Lean Plate Club
Tuesday, September 19, 2006; 1:00 PM
Confused about nutrition? Wondering how to fit in more physical activity? Welcome to the Lean Plate Club. Ask Sally Squires , nationally syndicated Lean Plate Club columnist for the Washington Post, about eating smart and moving more every Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET. Sally draws upon her master's degree in nutrition from Columbia University to preside over the lively Lean Plate Club web chat. Whether you're trying to reach a healthier weight or simply maintain it, you'll find plenty of tips and strategies.
Share your own food finds, creative workouts and secrets for healthy, great tasting meals. We'll cheer your successes and help with your setbacks. (None of this, of course, is a substitute for medical advice.) E-mail Sally, author of the newly published Secrets of the Lean Plate Club (St. Martin's Press) at email@example.com.
Or just sign up for the free Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter . The Lean Plate Club column appears Tuesdays in the Washington Post Health section and is nationally syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group. Find other Lean Plate Club members at www.frappr.com/leanplateclub .
A transcript follows .
Sally Squires: Welcome to the Lean Plate Club. We've got both spinach and fat kids on the plate today--as well as a lot of other topics.
The LPC e-mail newsletter should be hitting your electronic in-boxes about now. In it, find the latest the spinach problem, recipes for overweight kids and plenty of links for resources to books that may help you and your family stay at a healthy weight. You'll also find links to fitness tips and some questions and comments that Lean Plate Club members sent me this week. You can also e-mail me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The prizes today are:
Prizes for this week's Lean Plate Club Web chat are:
"The Healthy Lunchbox: How to Plan Prepare & Pack Stress-Free Meals Kids Will Love," by Marie McGlendon, and Christy Shauck (Small Steps Press)
"Your Child's Weight: Helping Without Harming," by Ellyn Satter, MS RD, LCSW (Kelcy Press)
"I'm Like SO Fat: Helping Your Teen Make Healthy Choices About Eating and Exercise in a Weight Obsessed World," by Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD. (Guilford)
"Lean Mom, Fit Family: The Six Week Plan for A Slimmer You and A Healthier Family," by Michael Sena, with Kirsten Straightan RD and Tom Sattler,EdD (Rodale)
"The Family Fitness Fun Book: Healthy Living for the Whole Family," by Rose R. Kennedy (Healthy Living Books)
"Take the Fight Out of Food: How to Prevent and Solve Your Child's Eating Problems," by Donna Fish, MS, LCSW (Atria)
"Fit Foundation: A Guide to Help Achieve Good Health for America's Overweight Youth," by Harry Schwartz(Volt Press)
"Child Obesity: A Parent's Guide to a Fit, Trim and Happy Child," by Goutham Rao, MD (Prometheus)
Assist another LPCer on this Web chat. Share a great tasting recipe or healthy food find. Or tell us about a new way that you're working in physical activity and one of these books could be yours. Winners are announced at the end of each chat.
Now on to it!
Arlington, Va.: Help! I love spinach and fresh salad, but now I am paranoid and I am afraid to get near the salad bar because of E. coli. What is a SAFE alternative? Thanks
Sally Squires: Lettuce -- particularly combinations of the dark, leafy varieties --will have to suffice until the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention get to the bottom of the E. coli outbreak. At last count, 114 people in 21 states are affected. There's been one death and a second death is under investigation.
Seventy-five percent of those affected are women. Sixty people are hospitalized and 18 of them have this very serious hemolytic uremia syndrome--which wreaks havoc on the kidneys. So all those developments may make help take the sting out of skipping fresh spinach a little easier for us.
It was erroneously rumored yesterday that organic spinach is not involved. FDA says to avoid ALL fresh spinach for now. In today's LPC e-mail newsletter, find links to the latest information.
As for substitutes: you could use this time as a way to branch out and try other greens that you might not usually eat. Mache is one option. Arugula is another. Radicchio -- although red, not green -- rapini and dandelion greens are also quite good. So are chrysanthemum leaves -- known as Tung ho in Chinese; shungiku in Japanese. Frieda's -- a well-known produce importer in Los Angeles -- says that they have the same texture as spinach.
Other favorite substitutes for spinach out there? We'd love to hear your thoughts...
Alexandria, Va.: When will it be safe to eat or handle raw spinach again? Is frozen spinach, okay since I am cooking it at a roiling boil?
I am up on my broccoli and cabbage intake.
Sally Squires: The Food and Drug Administration says if you cook spinach at 160 degrees for 15 seconds, you will kill any possible E. coli bacteria that happens to be present. Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit -- that's 100 degrees Centigrade. And yes, frozen and canned is not affected by the warning. Only thing we are advised not to eat is fresh spinach. Hope that helps. Hope that helps.
