Lean Plate Club

Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, September 11, 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! We've got lots up for discussion today starting with:

--What do you think about the proposed ban on selling fast food in South Los Angeles?

--What do you think about nutrition profiling of foods? Would you use food icons if they started appearing on food labels? (The Food and Drug Administration is holding hearings on this topic today.)

--If you'd like an icon, what would symbol would you like to see? (In the UK, they use a Stoplight, near and dear to my heart because I co-wrote the Stoplight Diet for Children some 20 years ago.)

Also, in today's LPC e-mail newsletter (which be in your electronic in-box now), find links to:

Walnut Crusted Halibut with Orange Salsa as well as recipes for

Meal in Bowl Minestrone Soup. Plus there are links to:

Mark's Chunky Spaghetti Sauce (which earns four forks for flavor.) And Roasted Cauliflower with Indian BBQ Sauce--a great way to get more cancer-fighting cruciferous veggies on your plate.

You'll find this in the section: What's for Dinner Tonight, plus additional links to other recipes. (If you'd like to subscribe to the free, weekly LPC e-mail newsletter, just go to www.leanplateclub.com. Sign-up is easy. But if you have any trouble, please e-mail me at leanplateclub@washpost.com.

Prizes today are:

Secrets of the Lean Plate Club (by yours truly with help from all of you!)

Spices of Life: Simple and Delicious Recipes for Great Health by Nina Simonds

Denise Austen Boot Camp DVD

Power of 10: The Once-A-Week Slow Motion Fitness Revolution by Adam Zickerman and Bill Schley.

Here's the deal: assist a member on this Web chat. Share a healthy recipe (and give credit where credit is due). Tell us about your healthy habit change. Or how you came back after taking a detour into nutritional mischief or figured out how to get more activity into your daily life. Do that and one of these prizes could be yours.

Winners are announced at the end of each Web chat.

Now on to the chat!


Pasadena, Calif.: South Los Angeles has more troubles than just too many fast food chains. Let's have our city council address things like gangs and poverty and crime in that neighborhood and let the residents decide what they want for dinner.

Unfortunately, our mayor probably thinks there are more photo-ops standing outside McDonalds, and it doesn't require any tough decisions.

Sally Squires: And for those who have not yet seen today's Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter, I included a link in it to the latest proposal to ban fast food restaurants in South LA. Thanks for chiming in Pasadena. I love the fact that you can read the Lean Plate Club in the Los Angeles Times!


Philadelphia: I think putting a ban on Fast Food Restaurants for a few years in that county (and maybe others) is a fantastic idea. However, I think people will need another cheap, healthy alternative.

Sally Squires: And as one expert noted on one of the morning shows today, the ban doesn't extend to sit down chain restaurants with fattening fare. Or apparently to corner convenience stores...So it's an interesting question.

And let's also note that a number of fast food restaurants now offer some healthful options including salads, soups, yogurt, apples and more. Plus, they have been ahead of the curve in labeling the nutrition content of their foods. So it's a mixed bag, so to speak...

Thanks for chiming in Philly.


Phoenix: What right does the Los Angeles City Council have in telling people what they should eat? This is censorship at its worst.

Sally Squires: Well, they're not alone in taking these steps. The New York Health Department earlier this year banned trans fats from restaurants and has asked restaurants of a certain size to provide nutritional info on menus. Other cities and counties are considering similar options.

I suspect that as the obesity epidemic gets worse, we will see more proposals. What do you think?



San Diego, Calif.: Q--What do I think about food profiling?

A--It's a great idea and it would be helpful if those stores that already do it make available a list of their preferred foods on their Web sites.

Sally Squires: And as a matter of fact, you can do something like that on the American Heart Association Web site right now. Interesting idea....

Thanks for chiming in San Diego.


Topeka, Kan.: It's about time for nutrition profiles! I read lots of nutrition labels on the back but but you have to read and read to get it all. Something simple and up front to make healthy choices. People would choose better (at least a little) if they had facts. Some restaurants have their healthy choices marked which helps but only somewhat.

