Lean Plate Club

Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, February 6, 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.

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Discussion Transcripts

A transcript follows.


Sally Squires: Welcome to the Lean Plate Club! It's really chilly here in D.C. and on much of the East coast. So get a hot cup of tea or coffee and curl up with your computer for today's chat.

We've got high fructose corn syrup on the platter for discussion. Also, today's LPC e-mail should be hitting your electronic in-box right about now.

So let's get on with it!


Washington, D.C.: Hi Sally,

In today's column, you referred to high fructose corn syrup as being a "stealth sugar" because food makers are not required to say how much sugar the product contains.

Why does this matter to a consumer? The nutritional label lists the total amount of sugars in a food. Why do we need to know (or care about) the amount of sugar that is attributable to the high fructose corn syrup?

Or are you saying that high fructose corn syrup is an added sugar that is not reflected on the nutritional label? (which I would find hard to believe)

Sally Squires: High fructose corn syrup is an added sugar. And there's no requirement by the FDA that food makers tell you the breakdown between added sugars and natural sugars in a product. The place where this can get most confusing is in sweetened yogurt. Yogurt itself has a fair amount of lactose -- a sugar, but one that isn't sweet and doesn't raise your blood sugar the way that sucrose (table sugar does.)

So when you read the label you'll find total sugars, but you won't know how much of your product contains natural vs. added sugars. Hope that helps!


Cortland, N.Y.: I always read labels for high fructose corn syrup and stay away from it like the plague. What's really upsetting is how many breads contain it, and many people wouldn't even realize it. Do you know if there's any awareness or push among bread companies to change this?

Sally Squires: It is surprising how many types of bread contain high fructose corn syrup. But usually this is one of the lower ingredients, which means that there isn't very much of it. (And if you want to start talking about some of the things that aren't great to have in bread, we also ought to mention sodium. Bread is a major source of that too.)

But remember that for most people, bread isn't likely their major source of high fructose corn syrup. That's more likely to be soft drinks or even some sweetened fruit juices. And also remember that the latest research finds no real differences in how the body metabolized high fructose corn syrup vs. sucrose. Of course, let's add the caveats that it was a small study -- 30 women -- but it was a well designed trial. What it doesn't say is whether this lack of effect also happens long term. Or if it's the same in heavier women. Or in men. We don't know the answers to those questions yet.


D.C.: Hi Sally -

Regarding high fructose corn syrup -- it's important to note that one of the main reasons this ingredient is so prevalent in processed foods is the United States' protectionist policies on imported sugar. These policies, which benefit a very small number of sugar farmers, cause the cost of sugar in the U.S. to be several times that of the world market -- a cost that is borne by American consumers. This increased cost makes substitutes, such as high fructose corn syrup, more attractive.

Want less high fructose corn syrup in your foods? Tell Congress to stop artificially supporting the sugar industry.

Sally Squires: Point taken. Thanks.


Portland, Maine:"The Post newsroom is equipped with motorized desks that adjust for standing. They're Contrex models, made by Steelcase."

Can you give any more information on how to find this type of desk? I can't find anything on Google or at the Steelcase.com Web site. Thanks.

Sally Squires: That's all I've been able to get right now. Sorry that you're not finding more help at Steelcase. I go out of town directly after this chat, but when I return tomorrow, I'll see what info I can get from Steelcase. Stay tuned!


Tower City, Pa.: I do look at labels and I think High Fructose Corn Syrup is BAD FOR EVERYONE especially ME and I avoid it like the plague.

Who needs refined sugar and corn syrup anyway?

The main reason is I am a diabetic and I think it is really bad for me to have any.

Sally Squires: As someone with diabetes, it's quite important to limit added sugar. But what's not yet know is if high fructose corn syrup has any worse effect on blood sugar levels for people with or without diabetes than other types of sugar. The latest findings suggest that in healthy, lean women, it has no different effect than regular table sugar, or sucrose. As for the other questions, we'll have to wait for more research.