Getting down to basics: Hi Sally -- Long-time lurker, first-time poster. I've finally decided to get serious about losing some weight, and I just want to make sure that I've got this right: Basically, if I multiply my weight by 10, and add to that number the calories that I burn while exercising (I have a heart-rate monitor), and subtract 500, that should be approximately the number of calories that I can consume while remaining on track to lose 1 pound a week, correct?
Sally Squires: Thanks for taking the plunge to post. Yes, doing what you've described will get you in the ballpark. So if you weigh 150 pounds, you'd start at 1,500 calories per day. If you don't want to rely on that heart monitor, you can also figure on adding about 20 to 40 percent more daily calories for your activity. And yes, if you have a daily deficit of about 500 calories, that adds up to 3,500 for the week, which is about one pound lost. Just be aware that it isn't always a perfect match. Some weeks you may lose more, some weeks less.
Good luck with your efforts. Hope you'll keep us apprised of how it goes. Thanks.
Fairfax Station, Va.: I recently read a book that made a big difference in the way that I look at food, which has translated to me losing a dress size in a month. The book is "I've Tried It All! Now What?!" by Susanna H. Wermuth.
There are a few basic ideas:
- Eat whatever you crave but stop eating when it is no longer at least a 7 on a pleasure scale of 1-10.
- Leave at least 3 bites of food on your plate
- Eat the best part of the meal first (she describes eating the middle of a hamburger after cutting it into pieces -- who really likes the mustardy bread anyway?)
Sally Squires: Well, actually, I prefer the bun to the burger -- but that's just me.
Sounds like an interesting plan -- provided that you're very much on top of that feeling of 7 or higher on a scale of 10. How's it working for you?
Arlington, Va.: Is lox/smoked salmon as healthy as salmon bought fresh and cooked in the oven? It has such different texture that it somehow feels like it could be bad for me.
Sally Squires: Neither the American Heart Association nor the latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines make a distinction between various types of salmon. Unless you're eating it deep fat fried, it all appears to be a good thing. So enjoy. Thanks.
D.C.: Not a question but a comment. I am a nurse in a plastic surgery practice. We have a 17-year-old female who just underwent breast reduction surgery. She is a tad chunky -- not fat, just hasn't lost all her "baby fat" yet. She is very attractive. Her mother was in the room with the surgeon the other day and was trying to convince him, in front of her daughter, that the child NEEDS liposuction because she "looks terrible". She is the opposite of the parents who don't think their kids are fat. Both are sad and will have different effects on the kids down the road.
Sally Squires: Boy, is that a sobering observation. Are there still tooth marks in your tongue? There probably would be in mine. You're absolutely right, they are opposite ends of the spectrum. Thanks for weighing in.
Washington, D.C.: I'm craving a good chewy cookie. Got any healthy recipes?
Sally Squires: As a matter of fact, the Academy of the Sierras shared a recipe for oatmeal cookies. I haven't tried it yet myself, but if you do make it--or other LPCers out there bake it -- please let us know what you think. You can find it at the Lean Plate Club Web site. And of course, there are always the black bean brownies...
E. Coli Question: Is food that is organically grown more vulnerable to E. coli?
Sally Squires: The FDA's Dr. David Achison said in yesterday's press conference that there is no evidence conventional or organic is more or less vulnerable to E. coli. I'm hoping that there will be another update today. Stay tuned.
washingtonpost.com: The Spinach Recall: Q's and A's (Post, Sept. 19, 2006)
(Post, Sept. 19, 2006)
Cleveland: I just saw an article on the Post Web site saying that children who are lactose intolerant should "drink milk anyway." This seems ridiculous. There are so many other foods that provide calcium (including fortified ones like orange juice and even some cereal, and of course, many vegetables), that it seems crazy to say a child has to get their calcium from milk even if it makes them sick. Why should people be drinking cow's milk anyway? Do any other animals drink another species' milk? It seems to me that there are plenty of ways for kids and adults who are lactose intolerant (or simply don't like milk) to get calcium without milk. Also, milk and milk products can be high in fat and calories which might contribute to being overweight. What are your thoughts on this article?
washingtonpost.com: Got Milk Anyway? (Post, Sept. 19)
Sally Squires: We ran a story about this new advice from the American A Academy of Pediatrics in our Health section today. The reason that AAP has taken this step is that kids are falling short on calcium. The guidelines' authors received no funding from the dairy industry, but as our story noted, the Academy of Pediatrics has received some funding from the dairy industry for its educational programs.
This advice, however, is consistent with recommendations from the latest Dietary Guidelines. They urge all Americans to drink three glasses of milk per day -- although they do say that in the case of lactose intolerance that fortified soy milk or fruit juice could be other options.
Trouble is that if kids don't build strong bones in childhood, they are much more apt to experience the ravages of osteoporosis in adulthood.
We've included a link to the article in this posting. Hope that helps. Thanks for weighing in.