Sally Squires: You may be right, Topeka. There's some early information from the first year of the "guiding stars" program run by the Hannaford grocery store chain in New England and Upstate New York. (And by the way, the Boston Herald, The Hartford Courant, the Albany (NY) Times-Union are among are Lean Plate Club subscribers in that region as well as the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Mass. So if you are so inclined, be sure to support these papers by reading the LPC there!)

Now, here's my question to you: what symbol would you like to see on food labels.

And breaking news here: A New York Judge has apparently struck down the rule that would require restaurants to post calorie content on their menus.

That's hot off the presses!


West Jefferson, N.C.: I think nutrition profiling is an excellent idea. I can see where this would have been a wonderful resource for me when I had young children, a stressful job and little time to plan meals.

Sally Squires: That's another vote for nutrition profiling. What icon would you like to see, West Jefferson? And what do you think about the fact that this menu labeling has been struck down by a NY judge?


Food diary: Sally please help. I would really like to start keeping a food diary so that I can see what I am eating and hopefully make some modifications. Do you have any suggestions on Web sites where I can keep track of this info? Ideally the site would be free and easy to use. One problem that I have found is that I have trouble finding the specific foods that I eat in their nutritional databases -- how do I deal with that? Or else I have trouble estimating exactly how much of something I am eating. Should I invest in a food scale for that purpose? Do you have any tips on keeping a food diary? Thanks so much.

Sally Squires: Food diaries are a great way to track what you eat. And you're right: a lot of sites don't offer a full range of products. Some that do, are a bit clunky. So it's a matter of trial and error. But there are plenty of free sites to use. And if you want to pay some money, there are those sites too.

The government site My Pyramid Tracker--we'll post links in a minute--has a huge database of foods. You can also personalize it, but I still find it a bit clunky to use.

Many Lean Plate Club members rave about both Fit Day and Spark People sites. Both are free. And Nutrition Data allows you to calculate the nutrient content of your own recipes. It's also free and the site will rate your food and point you to better option. One drawback of the recipe calculator is that it figures out the calories, etc for the whole recipe. You'll then have to divide by the number of servings. Even so, it's pretty cool.

Nutridiary is another site that is based on England, but uses U.S. measurements, so don't worry about having to convert those. I find this to be closest to my favorite which is Balancelog--now sadly out of business.

Researchers frequently rely on CalorieKing. And they have just unveiled some new tools including an exercise tracker on CD ROM and a tool that will work with your cellular phone. I don't have an iPhone yet--and don't have any connection with the company--but from what I've seen, I'll bet this would work well with that. (There's a charge for calorieking, but it's not terribly expensive as I recall.)

Also, I have taken to using the notepad on my Blackberry (also no connection with the company!) to "jot" food and activity. I don't have a program there to do the calculations, but it's a handy way to keep track and then transfer at night to Balancelog.

DietMate and DietPower are two other programs that I have tried in the past. They both cost money. Or did charge for their services. But I liked them both.

Hope that helps. And yes, that kitchen scale is also an excellent idea. Sorry to be so long winded on this one, but had a lot to share.


washingtonpost.com: http://www.calorieking.com/

Sally Squires: As promised...with more to come. Thanks to our stalwart producer Paul Williams who is producing two--count 'em!--Web chats today at the same time.


washingtonpost.com: MyPyramid Tracker





Sally Squires: As promised....


Anonymous: How would the system handle something like "salmon" which is high in fat, but of the desirable form?

Sally Squires: That's one of the pressing questions...Some experts say that whatever calculation is used to give a food a rating should take into account the good ingredients it provides as well as the calories. So salmon would score somewhat high on fat, but it would be healthful omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart, your joints, your brain and possibly your mood.

Hope that helps. Thanks.


Weston, Mass.: For the exercise video of the month club idea, I wanted to let you know of a fabulous web site. Yoga Today lets you download a different one hour yoga lesson ever day for free. The instructors are wonderful and offer different styles and levels. The Web site is http://www.yogatoday.com. I am not in anyway affiliated, just a fan.

