Lean Plate Club

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Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, January 30, 2007; 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 leanplateclub@washpost.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.

The Archives:

Sally Squires's Recent Columns

Discussion Transcripts

A transcript follows.

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Sally Squires: Welcome to the Lean Plate Club Web chat!

We've got colds-and plenty of other stuff -- on the agenda today. So what healthy foods comfort you when you're feeling under the weather? We'd love to hear all about them.

Welcome also to readers of the Las Vegas Review Journal -- the newest paper to feature the Lean Plate Club column. We're delighted that you've joined us. I've already received a number of e-mails from Review Journal readers. (And if you'd like to see the Lean Plate Club in your local newspaper, send an e-mail to me at leanplateclub@washpost.com. Please include your newspaper's name and I'll find out who the features editor is for follow-up.)

In today's Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter, find 10 tips for better balance --something we can all use whether it's icy outside or not. You'll also find some short cuts to making fast Indian food. Plus, a round-up from our Food section about healthy-good tasting-frozen food. IF you'd like to subscribe to the free, weekly LPC e-mail newsletter, you can do that at our home page.

Today's prizes are:

"Secrets of the Lean Plate Club," by Sally Squires (with help from all of you!) (St. Martin's Press)

"It Must Be My Metabolism: A Doctor's Proven Program for Losing Weight by Reversing the Metabolic Syndrome," by Rewza Yavari, MD, with recipes by Jacques Pepin. (McGrah-Hill)

"Baby Green: A Life Food Approach for Children of All Ages," by Michaela Lynn and Michael Chrisemer (Frog Ltd.)

"Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul: Inspiration and Humor to Help You Over the Hump," by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Theresa Peluso (Health Communications)

"The Ultimate New York Diet," by David Kirsch (McGraw-Hill)

Here's the deal: inspire us with your tale of habit change. Assist another LPCer on this Web chat. Share a great tasting healthy recipe, a helpful tip or a healthy food find and one of these volumes could be yours. (And in making this offering, we are simply showing you the wide range of info available as you seek to instill healthier habits for a healthier weight.)

Now on to it!

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Salem, Ore.: I don't believe that a fat substitute should be used in school lunches. Many substitute food ingredients eventually are found to have unintended negative aspects. Children should be fed real food so that they can learn about healthy eating and develop tastes for nutritional food. How about salad dressing with healthy fat like olive oil? Fat is not a dirty word -- good fats are important for good health.

Sally Squires: For those who don't yet subscribe to the LPC e-mail newsletter, I included a link to a new fat substitute, Z-Trim, which was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It's being used in one Pennsylvania school. See what you think about it. Thanks for weighing in Salem.

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Portland, Ore.: Hi Sally,

Just read your weekly e-newsletter and the section about how we track calories/food/exercise came at a perfect time. I saw a commercial this morning for a "health counter" PDA device and was intrigued. I'm curious if any LPCers have used such a product and if they work. It sounds ideal because I would (in theory) always have it with me, while I may not always have access to the Internet.

Sally Squires: I've used the BalanceLog version for the Palm, as well as DietMate, which was a stand-alone device. (Actually kind of clunky by today's sleek standards, but it did the trick.) Healthetech, maker of BalanceLog has sadly gone out of business.

I included a few possibilities in today's e-mail newsletter for on-line and desktop and PDA applications. Please send us others if you've got them. (We can do a resource list for our Web site.) And we'd of course like to hear how you like them. (It goes without saying -- but I'll have to mention it -- no public relations or marketing people please promoting your products!)

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, Sally. Thank you for boosting my willpower and motivation every Tuesday!

I wrote in a while back about South Beach breakfast wraps. The Southwestern Style one, at that time, was identified as having 160 calories even though the nutrition label listed 5 grams of fat (at 9 calories a gram, that's 45 calories), 26 grams of carbs, and 15 of protein (at four calories per gram, that would be 164 calories). That would add up to 209 calories. However, the nutrition label read 160 calories. You said you'd check into it and put the results in a later LPC newsletter.

That was in November, I believe. Now, the box says it contains 190 calories - closer to 210 than 160, but still off -- and the online nutrition label still lists 160 calories.

This underreporting of calories seems quite common. Trader Joe's been re-doing the calorie counts on so many of their items lately. For instance, their vegan pad Thai frozen dinner dish used to be listed at 490 calories. It's now labeled as having 600-plus calories. Their pre-cooked chicken sausage in various flavors (sun-dried tomato is my favorite) used to be labeled as having 90 or 100 calories. Now, the label says 120!

