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Salt: Does It Deserve a Bad Rap?

March 11, 2010

Salt…Americans have a love affair with it, and it’s everywhere–especially in all the processed, packaged, take out and restaurant foods so many of us rely on day in and day out. If I added up all the sodium I consumed in a day, if I’m being honest with myself, that number would probably exceed the 1,500 to 2,300 mg max for sodium intake recommended in the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans. But it’s not because I’m a salt lover–in fact, I really don’t love the way salt tastes and have never added it to my food either while cooking or at the table. I don’t even like going in the ocean, or in salt water pools, or having to rinse with that salty solution at the end of a dental cleaning. (I’ve also been known to take off all the salt when I have a hunk of a big soft heavily salted pretzel–but don’t tell, it’s so embarrassing). But because salt is so prevalent in the food supply, I think it would be very difficult if not impossible for most people to dramatically cut their salt intake unless they decided to prepare all their own meals, buy lower and low/no salt items, forego almost all take-out and restaurant foods, and consume mostly fresh, whole foods or at least those that are minimally processed. Sounds great, but I’m not sure how realistic it is for most of us to do just that.

Following is my new post to caloriecount.com, where I’ll be a guest blogger each month. I’d love to hear your thoughts! :)

Salt: Is It Really a Four Letter Word?

Salt is the latest food ingredient to make waves—and for good reason. On average, Americans consume about 3,500 milligrams of sodium each day (sodium makes up 40 percent of salt; the other 60 percent comes from chloride); that’s considerably more than the 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams recommended in the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

We do need some sodium—it helps regulate blood pressure, maintain fluid balance, and performs many other vital body functions. But having too much from processed, packaged, and restaurant foods (which make up about ¾ of our total daily sodium intake—the rest comes from the shaker) can raise the risk of high blood pressure that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Over time, too much sodium does more than just bloat us (who isn’t familiar with that puffed up feeling after a heavy restaurant meal?); it makes it tough for kidneys to excrete excess sodium, especially when we’re not adequately hydrated. This can lead to edema (swelling in your face or extremities). A high sodium diet that’s also low in calcium (from dairy or plant sources, fish, or fortified foods) makes it more likely you’ll break a bone or develop osteoporosis down the road.

Of course an occasional high sodium meal or extra sprinkle or two of salt at the dinner table won’t ruin an otherwise healthful diet. But making slight dietary adjustments to taper sodium intake not only protects your heart, but may improve the quality of your diet (especially since many high sodium foods are nutrient poor, and/or pack in calories, fat, sugar, and other things we should limit to manage our weight and improve health).

The good news is that Americans may soon find it easier to slash sodium thanks to the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI). This New York City-led partnership of cities, states, and health organizations, launched in January 2010, encourages food companies and restaurants to voluntarily cut sodium in packaged and restaurant foods by 25 percent over five years.

Although it may be years before we see widespread sodium reductions in our food supply, a few simple steps can help you painlessly curb your sodium intake. First, see where it lurks in your diet.

If you eat out or rely on take-out food often:

Try to find out how much sodium is in your favorite foods (menus or company/restaurant web sites may provide this information).
Ask for foods prepared without added salt.
Choose unbreaded, unfried options.
Request sauces, dressings, and condiments on the side and use your fork for dipping instead of pouring them on your food.

When grocery shopping:

Read Nutrition Facts Panels on food packages.
Choose lower sodium or no salt added versions of snack foods like pretzels and chips, condiments such as mustard, salsa, soy sauce, and salad dressings, canned foods such as vegetables, soups and beans, dairy foods, processed meats like salami and hot dogs, and breads, cereals, and baked dessert-type foods.
When you buy frozen foods, choose unbreaded, unfried options made without heavy or cheesy sauces.
Buy plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans and peas), and grains; these high water, high fiber, potassium-rich foods (all naturally low in sodium) fill you up and at the same time, blunt the effects of a high sodium diet.

At home:

Rinse canned foods like beans and fish to remove some of the sodium they contain.
Replace table salt with herbs and spices that don’t contain salt.
If you want to add salt, add it sparingly to cooked food.
Consider using Kosher or sea salt instead of table salt since they have less sodium per tablespoon.

Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and author of Nutrition At Your Fingertips, Feed Your Family Right!, and So What Can I Eat?!. She is also a national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. For more information, go to http://www.elisazied.com, and http://www.nutritionatyourfingertips.com. Follow Elisa on Twitter and Elisa on Facebook.

Originally posted on March 10, 2010, on caloriecount.com: http://caloriecount.about.com/salt-really-four-letter-word-b402217.

From Me To Oprah, Week #7: Respect Yourself!

March 1, 2010

As I settled into my bleacher seat yesterday, about to watch my younger son’s weekly basketball class, I overheard a woman next to me yell “get your ass out on that court now!” to her 7 or 8 year-old son. The first thought that came to my mind was “did I really just hear her say that?” She continued to rant, and even made fun of her son for complaining he was so tired. A few minutes later, as the child stood alone on the sidelines while class began, I overheard his mom say “he doesn’t look so fat from this far away” to another parent. I’m not sure how this mom failed to see the smoke that was coming out of my ears; I needed every ounce I could muster to not overstep the boundary we parents try not to cross with one another and give her a hefty piece of my mind.

During this whole surreal episode, I couldn’t help but think of how this child must have felt. Being made fun of and spoken to in such a negative, disrespectful way by his own mother had to have been mortifying–or perhaps, even more sadly, he’s gotten used to it by now. Maybe I’m naive, but in my world it’s not ok for a mother to talk to her son this way (nor is it right, in my opinion, for anyone to talk to anyone else like that, period).

Putting my dietitian hat on, this experience made me think about how so many of us belittle or berate ourselves because of our appearance or body weight in the comfort of our own minds or even out loud when talking with friends, spouses, parents, or colleagues. Of course no one is perfect, and everyone has insecurities–if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be human. But if it’s not ok to be so rude and disrespectful to others, why should we be allowed to treat ourselves this way day in and day out? Negativity breeds negativity, and feeling badly about yourself can make you settle into a less than healthful lifestyle in which you’re just going through the motions (this may include relying on comfort foods and/or alcohol to numb negative feelings or make yourself feel better, at least for a little while!).

Although from time to time I catch myself thinking or saying something like “my legs are big,” I can honestly say that I have come to a place where I accept and am even happy about my body and my weight. This positive mindset and self-acceptance didn’t happen not overnight–it was a long time in the making since my overweight teen and early adult years. Studying nutrition and finding physical activities that I enjoy and that challenge me (like running, skating, tap dancing, and weight training) definitely helped me in my quest to look and feel better. Falling in love with my husband of almost 17 years also helped: he loved me for who I was, not how much I weighed (I was about 25 pounds heavier when we met). With every passing year I feel a little more at peace with my body and the shape I was given. To celebrate that, and reinforce those good feelings, I take time each and every day to take care of myself, be a role model to my children and family, and share all I’ve learned and am still learning about what it means to live a healthy and happy life with consumers.

I wish I could tell you there was a secret formula for transforming negative, sabotaging thoughts into positive, constructive ones and living a more healthful and happy life. But identifying how you feel and making a conscious decision to one up those feelings with other, more positive ones can be one tool to help you steer your own course on the road to a better, more proactive, more productive life. So my advice is to spend more time and energy each and every day focusing on and identifying the things that you like (or even love) about yourself and your body, and less time and energy on what you don’t. On a piece of paper with two columns, write down every negative thought or feeling you have about your body when it pops into your head or comes out of your mouth in one column; for each negative thought, come up with at least two positive thoughts and record those in the other column. In time, the list of things you like or love about yourself should be long; refer to this list often as a reminder of all the wonderful things that makes you you.

No one–I repeat no one–likes to be judged, looked at, or scrutinized (The Situation, Snookie, and The Kardashians are some exceptions!). If you become more positive about yourself, an added bonus is that you’ll probably become less judgmental and more of a well wisher to others as well (if you’re not already, you’ll become someone most people love to be around–and not because you’re skinny or have a six pack, but because of who you are!). Just like negativity breeds negativity, being more positive and celebrating what you love about yourself and others makes you much more likely to do the things you know you should–make more healthful food choices most of the time, and be more physically active–to optimize your health and live the best life you can.

Oprah, I’m sure you would agree. So have you started your list yet?