Sally Squires: Thanks very much Weston. And let me add Collage Video to that list, where you can view 60 seconds of every video/DVD they sell. Plus, they have exercise instructors try every product and rate it.

And for those who weren't on last week's chat--or missed reading the transcript which is posted at our home-page at www.leanplateclub.com--we are going to start a Lean Plate Club book club and DVD club. So if you have favorite volumes or workout tapes, we'd love to know about them.

e-mail me at leanplateclub@washpost.com.



Washington, DC: Hi Sally,

I think this was a question from last week, but there seemed to be issues with cooking quinoa. I rinse quinoa a few times before cooking. I cook mine in a rice cooker using a 2 to 1 ratio of water to quinoa. It always turns out perfectly. Even when I use a pan on the stove I used the same method as above and it turns out fine. Could it be the quinoa the original poster has is bad? Hope that helps.

Sally Squires: Thank you very much. I, too, have tried to make quinoa--an ancient, healthful and delicious whole grain--a couple of times without success. I knew about the rinsing part, but still haven't had success.

After the chat, I consulted with Joe Yonas, the Post's Food editor. He also wondered if the product purchased might be to blame rather than the quinoa itself. I will try again. Hope that last week's poster will too and will let us know how it goes. Thanks!


Government and Fast Food: I must echo the other posts who want the government to stay out of our dining options. Whatever happened to letting people decide? The reason we're seeing healthier choices at fast food restaurants is because people wanted them and voted with their dollars. If we allow the government to step in at this point, I see a slippery slope where our food options become limited and not palatable.

Sally Squires: That's another vote for no government interference. Thanks for weighing in. What do you--and others--think of the ruling today by the NY Judge who has apparently thrown out the proposal to label restaurant fare with calories?


Washington, D.C.: Good day, Sally,

Because of convenience and preference, I eat beef on a frequent basis (4-5 times per week for dinner). I'll prepare a large London broil or sirloin steak with planned leftovers and have lots of fresh veggies with them. Portion size will range from 6-8 ounces.

I exercise and am in great health (male, 35, 150 pounds, 5-9) with cholesterol readings all in the healthy range. But is this strategy tenable? You always hear such bad things about beef and was wondering if this is indeed not so good. Nutritionally, how does beef stack up? And not sure if it matters, but I purchase beef without hormones or antibiotics and are naturally fed since that is sometimes a concern.

Other dinners consist of chicken, pork, or fish. Thank you.

Sally Squires: What you're doing sounds fine, particularly because you're at a healthful weight, have a healthy lifestyle and you add plenty of other food variety to that mix.

Where you can, reach for the leaner cuts of meat. Add fiber also where possible whether in whole grains or more fruit and veggies. Also have some yogurt from time to time. It provides healthy bacteria to the gut--which may help reduce the risk of GI problems including colon cancer.

Meat moves through the intestine more slowly than other foods--one reason why it may be linked to a slightly higher risk of colon cancer in some studies. But these are mostly population wide studies where lots of things can come into play.

So moderation in all things continues to be the byword and it sounds like you are doing that. One last tip: try to avoid charbroiling your beef--or any other foods. The charbroiled part is often rich in heterocyclic amines which are suspected carcinogens.



Houston: A ban on more fast-food restaurants in South L.A.? No way. This is getting beyond ridiculous. Why can't people take responsibility for themselves anymore? If you don't want to eat at a fast-food restaurant DON'T EAT AT ONE! Stop the madness already!!

Sally Squires: The consensus so far seems to favor your point of view, Houston. Thanks!


Denver: Sally, I seem to remember that you had a method of baking steel-cut oatmeal in the oven (as opposed to stove-top). Could you share that method with us again please? I love the taste of steel-cut oatmeal, but it is messy to make stove top. Thank you.

Sally Squires: I think you might be referring to a baked oatmeal recipe that didn't have to be steel cut. (It's included in Secrets of the Lean Plate Club as I recall. I'll try to find during the chat and post it, or will include it in next week's LPC e-mail newsletter.

