Category Archives: weight loss

How Many Calories are Really in that Meal?

I am sure you are familiar with the standard suggestions given in the interest of weight management and health – “Read the nutrition label,” “Count your calories,” “Compare the caloric density of  meals.”  In theory, it is sound advice.  Body weight is maintained when there is a caloric balance -“calories in equal calories out.”  To lose weight calories consumed should be less than calories expended. If intake is greater than expenditure, then weight gain occurs.

The nutritional information listed on prepackaged foods, and now provided by some restaurants, should help you to determine the amount of calories you are consuming.  After all, the best way to calculate how many calories you take in throughout the day is to rely on the information of the nutrition label, right?  Not so fast say investigators of a study published in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.  The study, which evaluated the energy content of 39 commercially prepared frozen entrees and restaurant meals (obtained in the Boston, MA vicinity) indicated that there is a significant discrepancy between the caloric content listed and the actual values contained in the food.

The purpose of the investigation was to determine the accuracy of claimed energy values of food targeting consumers interested in weight management.  To be included in the study, criteria for restaurant meals were as follows:

  • Total energy content less than 500 kcal
  • Typical American food fare
  • One of the menu offerings that was lowest in caloric value

For frozen entrees obtained from the grocery store to be included in the study they had to be considered an alternative choice to dining out.

The test meals were sent to a research lab for analyzing.  The results?  The average caloric value of tested restaurant meals was 18% greater than the stated energy content, with some foods containing twice as many calories than listed (i.e., 200% more than claimed).  Frozen meals purchased from the grocery store had, on average, 8% more calories than purported.  The investigators note, however, that “the underreporting of energy by restuarants and food manufacturers notwithstanding, the majority of foods tested were not out of compliance with US Food and Drug Administration regulations because most fell within the 20% overage the Administration allows for packaged food (no ceiling of overage is specified for restaurant foods).”

Although these discrepencies fell within the acceptable range based on federal guidelines, they can still have a major negative consequence for the well-meaning consumer trying to adhere to a diet conducive to weight management.  What can/should be done about this?  The investigators suggest that steps be taken to improve quality control during commercial preparation of food and that stricter federal and state regulations be put in place with a better means by which to ensure compliance by food manufacturers.

Consumers need to arm themselves with the knowledge that the actual caloric content of the foods they eat may be significanly more than what is stated.  Therefore, if you are counting your calories and exercising but still having difficulty maintaining body weight, you might want to reconsider your food choices.  Switching to more meals prepared at home from whole foods and foods in their natural state may be the better alternative.

What do you think?  Should there be stricter federal and state regulations on energy content claims made by food manufacturers?  Share with us, we want to know!

Resource:

J Am Diet Assoc. 2010;110:116-123.  “The Accuracy of Stated Energy Contents of Reduced-Energy, Commercially Prepared Foods,” Urban, L.E. et al.,.

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Filed under caloric content, frozen entrees, frozen meals, nutrition labels, restaurant meals, weight loss, weight management

A Focus on Men’s Health by Guest Blogger Steve Jasper

Men’s Health Week By Steve Jasper

Every year, Men’s Health Week falls on the seven days prior to Father’s Day. The significance of this event would mean nothing without first realizing that one’s health is not only a measure of the lifestyle you lead, but how you stay in shape as well. A fraction of men are regular gym-goers who work out tirelessly with exercise equipment in order to keep their bodies healthy and active. Men realize that working out serves a more important function than just building muscles. Working out can help you improve your body image, self confidence, and even add years to your life.

Men’s Health Week (June 14-20th) is a week of awareness involving health issues and diseases for men that easily can be averted with early action, treatment, and healthy prevention. It’s no coincidence that Men’s Health Week leads right up to Father’s Day because Father’s Day is where we celebrate a man we love and wish nothing but health and happiness to. Many men understand the importance of adhering to a diet rich in whole foods, such as fruit and vegetables, whole-grains, low- and nonfat dairy products, and lean meat choices.  Yet, how can more men be proactive in staying healthy and avoiding illness and heath issues? Well, a good place to start is to be educated about how to use the gym, and exactly how important it is to do so. A better knowledge of how to properly exercise is integral to fighting obesity and improving your health.

The list of ailments that go along with obesity is almost endless: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, respiratory problems, and even cancer all have higher incidence rates in the obese. This is scary enough, but looking at the statistics, it’s even more frightening. The Journal of the American Medical Association states that 72 percent of men over the age of 20 are considered to be overweight or obese while 32 percent are dangerously obese. This is too much- especially when studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have shown that physical activity may greatly reduce the risk of both obesity and most health conditions in men.

