Lean Plate Club

Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, August 28, 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, I'm coming to you from Tennessee, with the help of Paul Williams and technology.


Alexandria, Va.: I've been receiving quite a few e-mails lately regarding the dangers of plastic storage and its cancerous effects. For instance, leaving bottled water in a hot car seeps dioxins into the water and increases the chance of breast cancer. Also, freezing certain plastic containers seeps dioxins in to the stored product. Certain microwaving processes are causing the same cancer scare. With a number of these practices so prevalent, please comment on their legitimacy and how to stay preventative. Thanks

Sally Squires: This is an interesting area, but still evolving. You might find more information online at the EPA and also at the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Watch for more information to evolve on this though.


San Francisco: I heard that rice should be avoided by people with high cholesterol, but grain is good. Then I saw rice listed as a grain when I looked at the ingredients of a multi-grain cereal. In your opinion, which of these comments about rice is more valid for people who want to reduce their carbs and cholesterol?

Sally Squires: Rice in moderation doesn't contribute to higher cholesterol levels. If you worry about eating too much white rice, chose brown. If you chose brown rice, which is a whole grain and has more fiber, you can make it in the microwave in about 30 minutes, and freeze it or put it in the fridge for the week. Thanks.


Columbia, Md.: Transfat and Dunkin Donuts. What a joke!!!!! The idea that by switching to no transfats makes donuts healthier has me on the floor laughing. Just don't eat the bleeping donuts in the first place. In the second place stay away from anything of the same category.

Sally Squires: Excellent points Columbia -- eliminating transfats wont turn donuts into a health food, but everything in moderation.


Potluck Suggestions?: Dear Sally,

Thanks for your great work!

On Thursday, my department is having a potluck picnic. I'm trying to come up with a side dish that is relatively inexpensive to make, easy to transport (probably in a basket on my bike), and tasty. Normally I just make brownies or cookies, but this time I'd like to make something healthier. Do you or the chatters have any suggestions?


Sally Squires: If you get a container that has tight lid, you could make a side salad, with dried fruit, nuts, wild rice, or a regular salad, as long as the container is air tight. Any other suggestions out there?


Dallas, Tex.: Sally - the news on the nation's obesity rate is so discouraging. I struggle just to maintain my current weight (which is too heavy)and do all the right things. I try to be active, but my work schedule doesn't leave time for dedicated workouts. And when I read that the rest of the nation can't make healthy progress, either, I don't see how I can possibly turn things around myself.

Thanks for the LPC -- this bit of encouragement every week really helps me at least maintain, even if I can't loose. Any words of wisdom for how to buck the national trend?

Sally Squires: Absolutely, Dallas. Each week we learn from other members that making small changes can add up to big rewards. Even if you maintain your current weight, you'll be a step ahead. Most adults put on about 2 pounds a year, so if you can stay the same, you're doing great. If you can lose just 10-percent of your body weight, you can see huge health benefits. It's not just about how you look in a bathing suit, it's about how you feel and your health.

The Lean Plate Club could be a movement for change, and we can really set an example of how small changes can make a big difference.


Question about overeating on rest days: Hi Sally, can't join the discussion, but wanted to ask a question. My boyfriend and I are quite active and workout usually at least 4 times a week. I eat healthily most of the time and keep track of my calorie intake and calorie burn, trying to keep the two level to maintain my current weight.

The problem we are both having is on rest days we often end up overeating. Say, for example, on a workout day I eat 2,400 calories because I have burned a lot of calories and so need the extra intake. Then on my rest day I often find myself hungry and end up eating almost that same amount, even though I am not working out that day, and technically shouldn't need that many calories for the day. Is this because my metabolism is boosted by the workouts I am doing the other 4 days? Is it possible that it would be boosted that much? (I weigh 125 lbs and my required daily intake without a workout is about 1,450-1,500 calories.)

