Lean Plate Club

Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, November 13, 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!

The e-mail newsletter should be in your in-box right now. In it, find some quick, healthful recipes for pork chops, pasta and slow cookers. You'll also find an link to a video by Gin Miller, credited with being the originator of step aerobics.

Just 9 days to go until Thanksgiving and just one week before the Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge. This year, we are welcoming six new newspaper subscribers to our growing group and we're delighted to have you with us.

Also starting tomorrow, you can take advantage of new Lean Plate Club feature that will keep you updated on the latest nutrition and physical activity news and will allow you to weigh in on the news. Find it weekdays--except for Tuesdays when we chat live on-line--at our home-page.

Also, we are again giving away free Lean Plate Club Holiday Challenge magnets while supplies last. Send your name, address to leanplateclub@washpost.com and please put holiday challenge in the subject line. Now on to the chat!


Mena: Sally, in the squash department I have grown Tahitian melon squash for the past couple of years. The fruits look like elongated butternut squash and average from 10-25 pounds each (yes, that's 10-25 pounds). The vines are quite prolific and need plenty of room or will trellis. The flesh is bright orange and sweeter than most winter squashes. Taste is very much like a sweet potato. Needs a fairly long growing period and fruits should be left on the vine until a pale tan color. Seeds are available from several specialty seed companies one of which is http://www.sandhillpreservation.com/catalog/

They keep well if protected from freezing. They are really delicious.

Sally Squires: They sound great Mena. And for those who have not yet read today's newsletter, I asked if others are enjoying the many varieties of squash available this time of year, as I am. Thanks!


N.Y. N.Y.: I used to use Soft Soap antibacterial. I have a continent urostomy and have to use a catheter to void. It was very rough on my hands since I pee every few hours, and my doctor said that regular liquid soap would suffice -- and it has -- with no increase in UTIs. It is getting harder to find liquid soap without triclosan, however!

Sally Squires: Sorry to hear about your health problems, but it sounds like you've got a very wise doctor who was ahead of the curve on this topic. And in today's LPC newsletter, I included a link to a report saying the some scientists fear that the increased use of antibacterial soaps may be contributing to the rise of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Thanks for weighing in.


Cookeville, Tenn.: Whenever I read conflicting reports regarding nutrition subjects, I usually ask my physician about them. As he is interested in nutrition we will discuss the reports that have been in the press. If he thinks it is important for us to follow the advice he will say so. I subscribe to The Novis group of publications -- Food Navigator, Food Ingredients-USA/Europe, and get a lot of information that way. If the information is of particular interest, I will print a copy for my doctor, and bring it to him at my next visit. Some of the information he has already heard about, and some he has not. This way he can keep current and make decisions for his patients!

Sally Squires: Sounds like you, too, have a very sharp doctor, Cookeville. Thanks for chiming in today.


Chennai, India: There's just no point trying to alter one's lifestyle after going through the "latest scientific breakthrough" that are dime a dozen in this explosive information age where the "finding" is only as good as the source, and with all sorts of researchers arriving at conclusions fed and nourished by their own idiosyncrasies, one would be frantically trying to gain weight and put on some at the same time and going crazy over all this alarmist reporting and "discoveries."

The best antidote for all this is to just let go and lead a happy Neanderthal lifestyle. Sometimes ignorance is the best medicine there is!

Sally Squires: Or at least sometimes what is old is new again--and better than we realized! Thanks Chennai!


fiber: Hi Sally, a few questions about fiber. Is it possible to get too much fiber? I know most people don't get enough but I'm wondering if I have the opposite problem. I eat about 6 servings of fiber-rich veggies a day, I eat a bran muffin in the morning that contains over 50 percent of the RDA of fiber, eat plenty of oatmeal every day, and sometimes take a fiber supplement. All this fiber has me running to the restrooms a few times a day. Also, does it matter if most of my fiber comes from soluble or insoluble fiber? Do you think I should cut back? Thanks.

Sally Squires: The current recommendation is for women to get about 25 grams of fiber per day; men about 38 grams per day. To show you how this stacks up in food, a cup of beans has about 14 grams of fiber, a slice of whole wheat bread has about 3 grams as does a bowl of oatmeal, while a cup of berries contains about 8 grams of fiber. So it doesn't take a lot of food to get to those recommended intakes--provided that you make smart choices.

Some fiber--like that found in oatmeal--is better for your heart because it helps remove cholesterol from the blood. While other fiber--consider that found in bran, for example--is great for your digestion system because it helps keeps things moving there.

