August 30, 2007

Say What?: The Savory, The Sweet, and the... Ugh

Yesterday evening, after a grueling workout, I passed by a Domino's. There's usually nothing to see except for a few bored employees.

However, yesterday was different. I couldn't help but laugh when my eyes fixated on the poster you see on your right.

If you've ever dreamt of a pile of Oreo bits and streams of vanilla sauce on sweet pizza crust, your processed food genie has granted your wish!

Part of me wants to get one for taste-testing purposes. I can't help but wonder -- are there cold toppings on a hot crust? Hot toppings on a hot crust? Warm Oreos but cold vanilla sauce?

Oh, what I would give to be a fly on the wall at these product development meetings...

More importantly, though, here are the nutrition facts:

One 10-inch pie contains 8 servings. Each serving breaks down like this:

120 calories
4 g fat
1 g saturated fat
8 g sugar (2 teaspoons)

In reality, two people are probably splitting one, meaning they are each taking in 480 calories, 16 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, and a Coke can's worth of sugar.

As far as the ingredients go.... well, if you're trying to only eat foods that contains a handful of ingredients, I'd suggest skipping this one.

Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour), Water, Soybean Oil, Malt Extract, Chocolate Flavor (Natural and Artificial Flavors, Cocoa, Maltodextrin, Gum Acacia), Yeast, Dextrose, Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate, Corn Starch, Monocalcium Phosphate), Calcium Propionate and Soy Lecithin

VANILLA SAUCE: Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Sugar, Starch, Contains less than 2% of Salt, Titanium Dioxide, Cellulose Gel, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Polysorbate 60. Freshness preserved with Potassium Sorbate and Sodium Benzoate

Oreo® Cookie Crumbs: Sugar, Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate {Vitamin B1}, Riboflavin {Vitamin B2}, Folic Acid), Palm and/or High Oleic Canola and/or Soybean Oil, Cocoa (Processed with Alkali), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Baking Soda, Cornstarch, Salt, Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier), Vanillin (an Artificial Flavor), Chocolate

WHITE ICING: Water, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch. Contains less than 2% of Each: Soybean Oil, Cellulose Gel, Mono and Diglycerides, Polysorbate 60, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Titanium Dioxide. Freshness Preserved with Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Sorbate. Contains Soy, Wheat (Product is manufactured in a facility that processes peanuts and tree nuts.)

Numbers Game: Answer

According to a recent study at Brown University, the average college student gains 7.8 pounds throughout the course of their freshman year

So it seems we're technically speaking of the "freshman half-fifteen". I can't say this figure surprises me.

Although university dining halls can be the source of nutritious meals, they can also provide abominable food day in and day out.

A typical all-you-can eat situation allows someone to customize a salad with various salad greens, vegetables, seeds, and lean protein sources, or have sandwiches on whole grain bread.

At the same time, if you want to eat hot dogs, cheese fries, and ice cream for lunch and dinner in unlimited quantities every day, no one's going to stop you.

What we're looking at are the consequences of an absence of portion control and nutrition education.

August 29, 2007

Speaking With...: Mary Dye

With millions of young men and women starting college over the next few days, I decided to pick my friend Mary Dye's brain for advice, suggestions, and a "Nutrition 101" crash course for the Class of 2011!

Ms. Dye studied anthropology and art history at Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL, but, upon realizing her passion for food and health, enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Public Health Nutrition Master's program. There, she also completed coursework to become a Registered Dietitian.

While completing her academic degree, Miss Dye was UNC Chapel Hill's campus nutritionist.

She then moved to New York City and was a member of Fern Gale Estrow's Food and Nutrition Team, focusing on nutrition policy and advocacy.

Miss Dye is currently a nutritionist at New York University's Health Center, where she counsels a multitude of students on a variety of goals and concerns, including body image and eating disorders.

Below, some very helpful information for anyone navigating through all-you-can eat cafeterias, regardless of your age.

Small Bites: Many students starting college this fall are living in kitchen-less dorms. What are some good snacks you recommend they keep in their room to prevent from ordering in pizza every night at 2 AM?

Mary Dye: The key to a great snack is to keep it around 300 cal or less and make sure it contains fiber, protein and some healthy fat. These components help you to feel satisfied, which can prevent further snacking throughout the night.

In a kitchen-less dorm, healthy eating may be a challenge, but it’s easy to store items such fresh produce and canned fruits in light syrup (to avoid added sugars drain off the excess liquid and run fruit under water), nuts and nut butters and a variety of grains.

I’m probably not supposed to advocate this, but I always advise students to grab at least one piece of fruit every time they leave the dining hall. These fruits can be incorporated into snacks throughout the day. Here are some healthy snack ideas:

If you have a sweet tooth try:

  • Graham crackers with soy milk (if there is no refrigerator available, stock up on individual cartons that are shelf-stable)
  • No-sugar added applesauce mixed with peanut butter spread on whole grain crackers, such as Kashi’s TLC
  • Sweet snack bars such as Pure bar or Lara bar or granola bars such as Kashi
  • Bananas with almond butter and raisins
  • Dried fruit, sunflower seeds and nuts

For a crunchy snack, turn to:

  • High fiber cereal (such as Cheerios, Kashi Heart to Heart or Barbara’s Bakery Organic Shredded Oats) mixed with almonds and unsweetened banana chips – you could even throw in a few chocolate chips
  • Sliced vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers or peppers dipped in salsa or hummus
  • Air popped pop-corn with chili powder or cinnamon
  • Apples or pears with sliced cheese (Cabot brand makes great 50% and 75% light cheddar varieties in small “snack packs”)
  • Melba toast or Wasa crackers with cashew butter

For a savory snack, how about:

  • Whole wheat tortilla shell filled with canned beans and salsa
  • Mini bagel topped with canned tuna and sliced tomato or green pepper

SB: All-you-can eat cafeterias can be found on every college camps. What eating strategies can students develop to resist from grabbing hamburgers, French fries, ice cream, and brownies every day?

MD: First of all, eat throughout the day to avoid being overly hungry when you arrive at the dining hall. This means eating something roughly every 4 hrs beginning with breakfast. Between meals, snack on a small handful of nuts, yogurt or fresh fruit (taken from the dining hall, of course).

Once you arrive at the dining hall, take a look at the menu before you go through the cafeteria line so you're prepared to order a healthy meal. Many schools now post menus on their website and include nutrition information to help students make healthier choices.

