Thursday, December 22, 2011
1. Portions sizes are out of control
You’ve all heard about the rapidly expanding serving sizes of restaurant and fast food portions, but just how bad are they? Portions sizes in restaurants may contain double or triple the calories of home-cooked meals, and studies show eating out is associated with a higher BMI. Unfortunately, those portions affect our waistlines. When there’s more food on the plate, people eat more—up to 30% more, according to an analysis of several studies.
Stop the confusion: Use this cheat sheet of portion sizes. We know it’s hard to look at your plate as decks of cards, tennis balls, and all the other, so start by measuring out your food servings at home and take a good look at what a half-cup of pasta looks like. Until the serving sizes are engrained in your brain, when dining out, aim to eat half of your meal, saving the leftovers for lunch the next day.
2. Serving sizes are deceiving
“There really aren’t standard serving sizes for packaged foods, which makes them confusing,” explains Elisa Zied, RD, author Nutrition at Your Fingertips. She gives the example of cereal. A standard serving size of breakfast cereal is approximately 50 g, but depending on the cereal, that could mean a cup and a half of flakes or half a cup of heartier granola. Depending on the type of cereal you’re eating, just eyeing how much you put in the bowl, like most people do, can lead to inaccurate calorie counts.
Not only that, but larger-than-life snack foods may seem like single servings even though they often contain 2 to 3 servings per packet. Buy a 16-ounce bottled Coca-Cola, and the nutrition label reads 100 calories…for one of the two servings in the bottle. Drink the whole thing, as many people do, and you’re really getting 200 calories. Eat the whole bag of Austin Zoo Animal Crackers, commonly found in office vending machines, and you’re getting 230 calories, nearly two servings, instead of just one.
Stop the confusion: This is as simple as reading nutrition labels before you open the bag. To make it even easier, opt for instant portion control with whole fruit, like apples and bananas, or buy items you typically overeat in single serving packets. Especially for healthy, but higher calorie, foods, portioning out servings prevents pig-outs. For instance, Trader Joe’s carries what they call “Just a Handful” of almonds, which are packets containing just one 200-calorie serving.
3. Not all calories are created equal
“You hear a calorie is a calorie is a calorie, but I’m not convinced that’s the case,” says Leslie Bonci, RD, coauthor of The Active Calorie Diet. Studies show that foods that take more effort to chew—like fruits, veggies, lean meats, and whole grains—can increase your calorie burn. “More calories are required to digest them, and they’ll keep you satisfied longer,” she adds. Not only that, but other ingredients can up the burn: caffeine and other compounds in coffee and tea, and spices such as chiles, cinnamon, and ginger fire up your central nervous system and can boost your metabolism.
So is 500 calories worth of celery really different than 500 calories of French fries? A 2011 breakthrough study discovered that the quality of calories might matter more than the overall quantity. Those who ate a greater amount of certain unhealthy foods, like processed meat, French fries, and sugar-sweetened beverages, gained more weight faster over time than people with healthier diets. Unsurprisingly, eating more notoriously healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and low-fat yogurt were associated with less weight gain.
Stop the confusion: Eating plenty of low-calorie fruits and vegetables at every meal ensures you’re keeping your calories in check. “Fruits and veggies do double duty,” says Bonci. “They’re rich in fiber, which works extremely well to keep you satiated, and they take a while to chew.”
4. Gym machine counts are bogus
Seeing you burned 600 calories on the treadmill in the morning may make you think you have a free pass to pig out for the rest of the day. But be wary of exercise machines’ calorie counts. The University of California, San Francisco, used a V02 test to track down calories burned while on machines. The VO2 analyzer calculated how hard the body is working with its height, weight, age, and body fat. The machines’ calorie counts and the VO2 counts didn’t match up—at all. Machines overestimated calorie burn by 19%!