Washington, D.C.: Enjoyed your column this week, although I don't have kids yet -- it really resonated with me. My boyfriend and I have very different eating styles (read mine is healthy, his is not). We live together but only cook together two or three nights a week. We have talked about it, but still can't find common ground. He is a very picky eater (and likes only traditional things like meat and potatoes, mac and cheese etc) and I don't want to eat those every night. I like vegetables and like to try ethnic foods, adventurous spices, etc.
When/if we have kids there is no way we can sustain cooking two different meals (it's not time efficient). Got any suggestions for how we can work better together in the kitchen?
Sally Squires: Practicing now is a great idea. And by the way, this is a fairly common problem among couples based on the anecdotal evidence that I see in letters and e-mails from LPCers.
So start with the healthy foods that you both like and build from there. Also, check out cookbooks together--you can even do this at the library. Or scour the magazine sections at Borders or Barnes and Noble.
Various ethnic foods -- Mexican, Asian, Italian -- are loaded with all kinds of healthy veggies and as much meat, chicken or fish as you want. They are good places to start.
Good luck. Let us know how this goes.
Arlington, Va.: Hey, I've just discovered a new favorite grain: quinoa. It seems to be similar to couscous and is great with veggies. I defrost my frozen veggies in a pot, add a can of tomato sauce, herbs for flavor (I love oregano, basil, cumin and paprika) and then pour the whole thing over my steaming bowl of quinoa. Its great on chilly days and apparently has high protein for a grain (good news for me as I am a vegetarian). Thanks for the chat and happy Tuesday to everyone!
Sally Squires: Happy Tuesday to you, too, Arlington. I love quinoa, but have to say that I have had great difficulty cooking it properly. It has to do with rinsing to remove the bitterness. So far, I have not mastered the trick. That's the only drawback that I can see to quinoa, which is, by the way, a whole grain. Thanks.
Yummy snack for kids: I used to make this myself as child, still love it. If you use low-fat ingredients, could be pretty healthy:
Spread peanut butter on saltine crackers. Put 1 large marshmallow on top of peanut butter. Put small amount of butter spread on top of marshmallow (to prevent burning).
Broil, with oven door open, until marshmallows begin to puff-up.
Sally Squires: Sounds tasty and at least there's some healthy fat and protein in that peanut butter! You could also try whole grain saltines. (Yes, they do exist.) That would give this treat a little more fiber. Thanks.
Commerce Twp, Mich.: Isn't the spinach ban specific to products grown in California? Spinach from local farm markets in other states aren't banned, are they?
Sally Squires: Sorry, but the current advice is to skip all fresh spinach for now. Frozen is okay. So is canned. And you can cook spinach as long as it gets to 160 degrees for at least 15 seconds. But the FDA is quite aware that there are farmers throughout the country who are now in limbo with crops ready to be harvested. They are trying to work as quickly as possible to give more details. But remember that the outbreak is now in 21 states. And while the FDA has collected a lot of info on the spinach eaten, they are still deep into this investigation.
So play it safe for now: skip the fresh spinach.
Falls Church, Va.: Cooler weather has again arrived and I'm ready for some warm soup recipes that also freeze well. I prefer ones without meats but I hate beans! So what veggies/grains can I add to soups to add bulk and flavor?
Sally Squires: Brown rice, whole wheat couscous, quinoa, whole wheat pasta. Wheat berries. All of these could be good choices. Ditto for wild rice.
As for veggies, everything from corn, tomatoes, carrots -- even okra -- would add great flavor. So will herbs and spices. I love adding tarragon to split pea soup. And yes, I know that's a legume, but it might be one that you could still stomach. Also dill is great with chicken soup. So is cilantro.
Yum. I'm getting hungry.
Silver Spring, Md.: I love Trader Joe's whole-wheat couscous, but I'm running out of things to serve with it -- I usually default to roasted veggies. Do you have any good recipes to go with couscous?
Sally Squires: We will post some in a minute from Ochef. They include Mushrooms and White Bean Stew over Couscous. Poached salmon with vegetable couscous. Tunisian couscous salad and more...Watch this space. We also make couscous at home with chicken broth, raisins and pine nuts -- or your favorite nuts, such as slivered almonds. Other suggestions out there?
New York, N.Y.: Dear Sally,
I'm a long time reader, always love the columns and the chats.
I've learned a few things about diet and nutrition over the years that seem to make a lot of sense to me. Thought I'd share:
--Eat for quality, not quantity. I find that when I'm eating good food, like fresh Parmesan cheese, instead of the processed, no-fat junk, I'm more satisfied than when I'm eating a lot of low-cal, low-fat things. Another example of this is a good yogurt, like Total or homemade yogurt instead of the 60-calorie Splenda nonsense. Good Godiva instead of a bunch of M&M's. Real peanuts instead of processed peanut butter. You get the idea.