Arlington, Va.: I just got a pedometer to remind me just how sedentary I can be if I don't put my mind to it. My question is: I bike at the gym almost every day about 30-35 minutes. Can this activity be translated to steps on the pedometer? Thanks!

Sally Squires: It can indeed be converted. In fact, as I recall, America on the Move has a tool for doing just this. You should be able to find it at here. If you can't find it, let me know and I'll ask the organizers about it.


Benefits of Green Tea?: Hi Sally--

What are your thoughts on the benefits of drinking green tea? Are certain quantities recommended? I've heard it touted for its antioxidants as well as its potential as a weight loss aid. I'm unable to burn calories right now (in recovery from a broken leg) and can use all the help I can get. Thanks.

Sally Squires: Ouch! Very sorry to hear about your broken leg. Sounds awful. Hope you recover very soon.

There are lots of good things in green tea, including those antioxidants. But the evidence on whether it can really help boost metabolism is very mixed. If you ask Coca Cola, which now sells a soft drink -- Enviga -- with the green tea extract EGCG, they will say that there is evidence to suggest it may help boost metabolism. Whether that translates to long-term weight loss is not clear. And I've talked to a number of experts who think it does not.

But that shouldn't stop you from sipping green tea if you really like it. It's very low in calories. It's hot. It's soothing. And if you're drinking green tea, you're likely not eating or drinking other higher calorie food and beverages. So nothing wrong with brewing yourself some cups of this drink throughout the day. And if caffeine bothers you, go for the decaf varieties. Hope you recover very soon!


Rockville, Md.: I was recently diagnosed with MS and I've read a bunch about how cutting saturated fat out of my diet (or at least as much of it as possible) is helpful. I figure even if it doesn't help with the MS, it certainly can't hurt with my general health.

My question is about eating out at restaurants. I don't eat butter/margarine/spreads and I try to only use the slightest touch of oil to grill my chicken and fish (only enough so that they don't stick). How do I ask a waiter how food is prepared? I can't imagine they measure the oil they coat everything in. Even if I were to ask for the smallest amount of oil possible, it's probably still too much -- two tablespoons of oil is a lot of fat. Yes, it's not 100-percent saturated but it does add up. Can you help me figure out what on the menu would be best for me to gravitate (already avoiding the obvious), specifically between things that sound healthy like grilled and steamed? Thanks!

Sally Squires: Very sorry to hear about your diagnosis. As you probably know, however, there are now a number of drugs available that can help thwart MS symptoms. If you have not talked with your doctor about these, do have that discussion to see what might be helpful.

I was once on a panel with a restaurateur and was surprised to learn that many chefs coat or spray food just before it comes to the table with a bit of oil or butter. This is so that when you take that first bite, it tastes really good.

So as you have already figured out, it's quite hard to know exactly what is in your restaurant food. And quite frankly, I'm not sure that the waiters and waitresses know exactly what's in it either.

You might call ahead and talk to the chef, or the chef's assistant about your particular dietary needs -- whether you are trying to cut back on saturated fat, or may need to cut sodium (as many people with high blood pressure do) or have a food allergy.

Having said that: broiled food, soups (that don't have a cream base), salads (where you put the oil and vinegar dressing on yourself) and stews, boiled or roasted veggies are among your smartest options.

When foods have a sauce or are fried, it's just very hard to gauge what may be in them. Hope that helps!


Oxon Hill, Md.: Although exercise equipment tends to over estimate calorie expenditure, are the calorie counts on treadmills accurate that have you plug in your weight?

Sally Squires: Whether you use the calories on the side of the food label, a pedometer to count your steps, or the counters on various exercise machines to track your mileage or watts or calories, know this: there is always a bit of wiggle room. Use these numbers as a gauge, not as gospel. I suspect that the IRS would not allow the wiggle room in taxes that these various counters provide.


Memphis, Tenn.: Re High Fructose Corn Syrup: I've always been amazed by the readers that are so adamantly against it and avoid it at all costs.