From Me to Oprah: 31 Simple Tips & Tricks to Boost Your Nutritional Fitness

March 1, 2010

As the 2010 Winter Olympics have just come to a close, the American Dietetic Association’s annual National Nutrition Month is finally here. To celebrate NNM’s theme, From the Ground Up, I was inspired to put together a simple list of 31 tips and tricks to help you boost your nutritional fitness this month and beyond. It is my hope that after reading these 31 simple do’s, you’ll be inspired to try one each day for the entire month, or at the very least infuse several of these into your life more often. If you do, you’ll likely lose weight and feel energized and great, not to mention markedly improve the overall quality of your diet. Please post comments about those tips you find most helpful and how you incorporated them. Eat well and enjoy!

1. Try one new food today from the fruit group. Fresh, canned, dried or frozen varieties are all fine (but make sure none contain added fat or sugar).
2. Drink at least 4 to 6 8 ounce cups of plain water. Keep a water bottle on hand that you can refill and be sure to wash thoroughly at day’s end.
3. Have at least 1 cup of non-starchy, dark green vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, romaine, kale, or spinach, for example).
4. Have at least 1/2 cup of beans or peas, preferably in a low sodium form.
5. Have two healthful snacks each day that cover two food groups; examples include one green apple, sliced with 1 tbsp nut butter, or 1/2 cup low fat yogurt mixed with 1/2 cup berries.
6. Drink at least one or two cups of skim or 1% milk; have it by the glass, in cereal, in coffee, or in recipes.
7. Limit alcohol to no more than about 100 calories (about 5 ounces of wine, 1-1/2 ounces distilled spirits, or 12 ounces of light beer).
8. Plan a treat that adds up to 100 calories (two small cookies, or 4 Hershey Kisses for example).
9. Leave a few extra bites on your plate at all meals.
10. Drink all caloric beverages out of an 8 ounce cup ONLY.
11. Have an ounce of nuts or seeds (preferably raw and unsalted) as part of a snack or meal.
12. Don’t waste more than one bite on any food that doesn’t taste good (or is not worth the calories).
13. Have breakfast within an hour or two of waking up; include 1 cup low fat/skim milk, 1/2 ounce nuts/seeds or 1 Tbsp nut butter or 1 egg, and at least one whole grain (oatmeal, whole wheat cereal, whole grain bread or English muffin or pita).
14. Eat only while sitting down at a table.
15. Brush teeth/rinse with mouthwash after each meal; floss at least once during the day.
16. Make a big salad (2 cups worth) with lots of colorful non-starchy vegetables.
17. Have 4-6 ounces of fish, healthfully prepared (unbreaded, unfried).
18. Have a 1 ounce equivalent (oz Eq) of whole grains each time you eat. 1 oz Eq = 1 slice of whole wheat bread, 5 small whole grain crackers, 3 cups air-popped popcorn, 1/2 cup whole wheat pasta or brown or wild rice.
19. Go meatless for the day; incorporate other protein-rich foods like beans, soy foods like tofu or tempeh, low fat dairy foods, and whole grains.
20. Try one new food today from the vegetable group; opt for something bright in color (bright green, orange, or yellow).
21. Instead of going out to eat, ordering in, or getting take out, cook or prepare all your food at home for the day.
22. Have 1 cup of soup. Look for broth- or vegetable-based kinds, preferably with less than 400-500 mg sodium.
23. Replace your usual 100% fruit juice with 1 cup or a piece of fresh fruit (like a whole orange, apple, or cup of berries or pineapple).
24. Instead of cooking with salt, try to flavor food with sodium-free herbs and spices.
25. Instead of having your usual fruit-on-the-bottom or flavored yogurt, go for plain low- or non-fat yogurt (or Greek yogurt) and add 1/2 cup of berries, 1-2 tbsp of nuts, seeds, or dried fruit, or 1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce.
26. Before having your usual bed-time or after dinner treat, ask yourself “Am I really hungry or am I eating this out of habit?” If the answer is no, skip it and instead brush, floss, and rinse with mouthwash to end your day of eating.
27. Instead of a whole sandwich, have only half; balance the meal out with fresh fruit or some grilled or raw veggies.
28. Turn off all disractions (including your cell phone) at every meal and snack; really focus on your food.
29. Clean out your refrigerator and freezer (and of course throw away all spoiled or expired food).
30. Clean out your pantry (throw out all spoiled and expired food).
31. Think about what you should eat more of, not what you shouldn’t eat.