There are plenty of great foods men can eat that will not only improve their exercise performance and overall fitness, but help them to be healthier and avoid obesity as well. Incorporating foods like blueberries (which are loaded with antioxidants) and sardines (not for everyone, but they are nutritious) can change a man’s attitude and drive. Additionally, other great foods men can snack on are nuts, which are full of vitamin E. Rice is also a good source for your vitamins, potassium and zinc. Even smaller foods are great to add to your diet in order to make things run smoothly. For example, sesame seeds are great for a man’s sex drive because they are rich in amino acids. Amino acids, as you may know, are the building blocks for your body’s proteins. Eating the right food can even affect your mood, which has been seen with edamame (or soy beans), for example. When you are fulfilling your dietary needs, you are less likely to succumb to binges on junk foods. Getting on the right diet and eating foods that help maintain a healthy body is one of the most important steps a man can take towards staying healthy and avoiding obesity. Of course, the other half of the equation is keeping a good workout routine.

Depending on who you ask, going to the gym may either seem like a hobby or a chore, but following those routines are important to staying fit and healthy for men everywhere. Now, we all come up with excuses as to why we can’t work out. When polled, the biggest reason men gave for not being able to exercise is, “not enough time.” The best way to overcome this hurdle is by getting your hands on one of your own personal home gyms. When you factor in the time it takes to travel back and forth from your fitness center, the gas money spent to do so, and the various membership fees, a home gym starts to look like a very reasonable option. And if you are more likely to work out regularly on your home gym than you are at your club, then all the more reason to pick one up.

How do you or the man in your life stay in shape?  Do you have a personal home gym?  What do you eat to help fuel your exercise?  Share with us, we want to know!

About the Author:

Steve Jasper is not a medical expert. If you have any serious medical concerns, please consult a qualified medical professional before undertaking a new fitness regimen. Steve is a contributing blogger from Gymsource who writes an all topics related to fitness equipment and much more.

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Filed under diet, exercise equipment, fitness, health, healthy food, men, nutrition, obesity, weight loss

Nutritional Supplement or Glorified Candy Bar?

Whole foods are best, but when you are constantly on-the-go, that option is not always possible.  Enter meal replacement bars – the go-to source of nutrition of many that has gained in popularity in recent years.  And, for good reason – when you are about to debunk and are faced with choosing between an empty calorie, high-sodium, fat-ladened meal from a fast food restaurant or an enriched energy bar, the latter choice wins out.  Care needs to be taken, however, when choosing the best meal replacement bar for you.  With all of the different choices on the market today, this can prove to be a challenge.  How is one to know if their bar of choice is a good supplement to their diet or just a glorified candy bar?

Manufacturers of supplement bars strive to reach different consumer targets.  Usually, the label tells all.  Descriptors such as “low-carb,” “high-performance,” or “high-fiber” give an indication as for whom the bar is made and what nutritional “needs”  it is intended to meet.  Supplement bars basically fall under two main categories – meal replacement and performance.  Subcategories within these would include bars engineered to meet the needs of different gender and age groups (e.g., women, children, etc.,), and/or those individuals with special dietary requirements/preferences (e.g., “vegan,” “organic,” “gluten-free,” etc.,).

When choosing the best bar for you, consider the following:

  • Who are you buying the bar for? You? Your child?
  • What are your goals? Are  you looking to increase exercise performance? Do you want to build muscle mass? Lose weight? Run longer?
  • Is the bar to replace a regular meal or to act as a nutritional supplement in your diet or your child’s diet?

The descriptions below of what to expect from the different categories of bars may help you to select the one that meets your needs and goals.

Meal Replacement Bars

  • Individuals interested in using supplement bars as part of their weight loss program want to ensure that the bars provide a nutritional equivalent to what would be achieved by consuming a small meal composed of whole foods.  These bars should contain fiber (at least 3-5 grams) to provide a sense of fullness.  Diet bars should be relatively low in fat (no more than 5 grams), contain a moderate amount of protein (10-15 grams), and should be enriched with a third of your daily requirements for vitamins and minerals.
  • When choosing a bar that will be a nutritional supplement to fill-in any “gaps” that may be in your or your child’s diet, be wary of claims such as “real fruit,” “yogurt,” etc.,.  Read the label carefully because the source of “fruit” may actually be from juice concentrates and high-fructose corn syrup rather than real pieces of fruit.  And, the form of yogurt present typically does not contain the live, active cultures that help with digestive and immune function.  Also, use caution when deciding upon meal replacement bars that are dipped in chocolate or have chocolates swirls on top.  These “extras” usually come with a price – added sugar and fat in amounts that equate or exceed those found in candy bars.
  • To round out your nutritional needs or those of your child, serve a piece of fruit, some yogurt, or a glass of skim milk along with the meal replacement bar.