My concern is, I really watch those nutrition labels and count calories. I'm starting to feel I can't trust the labels and calorie counts either -- and if I can't trust Trader Joe's, who can I trust in my quest for healthy weight management?

Sally Squires: I have spent quite a bit of reporting time on this very topic --thanks to your close reading of that label. I can't go into all the details here, but the long and the short of it is that there are five -- count 'em -- ways of counting calories (and approved by the FDA.) This accounts for part of the variation. I plan to come back at this in an upcoming column, so don't want to scoop myself.

For the time being -- you might give yourself a little wiggle room. None of these calorie counts are exactly as precise as we all might like...

Hope that helps. And thanks again for alerting me to this.

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Fairfax, Va.: Lean Cuisine's Santa Fe-style rice and beans is delicious and filling. I have it for lunch once or twice a week and use it as a dip for baked tortilla chips when I entertain. (Don't tell.) Sometimes I microwave three boxes for dinner (my husband and I split the three portions between the two of us) and add a salad of spring greens (from a package!) for a quick, simple meal.

Here's how Lean Cuisine (Stouffers) describes the product: "A Mexican-style rice medley made with long grain white rice, black and pinto beans, whole kernel corn,hand-picked green poblano and red chiles, topped with a creamy sour cream sauce with Mexican tomatillos, and cheese."

Here is the basic nutritional information: Fat 6g; Calories 290; Sodium: 590 grams; Carbs: 49 grams; Dietary Fiber: 5 grams; Weight Watchers points: 5.

Would this be considered high in sodium? Thanks for your great column and Web chat. By the way, I just gained 10 pounds while on two rounds of steroids for bronchitis. Anyone else have a similar experience?

Sally Squires: Sorry to hear that you've had to take those steroids. And yes, they do indeed produce weight gain. But the good news is that as you stop taking them, the weight will gradually disappear.

As for the sodium content -- it's lower than many soups. But provides more than a third of a day's worth for African-Americans, those who are 50 and older and people who already have high blood pressure. (For others, it has about a 25 percent of the total sodium for a day.)

So whether it works for you or not (sodium-wise) will depend on the above and what else you are eating for the day. But don't you love how a number of frozen foods now have some pretty healthy ingredients, such as those beans?

Thanks!

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi, Sally, I just finished reading your newsletter! For readers who want more Indian recipes, I recommend this Web site: http://www.fatfree.com/recipes/indian/. My one recommendation is that most Indian recipes start with the same formula: oil, mustard and/or cumin seeds, and garlic, ginger, and onions. I tried nonstick pans, cooking spray, broth, but the truth is, you need the oil. So I use a tablespoon of canola and figure that divided by the many servings each recipe provides, it's not that much fat.

Here's the simplest, most basic-- and extremely healthy-- Indian recipe I know. Toor dal (a kind of yellow lentil) can be found in Indian stores, or use your favorite kind of lentils. Curry leaves are available at international supermarkets (like H-Mart in Fairfax) and are optional, but delicious. The spices can be found at Indian groceries for cheap, or Whole Foods for a bit more. Garlic-ginger paste may be substituted for the fresh ginger-garlic.

Spinach dal

1 cup toor dal

2 cups water

1 package fresh baby spinach leaves

1 large tomato, chopped in large chunks

oil for frying (1 tsp. to 1 tbsp. is sufficient)

1 tbsp each: black mustard seeds

cumin seeds

1 sprig curry leaves

3-5 cloves garlic (I use 10!), minced

1 inch ginger, peeled and minced

1-2 onions, diced

1-5 hot green chilli peppers (optional)

1 tsp turmeric

salt to taste

1 tbsp tamarind paste (optional)

Pressure cook first four ingredients until 1 whistle and set aside (leave lid on so lentils keep cooking). Heat nonstick pan and add oil. When it is hot, add mustard and cumin seeds. When mustard begins to sputter, add curry leaves and cook 10-15 more seconds. Add onions and cook until slightly caramelized. Add ginger, garlic, and chillies and cook a few more minutes. Add turmeric, tamarind paste, dal mixture from pressure cooker, and salt, and allow to simmer a bit. It will taste better in your lunchbox after sitting overnight!

Can be served with rice or your grain of choice.

Sally Squires: That sounds like a wonderful resource for healthy Indian cooking. (And by the way, there's an Indian "Mediterranean" style regimen that seems to have the same benefits as the Mediterranean diet. Or if you happen to be from the Far East, I should probably say, that there's a "Mediterranean" approach that is Indian-style.) And speaking of India, the Lean Plate Club is carried by a new magazine there.

Thanks very much for weighing in.