Sally Squires:2,400 calories can be a lot of calories, so if you're really burning about 1,000 calories of activity, that means at least 2 hours of vigorous activity, then you're probably staying even. Eating that much on the days you don't work out could produce weight gain, so watch the scale carefully. Try keeping food records for a couple of days, both on your regular days and your workout days, and see if you're in caloric balance.

Also check your weight, and if you are in caloric balance, and your weight is not rising, you're doing good. If it's going up, you're going to have to scale back. Let us know how it goes, and good luck.


Picnic Side Dish: Pasta salad? I do tortellini, Cardini's Ceasar dressing (comes in lowfat), artichoke hearts, olives and capers (I know, the salt...) sprinkled with parmesan.

Sally Squires: Yum, sounds great. Thanks much.


In defense of donuts...: I grew up eating donuts every Sunday, and they remain a favorite food. However, I eat one or two once a month, make it a treat and a special event, and I don't overdo it -- and I've lost 20 pounds while still eating them. So even though Dunkin' Donuts' move won't make them a health food, I'm glad they're doing something. "Just don't eat them" isn't always realistic -- if I deprived myself completely of donuts, I'd eventually break down and binge on them anyway.

Sally Squires: Sounds like you've given us a great example of how to have your donuts and eat them too. Thanks.


Minneapolis: Hello! I've been a subscriber to the newsletter for over a year now, but rarely find the time over my lunch hour on Tuesdays to participate. So glad I could be here! Sally, would you speak to the nutrition area of "volumetrics"? As I read about it, it seems mostly what I've been doing for most of my life, and helps me to maintain a healthy body and digestive system. Would you share what information you have, as well as your professional opinion? Thank you!

Sally Squires: Thanks for taking the plunge to post today, glad you are with us. Volumetrics is based on research from Penn State -- Barbara Rolls, a professor of nutrition, has found that eating foods high in volume but lower in calories can make a big difference in weight loss. That means foods that are high in water, fiber or air. So think soups and stews, salads or puffed rice, popcorn, you get the idea. Your eye sees a bigger portion and the water, fiber or air helps you feel fuller on fewer calories. It's a win-win. Hope that helps.


Yo-Yo Land: Sally, how do you fight diet fatigue? I have been "changing my lifestyle" for years now off and on, and am currently in an "off" period. I just can't stand the idea of going back to lean protein and veggies 24/7 again. What can you (or chatters) advise? I am just tired of feeling deprived -- and to be honest, any day that I can't have ice cream or pizza or fried chicken I feel deprived.

Sally Squires: Welcome to the club! It's not unusual to be tired of dieting, and that's why, in the Lean Plate Club, we emphasize adding healthy habits, not what you can't have. If you can think of ways of making your favorite foods healthier, or be satisfied with small amounts, like the donut example earlier, you're likely to find more success.

One way to start is just add one change. So maybe you add something at breakfast. It could be skim milk, or fresh fruit or a whole-grain. Just one thing you can change and build on that.

Other suggestions out there?

Hope you let us know how it goes.


Re: Picnic Suggestions: How about a whole-wheat pasta and veggie salad? A fun pasta shape, carrots, red peppers, cherry tomatoes, hulled edamame, etc. Toss with a light vinaigrette or light Italian dressing. You can skew the proportions so that you end up having two-thirds of it being veggies, and the pasta will absorb the excess dressing, so there's minimal risk of spillage and it's Tupperware friendly!

Sally Squires: Sounds great, you might also think of adding beans, like black beans or garbanzos. Another addition could be shaved Parmesan or tiny chunks of feta. I'm getting hungry!


Fairfax, Va.: Hello there -- I'm trying to eat healthier and cut back on carbs, but breakfast has me stumped. I usually eat cereal at home and bring cottage cheese to work for a mid-morning snack. I'd like to have more variety in what I eat in the morning, but I hate preparing food in the morning (hence the cereal). Can you suggest healthy breakfast foods that can be made in advance? I'd like to try something with eggs, but even making scrambled eggs in the morning is more time than I want to commit. Thanks!