Helping Kids Milk Their Diet

February 10, 2010

We all know that milk provides kids with calcium and vitamin D, important nutrients that help them lay the foundation for healthy bones and teeth. Milk is also an important source of high quality protein, and provides the body with all the essential amino acids it needs to create body proteins with their many vital functions. Despite the many benefits, a recent study published in Physiology & Behavior found that since the late 1970’s, kids between the ages of 2 and 18 have substantially decreased their milk intake while turning more and more to sugar-sweetened beverages. According to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 2005-2006, kids get about 390 liquid calories each day; of that, 154 come from soda and fruit drinks, 130 come from whole milk, and about 28 come from low fat milk. The rest of the calories kids gulp down come from juices, diet drinks, and other caloric beverages.

There is some good news. Even though kids may not be getting enough milk in their diet, they are consuming more and more of their milk calories from lower fat options like skim and 1% milk, and less from whole milk. This helps them get plenty of vital nutrients—protein, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12, folate, and vitamin C—and less total fat and saturated fat.
So how do you help your kids improve their beverage selections? Here are some ways to help your kids milk their diet in the most heart-healthy way:

1. Make a gradual milk switch. Although whole milk is appropriate for infants and toddlers to support their growth and higher fat needs, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reduced fat (2%) milk for children between 1 and 2 years of age who are at risk of becoming overweight or have family members who are overweight or obese, or have high blood cholesterol levels or heart disease. When children reach the age of 2, parents can offer low fat milks; if after a few tries your child doesn’t like the taste of 1% or skim milk, you can mix whole or 2% milk with 1% or skim milk—this can help kids get used to the thinner texture of the lower fat milks. Since there’s no difference in terms of nutrients between organic and regular milk, either option can help kids meet their nutrient needs to help them grow optimally.

2. Meet the milk quota. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend the equivalent of 2 cups of milk per day. 1 cup of skim milk or plain non-fat yogurt, 1-1/2 ounces of hard cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese all count as approximately 1 cup of milk. If your child likes the taste of flavored milks and yogurts, they too count towards their milk quote. Because they have extra calories also count towards discretionary calories (these are calories kids can have from added sugars and fats in the diet; most kids have between 150 and 200 extra calories to play with). If you give your kids flavored milk or sugar-sweetened yogurt, be sure to count those extra calories (and perhaps skip a cookie or other sugary treat later in the day).

3. Find other options. If, for whatever reason, your child can’t or won’t drink milk or have any calcium-rich dairy foods, be sure to offer him or her other several calcium-rich food options each day; these include white or navy beans, spinach, kale, cabbage, tofu, canned pink salmon or sardines, canned stewed tomatoes, and calcium-enriched foods and beverages such as orange juice, whole grain English muffins, and soy milk.

4. Limit liquid candy. Of course it’s ok to let your child have more than just water (though water is the best, lowest calorie, all around great hydrator) to quench their thirst. If kids like 100% fruit juice like orange juice, they can have some (no more than 1/2 cup to 1 cup/day is ideal); it counts toward their daily quota for fruit. But sugar-sweetened beverages including soda, fruit drinks, and energy drinks need to count as discretionary or extra calories, and should be viewed as once-in-a-while treats rather than dietary staples.

Originally published on RDs Weigh In on Feb 10, 2010: http://eatright.org/Media/Blog.aspx?BlogID=269

Sources: Popkin, B. M. Patterns of beverage use across the lifecycle, Physiol Behav 2010, Jan 4; http://bit.ly/cSKk4U

From Me to Oprah Week #5: You Don’t Need to be the Biggest Loser: Small Steps Can Help Prevent Diabetes

February 4, 2010

On today’s Oprah show, diabetes–a group of metabolic diseases marked by chronic high blood sugar levels– will be the hot topic. While it’s unclear from the promos if a registered dietitian (or even better, an RD who is also a Certified Diabetes Educator) will grace the Oprah stage alongside Dr. Mehmet Oz, Bob Greene, and others, the show is likely to bring to light not only the dangers of this disease, but what to do about it if you have or will be diagnosed with the condition in the future.