In the meantime, you can make steel cut oats in a slow cooker, on the stovetop or in your oven. For the oven, prepare according to the package. Place in a oven proof casserole. Bake at 350 degrees until done, likely 30-40 minutes.

You could also make steel cut in the microwave. (I do this with brown rice all the time.) Follow package instructions and then cook on high in 10 minute increments. Check and continue cooking as needed until done. (I found that even my ancient, failing microwave cooked brown rice in a surprisingly short amount of time--about 20 minutes. Cant' explain it, but it worked.)

Other tips out there? We'd love to hear them for oven baked steel cut oatmeal.


Frederick, Md.: I received one of the PostPoints Tip of the Week for Health and Fitness and it said butter had partially hydrogenated fat in it. I knew it had saturated fat, but didn't think it had partially hydrogenated fat. The ingredient list only has cream and salt on it.

Sally Squires: I hate to correct our Post Points Health tips, but I'm going to have to do just that:

Butter does NOT contain trans fat. It has cream (and may have salt.) That means it's got 11 grams of fat (7 grams of saturated fat) per tablespoon, but no trans fat. (Remember saturated fat is not a good fat either.)

Thanks for bringing it to my attention.


Washington dc: Sally, I have two children and have successfully lost most of the weight after pregnancy. However, now my baby is 10 months old and I am facing the realization that this extra 10 lbs in no longer "baby weight". It's just weight! I am working full time and trying to fit work outs in but I have identified several problems: Eating before dinner when I get home--seems stress induced?

Munching on my 3 year olds snack foods.

eating icecream together with my husband at 9pm once everyone is finally in bed and we can relax...

So, I know my problems. I work out 3 times a week (running 3 miles) and weigh 142lbs and am 5'5.

Any advice to get rid of this last 10 lbs and make it back to pre-baby me?

Sally Squires: Quick question: are you still nursing? If so, that could help explain keeping those extra 10 pounds. The body needs a little weight to help produce fat.

If not, then you're right, it could just be pregnancy weight that is now, well yes, just weight!

As for eating when you get home from work--a very common problem by the way, not that I'd know anything personally about it or anything!--check what you have for lunch. Often, we eat too few calories during the day and then are rightfully hungry at night. So if you can adjust with a few more calories at lunch--it may help.

Also, one of our successful losers posted at the Lean Plate Club site, found that having a snack before he left work helped him eat everything in sight when he walked in the door at night. That would be another option.

So would having a healthful snack ready to grab when you do walk in the door. You might have a small bag of cut up veggies near the front of the fridge with a glass of iced tea or skim milk and some hummus or another high protein dip. Tzatzkiki might be another option. It's a yogurt cucumber dip that is wonderful and quite filling.

You might even make yourself a high volume wrap with the whole wheat flatbreads or roll-ups now available. Spread a tablespoon or two of hummus or other healthful spread. Layer with Romaine lettuce (or your other favorite green), thrown in curls of carrots, sweet peppers, etc. Even a slice or two of lite cheese or thinly sliced turkey/chicken.). Roll up and have half. Save the other for another meal. This very filling snack is only about 150 to 200 calories (for the whole thing.) If you eat half, halve the calories and enjoy.

Hope that helps. Thanks.


Watertown, Mass.: Food profiling: I'm not sure about this, Sally. While it is certainly true that guidance will be useful, it's not clear that just a simple symbol system (ooh, say that ten times fast) would be all that helpful. Think of what happened when every manufacturer in the world began touting low-fat or fat-free products, which had the same number of calories (often because of added sugar) as the original product. People chowed down (because they were "diet" foods) and didn't lose weight.

How about better education across the board, and at as early an age as possible? How about a public health campaign like anti-smoking?

Sally Squires: Yes, hear hear. And how about we Lean Plate Club members figure out smart new ways to make this a full-fledged movement? What say you all?


Sunny Florida: Eliminating fast food restaurants will not change obesity. It will change the way people spend money. Our polititians are ill-informed if they think this act would reduce obesity. All it would really do is add another program to police and fund with tax payer dollars. Let people eat what they want to eat.