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Vienna, Va: About ZTrim and other fake foods, you might consider Michael Pollan's advice in this week's NYTimes magazine: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." All these food substitutes are probably doing more harm than good. With so many delicious and healthy real foods out there, stay away from the manufactured substances.

Sally Squires: I enjoyed reading that article. Thought it raised some interesting points.

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Arlington, Va.: One tip for all LPCers -- beware of the diet saboteurs! Sometimes you may not even know they are getting to you. I ate lunch with a few co-workers, and after I was finished my salad and Lean Cuisine, I was bombarded with offers of foods like cheese doodles, pretzels, and other snack items, and then interrogated when I refused them. Don't be afraid to stand up for your healthy choices! Food peer pressure can be tough.

Sally Squires: They sure can be tough, can't they? It can indeed. So what did you say when they interrogated you?

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Chicago: As a Christian, I firmly believe in the power of prayer. It has proved to be a source of discipline, which I sorely need on this journey to healthier living. I also view my body as God's temple and I view it as something of which I am to be a good steward. So, keeping this in mind I try not to put things (food, drugs, etc.) into this "temple" that would be harmful or displeasing to God. I admit, it is a challenge and struggle to stay the course, but with prayer and determination I am slowly but steadily learning what it means to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including diet (i.e, proper nutrition) and exercise.

E. Wilson

Sally Squires: In today's e-mail newsletter, I included a recent news story of a local pastor who has shed 70 pounds and is encouraging his flock to also reach a healthier weight (as needed.) I asked what role spirituality plays in helping with weight loss. Thanks very much for weighing in, Chicago.

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Washington: I have been using the Wish Bone spray on salad dressing, and I like being able to control the amount and also the convenience of the spray. BUT, the first ingredient is high fructose corn syrup. Is there a recipe somewhere for homemade salad dressing that you can put in a spray on bottle, or will any homemade non-creamy dressing work? Thanks.

Sally Squires: I noticed that high fructose corn syrup as a top ingredient too in that new product. One of my colleagues thought that it tasted a little too much like vinegar for her. Has anyone else tried it? If so, we'd love to hear what you thought.

Here are some other things you could do: put your favorite oil and vinegar dressing in a spray bottle. It limits how much you put on the salad. I also take a favorite vinegar -- Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar -- and mix with either a little yogurt and herbs or with a little guacamole for a creamy dressing. You could mix it with olive, walnut, canola or other healthy oil too, of course. And the beauty of these home-made dressings is you can control the flavor, the ingredients and the sodium. Some are rather high in that too.

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Pittsburgh: Hi Sally,

I love your column. How about good old chicken soup as a favorite food when you're down with a cold. I picked some up last month in the midst of my illness and was comparing Campbell's varieties, only to find that low-sodium chicken soup was SO much more expensive than the regular. Not surprised, of course, but I thought we were beyond that already. Sodium levels just seem so unconscionable.

Sally Squires: That chicken soup is a great suggestion. Of course, if you make your own, you can really control the sodium content. But I also confess that isn't at the top of my to-do list even when I feel well, let alone when I've got a cold.

So Consumer Reports has done a recent round-up of chicken soups. They rated as excellent the Original SoupMan. But it's pretty pricey -- $2.99 per can -- and it has a whopping 930 mg of sodium per serving. Yikes!

Others that got high marks were Bear Creek Country Kitchens and Lipton Soup Secrets. But the former has 820 milligrams of sodium per serving; the later a bit lower at 690 mg.

So I hate to hear that the low-sodium soup you found is more expensive. I'll check my grocery this week. Hope others out there will do the same and e-mail me. It will be an interesting to know the prices.

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Arlington, Va.: Here is an easy and tasty salad dressing that is fat free! Trader Joe's Orange Champagne Muscat Vinegar with a generous squeeze of honey mustard (French's makes it, I think). It is great on a salad of spinach or mixed greens topped with dried cranberries and a bit of bleu cheese and walnuts. Easy on the cheese and nuts though, to keep it healthy. If I'm feeling ambitious I'll toss the nuts in a mixture of Worcestershire, brown sugar Splenda, and a bit of seasoned salt and toast them in advance.

Sally Squires: That sounds like a great combo, although for those watching their sodium intake, mustard is one of the foods that can be fairly high in salt. Sadly! Thanks!

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Manassas, Va.: Net Daily Calories! My automated program tries to keep me at a constant net daily calorie level -- supposedly to promote efficient weight loss. I am training for a marathon, and a couple of days a week I burn about 1000 calories. On those days, the program wants me to eat an additional "meal" basically -- and frankly I don't fell like it! I have been losing about a pound a week, more or less.

Sally Squires: Congratulations on that weight loss. And where might we find this program? Good luck on the marathon!