Sally Squires: Think outside the cereal box. You could have a whole-wheat pita with hummus. You might make a low-fat pizza with tomatoes and bacon bits, or a veggie substitute. You could have whole-grain waffles, or I make pancakes and freeze them, with fresh or frozen fruit on them. You could have a smoothie -- high in protein, high in calcium, rich in flavor. Take one cup of non-fat yogurt, one frozen banana, one cup of your favorite fruit, one cup of ice and two ounces of unsweetened cranberry juice, put in a blender and mix. Voila. Breakfast!


Drinking Water: I love the fact that you give straightforward info on food and exercise. I am breaking a bad diet pop habit and have replaced it with water flavored with those diet drink mixes. Sometimes I drink bottled diet green tea. Should I worry about the added chemicals in these mixes or drinks? I do count the calories in my daily calorie count. Any help would be appreciated.

Sally Squires: The National Academy of Sciences says that all beverages can count toward what you need for hydration. But Barry Popkin at the U. of North Carolina developed a beverage guidance system that suggests that water is still the best thing to quench thirst with. So while what you are doing is fine, and if it works for you, keep doing it, but if you can expand to water flavored with an ounce of juice or a slice of lime or lemon, it would give you more nutritional options. Hope that helps. Thanks for weighing in.

One more thing -- the green tea is a good source of healthy antioxidants, which seem to protect against cancer and heart disease.


For Dallas: Can I suggest that Dallas consider bicycling to work, if possible? It is a fabulous way to incorporate a workout into one's daily schedule without much, if any, extra time. Bicycling is an option for people of all ages and fitness levels, has minimal costs (I ride a bicycle I bought ten years ago for $200) and it really clears your mind. I'm sure there are groups in Dallas that could help orient one, if needed.

Sally Squires: I'm driving through Bristol, Tenn., right now, where the Lean Plate Club is published in the local paper.

That's a great suggestion, it depends on where you live in Dallas (having been there recently, the places I visited it would be tough) but you can also walk at lunch, or just find ways every hour to walk around the office or around the block, just for five minutes. Doing that every hour will add 40 minutes of activity to your day. And that's just as good as getting 40 minutes of straight activity.


Washington: Sally, I know the basic rule for losing weight is fewer calories in and more calories out, but recently I've been reading a few studies on how low-gi and low-carb diets make people lose more weight (especially in the belly area) than those eating the same amount of calories with no carb restrictions. What do you think about all this? I've been anti-Atkins forever, but I really want to lose my pot belly!

Sally Squires: Low glycemic index and Atkins aren't necessarily the same. The Atkins Diet is generally very high in fat, including saturated fat, and is high in cholesterol. A low GI diet just means the carbs you eat raise your blood sugar less than more processed carbs (like sugar donuts). There are a lot of reasons to eat lower on the GI scale, including having more complex carbohydrates, which are usually higher in fiber, but whether that always translates to better weight loss still isn't proven. So watch this space. Hope that helps.


No Question: Just wanted to brag and get it in print. I weened my sugar-addicted husband from Coke to bottled green tea. It still has high-fructose corn syrup, I know, but I just feel it's a super change, relatively speaking. One step at a time!

Sally Squires: Congratulations. You're right, small steps add up to big rewards. Way to go!


Healthy Breakfast Foods : I eat plain yogurt with banana, wheat germ and peanut butter mixed in. The fruit adds a little sweet, and the peanut butter gives me enough fuel (protein?) to last until lunch.

Sally Squires: Sounds like a great idea, thanks for weighing in.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Our lifestyles and the changes in them that we are experiencing are related to the fact that we are driving everywhere instead of walking or riding bicycles. I am in the food service business, and our industry constantly is castigated for not providing reasonable alternatives, but wouldn't you say that people have to take responsibility for their own weight issues?

Sally Squires: Good point, that it isn't just the calories in, it's also the calories you burn. And you're right, we're engineering activity out of our lives. But it's also true that you don't usually see celery and green beans featured at fast-food places. The food industry mostly features the higher-calorie fare, because that's often what most people yearn for. Thanks for your post.