--A body in motion will stay in motion. A body at rest will stay at rest. Once you start, it's easier to keep going with your exercise routine. And once you stop, well, same thing. It's easier to just stop going. I try to do a little each day, just to get something in. A little goes a long way.
--Listen to your body. Some days, I eat a lot more than other days. This seems to work for me. For instance, sometimes what I pack for lunch at work just isn't going to do it, and I'll get a snack (usually try to stick to healthy foods like fruit or nuts). Other days, I won't eat half the food I bring. It's all about listening. Don't feel guilty if you're eating more than you'd planned. This is why sometimes I think those points systems can be very bogus.
--Invest some time into educating yourself about food and nutrition. I constantly read the newspaper, various medical journals, magazines and columns about health. You pick up tips. I now eat more oatmeal because its supposedly a super food, and lo and behold, popcorn is a whole grain, so I snack on that.
--Keep it natural. I find my body feels better the closer to the earth I eat, and the farther away from the shelf.
--If you like yogurt, invest in a yogurt maker! I have my whole family hooked on real yogurt. It's easy and fun to do on the weekends. I use Total yogurt as the "starter" and the yogurt comes out tasting a lot like it. Plus, you can add your own fruit and "toppings." I add cinnamon and raisins and oatmeal to mine. Or mango strawberry. Vanilla and mashed bananas. Chocolate sauce and sprinkles. Great investment plus you save a lot of money.
Thanks again for the chats!
Sally Squires: Thank you for some wonderful words of advice. Sounds like you have learned a lot. Thanks for sharing that knowledge with us.
washingtonpost.com: What to do with Couscous (Ochef.com)
Portion Control, Mass.: Help! I live good, healthy and fit and successfully took off 15 pounds about 10 years ago. I gained it all back within the past year, largely because I can't seem to stop eating.
I think I have isolated a few trigger foods: anything with bread, cookies/chips or creamy dairy products; anytime I eat a little of those things, I can't seem to stop. My cabinets and fridge are stocked with pretty healthy foods, but I still have guests over for dinner, go out to eat, get hungry at work, etc.
Do I have to cut these foods out of my diet altogether, since my willpower isn't strong enough to just have a little bit? Any other chatters with a similar problem and suggestions on how to deal with it?
Sally Squires: I'll post this in a minute and wait for the messages to come pouring in, since many, many people have trigger foods. I've talked to people who are members of Food Addicts Anonymous, who believe that they have an addition to both processed sugar and processed flour. They find that if they really wean themselves off of these foods, they do much better with their weight loss efforts.
Not everyone agrees, of course. But if you do find that there are trigger foods that are calling your name -- and undermining your efforts -- then consider keeping them out of your house. Do you have to give them up altogether? Not necessarily. But you might eat them in single serving sizes in very controlled settings outside your home,where they are less likely to be temptations.
And of course, you'll want to send that extra cake, pie or cookies home with your guests....
Hope this helps. Let us know how it goes. And congratulations on those 15 pounds! You did this once, you can do this again.
Beverly Hills, Calif.: I just tried rice bran cooking oil and I really like the health benefits and the way it doesn't burn in the pan. Have you ever tried it and do you know much about rice oil?
Sally Squires: I have not yet tried rice bran oil, although your posting reminds me that I have two other oils to sample: Macadamia oil and a new olive oil that also has flax seed and avocado oil. And now there's rice oil to add to the list.
Know this: virtually all oils have the same calories, roughly 120 per tablespoon. I'll see what else I can find on rice oil. Thanks.
Fairfax Station, Va. : Re: the book, I lost a dress size from 10 to 8 in a month (probably 5-7 pounds, but I threw out my scale per the book). Not bad!
Sally Squires: Congratulations! That's terrific. And just so we're clear, which book are you referring to?
Watertown, Mass.: Dear Sally, Re your article today on nutrition for kids: Coincidentally, I happened to get an e-mail about a new movement called "Parents Against Junk Food" (http:/
Sally Squires: That would be great, Watertown. Post away!
Cooking For Four: When our two daughters were growing up I prepared evening meals consisting of four servings of each item. No one was reaching for second helpings and there were no left overs. I attribute our slender physiques to that practice. And now our daughters, ages 26 and 27, each love to cook.
Sally Squires: There you go: a sound, simple strategy. And it seems that you have passed along some healthy habits to your daughters in the process. Thanks for weighing in.
Reply to Falls Church - Soup Question: I recently made a soup with butternut, yams, veggie broth, coriander seeds, fresh thyme, okra and a bit of coconut milk. It was hearty and delicious. Not sure how it freezes.
Sally Squires: That sounds great. Do you happen to have a recipe? Or was this "a little of that, a little of this" soup? Sometimes that's the very best kind. Thanks.
Alexandria, Va.: Isn't it going a bit far to tell readers not to eat ANY raw spinach? Not all spinach is grown on the industrial scale needed to supply the supermarkets.
