Posts Tagged ‘Calories’

Most Restaurant Food Has Too Many Calories, Studies Find

May 15th, 2013 at 1:59 pm by timigustafson

That too much fondness of fast food can cause weight problems is old news. But the idea that nearly all types of restaurants dish up meals that can expand your waistline has not been as widely discussed – until now.

Two separate studies, one from the University of Toronto, Canada, the other from Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, found that most restaurant food is not all that superior to hamburgers and fries when it comes to calorie and fat content.

The researchers who conducted the Toronto study discovered that the average meal in 19 different restaurant chains contained 1,128 calories, or about 56 percent of the recommended daily intake of 2,000 calories for adults. Some popular fast food items have considerably less than that. And excessive amounts of calories are not only found in dinner entrées but in lunch and breakfast servings as well.

Besides calories, the authors of the study report also expressed concern over high salt, fat and cholesterol content, sometimes exceeding between 60 and 150 percent of the recommended limits.

For the Tufts study, the researchers focused on calories in meals purchased at independent and small chain restaurants, which are exempt from having to post nutritional information on their menus, as it is required of larger chains. The results showed even higher counts than what their bigger competitors offered – a whopping 1,327 calories on average.

More than 90 percent of the small chain eateries included in the study served portion sizes that covered at least one third of a day’s worth of calories. 10 percent went beyond that, and a few even exceeded the recommended calorie count of an entire day – on just one plate. (Perhaps Adam Richman of Man v. Food should pay them a visit.)

“Considering that more than half the restaurants in the U.S. are independent or small chain and won’t be covered by labeling requirements in the future, this is something consumers need to pay attention to,” said Dr. Lorien Urban, one of the researchers who was involved in the Tufts study.

But even calorie postings on menus and billboards where they are required by law have been proven to be unreliable in prior investigations by Tufts and others. In fact, fast food places with their largely automated apportioning methods can find it easier to determine accurate measurements than restaurants that rely on estimates by kitchen personnel. There is only so much accuracy you can expect when dishes are individually crafted by hand, said one executive of Olive Garden, a nationally operating restaurant chain.

Still, restaurant patrons don’t have to feel completely helpless if they want to exercise some measure of control over their calorie intake. Dr. Lisa Young, professor for nutrition at New York University (NYU) and author of the blog “The Portion Teller”, recommends following an easily applicable restaurant survival guide she has compiled for her readers.

Being aware that portion sizes in most restaurants have exponentially grown over the past few decades is an important start, she says. It may look like you’re getting more value for your money, but the fact is that you will likely overindulge when you’re faced with an overflowing plate. Instead, she advises to order only half portions whenever available, or just an appetizer. Or you can split one entrée with a dinner partner.

Choose a salad or soup if they offer healthier alternatives to, let’s say, meat dishes. But be careful with dressings and creams – that’s where extra, unnecessary calories come in.

Don’t forget that your drinks have calories, too, sometimes lots of them. Sodas are notorious for high sugar content, and so are fruit juices and milk shakes. Alcoholic beverages count as well. The more you have of these, the more likely you’ll lose your inhibitions and end up overeating, she warns.

Desserts, of course, are always hard to say ‘no’ to, but you are not without choices. A few pieces of fresh fruit can be refreshing and they come without much regret.

What matters most – especially if you eat out often – is to keep track of your consumption, just like you would on any weight management program, if necessary with the help of a food diary. With the necessary precautions, you should still be able to enjoy a nice meal that someone else prepared for you.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Why You Need a Dining Out Strategy” and “A Restaurant Guide for Healthy Eating.”

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Beware of Hidden Calories in All the Good Holiday Cheer

November 21st, 2012 at 2:01 pm by timigustafson

Whether we celebrate at home with family and friends, attend lots of parties or take a vacation to get away from it all, the holidays always tempt us to consume more food and drink than we normally would – and more than may be good for us.

The average American adult devours about 3,000 calories and 229 grams of fat in one Thanksgiving meal alone, according to surveys by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), a non-profit fitness advocacy organization. Those figures can quickly swell to 4,500 calories and more when all the feasting is considered.

Many people start by snacking throughout the day, which combined with the meal can lead to substantial overeating, according to Dr. Cedric Bryant, an exercise physiologist at ACE. However, those casually added calories are rarely remembered.

Another source of uncounted calories are often alcoholic beverages. It’s no secret that alcohol consumption escalates during the holiday season. The distilled spirits industry alone makes more than 25 percent of its annual profits from Thanksgiving to New Year, according to reports by Forbes, based on data from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS).

“Many may not realize that even a little daily drinking can lead to weight gain over time,” says Dr. Samara Joy Nielsen, a senior fellow at the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

She admits that even health experts tend to forget how many calories from beverages contribute to the total calorie intake among adults. “Although the risks of excessive alcohol consumption in terms of injury and chronic disease are well known, less is known about the calories consumed from alcoholic beverages. As with calorically sweetened beverages, alcoholic beverages are a top contributor to calorie intake but provide few nutrients,” says Dr. Nielsen in a study report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While people are becoming increasingly aware of the effects of sodas in terms of weight gain, alcoholic beverages have so far escaped similar scrutiny.