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi! Just wanted to pipe in with a healthy lunch I've been enjoying -- two slices of high-fiber, high-protein bread from The Baker brand with two wedges of light Laughing Cow cheese. I discovered the cheese comes in Herb and Garlic flavor and a yummy French Onion variation too. I find the lunch very filling and also appreciate that it doesn't need refrigeration.

Sally Squires: This sounds like a great combo. Laughing Cow is also good for putting on slices of apples or pears for a snack. And here's my food find for the week: Sipping Chocolate from Trader Joe's. It's a dark chocolate. You take 1/3 cup of milk (preferably skim or low fat.) Heat in microwave. Stir in three tablespoons of the sipping chocolate. And voila! for about 125 calories, you've got a delicious chocolaty drink that you can sip slowly with a spoon. Yum!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Talk about mislabeling nutritional information, I heard this on the radio this a.m. and this is from MSNBC:

"The world's largest restaurant chain said Wednesday its fries contain a third more trans fats than it previously knew, citing results of a new testing method it began using in December."

Sally Squires: Yes, that is pretty sobering isn't it? But let's face it, we also know that anything fried from a restaurant is likely to be high in calories and probably -- although this is changing -- high in unhealthy trans fats.

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Hartford, Conn.: Speaking of calorie counts...I was selected for one of your give-aways a month ago (thank you), and I've enjoyed reading the book.

I was pleased to note that the calorie counts on recipes started with "About" -- after all, how exact can we be? But then the calorie counts were listed with numbers like 361 or 452.

Good for a chuckle!

Sally Squires: That's because there are computer programs that will spit out a number. But truth be told, the calorie counts are often not precise, the way our bank balances should be. Or our upcoming taxes!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Sally,

To your reader who had a question on tracking software. . .I use a Diet and Exercise Assistant that I bought through palm.com. It's easy to use, has a lot of food listings, and will hot sync to the desktop version, which you purchase separately. I initially lost 60 pounds using it and kept it off for almost 2 years. Admittedly I've gained some of it back and am now using it again on track to loose 20 pounds over a healthy four months in time for cycling season.

Sally Squires: Thanks Silver Spring for that tip. I've just found some additional possibilities. Look for links shortly.

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Northwest D.C.: Regarding the diet saboteurs -- Note that these people do not just attack those actively dieting...but anyone that dares eat healthily!

My wife and I are both lucky in that we don't battle to keep our weight down. But equally, we both ENJOY healthy food over junk food, fresh over prepackaged etc.

We regularly have to defend ourselves from hostile questions when we turn down offers of what we perceive as junk food. The other day I ordered a sandwich at lunch that came with "free" chips and soda. I declined these, and bought an orange and a bottle of water to complete my lunch. My co-diner commented, "chips are hardly going to kill you!"

I should count my blessings as I truly just don't enjoy pre-packaged, artificially flavored, saturated in fat snacks, but I can never understand why people are threatened by this. It's not like second hand smoke -- sitting next to someone eating an apple will not harm you!

Sally Squires: Well said. And let's add this to the Lean Plate Club --encouraging people NOT to comment on what someone else is eating! It's no one's business but yours!

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Washington, D.C.: First time poster but a long time follower and reader of your chats. I am currently on WW and was doing quite well, however I gained 5 pounds back since Thanksgiving. I went back and the past three weeks haven't been good (small gains). I am having foot surgery next week and I am very scared that I am going to gain it all back. Any advice or ideas to stay motivated when I can't exercise and get around like I'm used to? Any help would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Sally Squires: Welcome! You've come to the right place. (And very sorry that you have to have foot surgery.) So, you want to get things in order now. That means stocking food that will be healthy -- and that you actually enjoy, of course!

That could mean loading up your freezer. Or checking out a delivery service for groceries. Or going to one of the places where you can make a month's worth of food in a few hours. It could also be getting some help from family and friends.

You also want to have things that will keep your hands busy. Busy hands are less likely to be reaching for food. So dust off those photo projects that you've been meaning to do. Get out that stationary and start writing real letters to folks you've been meaning to contact. Find some knitting, or mending or even puzzles to keep you occupied.

And check now about physical therapy with your doctor. Also ask what other activities you can do while you are recovering. You don't want to injure yourself, but you may be able to do some upper body activities that will keep your muscles tones and your spirits lifted. The important thing is to plan now.

Good luck and hope you'll let us know how it goes. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Sally,

I just wanted to follow up. I was a winner in a previous chat and e-mailed you with my information, but never heard back from you. I hope there wasn't a technical glitch. Thanks!

(Sorry if this is a repeat.)