Sally Squires: No, it's not all grown industrially. In fact, I saw a local farmer interviewed who has small fields. But until the FDA and the CDC track this problem down, the advice is to skip all raw spinach--or cook what you do buy. Or eat the frozen or canned varieties. Thanks.
Alexandria, Va.: I was making minestrone on Saturday. The recipe called for spinach. I used Swiss chard. Now I am planning on making a "lasagne" using the remaining Swiss chard instead of noodles. Necessity is the mother of invention!
Sally Squires: It is indeed! Thanks.
Re: Calcium and bone health: Hi Sally,
According to a comprehensive review article published in the journal Pediatrics in 2005, extra calcium from milk or any other food does not show even a modestly consistent benefit for child or young adult bone health.
Other studies have shown that physical activity and adequate vitamin D (which can be acquired through limited exposure to sunlight)levels both play an important role in bone health.
As a vegan, I get most of my calcium from beans, Total cereal, leafy green vegetables and fortified soymilk. These foods have no cholesterol and very little saturated fat compared with dairy products.
The level of dairy product consumption in the United States is among the highest in the world, and yet osteoporosis and fracture rates are also among the highest. What does that tell us about the effectiveness of milk for building strong bones?
Sally Squires: I hear what you're saying. I suspect that this is a debate that will rage for a while to come. Thanks for weighing in.
Twenty Years Later Eating Habits Change: Husband ate fried pork chops, fried chicken, fried or broiled steak, pizza, spaghetti, mac/cheese, iceberg lettuce, lima beans, canned spinach (makes me gag, still) and bacon/eggs. This was his diet prior to our marriage. Ethnic food was Chinese carry-out.
Now he eats, Thai, Indian, Korean, Ethiopian, Greek and Mexican. Drinks green tea, prefers jasmine rice. Eats a variety of salad greens and other leafy green vegetables. Spicy foods may not agree with everyone's stomach. It takes time for someone to develop a palate for different foods and tastes. Make your food as wonderful as possible and fry a pathetic looking chicken breast. Eventually, he'll want a bite and 20 years later. Child ate plain white rice at Thai restaurants until curiosity won out.
Sally Squires: Time does change things, doesn't it? And patience -- as well as great tasting, healthy food -- can go a long way towards changing habits. Thanks much.
Lithia, Fla.: What can we wash fruits and vegetables in to protect from pesticides, fertilizers and things like E. coli?
Sally Squires: Washing doesn't remove all pesticides. And there's some evidence that E. coli may sometimes be in the soil and could get into plants via the root system. If that's the case, then washing won't help that either.
But before you throw up your hands, know this: the overwhelming evidence suggests that eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables -- whether conventionally grown or organic -- is linked to lower body weight and less risk of many diseases including heart disease, some forms of cancer and diabetes.
As for E. coli and other food-borne illnesses, the FDA and CDC believe that they will get a handle on this outbreak and others to come. It may take a few weeks, however, to halt the current outbreak, however.
To the calcium person: The study to which you refer had a control group that still got 1000mg of daily calcium, because at this point in time, doctors cannot in good conscience recommend taking less. The study just shows that taking MORE than 1000mg per day does not have a significant benefit.
Sally Squires: And let's note that most kids are not getting the recommended intake of calcium these days. Thanks.
Watertown, Mass.: Hi Again, Sally! I'm pasting below the text of the e-mail I got about "Parents Against Junk Food.":
Get Junk Food Out Of America's Schools
Dear Friend of America's Test Kitchen,
I need just one minute of your time, not to sell you something, but to ask you to help out with a cause in which I believe in deeply - improving school lunches.
The Center for Disease Control predicts that one third of all children born in 2000 will contract diabetes.
What can you do? It's simple. Join Parents Against Junk Food (http:/
Now let me tell you a story. One year ago, just outside of Boston, a chef and single mother, Susan Lacy, took over food service operations for a large public school. At lunch in her cafeteria, she proved to me that a school lunch can be great: fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, fresh salads, baked chicken, real juices instead of soda, baked chips not fried, and no candy bars. And the kids liked it. The upshot? Susan has been reprimanded for contributing insufficient profit to the school budget and her program may be terminated.
Here are some other facts. The United States spends about $2 on a school lunch whereas France spends $8 and Italy spends $5. Seventeen percent of our kids are overweight. Each year we spend $100 billion on diet related diseases and this year alone, 300,000 Americans will die from these diseases.
Had enough? Well, I have too.
Just log onto www.parentsagainstjunkfood.org and register as a member. If you like, we'll send you our newsletter full of recipes, tips, techniques, and testings from our test cooks, the folks at America's Test Kitchen. Your name or other information will not be shared with any other organization.
Let me end with a simple question. Is this what we wish for your kids? Lower life expectancy? Diabetes and other health problems? And, a health care system that will be bankrupted by the cost of these long-term trends?
