided which areas of our diet are most ripe for improvement. To that end, and while these numbers will vary greatly from individual to individual, I think today’s infographic is a great place to start.

(Scroll down for additional commentary)

For me, there are a few important takeaways.

At first glance, it can seem encouraging that we consume 415 pounds in vegetables annually (which translates to more than 20% of our overall food intake by weight). That is, until you realize that corn and potatoes account for 173 pounds of that. Though there’s nothing wrong with corn and potatoes, let’s make more space for other veggies in our diets.

An obvious area for improvement is the 110 lbs of red meat we consume. In a frequently cited study, Harvard researchers found that 9% of male deaths and 7% of female deaths would be prevented if we lowered red meat consumption to 1.5 ounces (or less) per day. That would be just over 34 pounds annually. In other words, replacing 2 out of 3 beef dishes with a leaner meat – or vegetables – would be a wise move for the average American.

We also eat a lot of non-cheese dairy products. In other words, we a great opportunity to substitute with dairy alternatives that are less calorie-dense, like almond milk.

Speaking of calorie dense foods, we’d all be well served by reducing the 141 pounds of caloric sweeteners consumed annually. In part, this is fueled by the 53 gallons of soda we drink annually. And the 24 pounds of ice cream. Replacing just a few glasses of soda and other high-sugar products per week would go a long way to a healthier lifestyle.

In the comments below, let me know how your personal eating habits differ from the average American. And what areas for improvement are there in your diet?


Rethink Your Drink.

This sobering diagram shows how much sugar is in each of these sugary drinks.

The accompanying picture is really worth 1,000 words – and even more calories.

When losing weight, one of the easiest – and most effective – changes occurs when we modify our liquid intake. Rich in sugar, these drinks often contain few other nutrients and have a very negative impact on our overall health.

Drinking just one soda a day can equal an extra 25 pounds of weight per year. And sugary beverages are the single biggest source of added sugar for the average American – equaling about 50% of the typical person’s increased calorie consumption. All of this can lead to obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Sugary drinks are truly poison for our bodies.

It’s time to rethink your drink!

Here are just a few great drink substitutions:

  1. Coconut water. Gatorade can’t touch nature’s own secret sports drink recipe! Coconut water contains all the electrolytes and carbohydrates you need, but without the artificial flavors, refined sugars or coloring found in manufactured sports drinks. And, coconut water has more potassium than a banana.
  2. Sparkling water. Add a touch of fruit juice to a glass of sparkling water or seltzer and you can cut 90% of the calories that you’d otherwise consume from a can of soda.
  3. Green tea. Hot or cold, green tea has a number of benefits and it’s a great alternative for anything else you might order at Starbucks. Studies have shown that it may help reduce the risk of several types of cancer, heart disease, hypertension, kidney stones and more. Add a touch of honey for a little treat.

Beyond these recommendations, water is always a smart choice – and fresh vegetable juices can be a wise replacement for other, less-healthy drink options. I always keep a bottle of fresh carrot juice in my refrigerator.

If you still have a hard time giving up the sugary drinks you crave, portion control is another option. Cut the size of the drink in half – and, no magic here – you reduce your caloric intake by 50%.

Was the above drink diagram eye-opening for you? What are some of your favorite and healthy drink alternatives? Let me know in the comments below.

How to Get Kids to Drink Less Soda.

Earlier in the month, I wrote a post about the number of steps it would take to burn off some popular, high-calorie foods likes pizza (4,560 steps per slice), ice cream (1,980 steps) and french fries (6,000 steps). According to a new study, sobering reminders like these can lower the consumption of unhealthy foods.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University tested three different types of labeling with various signs at different corner stores. They wanted to see if any such signage deterred young people from consuming high calorie colas.

One sign simply said that each soda can contains 250 calories. In this way, the label mirrored the nutrition information printed on the product. At a second store, the sign said that the soda contains 10 percent of the daily recommended caloric intake. At a third store, the sign reminded customers that it would take 50 minutes of running to counteract the calories in the cola.

Though each sign reduced soda sales, the sign that highlighted the physical activity equivalent (i.e., 50 minutes of running) was the most effective. Soda sales plummeted by a shocking 50% at that location.

It seems that some people don’t really understand the concept of calories and what they really mean. But they do understand the concept of spending 50 minutes on the treadmill; that translates much clearer. It makes things less abstract.

Dr. Sara Bleich, one of the researchers from the study went on to say:

People generally underestimate the number of calories in the foods and beverages they consume. Providing easily understandable caloric information – particularly in the form of a physical activity equivalent, such as running – may reduce calorie intake from sugar – sweetened beverages and increase water consumption among adolescents.

On a larger scale, I think the study challenges our current nutrition labeling system. While more research is clearly needed, perhaps we need to consider changing the way we highlight nutrition content to make things clearer and easier to understand for consumers.

How Many Steps Is That Pizza?

A journey of a thousand miles may begin with a single step, but it takes 4,560 steps to burn the calories in a slice of pepperoni and cheese pizza. To put that into perspective, that translates to about two miles. Sobering, isn’t it?