Do a quick walk-through of all the foods available and then proceed to grab your tray. Notice how many different sizes of plates, bowls and utensils are offered. Always opt for the smaller size. This will limit your portions while making you feel like you're eating a full plate of food.

Now, I do actually have a strategy for all you can eat dining. It goes like this: try to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables (like broccoli, tomato, asparagus, peppers, onions) and fruits. Fill one-quarter of the plate with lean protein (meat, beans, legumes, nuts, dairy) and the remaining one-quarter with grains or starchy vegetables (such as potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, corn).

By doing this your meal will consist mostly of fruits & vegetables, which are low in fat and calories while high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Remember to be creative!

Sometimes creating a healthy meal can be somewhat of a scavenger hunt, so be prepared to combine foods from different stations into a balanced meal. For example, if your school offers a grill station, have them prepare a grilled chicken breast or veggie burger, then carry that over to top your salad for some lean protein. Mix steamed vegetables from the hot bar into your pasta sauce for an added boost of fiber.

As far as the junk food you mentioned, I prefer to refer to them as “treats,” as they can be a part of healthy diet, but should be limited. Allow yourself to enjoy the items mentioned at one to two meals per week. This way they are kept in moderation without making you feel deprived.

SB: A lot of guys really get into working out and the gym in college. What would you say to one who asks you whether or not he should go to GNC and start loading up on creatine and protein shakes?

MD: Oh, I have so many cases just like this one! Please stay out of GNC, there’s nothing nutritious about that place!

The first thing I’d do is look at his diet and find out if he is getting enough protein, which more than likely, he is.

When you consider that that protein needs are generally 0.8-1.0 g/kg of body weight, it’s not hard to see why most Americans consume too much protein, not too little. Once you realize that a 4 oz breast of chicken contains 35g of protein, one 8 oz glass of milk contains 9g, most people start to realize that they really can meet their protein needs by diet alone, making protein supplements unnecessary.

Since the body cannot store excess protein, the unused portion is excreted in the urine once the excess calories have been absorbed. Digesting excess protein overworks the kidneys and when done for a long period of time, can lead to decreased kidney function.

I find creatine in particular to be a huge waste of money. It retains water in the body, so muscles may appear larger, when in reality they’re just swollen with fluid. Creatine has not been shown to improve athletic performance and has no impact on actual muscle mass.

Plus, it’s effects over the long term are not known and as a nutritionist, this makes me worry when so many students report using this supplement.

Unfortunately, creatine and protein shakes are big money makers with a great marketing team. To stop people from spending their money on these products, everyone needs to understand that the only way to increase muscle mass is by consuming more total calories and spending more time weight training. It’s that simple.

Extra protein will not lead to muscle growth. In fact, without proper exercise it will only lead to adipose tissue (fat) growth and, judging from the students I work with, that’s the last thing anyone wants.

SB: In your experience, what are some common nutrition issues that tend to come up for college freshmen?

MD: Freshman year is such an interesting and exciting time. For many students, going away to college is the first time in their lives that they have to make their own decisions regarding their diet. Not only are they choosing what they will eat, but when they will eat it, where it will come from and how much they will consume.

In high school, many students live with family members who control their access to food and attend schools with set lunch times and menu offerings. They also have a set schedule between class, jobs, extra-curricular activities so high school days are often filled up.

When students begin college, that schedule is turned upside down. There are often large breaks between classes or, sometimes, no break at all. All time management decisions are put on the student, which can result in over-eating from boredom and stress to undernourishment from not know what food choices to make and where to fit eating into the daily routine.

Some of the most common issues I see are dehydration, stress and emotional eating, fatigue often due to lack of proper nourishment, skipping of meals, and extremely low fiber, fruit and vegetable intake and lack of physical activity.

So many of these issues can be addressed by planning ahead. For all students, I suggest putting those back-packs to use and carrying a bottle of water (to be replenished throughout the day) and at least one snack at all times, such as a piece of fruit or a high fiber granola bar.

Set small goals to drink the water, such as ‘by the end of my 10 AM class, I will have emptied this bottle’ and so on. To ensure that physical activity is not neglected when the demands of school go into full force, schedule workout into your week aiming for at least 30 minutes of physical activity four times per week.

This can be as simple as extended walks around campus with new friends. Not only will it help to prevent the infamous freshman fifteen, it will also provide much needed opportunities to de-stress.

For overeating due to stress and emotions, I suggest thinking of ways to deal with such feelings that do not involve eating. Perhaps writing e-mails to friends back home, practicing yoga, keeping a journal, exploring the campus or reading a new book – for pleasure, not for class!

When eating, remember to listen to your body. Eat when you feel hungry and stop when you feel full. Just because the dining hall is all you can eat, does not mean that you should eat more than you can comfortable handle.

SB: Some students have never cooked before going to college. For those who have kitchens in their dorms, what would you suggest as quick meals or snacks they can make without having to turn on an oven or frying pan?

MD: Use that microwave! Burritos are quite easy and cheap. I like to fill them with fresh vegetables, salsa, low-fat cheese, fat free sour cream or plain greek yogurt, beans or Morning Star farms “Grounds” (a great vegetarian soy-based beef substitute which is great in the microwave). The same ingredients can be used to make quesadillas in the microwave.

Stock up on frozen vegetables and steam them in the microwave. Simply put them in a bowl with a small amount of water, cover with a paper towel, heat and voila! I think steamed broccoli spears are make for a very tasty snack.

If you’re willing to boiling a pot of water, whole wheat pasta or Shirataki tofu noodles are highly nutritious.

Serve either topped with bottled marinara sauce or make your own using canned stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, dried basil and oregano. Mix in some canned beans and perhaps some spinach and you're in for treat. Serve with a salad for a great, high fiber meal.

There are some great brown rice products that can be made in the microwave. Top them with beans or vegetarian chili, made as follows:

1 can diced tomatoes with juice

½ c water

¼ c TVP (texturized vegetable protein)

½ can beans

1 1/2 Tbsp chili powder (or more if you like it hot)

½ can corn.

Microwave until heated through, about 4 minutes.

Baked potatoes do very well in the microwave. Simply wash, poke several holes in them (this is the fun part) and cook. For small potatoes, about 4 min, for larger baking potatoes, about 7 min. Turn them mid-way through cooking. Split them open and top with chili (above), salsa, or 1 Tbsp olive oil and steamed vegetables.

Super easy salsa: Mix 1 can of black beans, one can of corn, 1 diced green pepper, 1 diced tomato and ½ an onion, diced in a bowl. Dip in corn chips and enjoy!