Stop the confusion: If you really want to get an accurate number of calories burned, invest in a heart rate monitor, which will help you learn how intense your workouts are. If you don’t feel like splurging and you’re a treadmill lover, multiplying your weight times 0.75 will give you a solid estimate of the calories burned per mile of running. Multiply your weight by 0.53 to get an estimate of the calories burned per mile of walking. For ellipticals, stair climbers, and stationary bikes, assume the calorie count is off and aim to work out for a certain length of time, not a certain amount of calories burned.
5. Exercise makes you hungry
Though studies are mixed when it comes to whether exercise actually stimulates or suppresses appetite, many people think of working out as a way to eat whatever they like. “There’s definitely a mentality of ‘I have sweated therefore I deserve,’” says Bonci. However, with most people burning about 100 calories per mile, a short workout won’t give you a free pass to eat junk food. “If you walk two miles, eating a handful of chips post-workout can undo the calories you burned,” says Bonci. As mentioned above, gym machines don’t accurately measure calories burned, either.
Stop the confusion: To stop an after-workout binge, fuel up pre-gym, Zied suggests. “Have something before—something with carbs and a little protein, like whole wheat toast and peanut butter or a banana and milk.” Depending on the intensity of your workout, you may need something afterward as well. After a workout longer than 45 minutes, you should aim to eat about 200 calories.
6. Liquid calories are ignored
“People are spending hundreds of calories on beverages each day,” says Zied. Unfortunately, a lot of those calories are from sugar-sweetened drinks and alcohol, not milk and 100% fruit juice. According to a 2007 study, beverage intake accounted for roughly 12% of total calories in 1965 and steadily increased to 21% in 2002—that’s 222 extra calories a day from drinks alone! Because bottled drinks often contain multiple servings, it’s best to either pour a serving in a glass or look for mini soda cans and juice boxes.
Stop the confusion: The best way to minimize the calories you drink is to stick to calorie-free water and unsweetened coffee and tea. However, if you’re craving some flavor, consider making your own low-cal flavored water. Even though whole fruit is preferred over fruit juice, Bonci advises doing a glass check before pouring yourself some OJ. “Very few people have 6-ounce glasses, the recommended serving of juice. Most glasses are 10 to 12 ounces, which means you’re getting more than you need.” If you don’t want to buy new glasses, Bonci recommends mixing juice with seltzer water for a bubbly treat
7. Snack time is more like mealtime
Between 1977 and 2006, Americans nibbled and noshed approximately 580 calories each day from snacks, according to information presented at the 2011 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo. Though researchers debate as to whether this uptick in snacking is causing obesity or not, they can agree that the foods people choose as snacks aren’t always healthy choices. “Snack foods are tremendously popular, and Americans are eating tons of nutrient-poor, calorie-dense foods like energy drinks, candies, cookies, and cakes,” says Zied. These items often come in oversized packaging, and not the recommended 200-calorie snack portion, leading to extra calories consumed throughout the day.
Stop the confusion: Instead of buying a huge jar of almonds and noshing all day, pre-portion your snacks ahead of time. Even healthy foods can cause you to gain weight if you eat more calories than you burn off, so portion control is key. Try filling up on lower-calorie foods as snacks—baby carrots, grapes, etc.—or saving half of your lunch sandwich to eat in the afternoon.
8. “Health” foods contain hidden ingredients
“The so-called health halos are everywhere,” says Bonci. “But just because a cookie is trans-fat free doesn’t mean it’s calorie free.” She adds that buzzwords such as “natural” and “few ingredients” trigger people to think foods are healthier and lower in calories than they actually are. “Natural” foods still contain sugar, sodium, and other health-harming nutrients. Reduced fat and reduced calorie versions of your favorite foods should be eyed with caution too. “Usually when something gets taken away, something is added,” says Zied. “Reduced in fat usually means the product has added sugar.”
Stop the confusion: Chances are “natural” gummy bears are still going to be almost as unhealthy for you as plain gummy bears, but if you see the word “natural” on a loaf of bread, read the item’s nutrition label and ingredient list. Look for unhealthy ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, large amounts of sodium, or small amounts of important nutrients.