I know that all of this sounds extreme, a bit like Chicken Little perhaps, but there is already overwhelming evidence that, for the first time in our history, the next generation will be less healthy and live a shorter life than their parents. In a country this rich and well educated, that's a crime and one that can easily be avoided.
In any case, thanks so much for listening. I have included a sample newsletter below for PAJF members just to show you what you are missing.
Thanks again. I appreciate your time and patience.
Sally Squires: Thanks for passing this along. And thanks to Paul Williams, our producer for getting it ready to post!
Quinoa: I love quinoa and eat it all the time. The trick is to rinse the grains, but it's not that hard. Just get a fine sieve and rinse them under water for a minute, rubbing the grains in between your fingers. I used to be put off by it too, but it's worth it. You can tell it's fully cooked when the grain starts to slightly separate and it appears translucent.
In the summer it's great with black beans and bell peppers for a salad. It also makes an excellent breakfast cereal -- just add your own spices, sweetener and fruit.
Sally Squires: Sounds really good. And you've just reminded me of another treat: black rice. It's slightly sweet. I have found it at Asian markets and at Trader Joe's.
Washington, D.C.: Hi, Sally,
My question is about how much is too much when it comes to thinking about food. Two years ago I lost 15 pounds to reach my goal weight, and have managed to keep it off, too. But lately I've noticed that I spend a lot of time thinking about food (planning what I will pack for lunch in advance, scheduling trips to the grocery, mentally itemizing what's in my refrigerator so I know what I'm going to cook when I get home, etc.). I also find that I talk about food a lot, like what restaurants I've been to and what dishes I've cooked recently. I'm starting to get the feeling that I am obsessed with food. Is it normal to be so focused on food?
Sally Squires: First congratulations on losing those 15 pounds. Very impressive. And give yourself another pat on the pack for maintaining that weight loss. It's not an easy thing to do. In fact, some experts think the weight loss part is the easiest part.
Are you obsessed with food? Maybe. But so far, it appears to be a good obsession. It's okay to be slightly obsessed with healthy eating and getting more physical activity. The trick is everything in moderation. But people who are more prone to weight gain, may have to stay more focused on others to adhere to their healthy habits. Nothing necessarily wrong with that.
yogurt: Hi Sally --
I've been eating non-fat fruit yogurt for breakfast practically every morning and am now just discovering the joys of adding granola. Is granola really bad for you? Are there any other good alternatives? I love the creamy taste of the yogurt mixed with the crunch of the granola.
Thanks, love your chats!
Sally Squires: Granola can be high in fat or sugar. But it doesn't have to be high in either. And there are so any different brands now on the market that a little label reading will guide you to the right choices.
And if you find that your favorite granola is higher in fat or sugar than you prefer, cut it with another cereal or with a healthy granola. It's that simple. Thanks.
Reply to Falls Church - Soup Question: I don't have the recipe with me, but it's from an old Jamie Oliver cookbook. It's called Mary's Saturday Soup. He adds in meat - which we opt out on, but more or less I follow that recipe.
Sally Squires: Thanks!
La Crosse, Wis.: Would the produce washes (usually in a bottle) available in grocery stores alleviate the problem? How helpful are they?
I heard this morning on public radio that the water inside the leaf was contaminated, so it would seem that no amount of external washing would help... is this correct?
Sally Squires: The FDA is investigating whether the E. coli outbreak might have contaminated plants from the roots. If that's the case, then it could be that washing would not help. But as of the latest press conference -- at 5:30 p.m. yesterday -- and yes there was an NPR reporter who participated -- it was not known how the spinach had gotten contaminated with E. coli.
So stay tuned. For now, skip the fresh spinach, or make sure that it's cooked at 160 degrees for at least 15 seconds. Hope that helps. Thanks.
Washington, D.C.: Lately I've been trying to eat less meat. I don't necessarily aim to be a strict vegetarian, I just think maybe my energy levels and waistline could benefit from more veggies and less meat. That being said I'm having trouble figuring out where to start in terms of how to prepare meals that are balanced and have enough protein, but aren't loaded with cheese. Any suggestions?
Sally Squires: Have I got suggestions for you! You might check out Meatless Mondays -- a collaboration of a number of schools of public health. (They're on the Web.) The Vegetarian Resource Group is another great source. Find them at www.vrg.org.
As for vegetarian cookbooks: check out Deborah Madison. But there are plenty more. A lot of Indian, Mediterranean and Mexican food doesn't necessarily have meat or poultry.
Silver Spring, Md.: I have a bad sweet tooth. (Well, I really like dark chocolate -- does that count?) I manage to eat well all day, but come around 3 p.m., I really want something sweet(ish) -- what are some healthy, yummy options?