Tuna salad can be made using 1 can tuna (packed in water), ¼ c diced water chestnuts, ¼ c diced green pepper, 1 Tbsp diced onion, 1 tsp dijon mustard, 2 Tbsp Nayonaisse (a mayo substitute available in most grocery stores). Serve on bread or crackers or roll into a leaf of romaine lettuce.

Fruit parfait: fresh fruit slices (or you can use frozen fruits defrosted in the microwave) in plain yogurt flavored with 1 tsp all fruit preserves or honey. Mix in ¼ c of Kashi Go Lean Crunch Cereal and 1 tsp ground flax seed

SB: Many college students are on limited budgets, which greatly affects their food shopping decisions. What advice can you share with someone who is strapped for cash but does not want to eat greasy Chinese takeout night after night?

MD: Greasy take out can add up in dollars and on your waistline! I find it can be much more healthy and cost effective to prepare your own food.

Anyone who is strapped for cash yet wants great fresh foods should shop at their local farmer’s market. Here you can find the highest quality, best tasting produce available for great prices – and your supporting local agriculture.

One tip here is to shop at the end of the day, usually 5-6 pm, when farmers are preparing to leave. This is when you can get the absolute best deals.

Eat fresh foods seasonally. If you want a strawberry in December, it’s going to cost you quite a bit – and it probably won’t taste that great. By waiting until strawberry season (May – August) you’ll be able to buy pints of delicious berries and a much lower cost.

During winter months, turn to fruits like citrus and apples or rely on frozen items. If you have access to a freezer, stocking up on frozen produce can save you a bundle. These foods are picked at the peak of ripeness and immediately frozen, bringing a high quality product to your table at a low cost.

Buy foods in their whole form. Yes, this will take some extra time and effort on your part, but the cost difference, and often the taste difference, is well worth it.

For example, it is much cheaper to buy whole carrots and peel them yourself than to buy baby carrots. Likewise, a bag of dried beans is far more cost effective than canned and ready eat varieties. Just be sure that you can soak them overnight and boil them prior to eating.

Buy in bulk. If you find yourself liking items such as granola bars and cereal, you can often stock up buy ordering them on-line straight from the manufacturer at about half the price.

Get to know the neighborhood. One store may have great prices on cereal while the store across the street has low priced yogurt. And as an added bonus, you get a little physical activity by walking to both!

Always make a list before going food shopping. Consult recipes and plan out your meals and snacks for the week so that you only have to shop once. Budget out the shopping list and estimate the total cost. Only carry a set amount of cash to the store so that you will stick to your list and not be tempted to buy other items. Just make sure you stick to that list and don’t forgo your planned items for that two for $5 ice cream special!

If you are going to do take-out, combine restaurant meals with homemade items. For example, if you and a friend are really in the mood for Thai food, order one take-out entrĂ©e, split it and serve it with steamed vegetables or a salad. You’ll save money and calories.

In fact, if you are really looking for a deal, many restaurants offer early-order specials, such as a list of entrees for half price when ordered before a certain time. Go ahead and order early to get the discount then store the food in the fridge until you’re ready to eat it later – along with more vegetables.

A big thank you to Mary Dye for her time and exhaustive answers!

Quick and Healthy Recipe: Yogurt Dip (With A Kick!)

Yogurt is commonly paired up with berries, bananas, and oatmeal, but it can also serve as a wonderful base for savory dips.

This is one of my favorites -- the texture and taste go excellently with some freshly toasted pita wedges or your favorite tortilla chips.

You will need:

1 cup non-fat Greek yogurt (if you don't use Greek yogurt, the dip will be too watery)
3 garlic cloves
1/8 cup chopped onions

2 teaspoons tomato paste

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

Salt and pepper to taste

2 teaspoons cilantro/cumin

Blend ingredients and enjoy a low-sodium, fat-free, delicious dip!

August 28, 2007

In The News: Obesity: 1 Health & Nutrition: 0

The new weight statistics are out, and the results aren't too promising.

Obesity rates have increased in 31 states over the past 12 months, and not a single state's obesity numbers have declined since last year.

Mississippi now "boasts" 30% of its adult population as obese (note: this is not the same as overweight; obese indicates a much higher body mass index).

What really surprised me was that Colorado, the state with the lowest percentage of obese adults, clocks in at 17.6%!

Consider that figure in the global context:

Percentage of Obese Adults Per Country

Japan: 2.9%
Korea: 3.2%
Switzerland: 7.7%
Italy: 8.6%
Denmark: 9.5%

Ironically enough, the United States is also the country with the world's largest diet industry. Hmmmm....

You Ask, I Answer: Alcohol and the Battle of the Sexes

Is it true that women get drunk quicker than men because they are smaller and have more body fat?

-- Luke Rington
Orlando, FL

Although this has long been the laymen's explanation for why women often get drunk more quickly than men, it couldn't be further from the truth.

As an answer, it is rather simplistic, erroneously assuming that all women are smaller and have more body fat than all men. I have seen my share of short, stout men to know this can't possibly be true!

Besides, if you compared a man and a woman are similar in height and weight, you'll find that after the same amount of drinks, the woman gets intoxicated more quickly than her male counterpart.

For the real answer, we must travel to the stomach and say "hello" to an enzyme named dehydrogenase.

Dehydrogenase is quite the efficient enzyme, breaking down some alcohol in our stomachs (the rest is metabolized in our livers) to help lower the amount that eventually travels into our bloodstream and affects our motor skills (and places 'beer goggles' over our eyes).

What does this enzyme have to do with our question?

Well, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that women have lower levels of dehydrogenase, which translates to approximately 25% more alcohol from each drink going into their bloodstream when compared to men.

August 27, 2007

The Mayo Myth

Excuse me while I slightly veer from my usual nutrition posts to shatter a myth I have heard all my life, particularly when the temperature creeps into three-digit territory.

It often involves someone saying they have an upset stomach after going to a picnic or outdoor event and someone piping in with, "did you have anything with mayo in it?"

Guess what? Commercial mayonnaise is so acidic that pathogens have a terribly tough time growing on it.

If you ate potato salad that sat under the sun for a few hours and don't feel so fresh the next day, don't blame the mayo -- blame the potatoes!

That's right. Potatoes are a high-carbohydrate food with the right amount of moisture and the perfect pH for pathogens to cavort in.