I would never rule out a particular food that has it as an ingredient. It should be based on the total ingredient label and how it fits in your plan. Very rarely is one ingredient always bad and bad for you.

I think the relationship between its use and obesity is simply a coincidence. Obesity has risen since microwave ovens have become more common. Does this mean that microwaves cause weight gain?

Sally Squires: Well said. And we can probably come up with lots of other associations that don't necessarily prove cause and effect. But it was an interesting link that we basically consumed zero high fructose corn syrup in the 1960s and now have about 60 pounds a year. That's well worth investigating. But what scientists are now leaning towards is this theory: it's been the total increase in calories -- and some of that has been due to a rise in soft drinks -- that has helped contribute to the obesity epidemic. Along with, of course, a decline in physical activity!



Washington, D.C.:.Adding activity to your daily routine: I get off a few metro stops early and walk an extra 1 or 1 1/2 miles to the office, and do the same walk at night. At first it seems long, but in only a week it seemed normal and not a burden at all! I also have let my office know that I will normally take my lunch hour between from 2-3, when I'll be out for a walk (but with my cell so they can reach me if necessary). (I eat at my desk while I catch up on light work reading). It's part of my work routine, just like others go out for lunch, and it is very accepted now. And I think I've inspired others!

Sally Squires: A great example of re-engineering activity BACK into daily life! Thanks much.


Kashi meals in ccccccchilly Wisconsin: Hi, Sally, chatters.

I don't always get to read these chats, but I recall that a couple weeks ago there was some talk about Kashi's (relatively new) foray into frozen entrees. As I am LOVING the one I am eating while we chat, I just wanted to weigh in with a positive vote. I have used Lean Cuisine and SmartOnes to try to learn better portion sizes while losing some weight (so far, so good). While Lean Cuisine has no preservatives, which I like, I do agree with the points that were made about sodium. I've also noticed that Kashi's meals are fewer WW points for a similar amount of food as Lean Cuisines, in general. Of course, they have far fewer options. But I've tried all of them except the one with walnuts (allergy) and they are very tasty. I like the fiber content, too.

So, just a thumbs-up. My Chicken Pomodoro today is tasty (and warming!), and just 5 WW Points. With some grapefruit for dessert, I'll be warm and happy, and one meal closer to better choices and a slimmer waistline.

Thanks for all the good ideas and support on these boards. I've referred a couple people here, and they've liked it too.

Sally Squires: So glad that you're spreading the word. And I'm with you: I have really enjoyed those Kashi frozen meals too. They taste good and are surprisingly satisfying, although they're not inexpensive. I bought one this weekend for a whopping $4.50. But it's a great thing to have on hand. And I have no connection with the company.


Embarrassing problem: In an effort to eat healthier, I've added lots of fresh, raw veggies and fruits to my diet at lunchtime. Various bell peppers, tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, tangerines, apples. I really enjoy them, but I'm wondering if it's the cause of the increase in gas I'm having? I thought I would adjust, but it's been a month.

Sally Squires: It can take a while. And some people continue to have this problem. You might try Bean-o. Or you might try saving those veggies for after work...You may have to experiment with that works best. Good luck! (And you've got lots of company in this!)


New York, N.Y.: Hi Sally,

I'm only 26 years old and I spend most of my exercise time doing long runs, sustained cardio etc. These days it seems like even though I'm young, my body is feeling really old.

What are the best ways to get some of my agility back? There aren't any boot camp-like classes at my gym, but it seems like drills of some sort might be the best answer...thoughts?

Sally Squires: Is it possible that you are over-training? You might try mixing up some of your routine, with shorter runs some days, more weight training, flexibility and stretches on other days.

And if that doesn't help, you might treat yourself to a session with a personal trainer. (If you haven't recently had a physical and this problem persists, it might also be worth a trip to your doctor just to rule out any other medical condition.)

If you've been sedentary for a while before getting into this new routine, it can take a while. And in next week's Health section -- you heard it here first -- look for a new report on aging athletes.