What you choose very much depends on how these fibers affect you. And if you are having to run frequently to the bathroom, that probably suggests some adjustment in your diet.

Hope that helps. Thanks.


washingtonpost.com: Dietary, Functional, and Total Fiber (nap.edu)

Sally Squires: Here's the latest from the National Academy of Sciences on fiber intake.


Newsletter?: Mine hasn't shown up yet -- have they definitely gone out? (It's not in my spam folder, either.)

Sally Squires: Hmm. It definitely has been published today and if you have already checked your spam filter, then that's clearly not the problem. E-mail me at leanplateclub@washpost.com and we'll get try to get to the bottom of the problem. Ditto for anyone else who has subscribed--there are now 277,000 people and climbing!--and doesn't receive their issue.

Thanks for letting me know.


Crawford, Tex.: My comment about how much I pay attention to the sodium content of foods I eat; I've never had a problem with water retention or high blood pressure; and I absolutely LOVE salt, so I don't pay too much attention. I AM aware, however, that a lot of sources say that I should be concerned about this. I do focus on eating healthy and get quite a bit of cardio and muscular training activity into every day, and I feel great for my age (female, 54) so I just have to wonder if I'm not doing alright eating the amount of salt I desire. My resting pulse, blood pressure and weight are exemplary for my age, according to the red cross center where I donate blood regularly.

Got to add that I avoid refined sugar, transfats, and fast food. My typical breakfast is something like a South Beach tortilla with 1/2 cup no fat refried beans and picante sauce, or a skillet of mushrooms sauteed with 1/2 tsp kosher salt and pam, and 1/2 cup of "real egg" product. Then multiple fruits and veggies sides throughout the day in addition to the other generous entrees.

I feel I should add a little guilty secret here, too. I also salt my fruits quite frequently. Like if I cut up an apple, I salt it. I salt my cut up navel orange slices. Grapefruit is not grapefruit without salt. Watermelon is so much better with a little salt.

After reading this post before sending, I guess I can see that I am a salt addict.

Sally Squires: Some people seem to be less sensitive to sodium's effects than others. So you may be fine for now. But there really is a concerted push by industry, consumer groups and the federal government to help Americans consume less sodium.

And here's the great news: people say across the board that once they cut back on salt, they don't miss it!

Thanks and it sounds like you have a lot of great habits!


Fairfax, Va.: Can a man older than 75 who is morbidly obese lose weight?

Sally Squires: Yes indeed. Everyone can reach a healthier weight. It may not happen as quickly it does at a younger age, but the Diabetes Prevention Program clearly shows that there are many benefits from shedding roughly 5 to 7% of body weight in those who are overweight or obese and at great risk of getting type 2 diabetes. Also at Tufts University, researchers have shown that 90+ year olds can benefit from weight training. I realize that's a different question, but it shows that it is never too late to make changes.



Washington, D.C.: Love the chat. My doctor told me not to avoid wheat, barley and rye products. Could you suggest other breads and crackers to eat that I might easily get at the local super markets? Thanks.

Sally Squires: Hey DC: I'm guessing that there's a typo in your message and that what you meant was to avoid these wheat, barley and rye. If so, rice crackers might be an option for you. We'll try to post a link in a minute. Also, I found a recipe for a "saltine-like" cracker that doesn't contain the ingredients you need to avoid.

You might also check out the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.

Hope that helps.


washingtonpost.com: Edward & Sons

Sally Squires: As promised, and thanks to our intrepid producer, Paul Williams.


washingtonpost.com: Savory Gluten Free Crackers (bobsredmill.com)

Sally Squires: As promised...


Baltimore: Why would "fiber" also be taking a fiber supplement on top of all the dietary sources? Seems silly to me and an easy way to fix the problem.

Sally Squires: Not sure and thanks for pointing that out. I confess I read right past that point. Experts mostly say that it's wise to get fiber from food--rather than from supplements, whenever possible.

Thanks again.


Alexandria, Va.: Sally,

I just bought a bag of cubed butternut squash on a whim. I've been on a soup kick, but have enough soup to last me all winter. What else can you do with butternut squash (in a vegetarian-friendly recipe)? Surprisingly, my Deborah Madsen book left me with nothing. Thank you!