As far as the stoplight nutritional labels on food go, who is to say what food is green, yellow or red? Is it based on calories? I've seen too many foods marketed as healthy which list the first ingredient as "high fructose corn syrup". I think these types of labels don't really help anyone. They are more likely to convince someone to eat more of a food because it was labled as healthy. Granola is healthy but very high in calories.

Why can't we focus on promoting a whole foods, plant-based diet? Its probably because all the organizations we look to sponsor these things are in the business of making highly processed foods.

Sally Squires: In fact, what symbols to use--if any--and what to base them on are very much up for discussion. In today's column, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa proposes legislation to make help make this nutrition profiling uniform. But that will apparently also take more research since there's been little done to date on how effective these icons are, what they should be based on and whether consumers will even use them.

So stay tuned...And yes, in the meantime, keep eating those whole foods.

Thanks Florida. And let me add you Floridians can read the Lean Plate Club in both the Orlando Sentinel and the Sarasota Times Herald.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Sally. An article in The Post's Health section today talked about not using certain type of plastic bottles for babies. And in a one-sentence statement, it said something about drinking out of Nalgene bottles while I'm pregnant. Well I'm pregnant and use Nalgenes every day. Should I not? Thanks!

Sally Squires: That article, which was picked up from the Chicago Tribune, notes that there is still uncertainty whether the animal studies that have shown some problems with the bisphenol-A found in those bottles also affects people.

So since you are already pregnant, you might look for products that don't contain this ingredient. (The article notes that some are available now.) Also skip putting plastic bottles in the dishwasher, throw away cracked bottles and check the recycling label. As the article notes, no. 7 bottles are more likely to be made of this polycarbonate that contains BPA.

But rather than worrying about all of this--you may just want to drink your water from glass bottles. Or use a container that you know is safe. Stress isn't helpful for expectant moms either! (But do keep drinking fluids. You need them especially now.)

Hope you'll let us know how this all goes. Congratulations on your expanding family! How wonderful.


Bethesda, Md.: Hi Sally, I've heard that venison is a very healthy meat. Is that true and can you recommend a method of preparation or a recipe? Thank you.

Sally Squires: Venison tends to be a lean meat. I have not made it myself, but in a quick search found a number of recipes that sound quite good and got 3.5 to four forks from those who made them at Epicurious. (In fact nearly all these venison recipes got that rating, so maybe it is in part a reflection of people who like venison.)

We'll try to post a link in a minute. Hope you'll let us know how they taste.


washingtonpost.com: Venison Recipes (epicurious.com)

Sally Squires: As promised....


Omaha, Neb.: Sally,

Thanks for sharing the information on food ratings. I would welcome either system to help me quickly select packaged foods that are healthier. Do you think other stores around the country will start to use rating systems, and if so how soon?

Sally Squires: There seems to be a drumbeat for more ratings. The Whole Grains Council offers ratings. The American Heart Association has check marks. So even if your grocery isn't doing this yet, you can find help out there. I've heard that other chains are considering adding this feature, but no official word yet.

Hope that helps Omaha.


Indianapolis: I totally think that overeating is an addiction. A little over a year ago I decided to give up sugar -- all desserts, candy, sweet drinks, etc. It has made such a difference in my life (I was 56 at the time). Not only did I lose 20 pounds over the course of a year, but it changed my attitude toward food. It changed my appetite, so that my interest is in real flavors, not sweetened-up versions of things. I still love food, but I focus on the real thing and do not obsess about desserts like I did for so many years. I highly recommend giving up sugar and it really is not as hard as it sounds.

Sally Squires: Sounds like you've really had great success with this approach Indianapolis. Thanks for chiming in on the topic. (If anyone wants to read more about food addiction, check last week's column on our home-page, where you can also search for several months of past columns and Web chat transcripts.)


Syracuse, N.Y.: Most consumers won't take time to read labels, but something simple like a red, yellow and green light should help

Sally Squires: That's another vote for the well-known traffic light symbol, already in place in the UK. Thanks Syracuse.