The American Diabetes Association estimates that 23.6 million adults and children– about 8% of the population– have diabetes. Unfortunately, only three quarters of those with the condition have actually been diagnosed. The clock is ticking for another 57 million who are estimated to have pre-diabetes.

Of course knowing you have the condition is the first step towards managing the condition, so it’s critical that people who are overweight or obese, inactive, have a family history of diabetes, or have had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) go for annual physicals and to look for signs and symptoms of the condition. African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, and some Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders are at greater risk for type 2 diabetes (the type of diabetes that accounts for about 90 to 95% of all cases of diabetes).

You’ve no doubt heard that prevention is the best medicine. The good news is research from the Diabetes Prevention Program has shown that people can take steps to dramatically reduce their risk–by as much as a whopping 58%– of developing type 2 diabetes.

The best way to prevent type 2 diabetes and improve your overall health? Weight loss. Losing even a little bit–as little as 5 or 10% or about 10 to 20 pounds if your initial weight is 200 pounds–can help you lower your risk for type 2 diabetes and other diseases because of its positive impact on blood sugar, blood cholesterol, and blood pressure. Taking a slow, steady, and safe approach to a trimmer you may not sound sexy, but is is more likely to help you physically and mentally adapt to your new habits and keep the weight you lose off over the long-term.

To lose weight, you know you need to cut your calorie intake. Of course taking fewer bites at all your meals can make a difference and maybe help you lose some weight. But you may need more support getting started–that’s where a registered dietitian can help. He or she can help you design your own personal “diet” that incorporates your unique tastes and preferences, lifestyle, schedule, and other variables that affect your eating habits. You can find an RD in your area by going to the American Dietetic Association web site (see sources below).

Consuming fiber rich foods and whole grains also seems to be a great way to prevent type 2 diabetes (and if it leads you to consume fewer calories, it can even help you lose weight). Filling up with fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans will not only make less room for high fat, high calorie foods and treats, but will provide tons of nutrients and other beneficial substances like phytochemicals. Most Americans should aim for about 25 grams of fiber a day, so be sure to include at least one fiber-rich food for each meal and snack you have each day. To count towards that, make sure at least half of your grain servings for the day are whole grains (one whole grain equals 1 slice of whole wheat bread, 1 cup puffy/flaky whole grain cereal, 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal, 1/2 cup brown or wild rice or whole wheat pasta).

The other half of the weight loss equation is exercise and physical activity. Being active on a regular basis can help you burn more calories, and at the same time preserve muscle and protect bones. Walking a few extra blocks each day can help, but incorporating cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and stretching can help you reap the full benefits of exercise.

Be sure to to get medical clearance before you start any new exercise program. If you want some guidance in finding safe, enjoyable ways to fit exercise into your life, look for a personal trainer or fitness professional who is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, or the National Strength and Conditioning Association (see sources below).

Last but not least, sit less! That’s a great way to mindlessly burn more calories. Make sure to get up for at least 10 minutes out of every hour you sit simply to move. This can help you burn a few more calories, keep you limber, and give you an energy burst (especially if you walk briskly for at least some of those minutes).

Small changes over time will add up to big dividends–as long as you make the changes, work them into your life, and are consistent. Enhancing the quality of your life by eating less but eating more nutritiously, and keeping your bones and muscles on the go not only help prevent or at least minimize the risks associated with type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases and conditions, but can make you feel better. That’s worth everything, isn’t it?

Sources:
American Diabetes Association: http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/
American Dietetic Association: http://eatrght.org/
National Strength and Conditioning Association: http://www.nsca-lift.org/
American Council on Exercise: http://www.acefitness.org/

Never-Ending Snack Attacks: How to Turn Potential Perils Into Perks

January 25, 2010

An article called “Snack Time Never Ends” appeared this week in the Dining Section of the New York Times. Since I had been preparing a talk called “Feed Your Family Right: How to Choose Healthful Snacks” for parents of children at a local K-8 school, the timing of Jennifer Steinhauer’s article could not have been better. As a registered dietitian and mother of two boys, aged 11 and 7, I found the article to be extremely reflective of the 24/7 food-focused environment in which we live. It also highlighted the dire need for us as individuals and for our society as a whole to come together and do a better job of helping our nation’s children grow into healthy, fit adults.