Laytonsville, Md.: Raw-food diets are becoming "fashionable," with advocates like Demi Moore and other celebs. I love to eat warm food, and microwaving is easy and keeps nutrients in. Carol Alt even suggests tuna and steak tartar and other raw things like eggs and cheeses (I would rather have my food irradiated)! Do you think that the raw-food approach with the live enzymes would be healthy and safe, and that it could lead to weight loss? (I love cheese and hot veggies too much!)

Sally Squires: I'm sure I'll get letters about this, but just like there are health reasons we pasteurize milk, there are also reasons why we cook meat and many other foods. The raw-food movement is an interesting one, it's evolving, but a lot of microbiologists would advice against eating raw meat, shellfish and fish. When you do that, you take your chances. And I know of no evidence that eating raw foods helps with weight loss. If anyone has seen that, please send it my way.


Burke, Va.: Is this trans-fat actually being replaced by an even more unhealthy, less soluble fat? Why does the food service industry jump on the latest "healthy food trend" (remember oat bran, or ever looked at the fat and calorie content in a fast food grilled chicken sandwich?)without truly trying to offer healthier choices? What do we as a nation have to do to create a less market-driven society -- or a society where the market at least wants changes that are truly for the better?

Sally Squires: You can always vote with your feet by not buying something. The full details of the type of fat Dunkin Donuts has developed to replace transfat aren't available, but there is concern in the nutrition community that saturated fats, such as palm or coconut oil will replace transfats, but they're not healthier choices. Thanks for chiming in.


Alexandria, Va.: Great column today. One of the things I try to do is buy the "value pack" of chicken, remove the skin and fat, put salsa on it, and voila! Lunch for a week. However, I've heard different views about whether to wash the chicken thoroughly ahead of time, as the mess will spread around your kitchen while you are doing so but heating the chicken at 400 or 500 degrees will kill off germs, etc. Can you weigh in? Thanks.

Sally Squires: As long as you keep the chicken in your sink, and wash the sink, and your hands, with soap and water, you should be fine. I wash mine all the time, and no salmonella so far.

The USDA says that chicken should be heated to an internal temp of 165 degrees. But you can learn more at usda.gov or by calling the meat and poultry hot line -- 888-MPHotline. Hope that helps, sounds like a great meal.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Sally. I look forward to these chats every week -- it's good inspiration to know others are trying to eat healthfully too. Now I am hoping to get some help thinking of low-calorie, healthy snack ideas to bring to work. I'm getting tired of yogurt, string cheese, Triscuits and almonds. I am at a desk and have a little refrigerator close by to use. Any good ideas out there?

Sally Squires: You've come to the right place. Check our back to school snake taste test at leanplateclub.com. There's an interactive chart that will give you lots of options, and they're not just for kids. Other great snacks are cereal and milk and fruit, soup, hummus and crackers, there are many different healthy dips with veggies, including red-pepper eggplant dip at Trader Joes, hard-boiled eggs, with the yolks removed and filled with guacamole or other healthy fillings. The list is endless. Enjoy!


Oxon Hill, Md.: When I read the charts on the amount of calories it takes to maintain weight, I'm often surprised at how low they are. I am 42 years old, barely weigh 100 pounds soaking wet and easily can eat 2,000-2,500 calories without gaining weight. But according to the charts, I should be gaining weight when eating more than 1,500 calories a day! I've been tested, and I don't have an overactive thyroid.

Sally Squires: You may have a great metabolism, Oxon Hill. You may also be eating fewer calories than you think, or you may be more active than you realize. At the Mayo Clinic, James Levine has found that fidgeters burn a lot more calories during they day than non-fidgeters. So thank your lucky stars, and monitor your weight from time to time just to make sure you don't add unwanted pounds. Thanks for chiming in.


Sally Squires: Thanks to all, and especially to Paul Williams, who typed my answers today. Happy Labor Day to everybody, stay safe, and until next week, eat smart and move more. Winners include "Picnic Suggestions," "Picnic Side Dish" and "Healthy Breakfast."


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