And look for other ways to be active throughout the day. It may also be that you're doing these wonderful training sessions, but the rest of the time are sitting on your you-know-what!


Washington, D.C.: Sally: even if you're eating healthy foods, eating too much can pack on the pounds. We all know now that nuts are an excellent food -- in moderation! Here's something I found at Safeway last week: Sun Pride brand toasted almonds (and other kinds of nuts) prepackaged in STURDY 1 ounce bags (they come in a package of 7 bags). Each bag is: 170 calories, 140 from fat (no trans fat), only 90 mg sodium, plus 4 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. I have tested these little bags in my purse and gym bag and they really hold up. It's amazing how full I feel after eating only 1 ounce of nuts. (FYI -- they are currently on sale: buy one get one free until Feb. 13).

Sally Squires: Sounds like a good food find. And for those who don't want to buy these pre-packaged, you could also put pre-measured nuts in your own bags. Thanks! (And you remind me of that Robert Goulet add on the Super Bowl this weekend!)


Moscow, Idaho: Hey there Sally,

When making dishes that call for serving on rice, I've started switching to pearl barley, is that better for you then rice? I prefer the taste and they have basically the same texture and size.

Sally Squires: Pearl barley is a whole grain. (Of course, so is brown or wild rice. White rice is not.) So if you like pearl barley, go for it. It's a healthy option. You can read more about whole grains here.


Protein sources: Hi Sally,

I have added strength training to my morning elliptical work outs. I read that eating enough protein to help build muscle is important, and that there are different "quality" levels of protein (some are better than others).

Is fish the best protein source? Soy?

Thank you

Sally Squires: I know that in weight training circles, there's a lot made about the so-called quality of protein. But truth is, when I've talked to experts about this, they say it really doesn't matter. In a minute, we'll post a link to a Lean Plate Club column that addressed this very topic. Stay tuned!


San Francisco: Sally, have you read "The Omnivore's Dilemma," by Michael Pollan? He strongly suggests that our bodies have relationships with normal sugars that we don't have with artificial creations like HFCS. He builds a very convincing case in an entire section devoted to factory farming and our nation's corn overproduction, and a study funded by a cola company doesn't inspire confidence in me. ... I highly recommend the book for anyone truly interested in where our food comes from.

Sally Squires: Yes, I'm familiar with Pollan's work. And it's a very interesting theory. But there is surprisingly little, if any research, to back it up. Most of the studies cited when people talk about the problems of high fructose corn syrup relate to work with pure fructose. HFCS is a mixture of fructose and glucose. And as Popkin noted, this the first of several studies poised to be released that apparent do not find the link that scientists have theorized about.

But there's much more research to be done. And until scientists DO sort this out, what does count is not overloading on too much added sugar from any source.


Exercise + eating = tight pants: Hi Sally. Help! Signed up at local running store for a "Learn to Run a 5k" training program which I love. The only problem is I've been hungrier at night since stepping up my running. And now .... gulp ... my jeans are tight. Any advice for curbing the nighttime/exercise exaggerated snacking?


Sally Squires: It's quite common to overcompensate for exercise by eating more. Just know that you are only burning about 150 calories per mile. Try to think of that the next time you reach for that Ben and Jerry's or even those nachos.

Also, be sure that you are getting enough to eat during the day so that you don't come home and start rummaging in the 'fridge and pantry. You might even plan a healthy snack just before leaving work or for when you arrive home. And if after dinner snacking is a problem, as it is for many, make your snacks veggies and fruit -- not heavier stuff. You might even consider a walk after dinner -- once the mercury rises of course, unless you really want to bundle up!

Another option: put on a walking DVD after dinner. Or stand in place and walk while you watch television. That will help a little too. And it's quite hard to eat while you're moving!


Green tea: Since I started taking a green tea supplement, my energy level has improved -- taking them in the morning with breakfast seems to help me with the early afternoon slump I used to have. In turn, I'm not reaching for snacks to pick me up. It also helps a lot with headaches -- when my dad takes it consistently he doesn't get the migraines he's prone to. I don't think it has helped me lose weight on its own, but has helped me by supporting my other efforts to eat well and exercise. I highly recommend trying it, and drinking (fresh) brewed tea as well!