Another likely foodborne illness candidate during the hot summer months? Melons. If that fruit salad that spent four hours outside the refrigerator contains this fruit, save your stomach the trouble and opt for another dessert.

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Numbers Game: Pizza + Beer + Late Night Snacking = ?

According to a recent study at Brown University, the average college student gains ______ pounds throughout the course of their freshman year

a) 12.4
b) 5.3
c) 7.8
d) 11.9

Put on your alma mater thinking cap and leave your guess in the "comments" section. Then, come back on Thursday for the answer!

Shame on You: Burger King

This pathetic commercial was shown nationwide last summer, advertising Burger King's Texas Double Whopper.

We're talking about one burger that contains:

1,050 calories
106% of one's daily recommended fat intake
130% of the daily saturated fat limit

80% of the maximum daily sodium amount

And... 2.5 grams of trans fat (ideally, we should be getting zero)

So, how do you advertise a triple bypass in between two buns? Why, resort to many men's ultimate fear -- that of being compared to, gasp, a woman!

And thus the creation of Burger King's "Manthem", in which men brag about their unhealthy eating habits and practically equate the Texas Double Whopper to a shot of testosterone.

Below, the cringe-worthy lyrics:

"I am man, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore

And I'm way too hungry to settle for chick food

'Cause my stomach's startin' to growl

And I'm goin' on the prowl
For a Texas double-whopper, man that's good

Oh, yes, I'm a guy, I'll admit I've been fed quiche

Wave tofu bye bye, now it's the whopper beef I reach

I will eat this meat until my innie turns into an outtie

I am starved, I am incorrigible

And I need to scoff a big burger beef bacon jalopeno good thing down
I am hungry

I am incorrigible

I am mannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn

PS: Eating like "a man, man" and stuffing yourself silly with saturated fat, trans fats, and sodium (as this commercial dares male viewers to do) is a surefire way to become obese and increase your risk of developing prostate, colon, and rectal cancer. Enjoy!

Say What?: The Diet Fork

Any weight loss aid can potentially become a money-making machine, but I'm not sure the creator of the Diet Fork will recover his initial investment any time soon.

The idea? A smaller surface area results in less food being scooped, which means less calories are consumed in a meal.

Except the Diet Fork is a mere band-aid to a larger problem. It does not encourage eating healthier foods or making better selections. Using the Diet fork does not mean you are eating more fruits and vegetables or consuming less saturated fats.

Not to mention -- a lot of highly caloric foods don't call for any silverware: chips, ice cream sandwiches, French fries, burgers, and supersize sodas.

The advertisements refer to the diet fork as a "portion control tool", although I don't see how this is the case. Eating with this special utensil doesn't necessarily mean your plate isn't overflowing with sausage links and 8 inch pancakes drenched in maple syrup.

This gets a grunt and an eyeroll from me, but I would love to hear your thoughts!

August 24, 2007

Numbers Game: Answer

Which of the following foods provides the most potassium?

1 medium baked potato

That's right! Although bananas tend to be the potassium representatives, one medium baked potato (eaten with skin and all) provides 610 milligrams of this crucial (yet often under-consumed) mineral.

In comparison, 1 cup of skim milk contains 382 milligrams, eight ounces of yogurt provide 579 milligrams, and the mighty banana clocks in at 422 milligrams.

Aim for approximately 4500 milligrams of potassium a day to keep blood pressure as well as bone health in check. Remember, the more natural your food, the more potassium it contains.

August 23, 2007

Food For Thought: Katie, Is That You?

See the photo accompanying this post?

On the left, you have what Katie Couric looks like in real life. Looks healthy and in shape to me!

On the right, the CBS art team's creation, tailor made for advertisements -- an airbrushed version of the newscaster, featuring a Barbie doll-sized waist, of course.

This is why comparing your body to what you see in a magazine, or even on television, is nothing but self-flagellation. You are pitting yourself against an artificial creation.

Isn't this why The National Enquirer has a "celebrity cellulite" cover story practically every four weeks?

Special? I Beg To Differ

I am sure you've seen various weight loss promises proudly displayed on a number of cereal boxes at the supermarket.

Special K, for instance, advertises that you can lose six pounds in two weeks just by having it twice a day!

Mind you, healthy guidelines of weight loss call for approximately one to one and a half pounds per week (this assumes your weight loss is consistent and you don't hit any pleateaus, which are normal to encounter when losing a significant amount of weight)

In any case, a closer look at how Special K! (and other cereals) "helps you lose weight" reveals the following diet plan:

• Eat a serving of Kellogg's® Special K®, Special K® Red Berries, Special K® Vanilla Almond, Special K® Fruit & Yogurt or Special K® Low Carb Lifestyle Protein Plus cereal with 2/3 cup skim milk and fruit for two meals a day.

• Eat your third meal as you normally do.

• For snacks, choose from fresh fruits and vegetables or a Special K® Bar.

• Consume beverages as you normally do.

So, in essence, your breakfast and lunch each consist of roughly 300 calories. Considering that most people eat anywhere between 600 and 1,000 calories for lunch, the concept behind this "diet" is clearly the true and tested "eat less calories" method.

Even an 800 calorie dinner would give somebody eating Special K for breakfast and lunch a total calorie count of 1400. Those who choose to snack while on this plan are only having an additional 200 or so calories if they only consume the fresh fruits and vegetables that are allowed.

So, for someone on this diet who normally eats 2,400 calories a day, this is quite a caloric reduction!

The "consume beverages" as you normally do is confusing, since no real guidelines are given. If someone is drinking two twenty-ounce bottles of regular soda (hence drinking 500 calories a day), they are told to just continue doing so?

The concept of having a cup of cereal with milk and fruit for lunch is extreme and, in my opinion, unnecessarily restrictive and boring.

As I've mentioned before, if all you care about is calorie counting, you can lose weight with anything --even ice cream and pizza. However, since these two foods are highly caloric, it takes small amounts of them to reach your caloric goal.

Consider the following edxample. It would take you 15 ½ cups of tomatoes to eat 500 calories, whereas that same caloric amount can be found in ¾ cup of chocolate Haagen Dazs ice cream (that’s less than half the standard pint you buy at the supermarket!).

The key to successful and permanent weight loss is not about boring diet plans that ask you to eat a certain food at a given time, but rather in choosing foods that satisfy you and provide ample nutrition without adding on too many calories.

As Dr. Lisa Young recently told us, popcorn is a great snack for people she refers to as "volume eaters" (those who need to see a lot of food on their plate to feel satisfied). When air popped and eaten without butter, four cups of this whole grain only provide 125 calories!