Help!, VA: Sally - about a month ago I had my metabolism checked at my local hospital (2000 a day). I track absolutely everything I eat on sparkpeople.com and average a 350 calorie a day deficit. So using calories in vs. out, I should have lost about 3 pounds. I have gained 2 pounds instead -- and no, my clothes don't fit any better. What is going on? How long do I give it before really getting frustrated (and sorta depressed)? I am a 30-year-old woman and work out regularly if that matters.

Sally Squires: Sorry to hear that! I know you're tracking your food, but are you also carefully measuring it? (Calorie creep is very insidious.)

Also, take into account your menstrual cycle. Women of childbearing ages can easily add water weight premenstrually. How much? Varies from person to person, but it could be 2-8 pounds.

So stick with the habits...and let us know how it goes.


Naples, Fla.: Am I more likely to buy micro-wave popcorn without the deadly ingredient? Yes, I'll never buy the old stuff again. I've thrown out my Orville Red..., and won't buy more 'till they change it.

Sally Squires: We're just about out of time, so for those who have not yet read today's LPC e-mail newsletter, there's a link in it to the recent info about a chemical in microwave popcorn.

Thanks for chiming in Naples.


Attleboro, Mass.: I absolutely believe in food addiction, and consider myself a member of that club (though in recovery). When the only thing that soothes a person is food, when it preoccupies their thoughts, and when they would go anywhere or do anything to have it (even eating out of the trash, hording, eating in secret) -- I call it an addiction. I have no scientific proof of this, but I feel like my chemistry changes, like I'm getting a "hit" when I eat food out of emotional hunger. It's something that is a daily struggle.

Sally Squires: And I hope you know that you are not alone in that struggle and that you can find lots of support here at the Lean Plate Club.


Takoma Park, Md.: Why target just fast food? I'm more likely to consume high calorie foods at a fine dining establishment. Maybe LA should get rid of those, too. Slippery slope, indeed.

Sally Squires: Well said. Thanks.


Salem, Ore.: Popcorn has had a good aroma for decades without diacetyl. Get rid of it!

Sally Squires: That's two votes for sticking with the real stuff. And by the way, you can read the Lean Plate Club column in both the Portland Oregonian and in the Eugene Register-Guard.


Boston: Three years ago I had some health problems that basically indicated I needed to stress less, sleep more, eat better, exercise, and lose some weight. I was able to lose about 15 pounds (higher end of healthy BMI) by focusing on eating healthy foods, without worrying too much on portion size, and getting some exercise 5 to 6 days a week. It took about a year and I was able to maintain the loss for two years.

The last six months or so have been incredibly stressful. I started by going overboard and losing about 10 more pounds. Then I was run down and would get sick and couldn't work out. I would crave unhealthy foods and do things like sit down and eat an entire box of cookies. The more I tried to cut down meal portions to make up for it, the more I would make bad choices at difficult moments. I have gained back all the weight I lost this winter plus 5 more lbs of the original loss.

This experience was my first big backwards step after making the decision to live a healthier life. I am making a commitment to myself now to go back to my original strategy. It may take another year to undo what I did in a few months, and I may never have bikini abs, but I could do it then and I can do it now.

I want to thank everyone in this forum who has posted about their relapses. Knowing that this is a fairly normal experience and that others have been able to come back from it is helping to strengthen my resolve.

Sally Squires: You have made our day, Boston. Congratulations on all that you have done. We're cheering for you. Thanks very much.


Sally Squires: Thanks to all. We are out of time, so sorry if I didn't get to your question today. But look for additional postings in this week's Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter.

Winners today are:

Boston (for being an inspiration), DC Quinoa, Weston Mass and the mom trying to take off those last 10 pounds from childbirth.

Please send me your name and address to leanplateclub@washpost.com. Please put winner in the subject line for faster handling.

Happy New Year to all those celebrating Rosh Hoshanah.

Until next week: Eat Smart and Move More with the Lean Plate Club. Thanks to all.


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