Sally Squires: Sometimes e-mail and U.S. mail goes awry. So if you have been a winner in a chat and haven't heard from me, definitely contact me again. We'll get it straightened out. But if I don't know, I can't correct it. So please, yes, contact me again with your info.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi, Sally

I wanted to add one of my favorite salad dressings to your list of home-made salad toppings. I like to mix a grainy country style Dijon mustard with different kinds of vinegars. I never miss the oil. Most recently, I have enjoyed the tangy mustard mixed with pomegranate vinegar as well as with a tasty balsamic. The mustard works well as an emulsifier and is creamy enough that it sticks to the veggies very nicely while not adding much in the way of calories or fat. The mustard and vinegar combo is good with fresh herbs mixed in too, and chives are my favorite addition.

I'd also like to mention something that I picked up at Trader Joe's last weekend. I am not a big rice/pasta/bread eater, but I sometimes find that I need something grainy to go along with a stew or veggie ragout type dish (usually concocted while cleaning out the veggie drawer in the fridge...). I picked up a box of frozen organic brown rice from TJ's (no affiliation of course) and decided I would try some with my veggies for lunch. Three minutes in the pouch in the microwave provided me with some yummy chewy brown rice and no dirty pots or pans. No adding water or stirring or anything! I even suspect I would like it for breakfast with a little milk and sugar. Just thought I would mention it.

Thanks again for the chats. Stay warm! It is cold out there.

Sally Squires: That brown rice is wonderful. And you can also find cooked wild rice that is in a shelf stable packet. It's also a great addition to soups or stews.

And for those who may not have a TJ's nearby, I've made a large batch of both wild and brown rice as well as steel-cut oatmeal (you can find that also in individual packets in the frozen food section of TJ's.) I put these foods in individual containers and freeze. They work well too. And are much less expensive, although they do take prep time, of course! Thanks for weighing in.

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Silver Spring, MD: Hi Sally,

I have been a long time reader of your chats and find them so helpful. I thought I was on the right track until a doctor's appointment proved otherwise. I have actually gained weight! It is taking me a while to figure out the right balance of what I need to do and I am starting to feel hopeless. The person I confide in most is obese and doesn't seem to take my issues seriously, as I am not severely overweight (I should lose about 30 pounds). I need some help and encouragement. Thanks.

Sally Squires: Healthy eating is one key step. So if you're already doing that, you're already on the right road.

But it sounds like you'll need to tweak portion control -- and perhaps find ways to be more active. Until you get into calorie deficit -- that is you're taking in fewer calories than you burn -- the weight doesn't come off.

In today's LPC column (and on this chat), you'll find some tools to help count the calories. You might also benefit from joining a group. You could consider TOPS or Weight Watchers or even Food Addicts Anonymous. Or form your own group with people who want to shed a few pounds.

And that's another key: successful weight loss doesn't happen overnight. So start small. Aim for a few pounds. Achieve that and try some more. It's a gradual process. But Lean Plate Club members prove week after week that it can be done. You can do it too! Hang in there. Please let us know how it goes.

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River City: Love the idea of brown rice for breakfast from the Academy of the Sierras; I could even do without so much sugar. Any ideas on how to make it more savory like adding one scrambled egg? Can I cook it in the microwave since the morning rush precludes cooking slow stovetop cooking and stirring?

Sally Squires: For those who don't know about Academy of the Sierras -- it's a boarding school for overweight teens. And yes, you certainly can cook that breakfast in the microwave.

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20009: Hi Sally!

I just wanted to share some of my tricks -- I finally got motivated to begin changing my habits this month. For breakfast I now have a meal-replacement shake, which keeps me from being hungry but also helps me get used to feeling less full at meals. I'm packing my lunch rather than going out for big sandwiches and chips, and I stocked up on frozen vegetables so there's no excuse not to have lots of fiber and vitamins at dinner. At first it's not as exciting as dishing up big scoops of mac-n-cheese for dinner, but it makes up for it when you feel better! Down five pounds and counting...

Sally Squires: Congratulations on those five pounds! Way to go. Hope you'll keep us apprised of your progress. Thanks.

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Charlotte, N.C.: I'm asking this before you begin since I have to teach at that time. I really hope you (and the chatters) can help me out. I just started working from home, which is wonderful. I really want to begin to exercise but I can't seem to make myself get out of bed at the same time I used to and get out there! Any ideas to help motivate me? I can't join a gym so that's out. However, I really do want to run a marathon next year (or late this year) but of course, in order to do that, I really need to start running again. Sigh -- I really need some help, I know I need to get exercising for my health as well as my sanity but I just can't get myself started. I appreciate any ideas. Thanks! (I've been a faithful reader for years!)