Diets, Deconstructed: The Boys' Club

This marks the first installment of "Diets, Deconstructed", where NYU clinical nutrition professor Lisa Sasson gives Small Bites the lowdown on today's best-selling diets.

Today, representing the gentlemen, we have The Abs Diet, created and co-written by David Zinczenko, editor of Men's Health magazine.

The premise of the Abs Diet is rather simple. Eat mostly foods from the following groups:

Almonds and other nuts
Beans and other legumes
Spinach and other green vegetables

Dairy (fat-free/low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese)
Instant Oatmeal (unsweetened, unflavored)
Turkey and other lean meats

Peanut butter
Olive oil
Whole grains
Extra whey protein powder
Raspberries and other berries

The book also asks readers to incorporate weight-lifting routines to their day with a special focus on exercises targeting the abdominal muscles.

Here is Professor Sasson's take on this best-selling diet:

What I liked:

"I think the focus on exercise and fitness is really good, because a lot of diet books sometimes forget to stress the importance of adding physical activity to a healthy way of eating. This diet is also not unnecessarily restrictive. At no point are you told to completely cut out an entire food group."

What I'm not so sure of:

"I do feel, though, that dedicating so much of the book to abs exercises is just part of the "abs" gimmick. I would have liked to see some more emphasis on aerobic activity. Someone who hasn't done a sit-up in ten years can easily get discouraged by all this heavy fitness talk. Also, there's too much emphasis on the glycemic index. A healthy meal does not lose this property if it's accompanied by white rice instead of brown rice."

What I don't like:

"This book suggests men need to have whey protein shakes every day, which is ridiculous since the average American gets more than enough protein. I don't like the focus on one nutrient -- protein -- as if it is the magic answer to weight loss. Also, some of the studies the book cites are just preliminary research, but they are presented as tried and true facts. I especially took issue with one passage that makes a link between carbohydrate intake and the development of diabetes!"

My take? I think the Abs Diet has a solid idea behind it. I like the "groups" of food it recommends people make staples of their diet, and am glad they explain why low-calories, low-carb and low-fat diets are not effective for weight loss.

Also, as Professor Sasson says, this is not a restricted diet. Eating dessert once in a while is fine, and enjoying the occassional junk food is not seen as weakness or a breaking of the rules.

I also appreciated the miscellaneous tips sprinkled throughout (ie: "Five Ways to Add More Fiber To Your Diet").

I have a few issues with it, though:

1) It makes no mention of portions or amount of food eaten. Yes, almonds and olive oil are healthy. But, adding four tablespoons of olive oil to your salad add up to 480 extra calories, and two ounces of almonds contribute 330 calories to your day. Unless you are working out heavily, these extra calories will contribute to weight gain.

2) I absolutely agree with Professor Sasson that the emphasis on extra protein powder is overkill. As I explained in the sixth installment of the Small Bites newsletter, bulking up and adding mass to your frame is about eating more calories, not protein.

3) Branding calcium a "fat fighter" is a bit of a stretch.

4) The chapter titled "A Six-pack in Six Weeks" is too optimistic. I have a feeling most of the people who follow this diet might certainly shed pounds and eat in a more healthful way, but will not be displaying a six-pack in a month and a half. The fitness model shown on the very last page is obviously a man who has devoted much of his life to looking as buff and cut as he does, not a regular person who did the Abs diet for two weeks.

I would certainly not refer to the Abs Diet as a ridiculous or unhealthy one. I think its intentions are good and, for the most part, it dispenses practical and healthy advice. However, in order for it to make the grade, it needs to rely less on preliminary research (as Professor Sasson noted) and protein as the key to weight loss.

In my grade book, The Abs Diet receives a solid B.

August 22, 2007

In The News: "Healthier" Deep Fried?

I came across an interesting article this past weekend. So, the big news is that the Indiana State Fair banned trans fats! Golf claps.

Pardon my lack of enthusiasm, but this ban on trans fats isn’t such great news considering that their menu consists of fried Snickers bars, fried Oreos, and fried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. You can even get all of the above in one frightening combo platter!

What’s particularly disturbing about this article is that Cindy Hoye, executive director of the fair is quoted as saying, “this was an issue we wanted to tackle.” How this woman managed to keep a straight face as she said that in reference to a fair that deep fries candy bars beats me.

Let’s review for a second.

The sole reason behind banning trans fats (also known as “partially hydrogenated oils”) was that their consumption has been linked to an increase in “bad” cholesterol and a decrease in “good” cholesterol. This translates to an increased risk of developing heart disease.

Food manufacturers didn’t want to hear this because they love the shelf stability trans fats provide.

Nuts and seeds, for example, are mostly made up of polyunsaturated fats. These fats become rancid fairly quickly, which is why you can tell when you’ve bitten into an old almond.

However, baked goods made with trans fats (i.e: cookies) can be on shelves and unrefrigerated for months on end without a change in quality or taste.

While going trans-fat free can healthier than eating foods containing partially hydrogenated oils (I say “can” because butter and lard are high in saturated fats, which also increase our risk of heart disease and heart attacks) keep in mind that all oils are the same as far as calories are concerned.

A tablespoon of oil contains 120 calories, whether you’re talking corn, olive, soybean, trans-fat-full or trans-fat-free.

When you’re at the point where you’re eating deep fried candy bars, there are bigger concerns than whether the oil they are fried in is trans-fat-free.

You Ask, I Answer: Yogurt Parfaits

I had a Starbucks yogurt and fruit parfait this morning. It also has granola. I saw that it has 38 grams of sugar. Is that too much to have at breakfast? What should my maximum intake be for one day?

-- Patricia Roebuck
New York, NY

The combination of fruit, granola, and yogurt sounds very healthy. And, with the right ingredients, it can be. However, don’t forget that even healthy food has calories.

An 8.5 ounce Starbucks yogurt-fruit-granola parfait provides 320 calories and 4 grams of fat. Ironically, a yogurt parfait at McDonald’s is approximately half the size and only provides 160 calories and 2 grams of fat.

The 38 grams of sugar you saw noted for this parfait are a little misleading, since that number combines naturally occurring as well as added sugars. As far as healthy intakes are concerned, you only really need to be concerned with added sugars.

For example, yogurt naturally has lactose, or milk sugar. Even plain, unflavored yogurt will have approximately 10 or 12 grams of sugar per 8 ounce serving.