Of course being surrounded with a vast array of snack food and beverage options at every turn makes mindful and moderate eating a challenge (to say the least) for many of us. Furthermore, huge portion sizes only add to the problem. Studies show if more we are offered/given more, we will consume more. Hopefully, the recent trend towards smaller portion sizes in convenience food and beverage products and restaurant foods can help us all eat less in 2010 and beyond.

As a registered dietitian, I have always encouraged people to include healthful snacks in their daily diet. In theory, in-between meal snacks can fill in food and nutrient gaps left at meals. For example, having one or more snacks each day can give many children, especially young ones who have tiny tummies and get full easily, more opportunities to fit in foods (and their nutrients) from key food groups (including fruits, vegetables, lean meats/beans, and low fat dairy foods).

But as we all know too well, snacking today has become more of a social ritual, or mindless habit than a nutritional opportunity. Little kids snack in their strollers, and many of us snack while walking and talking, while commuting or driving, or while being a spectator of some sporting event or other activity. Many of us snack not because we’re hungry, but simply because the sight, smell, and round-the-clock availability of food is more temptation than we can handle.

Does snacking cause obesity and overweight? We all know that over the past several decades, the rate at which children and adults tip scales has multiplied dramatically (though recent data reveals that these numbers are starting to level off –finally!). And while there is no one cause of obesity, snacking on high calorie, high sodium, sugary, or otherwise nutrient-poor foods and beverages can easily contribute to excess calorie intake and subsequent weight gain.

Studies also show that both kids and adults snack and graze more than ever before. A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition looked at national survey data collected since the late 70’s and found that on average, adults now have one extra snack per day than they did before. Furthermore, snack choices today are more energy dense (they have a lot of calories in a small portion) and tend to include nutrient-poor foods like salty chips or crackers, desserts, sugary beverages, and candies. Just like in children, snacks seem to be filling many of us adults out instead of filling in nutritional gaps.

So what should we do? Should we skip snacks and stick to breakfast, lunch, and dinner only? I believe that snacking can and should be part of a healthful diet for all of us. But snacking smart is key if we want to reap the potential benefits and minimize the perils.

Here are six of my favorite snack smart food rules my family and I try to follow; I’d love to hear your personal and family snack rules–together, they’re sure to help us all get a little bit healthier and better manage our weight.

1) Choose wisely. Anticipate snacks ahead of time and be sure to include plenty of foods and beverages from the key food groups (fruits, veggies, whole grains, low fat dairy foods, and lean sources of protein including nuts, seeds, and nut butters) on your weekly grocery list and in your cart. Choose all foods in their lowest fat and sugar form (examples include raw nuts, fat-free or low fat plain yogurt, dried fruit without added sugar, unsweetened apple sauce, whole grain/low sugar cereals, whole wheat crackers or unsalted pretzels, and low fat popcorn).

2) Find where the food (or beverage) fits. When choosing among processed and packaged foods, think about whether those foods come from any of the basic food groups. If they don’t fit neatly into any food group, chances are they won’t make the best snack choice and are more like desserts. Children and adults have between 150 to 300 extra or discretionary calories they can use for such extras–foods or beverages made with added sugars or fats (or in the case of adults, from alcoholic beverages)– so keep that in mind when making your daily snack choices.

3) Be a portion teller. My former grad school nutrition professor Lisa Young, author of the great book Portion Teller, urges consumers to learn how to eyeball portion sizes using common objects (mousepad, dice, baseball etc) to help them consume appropriate amounts whether at home or away from home. Keeping on hand small plastic cups and bowls, and small plastic baggies can also make it easy for you to pre-portion snacks and reduce the risk of overeating.

4) Be a selective snacker. When you’re out and about–whether at work, at a soccer game, at play practice, at a movie theater, or at a birthday party or sporting event–temptations may be tough to handle. Of course you can plan ahead and bring your own snacks; but let’s face it, sometimes you just really want a cupcake, a piece of birthday cake, movie popcorn, or some other indulgence! The key is that when you have these foods, make sure to adjust how much you eat that day overall–even by a few bites–and limit items made with extra fat or sugar to keep your total daily calorie intake in check.