Sally Squires: To paraphrase an old saying, every marathon begins with a first step. Yours might be to start training (with a partner) for a walk or a shorter run, such as a 5K. Would walking or running for charity help motivate you? That could be another option.

While you figure it out, set one goal for tomorrow. Yes, I mean it, tomorrow! It could be just setting your alarm to get it. It could be getting your exercise gear together. It could be treating yourself to a new pair of shoes. Or you might want to try one of the walking tapes/DVDs that are now available. (Leslie Sansone and Prevention magazine have two that I know of.) Just set a goal, whatever it is, but make it something doable. Do that, and set a bigger one of the next day. You get the idea. Please let us know how it goes.

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Philadelphia: Okay, can I point something out? If you're not willing to make your own chicken soup (which is, actually, pretty easy to do) and don't want high sodium, you're going to have to pay more for it. Foods that are bad for us tend to be cheap, because things like fructose corn syrup and MSG are ridiculously cheap. And that won't change quickly -- we like our food to have lengthy shelf lives, and we like it to be cheap; that means we're going to be stuffed full of preservatives and other bad-for-yous for a long time to come. But that leads me into another issue, and this is not perhaps the proper forum for it -- but if you ever notice a WIC measure on your ballot, make sure you understand it and are supportive of full funding for the program. That helps feed those among us who most need both help and good nutrition.

Anyway, in most cases, a can of low-sodium chicken soup is going to be cheaper than having a bowl of (often high sodium) chicken soup from a restaurant. So if you look at it that way, you're still better off buying the often two-serving can.

Would cooking a potato -- and removing it before eating -- in the soup help remove some of the sodium?

Sally Squires: All good points, Philly. (And by the way, Healthy Choice and Campbell's now have lower sodium soups that are likely not as pricey as that very low sodium variety.) This also reminds me that a Lean Plate Club member e-mailed me about Wyler's bouillon. There's a low-sodium variety of this too.

As for that potato, I've heard that idea too. Will need to check it out further. Good thought...

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Chicago: Thanks for the great chat today, Sally. I agree with Pittsburgh, nothing beats chicken soup when you're not feeling well. However, many years ago I became vegetarian and have missed that occasional comfort. Amy's makes a "no-chicken soup" that although has a heavy onion taste will do in a pinch (as long as you have plenty of crackers). Luckily Pangea sells a vegan product called Leahey Instant Noodle Soup Mix. I can't vouch for the "beef," but the "chicken" tastes wonderful. I think even a meat eater might enjoy it. It's also low in calories and fat. I just thought I would pass the information along since I know how difficult it can sometimes be to find good vegan/vegetarian products.

Sally Squires: That "No Chicken" soup is great! I've found it at Whole Foods. And for those who are wondering, it's made from soy. Thanks for the other tip too and for weighing in.

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Favorite snack for winter: Hot water with lemon and a little Splenda. I love it while curled up on the couch reading. Not too much Splenda, though, or it's too sweet.

Sally Squires: Bet this would also be good for a sore throat. Thanks!

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Backwards/upside down diet: Sally, what do you think of the diet where people eat in reverse -- dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner?

Sally Squires: No "diet" works for everyone. Every "diet" works for someone. There's nothing wrong with it -- or right with it. How does it work for you? Is it something that you can live with long term? If so, go for it. (And be sure to keep the calorie in less than the calories out!)

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Washington, D.C.: Another way to limit salad dressing is to spoon it on with a teaspoon, rather than pour it on. Maybe not quite as evenly distributed as spraying, but simpler.

Sally Squires: Yes. That will work too. So will getting the dressing on the side and then dipping your fork into it for a little, then into your salad. Thanks!

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Watertown, Mass.: SO many things to comment on this week, Sally! So, I'll list them out:

1. I really like fitday.com for an online "intake and expenditure" program (and have no affiliation with the company). They have great graphs, and an awesome list of exercises.

2. Salad dressings: Learned from an old cooking light recipe (I think) to simply substitute chicken or vegetable broth for all but about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in any vinaigrette-type recipe -- and then cut down on the amount of added salt, of course. In the summer, I squeeze some of the juice out of farmer's market tomatoes, and use that instead of the broth.

3. And speaking of broths, Progresso now makes a line of low-sodium soups with less than half the amount of sodium as in the typical Campbell's, and they taste good enough even for a fussy eater.

Sally Squires: Thanks!

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re: Sipping Chocolate: Hi Sally,

If I remember my label correctly, that Sipping Chocolate from Trader Joe's also has about 3-4 grams of fiber in it -- not a bad nutritional boost for a cup of hot cocoa!