I suspect these parfaits are made with flavored yogurt, though, which contains added sugar. I would estimate the flavored yogurt is providing 15 grams (or almost 4 teaspoons’ worth) of added sugar.

On the bright side, it seems to me that the fruits used in this parfait are fresh, as opposed to sugary jam, so in their case we are also talking about naturally-occurring sugars.

If anything, the one ingredient to watch for is granola. Although it has long been associated with good health and clean living, granola is actually refined grains with sugar.

Does that mean you should you avoid it at all costs? No. However, a lot of people seem to believe granola is a health food, which it isn’t. After all, a Starbucks parfait only contributes 1 gram of fiber to your diet.

This is not to say that everything you eat needs to be high in fiber. However, don't make the mistake of thinking that your granola parfait counts as a serving of whole grains.

You should aim to have no more than 40 grams of added sugar a day. There are currently bills floating around Congress that would differentiate natural versus added sugars on food labels, which I think is a wonderful idea.

I personally find Starbucks’ and McDonald’s parfaits a bit too sweet for my palate. I prefer to make my own with non-fat Greek yogurt, fresh fruits, uncooked oatmeal, and a tablespoon of flaxseed meal.

August 21, 2007

Numbers Game: Pick Potassium

Which of the following foods provides the most potassium?

a) 1 cup of skim milk
b) 1 medium baked potato (eaten with skin)
c) 1 medium banana
d) 8 oz. plain yogurt

Leave your guess in the "comments" section and come back on Friday for the answer!

August 20, 2007

You Ask, I Answer: Soy Protein & Men

[Your newsletter on protein] was your best Small Bites issue to date.

One thing that I was wondering about with regard to soy protein: I've heard it is much more beneficial for women and that there are actually some negative health benefits for men who have diets high in soy protein.

I think it
had something to do with the "estrogen" similarities. Any info?

-- Fred Mursch

Brooklyn, NY

I have heard this “if I’m eating soy I may as well put on lipstick” worry from other men before.

If anything, men can actually greatly benefit from including soy protein in their diets, since their diets are generally higher in saturated fat than women’s.

Replacing some animal protein with soy-based ones provide healthier fats (tofu and tempeh provide some Omega-3 essential fatty acids) along with fiber, phytonutrients, and vitamins and minerals not found in animal meat.

Here’s the best news, though. Recent research indicates that soy protein’s isoflavones have protective properties against prostate cancer.

A study published in the Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention Journal earlier this year analyzed soy consumption and prostate cancer risk among 200 Japanese male subjects.

The results were pretty clear – those with the highest isoflavone consumption also had the highest decrease in prostate cancer risk.

It is worth adding that these men were eating nutritiously overall. They weren’t having just half a cup of vegetables a day and getting their sory by munching on soy crisps and dining on soy burgers smothered in ketchup and accompanied by French fries.

What was made very clear was that the addition of soy to an already healthy diet proved to be a valuable tool for lowering one's risk of developing prostate cancer.

Yes, very large doses of soy protein can cause breast enlargment and even a small decrease of testosterone in men, but to experience these side effects, you would have to down a handful of soy protein supplements, as it would be very hard to get such amounts in a diet that includes a few soy protein options.

Popping a cup of edamame in your mouth or ordering tofu with your pad thai does not mean you need to start thinking about going bra shopping.

August 19, 2007

Food For Thought: School Junketerias

There is nothing like a cloudy and rainy Sunday evening for random web surfing.

With school about to begin across the United States, I thought it would be interesting to see what some schools are offering students for lunch.

A Google search brought up quite a few menus (some current, some from the last month of the 2006-2007 school year). I randomly chose four and cringed.

The results:

This is what students in Virginia's Bedford County schools are in the month of May and June.
Don't see much in the way of dark, leafy green vegetables, legumes, or whole grains. Instead, pizza and french fries are provided every day, while fried fish, chicken nuggets, and hot dogs make almost daily appearances.

Students in District 118 in Illinois were offered the following meals in May and June.
Students are offered white or chocolate milk (I am assuming whole) or flavored juice. Although whole grains appear once in a while, why are children being fed pizza, oven fries, AND a cookie in the same meal?

Over in Decantur, Indiana, the May 2007 school lunch menu at Belmont High School looked like this.
French fries are available every single day, as are baked goods like brownies. Sadly, fruits and vegetables are dressed up with excess sodium (broccoli with cheese sauce) or sugar (apple slices with caramel). Why not pair up apple slices with peanut butter and broccoli with garlic and olive oil?

Finally, Township High School in Arlington Heights, IL is offering these foods to its students this month and next.
Whole grains are completely absent, and one day students have one of three choices for their entree: cheese sticks, chicken nuggets, or pizza (and I'm willing to bet that's "cheez", not "cheese" pizza).

Although students are given the choice of 2 fruit/veggie sides, there are enough not-so-nutritious options (whipped potatoes, jello) to prevent them from getting adequate amounts of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Parents -- I hope you have plenty of brown bags at home.

Issue 6 of Small Bites out

The sixth issue of the Small Bites newsletter -- covering protein -- is now accessible on

If you, or anyone you know, would like to be added to the mailing list, please send an e-mail to:

Happy reading!

August 18, 2007

Numbers Game: Answer

A standard shrimp tempura roll provides 550 calories.

From a strictly caloric standpoint, that's equal to 13 Chicken McNuggets!

Sushi can actually be very nutritious, thanks to its healthy proteins and fats (especially avocado), but tread carefully when it comes to rolls with tempura (a.k.a. "deep fried" -- a real shame to do to something as healthy as fish) and/or eel (which is cooked in a special sauce that contributes calories and added sugars).

Best bet? Start off with a high-fiber appetizer like edamame, steamed broccoli with garlic, or steamed spinach to make up for the white rice's lack of fiber. Then, choose any rolls that do not include tempura or mayonnaise.

Every sushi place I have ever gone to serves green tea for free, so have a cup or two along with the beverage of your preference for some bonus phytonutrients.

Above all, savor and enjoy!

August 16, 2007

Food for Thought: Will Diet For Money (Update)

Turns out the BBC article I linked to yesterday didn't tell the whole story of Italian mayor Gianluca Buonanno's health initiative of paying his overweight residents to lose weight.

One of my critiques was that this concept seemed like a cheap reality show stunt -- lose six and a half pounds in one month and you'll get $70. Where was the nutrition education, I asked? The outreach to get people to exercise?