5) Keep tools on hand to help you end the eating. Whether it’s chewing gum, breath strips, strong mints, or mouth wash, having a few of these on hand in your purse, bag, or desk drawer can not only leave your mouth feeling fresh and minty, but can help you resist the urge to have “just one more bite,” mindlessly snack, and reduce your risk of eating when not hungry.

6) Snack when you’re sitting down. Try to make sitting when you eat (preferably at a table) a habit, whether you’re home or on the go. You may find you actually eat less AND feel more satisfied.

Sources:
1) Snack Time Never Ends, New York Times, January 20, 2010: http://bit.ly/91J9K7
2) J Nutr. 2010 Feb;140(2):325-32. Epub 2009 Dec 2.

From Me to Oprah, Week 4: 8 Secrets For A Healthier Life

January 12, 2010

As a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer, wife, and mother of two boys, I have always tried to live a good, mostly healthy life. Since this is the second week of a New Year, and many of you are tackling your unhealthy habits (including overeating and underexercising) head on, I thought I’d take a few moments to share some of the secrets I try to live by each and every day. Of course like yours, my habits and behaviors that relate to diet, nutrition and fitness have evolved over the years (and will likely continue to as I enter my fifth decade and beyond). These are 8 of my secrets for a healthier life; I hope they inspire you and help you make your personal resolutions a reality.

Secret #1: I plan meals and exercise sessions ahead of time. I think of meals and physical activities as appointments, or routine parts of my day. When plans change (because sometimes life gets in the way!), I always have a back up plan–for example, if I have to miss a workout, I find a few minutes here and there to get up and move, even if that means just 10 minutes of walking. I also refuse to beat myself up when life happens when I’m busy making plans, and I remember tomorrow is a new day and another opportunity to fit in fitness and healthy eating.
Secret #2: I eat enough to meet my needs and satisfy my hunger, but not so much that I feel stuffed or really full when I’m finished.
Secret #3: I try to have a healthy food (like a piece of fruit, a few nuts, or some veggies like cucumber slices, baby carrots, or Brussels sprouts) before I indulge in a treat (like cookies, chocolate, chips etc). When I do have a treat, I keep the portion small (1-2 small cookies, 3-4 individually wrapped small candies, or 1/2 bar or chocolate).
Secret #4 I never treat any meal like it’s my last. I LOVE food, but I know after one meal, another will come. When I eat, I try to take my time and savor every bite, and really taste the food. I also set myself up for success by taking/ordering an appropriate portion–one that will satisfy me without stuffing me.
Secret #5: I NEVER feel guilty about what I ate, what I am about to eat, or what I want or plan to eat. Guilt in my opinion is a useless emotion (not to mention a negative one). When I eat something unhealthy, I try to keep the portion small and make an effort to choose other healthful foods at that meal or at my next meal to boost my nutrient intake and save calories.
Secret #6: I’m honest with myself but also cut myself some slack. Even though there are times when others question what I, a registered dietitian, eat (or drink)–they think because I’m an RD I must eat perfectly–I don’t feel I have to be perfect or prove anything to anyone or act like I am. I eat what I eat, and drink what I drink, and I know that at least for now, my lab values, blood pressure, and body weight define me as healthy. I also FEEL healthy and energized most of the time. When I do have a treat or indulgence (like movie popcorn), I tell myself that it’s ok, no matter what anyone says, and make dietary adjustments to keep my overall calorie, sodium, and fat intake in check.
Secret #7: I stay physically active all day long. I engage in activities I enjoy (like walking or running, weight training, and occasionally skating, tap dancing, tennis, and other sports). Most importantly, I’m consistent in my habits (for example, most days I do my formal exercise at 8 AM, right after I drop my kids off at school). I’m also conscious to not sit for too long at the computer and to get up and move often..more sedentary time means a slower metabolism and fewer calories burned, and who wants that? Not me!
Secret #8: I always keep in mind that no matter what happened yesterday, today is always a new day. And if today I ate too much, had one too many treats, or did not get in the exercise I planned, tomorrow will present another opportunity to practice healthful habits. I live in the present and try my best each and every day, and know I’ll try to do the very same tomorrow too!

So there you have it..my 8 secrets for a healthier life. What are yours? Please share your favorites to inspire me and others who want to live, as Oprah (and Bob Green) would say, our best life.

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