Sally Squires: Green tea is a wonderful drink. It certainly can fit in healthy diet. It's just not proven to produce weight loss. Another good tea: creme caramel from Stash. Yum!


Herndon, Va.: On the subject of protein and strength training, don't experts also suggest that a higher than average amount (contrary to what gym trainers and nutritionists recommend) is not necessarily required to aid in the post-workout muscle repair and subsequent muscle increase?

Sally Squires: Exactly. Most of us get plenty of protein and don't need more. Of course, most of us could use more activity and less food of all kinds! Thanks for weighing in.


washingtonpost.com: The Protein Solution (Post, July 19, 2005)

Sally Squires: Here's more on protein.


Chapel Hill, N.C.: I bought a package of frozen fish at the grocery store recently (flounder), and thought I was getting a good deal: $5.99 for two pounds. I'd previously bought this particular brand, although with another type of fish. When I broiled it up today, however, it had the same funny taste I remember from the last package, regardless of the difference in species. (It was almost like a bitterness -- very unpleasant). Do you know if frozen fish is treated with something prior to freezing that might be causing the taste? When I buy "fresh" (probably just already thawed) fish from the fish counter, I don't find the aftertaste at all.

Sally Squires: That's interesting. I don't know of any pre-treatment, but sounds like it would be worth asking fisheries this question. By the way, frozen fish flash frozen at sea right after catching can be "fresher"than some of the "fresh" fish sold at the market. And did you know that canned fish is almost always wild?


Rockville, Md.: Flexibility: To get more flexibility, I highly recommend yoga. I do Bikram and the difference in flexibility has been incredible since I started a few months ago.

Sally Squires: Thanks Rockville


Akron, Ohio: Hi Sally,

I went a little nuts at the warehouse club (BJ's) this weekend...literally. I bought a 3-pound bag of walnuts, a 2 1/2-pound bag of pecans, a 2 1/2-pound bag of sliced almonds, and a 52 ounce can of peanuts. So my question is, what the heck do I do with all these nuts?? I've been putting the walnuts on my yogurt and salads and the sliced almonds on my cereal or oatmeal in the morning, and I plan to make a trail mix with nuts, popcorn, dried fruit, and mini M&Ms. Don't worry, I've been measuring out appropriate portion sizes. Any other ideas, particularly for the pecans? All I can think of are my mom's famous pecan-butterscotch breakfast rolls, which are not exactly the healthiest way to add nuts to my diet.

Also, will freezing the nuts help them last longer?

Thanks for your help! Those club memberships are dangerous...

Sally Squires: There is a learning curve with those club memberships. I can't tell you how often I've discovered "finds," only to wonder when I got home what I was thinking at the store!

Freezing is a good thing for those nuts. It does help a bit with freshness -- and when they're in your freezer you're less likely to eat them.

We're almost out of time, and I'm going to have to head for the airport, so if you have nut suggestions, please e-mail them to leanplateclub@washpost.com.


La Crosse, Wisc.: My new year's resolution this year has been to eliminate HFCS from my diet. I have been amazed at how hard it is to find soup, bread, salad dressings, etc., without it. I have switched almost exclusively to organic brands, but not everyone can afford to do that. How can consumers effectively let manufacturers know we don't want HFCS added to foods?

Sally Squires: Don't buy the products that have it and write to food manufacturers. They do listen to consumers.


Sally Squires: I must run today, but Paul Williams, our producer is going to post winners of today's prizes, which are listed in today's e-mail newsletter. E-mail me at leanplateclub@washpost.com and please include winner in the subject line. Thanks to all for a great chat!


washingtonpost.com: Okay, today's winners are Embarrassing Problem, for eating healthier, Eating + Exercise, for training for a 5K, and Washington, D.C. who added activity back into daily life.


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