Sally Squires: Dried fruit might be an option for you. Applesauce -- especially the new varieties with berries in them too -- could help. Hot tea with a dab of honey and lemon is quite nice. Frozen cherries, frozen grapes and other frozen fruit, can helpful in quenching that sweet tooth. Ditto for gum, or a few hard candies. Hot chocolate can be another sweet saver. And there's nothing wrong with that chocolate you love. Just make it bittersweet and dark, which packs some of the highest amounts of stearic acid, a healthy fat, and less sugar.
Trail mix can be another aid to soothing that sweet tooth.
Tulsa, Okla.: I have been eating all vegetables raw. Should I stop and start cooking the vegetables? If the E. coli can get inside the spinach, is it possible that it could also be inside other vegetables? I am very confused. I would appreciate any guidance you may offer. Thanks
Sally Squires: E. coli has been found from time to time in a number of foods, including cantaloupe, lettuce, carrots and unpasteurized apple cider (if I recall correctly), plus ground beef.
What should you do?
Skip the raw spinach for now. Wash your vegetables and your hands--not so much to prevent E. coli as a whole host of other organisms. And enjoy the vegetables and fruit that you love and already eat. Hope that helps. Thanks.
Great soup bulker-upper for Falls Church: I think barley is a grain, not a legume, but I'm not positive, so I'm not sure you'd like it, Falls Church -- but I've made a resolution to eat more of it myself, because it bulks soups up and makes them so filling!
Sally Squires: Barley is indeed a grain and it is a wonderful way to give soup muscle. Also, I've added ground baby carrots to split pea soup. It also thickens it nicely. Just two options of many too numerous to mention, I'm certain. Thanks.
Wheat berries?: Never heard of these!?
Sally Squires: Well, there's a new food to try. They're quite good. We will try to post a recipe in a minute.
Kid's Meals: I think the poster might reconsider making more than one meal once she has kids. I have two little kids and they don't like spicy foods like my husband and I do. They also don't like foods with lots of ingredients. It isn't exposure to the foods -- just their preferences. Often, I just put some of the meal aside for them and then add the sauce they don't like for us. I still require that they try the adult version, but if they don't like it, they don't have to eat it. And I always offer PB&J as a last option.
Sally Squires: Sounds like you're a very wise parent, who will help instill healthy eating -- and maybe even eventually foster adventurous eating -- in your kids. Thanks!
washingtonpost.com: Basic Wheat Berries (Bob's Red Mill)
Herndon, Va.: I was reading up on macrobiotic dieting, and was surprised at how much the diet de-emphasized fruits. The claim, as I understand it, is that the sugar in fruit outweighs the benefits when they are consumed in larger quantities and that people are better off eating more unprocessed grains and veggies. Personally, I could never give up my love affair with apples and oranges but was wondering if you had an opinion in this matter. Thanks for taking my question!
Sally Squires: The scientific evidence points to quite a number of benefits from eating fruit. (At least fruit that doesn't have added sugar, of course!) Plus, that flavor would be hard to give up as you've already pointed out. But I do know a few people who follow a macrobiotic approach and like it very much. It definitely is not for everyone...
Omaha, Neb.: Hey Sally! I'm really enjoying the apples and pears right now, but I was wondering what produce will be available in the upcoming winter. I'd like to eat as locally as possible, but will frozen veggies be my only recourse? Thanks!
Sally Squires: I called the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association to try to get an answer for you, but so far they have not responded. Apples and pears are likely the main type of local fruit in your region. But if anything else crops up, I'll put it in the next e-mail newsletter. Dried fruit or canned or frozen fruit would be options too, of course.
To my dark chocolate-loving sister:: Trader Joe's Chocolate Cats Cookies for People are good, too. Low in fat and sugar, and give you a chocolate taste that's less on the sweet side.
Sally Squires: Thanks for the food find! Another: dark chocolate covered soy beans. Nice mix of protein and dark chocolate that isn't too sweet. Go easy, however, because they're not low in calories, but a little goes a long way.
Cincinnati, Ohio: My daughter is 12, 5 feet 7 and 170 pounds. Whenever we discuss modifying or changing her eating habits, she becomes teary eyed and blue. What are some suggestions that you have to motivate children to lose weight?
Sally Squires: It can be hard. But it will get even more difficult the older she gets. So, start not with her, but with you and your spouse. Are you at a healthy weight? If not, work to get there. Your example will speak volumes to her.
Also, begin to get her involved in both grocery shopping and cooking. Start small, but use shopping trips as teachable moments. And find more ways to be active as a family together. If she doesn't have a bike, you might consider getting her one. It could give her freedom and exercise--and of course, you want to be sure that she has a bike helmet when she rides.
Other activities that could be fun and burn calories include in-line skating, walking, dance (not the standard ballet, but everything from tap to hip hop) and martial arts, as well as soccer, tennis and other traditional sports. The trick is to get her moving now. You might also investigate "Dance Dance Revolution" as well as the TV Allowance mentioned in today's column.