Well, Dr. Domingo Pinero of New York University's Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health dug up some more information and was kind enough to share it with me.

Guess what? This health initiative is better than I thought!

First of all -- once these overweight patients get a note from a doctor verifying they do need to lose weight, they are provided a personalized diet, rather than left to their own accord.

And, even better -- the town offers free exercise lessons in local parks.

Interestingly, I also learned that women get the cash if the lose six and a half pounds, but men need to lose eight pounds in one month in order to "win".

That is the one part of this initiative I still have a problem with. If a man loses six pounds in 4 weeks, that should still be commended and rewarded, especially if it is the result of a personalized meal plan and regular exercise.

I say take away the cash prize and subsidize these people's initial consultations with a dietitian. As for the $15,000 budget put aside for this initiative, look into implementing nutrition education in schools. It's never too early.

Public health nutrition authorities agree.

Earlier today I e-mailed the always resourceful Marion Nestle and asked her if she knew of any thorough studies on external motivators in relation to weight loss and management.

"Mostly on social factors -- strong family and peer support. Recent studies of single interventions don't show much (how could they?) although some school interventions look promising," she replied.

Speaking With...: Lisa Sasson

Lisa Sasson has been a clinical assistant professor at New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health for 15 years, and has almost twenty years’ experience counseling clients in New York City with their weight management goals.

She is also co-director of NYU's Food, Nutrition and Culture summer study abroad program in Florence, Italy. It's only appropriate, then, that one of her specialties is The Mediterranean Diet.

Her knowledge of nutrition and outspoken, affable personality led to appearances on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and A& E as well as a one-on-one nutrition counseling session with supermodel Claudia Schiffer in 2004.

Ms. Sasson is currently Nickelodeon’s nutrition consultant and has been featured in The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Self, Time, Fitness, and was Allure Magazine’s nutrition makeover coach in 2005 and 2006.

I sat down with Ms. Sasson and picked her brain regarding the latest fad diets. The result was a candid and insightful chat.

Small Bites: How have diet fads evolved over the past few decades?

Lisa Sasson: Nutrition reminds me of fashion. If you wait long enough, a certain diet will be in vogue again.

For instance, when you look back 25 years ago, you see low-carb, high protein diets like Atkins and Scarsdale being advocated. These exact same diets resurfaced in 2003.

Then, in the 90’s, diets were advocating counting grams of fat and eliminating it from your diet. In turn, people ate lots of carbs.

Well, carbs, like all nutrients, have calories. Fat-free does not mean calorie-free.

So, people ate lots of carbs and gained a lot of weight.

SB: What themes do the most recent diet books have in common?

LS: The glycemic index is back, and so is this idea of “good” versus “bad” carbs. Whole grains are also a focus of the newest diet books.

Luckily, fat is becoming a component of most weight loss diets. Instead of calling for its elimination, the current books suggest eating healthy fats like olive oil, salmon, avocados, and nuts, which is a good push.

SB: What’s your take on “good” versus “bad” carbs?

LS: The problem I have with it is that there is no good scientific research demonstrating the importance of the glycemic index and “good” or “bad” carbs. So many factors affect the glycemic index of a food as it is. For example, the glycemic index of a potato varies depending on what you ate before, what you are eating with it, and how you prepare it.

People take it out of context. A lot of these books focus on it because it’s a catch. It makes people think, “Oh! If I eat this I am going to lose weight.” It is a great way to draw someone into believing your book is special.

SB: Which would you say is the best of the current diets?

LS: Walter Willett’s book (Eat, Drink, and Weigh Less: A Flexible and Delicious Way to Shrink Your Waist Without Going Hungry) is one of the better ones.

I liked it because he has a realistic approach. I wish he wasn’t so fixated on whole grains and the glycemic index, but he allows other carbs that may not be whole grains or “good” in the glycemic index to be incorporated.

He also recommends healthy fats, and the meals featured in the book are simple to prepare.

I liked Bob Greene’s book (The Best Life Diet) in the sense that it is done in increments and he goes into the psychological implications behind weight management.

He also stresses the importance of exercise and being more physically active.

You can’t talk about weight loss and not mention being more physically active. Not necessarily lifting weights, but just moving more. That’s the key to a healthy lifestyle.

Exercising allows you to eat more, utilize glucose better, have more muscle mass and lose weight more quickly.

SB: Are there any new diet books you aren’t too fond of?

LS: Yes, The Sonoma Diet! The woman who wrote it, Connie Guttersen, is a registered dietitian. She should be ashamed! Do you know what her first “rule” is? “Throw out anything in your house that has white flour or sugar in it”!

I mean, she takes pride in the fact that her diet mimics the Mediterranean Diet and then has the audacity to say, “Never eat pasta.”

And then she has all these phases, or “waves”, as she refers to them. The first wave is VERY restricted. There is a whole list of foods you can’t have. You can only have certain veggies, certain nuts, and certain grains.

There are also all these recipes that are so complicated. I was leafing through it and thinking, “Is someone really going to get home after a busy day and make these dishes?”

The author also makes some outrageous statements. For example, she says you can’t eat fruit during phase one because of “the carbs”.

That’s ridiculous because fruits are chock full of nutrients and fiber. Besides, they are delicious and sweet. There is absolutely no reason why people should not be allowed to eat fruit.

Should you have limits? Of course. But to restrict a natural food makes no sense. I can’t accept that anything as natural as fruit should be eliminated from a diet.

For someone to say, “I can’t eat an apple, I’m on a diet,” is just laughable.

Oh, and throughout the whole diet you can only have Barilla Plus multigrain pasta, but not regular pasta. What bothers me is that Italians aren’t eating whole grain pasta.

What matters more is what they’re putting on their pasta.

SB: What do you mean?

LS: In Italy, pasta has very little sauce on it. It’s eaten with beans and lots of vegetables, and it’s usually a side dish, not a huge meal. It is not a huge portion.

SB: What would you say to someone who critiques nutritionists as being too objective when analyzing diets? It’s easy to look at the science, but what about the personal experience?

LS: Funny you should ask that. I was looking at all these diets and thought to myself, “What does it feel like to go on these diets?” I wanted to really experience it “from the other side”, so to speak, so I decided to go on South Beach for 2 weeks. I followed it very strictly.

The good thing was that while I was on it, I had very little freedom, so I was not tempted to just pick or snack mindlessly.

So, it was easy in the sense that there wasn’t much choice. I was so hungry that whatever I ate, I enjoyed.