Performance Bars

  • Although there is a range, performance bars can contain a higher caloric content than diet bars targeted for weight loss in order to meet the increased energy needs of an active individual.
  • Supplement bars that target bodybuilders tend to have the highest protein content, around 20-30 grams.  Choose a bar that lists high-quality protein (whey, casein, or soy) as one of the main sources.
  • Athletes who are looking for an energy bar to consume prior to a moderate- to high-intensity workout should look for one that is high in carbohydrates (around 25-40 grams).  Avoid bars that are high in fat and fiber which can interfere with digestion and cause gastrointestinal distress.
  • Endurance athletes looking for a supplement bar to be consumed during a prolonged exercise session (longer than an hour) would benefit from bars that are high in quick digesting carbohydrates (glucose).  Ideally, these individuals want to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of exercise.
  • Energy bars consumed post-workout should be relatively high in carbohydrates (30 grams or more) to replenish energy stores and have a moderate amount of protein (10 grams) to aid in muscle tissue repair.

What to Look for in all Supplement Bars

  • The fat source should primarily come from mono- and poly-unsaturated fats such as whole-grains and nuts (e.g., oats, almonds, etc.,).  Avoid bars high in trans and saturated fats.
  • Limit bars sweetened with sugar alcohols which can lead to gastrointestinal upset.  Instead, choose bars that are sweetened with natural sugars (e.g., fruit purees, honey, etc.,).  Avoid bars made with high-fructose corn syrup and/or have simple sugars listed as the first or second ingredient.
  • Carbohydrates should come from complex sources (e.g., whole-grain oats, wheat bran, etc.,).  Avoid bars made with unrefined grains (e.g., white flour).
  • The protein should come from quality sources such as egg, soy, whey, and casein.

Meal replacement and performance bars are a convenient source of energy and can have a place in your and/or your child’s diet when chosen wisely.  Care should be taken to avoid going “overboard” on supplement bars.  Since many can contain mega amounts of carbohydrates and proteins, you are at risk for consuming more calories than you expend, which can lead to weight gain.  If you are considering using meal replacement bars, meeting with a dietitian can help you find the best one for your goals and nutritional needs.

Do you eat meal replacement bars?  Which ones are your favorites?  Share with us, we want to know!

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Sources for more Information

MedicineNet.com “Meal Replacements: Choose Those Bars and Drinks Carefully,” Zelman, K.

Running Times Magazine, April 2007, “Raising the Bar – How to find the best energy bar for you,” Eberle, S.G.

“Kids and On-the-Go Nutrition,” Gavin, M.L.

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Filed under children, diet, easy meals, energy bars, nutrition, nutritional supplement, snacks, weight loss

Eat This?

PICKKA's "Eat This?" app for the iPhone is as easy as 1-2-3!

Have you ever had one of those days where you are constantly on the run going from one event to the other without even a break to use the restroom?  The kind that entails meeting after meeting at work, with the last one running overtime causing you to scramble to pick-up your child after school so that you can next fight your way through traffic to get him to karate class on time? A day that doesn’t come to an end until it’s dinner – a time when you should finally be able to relax, but then you realize you have nothing in the house to eat and you need to go to the market?  Adding to the burden, you are trying to watch your diet and eat healthier foods, but after a day like that, who has the time or energy to compare nutrition labels?!

Enter PICKKA’s new “Eat This?” app by “Shop to Lose” for the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS – it’s as easy as 1-2-3!  There is no need for you to waste time standing in the grocery aisle trying to sift through nutrition facts and ingredients lists – PICKKA’s “Eat This?” app does all the work for you.  Simply enter your health objectives (e.g., weight management, diabetes control, healthy eating, etc.,), scan the bar code of the product with your phone’s camera, and wah-lah instant nutritional information pops up for your viewing.

PICKKA’s “Eat This?” health meter will let you know what foods meet your health goals.  Don’t like the choice it has given you?  No worries, because this app also provides alternative products in a similar category.  Concerned about the product’s taste?  “Eat this?” has you covered with its “consumer rating of taste” feature.  Other users of the app can rate the taste, the results of their evaluation are made available to you – providing you with additional decision making power without the additional effort.

You can download this app now for $0.99.  To learn more about the “Eat This?” app click here.  After you download the app, try it out and come back here and let us know how you like it.  Share with us, we want to know!