Hope that helps.
Rockville, Md.: I lost nearly 30 pounds after a health scare about a year ago, but over the summer I backslid a bit because I felt it was too hot to exercise outside and because I did a lot of traveling that made it hard to keep eating healthily. Now I'm recommitting to my healthy eating and fitness program. An important part of that for me is tracking everything I eat and all the exercise I get, and I'm trying to decide which site to use.
So here's my question: in your opinion, which online food tracking guide has the best database of foods? I've heard great things about SparkPeople, so I tried signing up, but I found that their food database is really skimpy (unless you eat a lot of Banquet frozen meals or sandwiches from Schlotzky's), and when they did have the foods I wanted the portion sizes were weird or unclear. I think the site is more convenient if you happen to be using their meal plan suggestions, but that's not what I want to do. I don't want to have to enter the nutrition info for everything I eat. I'm tempted to go back to my old standby, Fitday, even though it doesn't have the nice interface and the goal-tracking features of SparkPeople, just because the food database is so easy to use.
What do you think? I'd love to hear your opinion.
Sally Squires: LPCers have given high marks to both programs. But you might also want to check out Nutrition Data, Nutridiary and My Pyramid Tracker, which is a government site. Weight Watchers is now on-line, although it's not free. And there's another program called Diet Power, which will also cost you some money.
The trick is to find a program that works for you. Most will allow you to add your favorite foods, so eventually the database builds up. Also Calorie King has a program that you might want to check out.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Sally,
What do you make of the L.A. Times article this week suggesting that eating breakfast may not be all it's cracked up to be -- and that skipping could be a good strategy for dieters?
I'm not usually hungry in the mornings but force myself to have breakfast because it's supposed to be good for me. But am I sabotaging myself?
washingtonpost.com: The breakfast hype (L.A. Times, Sept. 18, 2006)
Sally Squires: I had a discussion with my editor about this very topic yesterday. Some of the studies cited still have not been peer-reviewed. Some are just in animals. The point about breakfast cereal being a recent addition to our diets is an accurate one. And the piece raises some interesting questions. But for now, evidence suggests that kids and adults do better mentally with breakfast than without. And skipping breakfast can help trick your body into thinking that it's starving. That's not great for weight control. Plus, breakfast is the meal that members of the National Weight Control Registry eat consistently.
So I guess that my final answer is that it seems the weight of evidence still favors breakfast. Stay tuned...
Greenville, N.C.: In reading the suggestions in your column for how to reduce the number of overweight or obese children, most everything listed was a great proactive suggestion. However, as a person who was overweight and then obese throughout her childhood, I am deeply concerned about BMI report cards. I remember the first time my doctor wrote on my medical diagnosis sheet that I was obese. It was extremely disheartening and hurt my self-esteem. If BMI report cards are used, I hope that they will be used with caution noting things such as risk for health problems on a scale of 1-10 versus using potentially damaging labels like overweight and obese. Chances are that a child has already been picked on for his/her weight issues. Giving them a report card confirming these labels may only promote the idea in his/her mind of failure. I hope that some positive connotations or more positive labels will be used when calculating and describing BMI.
Sally Squires: Taking into account the emotional aspects of childhood obesity is very important. And there's been much concern that BMI report cards might send the wrong message. Even so, not knowing the score may also be quite damaging. So it's a matter of finding that right balance -- moderation in all things! Thanks for weighing in.
Washington, D.C.: Lately I've been getting pretty hungry between meals and found myself going for unhealthy foods hanging around my workplace (cookies in the break room, vending machine stuff, etc.). I'm thinking it would help to have some healthy, lower-cal food on hand in my office instead, but I'm having trouble coming up with ideas. Ideally, it would be things that don't require refrigeration, at least for a few hours, can be eaten with one hand (so I can keep clicking around spreadsheets or flipping report pages), and aren't noisy or otherwise disturbing to the person I share an office with. I thought about dried fruit but those calories add up quickly. What other suggestions do you or the chatters have?
Sally Squires: Check out Larabars -- which run about 190 calories each and come in variety of flavors -- and Kashi bars. Nature Valley also makes a good granola bar. (It comes in a two bar packet but you only have to eat one.)
Soup, cereal with fruit, yogurt, cheese (some pasteurized varieties will be fine without refrigeration for a couple of hours) and whole grain crackers are other options. Happy snacking.
Sally Squires: Winners today are: Getting Down to Basics; the D.C. nurse who works in plastic surgery; the parent trying to help the 12-year-old daughter; D.C. (whose boyfriend is struggling with eating habits); the married woman whose husband used to struggle with eating habits; the person who suggested quinoa and the LPCer who gave tips on how to make it; and New York.
Please send me your U.S. postal address to email@example.com. And please put winner in the subject line. Until next week, eat smart and move more with the Lean Plate Club. Thanks to all!
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.