I tried making it and you definitely don't need a whole 3 tablespoons -- even just 1 is plenty with half a cup of skim milk. Delicious!

Sally Squires: Hear, hear! Thanks!

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Manchester, Vt.: In your e-mail today you asked about ways to track your diet and exercise. About two weeks ago I consulted with a Registered Dietitian and she recommended FitDay.com which I've been using ever since. The site is to navigate and has all of the tools you need to keep track of your weight, food, exercise, goals, etc. and also provides reports so that you can see how you are doing.

Marion

Sally Squires: A number of Lean Plate Club members like this program. I don't think it works with a PDA or Blackberry, however. That's the only downside for those who are looking for something for their handhelds.

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Alexandria, Va.: Best frozen food -- edamame in the pod! And my husband likes macaroni and cheese, so it's easy to get the reduced-calorie kind for him and not have leftovers. For my favorite quick meal, a vegetable burger on a Trader Joe's English muffin, topped with a cooked portabello mushroom (and lettuce and tomato, if in season). Tastes more like real food to me than a prepared frozen meal, and just as quick.

Sally Squires: Sounds delicious! Thanks Alexandria.

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Baltimore: I found a soup recipe that is quick enough once I get home to make after a whole day of work, and also pleases my husband and two toddlers. I use frozen string beans and corn, a couple chopped onions, 1-2 cans of diced tomatoes, a sweet potato or two, and a can of red beans. I flavor with basil, salt and pepper. Because just about everything is already cooked, it doesn't need more than 20 minutes to cook, and it takes me just 5 minutes to throw together. My family loves it, and my toddler have learned to love beans, "More beans please!"

Sally Squires: Yum! Thanks.

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Reston, Va.: Thanks for Sally for keeping us informed. I track calories using tools on the SparkPeople.com Web site. The site also has tons of other helpful tools and resources. I found out about SparkPeople through one of these LPC chats.

Sally Squires: That's another site that a number of Lean Plate Club members have said they like too. Thanks!

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Fairfax, Va: Sally,

I've lost 20 pounds in the past month. How did I do it ? You'll be amazed.

I substituted green tea for coffee, soda and whatever. I drink between 2-3 liters of green tea during the day and nothing else. Let me tell you, my pants fit a whole lot better now.

I wouldn't have believed it unless I did it myself.

Sally Squires: Another great example of finding what works for you. Thanks for weighing Fairfax and congratulations on those 20 pounds!

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Dupont Circle follow-up: Hi, Sally.

A few weeks ago I wrote to you about my boyfriend's surgery, and how to keep going with our weight-loss and healthy-eating goals.

Well, it's two weeks after, and we're doing great. I bought lots of low-fat, low-sodium soups; sugar-free Popsicles; and Kashi GoLean Hearty hot cereal (no connection to any of these), and we've started again with long walks and are slowly building up with workout times. Weight loss is right on track, still -- even with putting off the strength training a few more weeks. Thanks for all your help!

Sally Squires: Thanks for the update. It's great to know that he's doing well. And I hope that the LPCer facing foot surgery will also take note.

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Omaha, Neb.: I used the Palm software and lost 10 pounds once and 30 pounds recently, and since the device IS always with me I can quickly check calories counts on both diet AND exercise to stay on track. I'm 10 months at my goal weight. I feel like the tool is the reason I now live in the body I always wanted!

Sally Squires: Way to go Omaha! Thanks for the feedback.

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Manassas Va.: The program is the Diet Diary by CalorieKing.com. You track all sorts of statistics -- and it coaches you. I have used it three years now.

Sally Squires: Calorie King is used by a number of research projects. Thanks for the reminder of this program.

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Vienna, Va.: Sally,

All I see on these chats is talk about food. Why doesn't anyone talk about exercise? Both are key parts to good health, but eating healthier is not the only part of the equation.

We're a nation of overweight individual who are slowly dying from diabetes and other weight-related issues.

Sally Squires: Physical activity is very much part of the Lean Plate Club. In fact, last week, I reported on the Healthy Office, a research project at the Mayo Clinic to put computers on top of treadmills and exercise bikes. (And yes, I am standing, though not yet walking, while I host this chat.) We've also have had the Family Challenge which encouraged families to get more active as well as the Make the Move Challenge and the Fit for Fun Challenge. And there have been Fitness Makeovers.