Of course, the impact of alcohol on the waistline is not limited to the holidays. About one-third of men and one-fifth of women in America consume calories from alcoholic beverages on most days, according to the CDC report. For most Americans, the average intake is less than 100 calories per day, however, 20 percent of men and 6 percent of women consume more than 300 calories from alcohol on any given day.

One of the reasons why the consequences of alcohol consumption are not always understood may be that many people don’t even know what constitutes a “drink,” says the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). A “standard drink” in the U.S. is defined as any drink that contains 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol. For regular beer that is equivalent to 12 fl oz, for table wine 5 fl oz, and for 80-proof spirits 1.5 fl oz. For beer that’s about 150 calories and for wine 100 calories. For hard liquors, especially when mixed or combined with other ingredients in cocktails, those numbers can be much, much higher.

Needless to say, drinking alcohol – at any time, but especially during the holidays when there are so many opportunities – can also be hazardous in other ways. Multiple health problems and potential addiction are well documented. And, of course, there are safety concerns. Nearly half of all driving fatalities on Christmas Day are alcohol-related, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), disasters that could easily be avoided.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy reading “Your Drinks Count, Too

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Counting Calories Is Not Enough

July 15th, 2012 at 7:09 am by timigustafson

Most diet programs for weight loss are mainly focused on managing calories. Of course, there is good reason for that. A surplus of calorie intake versus expenditure eventually leads to weight gain. Only about 500 additional calories a day can result in an extra pound of body weight per week – and, of course, the opposite applies just as much. However, it is also important to know where those calories come from, a fact that is not always communicated as well.

According to the laws of physics, calories are all the same. Thus, in theory, it shouldn’t matter whether you drink sugary sodas or eat apples as long as both have the same calorie count. So, the kind of diet you choose – e.g. high-protein/low-carb, high-carb/low-fat, or anything in between – shouldn’t matter either, provided more calories are burned off than consumed. Still the discussion over the effectiveness of different weight loss approaches continues. But is this even the right conversation to have?

Obesity is undoubtedly one of the most pressing health problems of our time. But so is – paradoxically – malnutrition. “Americans are overfed and undernourished,” says Dr. Mark Hyman, author of the “Blood Sugar Solution – The UltraHealthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Feeling Great Now!” (Little, Brown, 2012). In fact, he says, “most obese children and adults in the country are also the most nutritionally deficient.”

The so-called “Standard American Diet” (SAD) is notoriously caloric but too often nutrient poor, lacking many essential vitamins and minerals. People who eat large amounts of highly processed foods and ingest lots of sugar, refined grains and hydrogenated fats (trans-fats) may gain weight but remain hungry because their nutritional needs are not met. But instead of altering their food choices, they simply keep munching on more of the same.

When they eventually decide to go on a diet, they may starve themselves, but all they often do is deprive their body further by cutting back on (empty) calories without replacing them with more and better nutrients, which is what a healthy diet (for weight loss or otherwise) should be all about.

Nutrition experts have long known that one of the best ways to achieve and maintain a healthy weight range is to focus on nutritional quality first. Yes, portion sizes do matter, but they become less important as you switch from empty calories to nutrient-dense ones. An extra helping of fresh fruit or vegetables is harmless by comparison to a supersized cheeseburger, pizza slice or order of French fries. The same goes for snack foods. While potato chips, candy bars and cookies may give you some instant gratification, they will not satisfy you for long (that’s why you keep reaching for them). Healthy snacks, on the other hand, like apples, citrus fruits, bananas or berries, will do the job much better, and the health benefits are of course much greater.

The bottom line is that single strategies like counting calories won’t work if they don’t go hand in hand with a health-conscious change of eating habits and food choices. Part of that process is educating yourself about nutritionally superior foods and the many advantages they can provide, not just for managing body weight but, more importantly, for all-around good health.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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For Weight Loss, Cutting Back on Calories Matters Most

February 5th, 2012 at 3:22 pm by timigustafson

People who swear by a particular diet to lose weight may be fooling themselves, according to a recent study by scientists at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There is no real evidence that low-carb, low-fat or high-protein diets make as big a difference as overall calorie reduction when it comes to weight loss, according to Dr. George Bray who worked on the study.

“Earlier research had found that certain diets – in particular those with very little carbohydrate – work better than others. Diet books also often guide consumers to adopt a particular type of meal plan. But there hasn’t been a consensus among scientists,” Dr. Bray said in an interview with Reuters Health (1/30/2012).

For the study, several hundred overweight and obese people were assigned in equal groups to four different diets: (1) Average protein, low fat and higher carbs; (2) high protein, low fat and higher carbs; (3) average protein, high fat and lower carbs; (4) and high protein, high fat and lower carbs. All diet styles were designed to allow for an energy deficit of about 750 calories per day.

