Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Audacity of Baconnaise

Yesterday I stumbled upon Baconnaise on the internet. I’m not sure how or why. I had heard of Baconnaise – mainly from watching Jon Stewart eating it in a variety of combinations including pancakes and sausage. But I knew little about the product itself. So when I happened upon its website, I wondered, how bad could this stuff be? The name alone suggests an artery clogging, heart threatening menace. But upon reading the nutrition information, I found otherwise.
It turns out Baconnaise isn’t that much different than my beloved The Ojai Cook Lemonaise that I make a yummy salmon salad with at least once a week. It’s very low in saturated fat – only 1.5 grams per one tablespoon serving. That’s about 8% of the 20 gram a day limit. The cholesterol’s not that high either at 10 mg out of the 300 mg a day limit. The sodium is low as well at 85 mg of sodium out of the 2400 mg a day limit.

The moral of this story is don’t judge a food by its name. Always look at the label. I’m sticking with my Lemonaise for now but the next time I make a sausage and pancake sandwich, it’s Baconnaise all the way.
Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Negative Calorie Foods? We Wish!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to eat foods that make you burn more calories than are in the food itself? You could eat to your heart’s content and lose weight while you’re at it. Google “negative calorie foods” and you’ll find “negative calorie diets” and lists of calorie burning foods. Usually these diets feature foods that are good for you like celery and grapefruit, so there’s no harm done if you try to outsmart your metabolism by eating them.

But do they really do what the claims promise? Possibly, but not likely. While proponents claim to have research studies that support the negative calorie premise, there isn’t any. I’ve seen some sites that claim that when you eat celery you burn up “a lot” more calories to process that celery. But the data is just not there. For most foods, it takes roughly 10% of the calories in that food to digest and absorb it. So to process that 6 calorie stalk of celery is probably costing you about 0.6 calories. Even if these foods do burn up extra calories, it would probably be an insignificant amount when it comes to actual weight loss.

Since most of the foods on “negative calorie” lists are fruits and vegetables, eating lots of them could help you lose weight. Here’s where the data is solid. Foods that weigh a lot (meaning high in water content) fill you up and so you eat less. Several research studies show that we eat about the same amount of food in weight every day. You may have seen the book Volumetrics. It’s based on this concept. Our own UAB EatRight weight loss program is based on this idea too. So if you eat heavy foods that are low in calories, you signal your body to feel full and satisfied on fewer calories.

The bottom line on negative calorie foods? This is one for The Journal of Wouldn’t It Be Nice? But Too Bad Because It Probably Isn’t.

Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Why Can't I Lose Weight When I'm Doing Everything Right?

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. You may be doing everything right – cutting back on calories, exercising, and patiently waiting week after week for just a few pounds to drop. Nothing. What gives? Actually, lots of things, particularly if you’re not in your 20’s or early 30’s anymore. Over the years research has slowly confirmed your hunch that losing weight really is harder than gaining weight. Here are just of few of the things that could be thwarting your weight loss efforts:
  •         Losing Muscle. Our muscles are calorie burning machines. This is why men can diet for a day and lose 5 pounds while we have to diet for a month to get the same results. Men have more muscle mass and burn more calories. As we get older, we lose muscle. Some of that loss is caused by less physical activity – but not all of it. Even a relatively inactive person in her 20’s will have more muscle than a fairly active 60 year old. After you reach adulthood, your calorie burning drops 2% each decade. If you’re inactive, it drops 5% each decade. The lesson? Keep that muscle mass up by exercising. Don’t just do cardio but add in some serious strength training with weights or exercise bands to keep your metabolic machinery in gear.
  •     Biological barriers. Your body may get more efficient at storing fat as you gain more weight. There’s an enzyme called LPL (lipoprotein lipase) that stores the fat you eat as body fat. LPL lives on the surface of your fat tissue so the more fat you have, the more LPL, and the more efficient you are at storing fat. There are other biological barriers to weight loss. Ghrelin, a hormone that triggers eating, may go up as you cut calories. While that seems strange, it seems to be an evolutionary holdover as your body tries to protect you from the famine!
  •     Genetics. Research is pretty solid in the area of genetics and weight.  There’s no doubt that your genetics influence your weight although it’s the combination of genes and a food laden environment that really set us up for obesity. It doesn’t mean there’s no hope. It does mean you may never get to a dream weight where you’re just not meant to be. The lesson here? Set realistic goals for weight loss. Toss out the charts that tell you where your weight should be and be realistic.
So what to do? This is the tough part and it’s probably all the stuff you’ve heard before:
  •     Stay the course. It may take more than a few weeks for your efforts to pay off.
  •      Keep a food record for a few days. A food record is one of the most useful tools getting a true picture of your eating habits and changing them.
  •     Avoid the temptation of extreme dieting.  Extreme diets and calorie cutting are tempting in times like these. Don’t fall for it – you’ll sacrifice short term satisfaction for long term misery.
  •      Reward behaviors not pounds lost. If the numbers on the scale make you feel bad, then only weigh yourself once or twice a month. Reward yourself for sticking to the plan, not for the pounds lost.
  •     Go easy on yourself. Realize that this is hard and it’s going to be slow.
  •      Get help. A registered dietitian can help you analyze what you’re doing and what you can change.
I met a woman a few years ago who told me that she lost one pound a year. That’s not a typo. She lost one pound a year. When I met her, it was twenty years later. She was twenty pounds lighter. Now that’s patience.
Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences

Sunday, March 14, 2010

One for the Ladies? Women, Alcohol, and Weight Gain

Ladies – here’s one for us. A study published last week in the Archives of Internal Medicine gave us some good news: moderate drinking in middle aged women was associated with less weight gain as they got older. Just how much less weight? That’s where things are less impressive. The women who reported drinking no alcohol at all or up to one drink a month gained around 8 pounds over 13 years. The women who drank  lightly (up to one drink a week) gained about 6 ½ pounds in 13 years. The women who drank 1 to 2 drinks a day gained the least weight – about 5 ½ pounds over 13 years.

So the big difference between moderate drinkers and tee-totalers?  Less than 3 pounds on average.  I know. The headlines made it sound so much better.  I actually saw one headline that said that women who drink lose weight – talk about headline hype (and gross inaccuracy!).

A really important thing to understand is this study was an epidemiological study. In practical terms, that means it cannot show cause and effect – only associations. The study results do not show that alcohol causes less weight gain. All we can say is that the women in this study who drank moderately did not gain as much weight as the women who drank little to nothing. We can’t say why or if the alcohol had anything to do with it directly.

One thing we can say is that, despite our best efforts, many of us middle-aged women are in for some weight gain as we get older.  The women in this study started at healthy weights and were all in their late 30’s to early 40’s at the beginning of the study and in their 50’s by the end.  After 13 years, weight went up on average.  The good news is that if you are a moderate drinker, it may be related to less weight gain. I’ll drink (moderately) to that! 

Monday, March 8, 2010

Keep an Eye on the Serving Size.

I see my patients make this mistake all the time. They look at the calories, fat, protein, or calcium on a food label without first looking at the serving size. Why is looking at serving size so important? All of the numbers on that label – the fat, calories, protein, calcium, vitamin C, etc. – are for the serving size that is defined on the label. That serving size is not always realistic or what you actually eat.

One of my favorite lunches to take to work is Amy’s Enchiladas. They’re yummy and cheesy and I easily eat the whole package. But there are two servings in that whole package. So the 250 calories on the label is really 500 calories. Now that’s o.k. If I didn’t eat the whole package, I’d be starving by 3:00. The idea is that I want to know what I’m getting without being fooled. And who’s going microwave the container, eat half and then reheat the rest for lunch the next day? Not me.

Foods labels are not the only place that serving sizes can fool you. You’ve got to focus on the serving size on nutrition supplements like multivitamins and calcium supplements too.  Just last week, one of my patients thought she was getting 1800 mg of calcium from her supplements. The label said “Calcium 600 mg” and she was taking three tablets a day. However, the serving size was 2 tablets. So that 600 mg of calcium was for two tablets, not one. She was really getting 900 mg of calcium. Now it turns out that she only needed 900 mg of calcium from her supplements because she was getting the rest of what she needed from her diet, but the label was confusing.

So, always check the serving size first on both supplements (such as multivitamins, calcium supplements) and on your food labels. It’s not always what you would expect. This doesn’t mean you have to eat what they say a serving size is, just don’t let the numbers fool you!

Beth Kitchin, MS RD
Assistant Professor
UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Celebrate! It's National Nutrition Month!

I know that everybody's got a month. But this month really is special for the Nutrition Trends website. Our local Birmingham Dietetic Association polled its members, asking them for their top nutrition tips. We'll focus on one tip a week to celebrate the month.

This week's top tip is: Go Meatless Once a Week! You don't have to give up meat and become a vegetarian to get the benefits of eating less meat. Less meat, more phyto (plant) foods is a good health message for everyone - even meat lovers! To find out more about how a few meatless meals a week can help you, check out our column:  Meatless in America 

The first step to going meatless is finding recipes. This site has some great ones, especially for chili:

Have fun with your meatless meals and post you ideas for tasty meatless dishes!