The bad thing is that, while dieting, I continued living my normal life. It was very difficult to exercise during these two weeks. Yoga was particularly taxing.

I was so low on carbs that I was glycogen-deprived, and glycogen is the main source of fuel. I felt light-headed, had terrible headaches, and was very moody.

It was also hard for me to look forward to the social aspect of a meal. The joy and pleasure of food was taken out.

After five days I couldn’t look at another egg because every morning I had one for breakfast. I also found it frustrating that I couldn’t just have a glass of wine with dinner.

SB: So, psychologically, it was difficult.

LS: Yeah, and what I hate about all these diet books is that none acknowledge that losing weight is not always easy.

They talk about how delicious their recipes are and all the variety they offer and how you wake up and get to eat delicious things like ricotta cheese with Sweet and Low and Cocoa powder, which, ugh, I don’t know how anyone can find that tasty. It's disgusting.

And, again, none of these books mention fatigue or boredom. They dismiss it. All they talk about is how you’re going to lose all this weight in two weeks, and how you have so much choice, and how with each phase you can eat more. Please. I wanted to search the index for “headaches” and “moodiness” to make sure I wasn’t going crazy.

SB: What about food shopping?

LS: Oh, God! I would go to the supermarket and put all these artificial food products into my cart. I had diet gellatin, diet popsicles, diet ice cream, and all these products with fifty ingredients.

Diet Jello became my best friend because I would make 2 boxes a day and make it when I was hungry. I would eat eggs, diet Jello, sugar-free pops, sugar free this, sugar free that. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “This is expensive and I can’t have fresh fruits in my cart!”

SB: What are some common pitfalls dieters make?

LS: Setting unrealistic expectations. Rather than think of this as a change of their lifestyle, people just think of it as “I need to lose 40 pounds by my birthday.”

Healthy eating goes hand in hand with living healthfully. So, apart from eating well, people should exercise and sleep enough. All these things affect your eating habits.

Don’t look at weight loss as “I need to eat more blueberries and less salmon” or some mathematical equation.

Also, learn to listen to your body. It lets you know when you are hungry, full, or satisfied. A lot of times people can’t differentiate between hunger and boredom. You shouldn’t feel stuffed after you eat.

Also, it’s a good idea to eat BEFORE you feel famished. This will reduce your chances of overeating or choosing unhealthy foods to immediately curb hunger.

SB: How should people who want to lose weight prepare themselves psychologically?

LS: First of all, have realistic expectations. Healthy weight loss is approximately 1 pound a week. So, for twenty pounds, you are looking at four to five months.

The key is to think of this as lifestyle changes. You want to lose this weight forever, not just so you can show off your body at the beach and then not worry about it because in the winter you hide under baggy sweaters and jackets.

When you lose weight quickly and go on these ridiculous restricted diets, you slowly start breaking the rules and then ease into your normal eating habits. So, what you need to change is your eating habits, and that’s going to take time.

When you make long term commitment, you will forever have a healthier relationship with food. Weight loss will not be at the forefront, it’s going to be changing the way you eat. Eating healthfully, physical activity.

It doesn’t – and shouldn’t -- mean you can’t have desserts two times a week or pepperoni pizza a few times a month. The idea is that these foods should play less of a role. Healthy eating is not about one meal or one food, it’s about dietary patterns.

People don’t succeed on overly restrictive diets because they focus on specific nutrients instead of changing their lifestyle. People get stuck on eating less of this, more of that, and it becomes difficult to sustain socially, culturally, physically, and emotionally.

SB: Say someone is reading this and wants to start losing weight today. What would you recommend as a good starting point?

LS: The first thing I tell my clients is to get rid of liquid calories. Liquids do not satiate the way food does, so it ultimately leaves room to consume more calories.

Also, these can easily be substituted with lower calorie healthy beverages. So I would begin by replacing sodas, juices, high fat milk, beer, alcoholic beverages, cocktails, and sugary iced teas with flavored sparkling water, diluted juices, unsweetened teas, and low or non-fat milk.

Then, each day try to do more physical movement than what you currently do. It can just be an extra ten minutes of walking every day. Then, two or three weeks later, add ten more minutes. Build it up slowly.

Don’t focus on how little you are doing. Whatever you do -- even if it’s a five minute jog -- is positive.

People just see the long-term goal and lose sight of the small steps in between. They say, “I can’t get to the gym tonight. I might as well eat a whole pizza.” Well, if you can’t go to the gym, walk for 10 or 15 minutes in your neighborhood.

Also, pay attention to what you feel when you eat. Before you put something in your mouth, ask yourself, “am I hungry? Or bored?” Rate your hunger. When you feel satisfied, try to stop.

Don’t buy things that make you feel vulnerable. If potato chips are irresistible, don’t have them in your house. If you have to buy them for other family members, put them somewhere out of your way so you have some time to think before reaching for them.

Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables. Don’t get hung up on this fruit, this vegetable. If you eat close to nature, if you are eating less processed food, you are already doing a really good job. Don’t think about eliminating plums and then eating watermelon only after the third week. Fruit is healthy!

SB: How can people spot a well-rounded “diet” book versus one that is unrealistic to follow?

LS: I don’t like books that tell you, “throw out everything that has white flour or sugar! Don’t eat these foods for six weeks!” It’s so ridiculous. Telling someone to ban 30 different foods does not mean they will stick to it or lose weight.

Also, these super strict rules are unnecessary. You don’t have to subsist on whole grain pasta or brown rice to lose weight. It’s OK to eat normal pasta as long as it is cooked healthily and you aren’t having three cups of it for dinner.

If you don’t like whole grain pasta, it’s OK. It’s not the magic weight loss solution. If you’re drowing your pasta in alfredo sauce, it doesn’t matter if it’s whole grain or not.

I like books that talk about making healthy changes rather than eliminate foods.

I like books that aren’t about just seeing the top of the mountain, but rather about the steps you need to take to get there. Looking at that tall mountain can seem overwhelming and defeating. People should be encouraged to concentrate on small, continuous steps. That’s a much healthier, more realistic approach.

I also think a good plan incorporates cultural sensitivity. Not everyone drinks milk, so to tell people to get calcium from dairy, that’s very shallow. Some cultures don’t drink milk and their calcium intake is just fine.

Thanks again to Lisa Sasson for a fun and thorough interview!

Over the next few weeks, Ms. Sasson will be analyzing some of today's hottest diets. Come back to find out which ones make the honor roll and which make the hall of shame.