Obviously, we need food to live – and calories are a necessity. But by being aware of the calorie content in some of these unhealthy food options, we can can make wiser decisions.

Courtesy of a company called GlobalFit, here are some of the top offenders:

  • One serving of mashed potatoes – 1,540 steps
  • One serving of chocolate ice cream – 1,980 steps
  • Macaroni and cheese – 2,640 steps
  • Large French fries – 6,000 steps
  • Slice of pepperoni pizza – 4,560 steps
  • Cheeseburger – 3,840 steps
  • Doughnut – 2,640 steps
  • Chocolate-chip cookie – 2,520 steps
  • Milk chocolate bar – 2,520 steps
  • 16 potato chips – 1,800 steps
  • Mug of beer – 1,680 steps
  • Can of cola – 1,680 steps
  • 4 cups of buttered popcorn – 1,488 steps
  • 10 thin pretzels – 1,320 steps

Of course, rather than focus our energy and attention on all these unhealthy foods, I think it’s much wiser to think about all the wonderful, colorful and nourishing healthy foods that are available to us.

And who eats just one slice of pizza, anyway?!

SlimCado vs. Avocado.

The SlimCado: Lite on fat - but also flavor.

The other day, I noticed something peculiar at my grocery store. It was a giant green fruit that looked equal parts avocado and dinosaur egg. I was intrigued by the label which read: “SlimCado – half the fat and a third less calories than avocados!”

For people counting calories or concerned with fat, could this be a dream come true? Truth be told, the fat in avocados is good fat – but even so, I’m certain that the fruit’s savvy marketing will resonate with some shoppers. So I decided to purchase a SlimCado to see how it stacks up.

SlimCados are actually a West Indian variety of avocados that are often grown in Florida. Weighing in at up to two pounds, the large fruit has a glossy green skin and looks quite similar to the more traditional Hass varieties (albeit much larger). Despite having 50% less fat and 35% fewer calories than the avocados we know and love, SlimCados aren’t skimpy on other nutritional content; they are a great source of vitamin E, fiber, B-vitamins, potassium, zinc, and monounsaturated fat.

Unfortunately, my praise of the SlimCado must end there. Beyond nutritional content, taste is an important consideration – and that’s exactly where the SlimCado falls short. Instead of being delicious and flavorful, the SlimCado’s flesh tastes watered-down. Not only does it have half the fat, it has half the flavor.

Having said that, the SlimCado may work for recipes wherein avocado isn’t a primary ingredient. Some people enjoy avocados in their smoothies, for example, and the SlimCado may be well-suited for the task. But when it comes to mixing up some guacamole, you’ll definitely notice the difference.

If the fat or calories are important to you, then you’re better off using half a serving of Hass avocado than a full serving of the SlimCado.

Have you ever tried a Slimcado? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Did a National Restaurant Chain Just Try to Kill Me?

Don't be fooled: This quesadilla is a deadly weapon.

Yesterday, after my gymnastics class, I went with a friend to a nameless restaurant that happens to be part of a national chain. As someone who doesn’t eat at chains (Subway sandwiches excepted), I was a bit reluctant – but decided to give it a try.

We ordered chips and guacamole for an appetizer, and my main meal was a chipotle chicken quesadilla. It sounded innocent enough. When the meal arrived, I realized that the chicken had been deep-fried and smothered in cheese, the tortilla was coated in a thick layer of butter and that the meal was served with ranch dressing. It was essentially fat on top of fat with a side of fat.

I felt like I was on a segment of “Eat This, Not That” and I was eating the “not that.”

After consuming the quesadilla in its entirety (truth be told, it was fairly small), my body felt sick. I felt bloated and groggy. So, I decided to look up the nutrition information to see how unhealthy my meal really was. Though the exact quesadilla’s nutrition information isn’t on the restaurant’s site, similar quesadillas weigh in at nearly 1,500 calories and have more than 100 grams of fat – 40 of which are unsaturated. Not to mention 3,000 mg of sodium.

To put that into context, most Americans are told to target about 56 – 78 grams of fat per day – with about 16 grams (or less) coming from saturated fats. And we’re advised to consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium. In other words, my meal contained almost two days worth of total fat, more than two days worth of saturated fat, and more than a day’s worth of sodium. I might as well have eaten a stick of butter.

Here’s the thing: While buttering the tortilla, frying the chicken, covering the quesadilla with cheese and serving it with ranch dressing may improve the taste slightly, all of those things impact the nutrition of the meal massively – and in a negative way. If cooking at home, I would have used a bit of olive oil on the tortilla, grilled the chicken, used only a dash of cheese and served it with a side of fresh salsa. It still would have been delicious – and it wouldn’t have made my body feel sick for having eaten it.

In hindsight, I could have paid more attention to key words in the menu’s description like “loaded”, “crispy” and “battered” – as they are red flags for fat and calories. But, while there are likely healthier options on the menu, I think I’ll be cooking at home for the foreseeable future.

P.S. I forgot to mention that our chips and guacamole appetizer had 1400 calories, 84 grams of total fat, 15 grams of saturated fat and 2,250 grams of sodium. That’s about a full day’s worth in every category. Bon appetit.