But you're right, we do tend to tilt a little bit more towards the food side of the equation. As you point out, both are absolutely key to health and a healthier weight! Thanks for weighing in.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Sally,

Is it fact or fiction that in your early thirties your body becomes a lot more susceptible to weight gain. My older brother warned me that when he hit 35 his body seemed to just start gaining weight overnight (he's very active and was always very slim). I'm 34 now and I feel like my lifestyle hasn't changed but my waistline sure has. It's frustrating. Any truth to my impression that age is speeding up my weight gain?

Sally Squires: Age isn't doing it. A gradual loss of muscle mass is. But you can help counter that by moving more and of course, eating smart!

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Rockville, Md.: For Silver Spring, who was surprised to find that she had gained weight at a doctor's visit: sounds like you also need a scale! I spent about $70 on a good, digital scale that gives me consistent results, and it's made a world of difference (versus my old, cheap scale that seemed to have a five-pound yoyo built in).

Sally Squires: Excellent point! Many people really don't like to climb on that scale, but it is very important in not being surprised at the doctor's office. Thanks.

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San Antonio, Texas: Sally,

I am not a person who seems to be able to keep very accurate nutritional information in my head, so I made myself an Excel spreadsheet to track what I eat and calculate the calories, fat grams, carbs, protein and sodium. My dietician has set daily goals for me of 1800 calories, 180 carbs so I put a running total at the bottom of the sheet plus a line that shows me what I have left for the day.

I use nutrition info from packaged food and the USDA Nutritional Database online to get the measurements. It also helps that I got a kitchen scale that has a database that calculates the values for portions I weigh.

This probably seems a little overly obsessive/compulsive, but if I don't take it to this level of detail, I'll rough guesstimate myself back into the 18 pounds I've managed to lose so far.

Charlie

Sally Squires: Doesn't seem obsessive at all. In fact, I have four -- count 'em -- spreadsheets for counting Weight Watchers points and two in a Word program for counting calories and activity. They were sent to me from other LPCers. I send them out to whoever asks for free. So if you'd like to send me yours, I'll add it to the batch.

Thanks!

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Minnetonka, Minn.: I've been using CalorieKing (tracker) on the Mobile PC for the last couple of weeks. I had used it in the past on the Palm. On this Microsoft environment, it tends to run pretty slow. The database is huge though.

I really struggle eating at home. It takes a lot of time to enter a half a turkey burger, a whole wheat pita with hummus, or other odd stuff I might throw together. It can take longer to enter each ingredient than eat the snack. I guess we're just trying to get close.

Sally Squires: Yes, and once you get that database in, you're good to go. But it can be time-consuming. We'll post links in a minute for others. Good luck with your efforts. Thanks for weighing in.

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Freezer can be a vegetarian lifesaver: Hi Sally:

I just got through a very rough period at work and did nothing but eat take out and fast snacks that added up to 10 pounds in 6 weeks.

Determined not to let this happen again, I have stocked my freezer with chopped broccoli and spinach, my cabinets with canned diced tomatoes and sliced mushrooms and fridge with onions and egg beaters.

This means that no matter when I get home, I can make a quick veggie scramble with egg whites. Plenty of protein and good veggies, low in calories and infinite number of ways to vary things.

Not exciting, I grant you, but better then a large eggplant parm sub (the guy was starting to know me when I walked in at night).

Good luck to all!

Sally Squires: And to you too! Thanks.

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Lake Bluff, Ill.: I've recently started buying Morningstar and Quorn vegetarian products. Yesterday, I made a sandwich with a "Chix" patty and brought it to work for lunch. I left it in my desk drawer for about 4 hours (I don't usually bring lunch, so I don't have a lunch cooler.) Is that safe? I figured that since it's not meat, there would be less risk leaving the sandwich at room temperature for a few hours?

Thanks. PS -- I love your column and chats!

Sally Squires: No. Food should not be left out for more than two hours at room temperature. When in doubt, throw it out! Sorry.

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Stamford, Conn.: Sally, thanks for your Jan. 30 article on computer-based calorie-counting programs. I noted one error, though - MyFoodDiary.com is not free - it costs $9 per month. Joey Eisen

washingtonpost.com: Today's Lean Plate Club column: Short-Term Losses

Sally Squires: Here you go. Thanks.

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washingtonpost.com:

DietMate

HealthFit Counters

Handheld Calorie Counting

FoodFavs for the Palm

Sally Squires: As promised!

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Sally Squires: Thanks to all for a great and very wide-ranging chat!

Winners today are: Fairfax for the additional Indian recipes, Silver Spring for the PDA tip, Chicago for the soup suggestion;Charlotte and San Antonio. Please send me your U.S. postal address in an e-mail to leanplateclub@washpost.com. And please put winner in the subject line.

Until next week: eat smart and move more with the Lean Plate Club.

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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.


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