“Eat This?” is as easy as 1-2-3!

First, enter your health goals.

Second, scan the product's bar code.

Nutrition Facts appear for your review.

"Eat This?"explains why a product does not meet your health goals.

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Filed under added sugars, diet, Eat This?, fat, health, nutrition, PICKKA, Shop to Lose, weight loss

“Good Health” by Gerda Endemann, Ph.D., Nutrition Education

Which sounds more appealing?  “I can’t eat anything” or “I deserve nutrient-rich foods”?

Is your goal to have good health and to look and feel your best?  Then focus on that instead of worrying about your weight.  Obsessing about what you cannot eat isn’t a great strategy in the long run.  Instead, think about helpful and easy things you can do to kick-start your journey to a healthier lifestyle.

For example, I estimate that 15-30% of women could increase their energy level and strength by taking the right iron supplements and/or eating the proper iron-rich foods.  Once you have more energy, you will be able to look forward to exercise – without thinking of it as a chore. In fact, you might even find yourself looking for ways to become more active!

A great first step is to start going to local farmer’s markets to find fresh, nutrient-dense and antioxidant-rich ingredients to make fantastic salads and soups for yourself.  Once you’re more active and prepare your own healthy foods, you probably will lose weight.  But even more important, regardless of your weight, you will increase your chances of living a long, healthy life.  For more information, visit my blog (http://healthyfat.blogspot.com/) and my website (http://www.healthyfat.com/).

About the Author:

Gerda Endemann, Ph.D., is a Nutrition Educator with a practice based in Palo Alto, CA.  She received her undergraduate educational training at U.C. Berkeley in Nutrition & Dietetics and her doctorate degree in Nutritional Biochemistry & Metabolism at M.I.T.  Dr. Endemann is the author of numerous publications based on research she conducted on fat nutrition, cholesterol metabolism, heart disease, and cancer at such prestigious institutions as Stanford, Harvard, Brandies, and M.I.T..  In addition to offering personal consultations, Dr. Endemann is a course instructor at Stanford University and Foothill College.  She also provides seminars for corporations, hospitals, and nonprofit organizations.  The Health and Food Forum’s Blog is pleased to have Dr. Endemann as a member of our community.

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Filed under green eating, green living, health, healthy food, nutrition, weight loss

Fat Facts

Surprising factors may lead to weight gain.

Are you exercising like crazy and watching your calories but still can’t shed those pounds?  Perhaps there is another culprit (or two).  Did you know that alcohol, certain prescription medications, and eating too little calories can lead to weight gain?  The Nurse Practitioner Schools, an online resource for more than 350 nurse practitioner schools, recently posted an article, “This is Why You’re Fat: 10 Really Surprising Reasons,” that address these factors and more.  Visit their site to learn more.

What are you doing to control your body weight?  Share with us, we want to know!

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Filed under fat, obesity, stress, weight loss

Health Makeover for School Lunches!

Approximately 70% of schools offer their students meals that exceed the recommended levels of saturated fat.

Lunches served in schools across America may soon get a nutrition makeover.  On March 17, 2010, the Healthy School Meals Act of 2010, H.R. 4870, sponsored by Rep. Jared Polis [D,CO-2] was referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.  This bill, which has 49  cosponsors, proposes “to provide plant-based commodities under the school lunch program under the Richard B. Russell National School Act and the school breakfast program under the Child Nutrition Act of 1966, and for other purposes.”  Under the bill, schools will be rewarded with food aid and financial incentives if they increase their offerings of plant-based meal options and nondairy milk choices for their students.

According to a 2007 Department of Agriculture School Nutrition Dietary study, more than 70% of schools provide meals that exceed the recommended intake of saturated fat, which increases the risk for chronic health conditions such as obesity and cardiovascular disease.  Fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as other plant-based foods (soy), tend to be lower in saturated fat and calories and provide more fiber – characteristics which are associated with a lower risk for developing chronic diseases.  Statistics which indicate that 1 in 3 children is overweight and that more than 30 million children eat at least one meal at school per day, highlight the need for improvement in the nutritional content of meals offered through the school system.  If approved, The Healthy School Meals Act, H.R. 4870 would make it easier for schools to provide healthy, nutrient-dense meals to their students.  And, as a result, help to combat childhood obesity and its associated diseases.

Are you in favor of the Healthy School Meals Act of 2010, H.R. 4870?  Share your opinion, we want to know!

Do you have a great healthy, easy to prepare lunch you send with your child to school?  Let us know, we want to hear!

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Filed under diet, health, healthy food, nutrition, obesity, school lunch, weight loss