The participants were weighed after six months and again after two years. The researchers found that, although most lost weight and managed to keep at least a few pounds off for two years, “there were no differences in weight loss or fat reductions between the diets.”

The study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, also determined that stick-to-itiveness was a crucial factor for the success of any of the diet regimens – but also one of the hardest to achieve. “The major predictor for weight loss was adherence,” said Dr. Bray. “Those participants who adhered better, lost more weight than those who did not.”

While these study results should not come as a major surprise, they are not necessarily welcome news for the diet- and weight loss industry. After all, Americans spend billions of dollars annually in a highly competitive market of weight loss programs and dieting ideas. Could the ultimate solution be as simple as eating less and burning off more calories for the rest of your life?

Not quite, according to Dr. Scott Olson, a practitioner of alternative medicine and author of “Runner’s Soul.” “Using calories as a way to measure what you should be eating can only take you so far,” he says. The reason is that you are not a calorimeter, you are a living being and not some laboratory tool. Something happens when you consume carbohydrates that is different from what happens when you eat protein or fats – regardless of calories.”

Dr. Olson sees focusing exclusively on calories regardless of their source as a misguided approach because it misses out on other important issues. “Calories don’t matter as much as blood sugar, especially when you are talking about weight loss. To lose weight, yes, you need to burn more calories than you are consuming, but you also have to keep your blood sugar from spiking too high and causing your body to store that extra energy as fat,” he said.

Dr. Bray and his fellow-researchers would agree that not all diets offer the same health benefits, even if they are comparatively effective in terms of weight loss. For that matter, Dr. Bray favors the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which is endorsed by the National Institute of Health (NIH).

In my own practice as a dietitian and health counselor, I have always preached that calorie restriction for weight loss must go hand in hand with high quality nutrition. That may require cutting back on portion sizes but also loading up on important nutrients. In the end, I want my clients not just to be thinner but all around healthier. And that’s why I also want to know where their calories come from.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Your Drinks Count, Too

December 18th, 2011 at 5:40 pm by timigustafson

Most people are well aware that they will probably gain some weight over the holidays from all the festive dinners and extra treats. They are less conscious of the fact that drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, can contribute just as much if not more to the expansion of their waistline. It’s hard to keep track of the extra calories from liquids because the brain doesn’t receive a “full” signal from the stomach the way it happens with solid food.

Especially drinking alcoholic beverages can significantly increase calorie intake with just a few shots or sips. Many liquors are as caloric as sugary sodas. Alcohol itself is high in calories – 7 calories per gram, more than carbohydrates or protein (4 calories per gram) and almost as much as fat (9 calories per gram). This applies just to straight drinks, like beer, wine and spirits. Cocktails with added ingredients can quickly multiply the calorie content.

“If you drink, even moderately, first you do need to acknowledge the calories. They count,” said Lona Sandon, a nutritionist at the University of Texas Southwestern School of Health Professions and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA).

Keep in mind that calories from alcohol are “empty” calories, meaning they don’t contain any nutrients. The liver processes alcohol first to get rid of toxins, while other nutrients are put on hold. While alcohol is being metabolized, fat burning is suspended. Moreover, an increased alcohol level in your blood stream can make you feel hungry because it lowers your blood sugar. All of these factors combined are the perfect set-up for weight gain.

Another well-known fact is that alcohol diminishes one’s inhibition and self-control. That’s why the holidays are often a time when caution gets thrown to the wind with regrets to follow later.

Of course, not everyone who enjoys a drink or two develops weight problems. Scientists have not been able to consistently tie alcohol consumption to weight gain. Also, a person’s individual genetic make-up can greatly affect his or her body’s ability to process alcohol.

Gender can play a role as well. Researchers found that when men drink, they also tend to eat more food, thereby increasing their overall calorie intake through both. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to compensate for their drinking by eating less.

Naturally, it matters what kind of food or snacks you’re having with your drinks. Beer with pretzels or peanuts, or wine with cheese and crackers are popular combinations, but they can be deadly in terms of weight control.

Coffee drinks and seasonal spirits are not harmless either. Many are loaded with sugar and cream and a few gulps can quickly add up to a calorie count of a full meal. Eggnog, a traditional favorite, is a real heavy weight. A one-cup serving has about 400 calories – and who can just have one?

So, what can you do to avoid these calorie traps without spoiling your holiday spirit? Quite a bit, actually. For starters, don’t get caught off guard when alcoholic beverages are being served. If you like wine or beer, stick with it. Don’t mix with other drinks. If hard liquor is your poison, have it straight up, on the rocks or with club soda but without a lot of other stuff added. Be particularly careful with super-caloric cocktails. They are desserts in disguise. If you have eggnog or fruit punch, I recommend taking them “naked,” meaning no extra toppings like chocolate or whipped cream.

As with everything, moderation is key. If you have been reading my columns regularly, you know one of my favorite mottos: “Nothing is forbidden, but everything counts.” Observing this little piece of wisdom is even more important during the holiday season. Cheers!

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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