Sally Squires: You might consider topping with a little lemon, apple or unsweetened cranberry juice. Place in an oiled casserole and bake at 350 degrees until tender. I might also add some slivered nuts, cinnamon, a little allspice and even a pat or two of butter or margarine. It should get caramelized and be really great. Makes my mouth water...Hope it will yours too!

Other ideas for baking butternut squash out there? Send them our way.


Bethesda, Md.: I'd love to try the Chicken Paprikash, but I can't have onions. Do you think it would okay without them, or is there a good substitution?

Sally Squires: Yes, I think you can eliminate onions in any recipe--except maybe onion soup!--if you don't have them or don't like them. You might add some extra garlic or paprika for extra flavor. Please let us know how it goes. And for those of you who don't yet subscribe to the LPC e-mail newsletter, I included a link to this recipe in today's issue. Thanks. Hope you'll let us know how it comes out.


washingtonpost.com: Faan.org

Sally Squires: As promised...


Soy concerns: I have been reading that it is not a good idea to eat too much soy, particularly for breast cancer risk. I probably eat a block of tofu every week (the TJ's size block of extra firm), plus maybe a half cup of edamame every week. Is that too much soy? I don't drink soymilk or have any other sources of it. The problem is that as a vegetarian, it's such a great, easy, and tasty source of low-cal protein. Thanks!!

Sally Squires: Some people eat soy at every meal. So they're having soy based cereal with soy milk, eating edamame or tofu daily and snacking on soy nuts. What you're doing sounds reasonable. If you have a particular breast cancer risk, then it's always wise to also check with your doctor. But otherwise, sounds like what you're doing is fine. Hope that helps.


Raleigh, N.C.: Your question was, do I use antimicrobials?

NO!!! Boo to antimicrobials. I am a proponent of exposing myself to the average daily germ. I am 60 and get fewer colds, fewer stomach flus (read: never) than my friends of all ages. Exposure keeps my immune system alert and healthy.

Thanks for the great shows!

Sally Squires: You're very welcome. And thanks for chiming in today!


Sedona, Ariz.: I stopped using antibacterial soaps years ago because, when using them in the shower, I was developing rashes on my face, underarms, and itchiness "inside the panty lines." When I switched to regular soap, those problems went away.

Sally Squires: Interesting. Anyone else have this experience? Thanks Sedona.


Houston: This isn't really about antimicrobial soap but...I get bronchitis every year. For several years I got rid of it overnight with mega doses of vitamin C. Then I got a cough that vitamin C and antibiotics haven't fazed yet. I've had it almost 2 years. I don't know if that's the same thing or not.

Sally Squires: If you have not yet checked that chronic cough with your doctor, please do so at your earliest convenience. If you have checked it out with him or her, then go back to ask why it persists.

Chronic coughs can be due to a variety of ailments from cough-variant asthma and bronchitis to more serious conditions from tuberculosis, and emphysema to lung cancer.

As for those mega doses of vitamin C: studies have shown that mega doses are not a wise idea.

We'll try to post a link to the National Academy of Sciences Dietary Reference Intakes for vitamin C in a minute.



Anonymous: Wanted to comment on the question about can you get too much fiber. I routinely get between 50 and 80 grams a day, and have been for the past three years. I have noted no ill effects. In fact, I have never been so regular in my life. I believe that when it comes to fiber too little is far worse than too much.

Sally Squires: Thanks for chiming in!


Richmond, Va.: Would the sanitizing gel have the same risk as antibacterial soap to breed resistant bacteria? Because I see Purel everywhere there are kids, everyone uses it. Seems like overkill to me.

Sally Squires: The active ingredient in Purell is alcohol, not considered a cause of antibiotic resistance to my knowledge. Hope that helps.


washingtonpost.com: Vitamin C (nap.edu)

Sally Squires: As promised...


Lombard, Ill.: I do not use anti-bacterial soaps, they kill off only the weakest bacteria and give a false sense of security causing less thorough hand washing.

Sally Squires: Sounds like we've got a consensus on NOT using these antimicrobial soaps.


Antimicrobials: I agree with Raleigh -- exposure to the normal everyday germ seems like a good idea, and being as germphobic as so many people are (particularly parents today) seems to me to be going overboard. I also find that the people I know who use those hand sanitizers and are overall very germ phobic are the ones who are ALWAYS getting sick!!

Sally Squires: Another vote for avoiding antimicrobial containing soaps. Thanks.


Phoenix: Sally, thanks so much for the saltines recipe. I haven't eaten saltines in five and a half years, since my food allergy to barley was diagnosed. I will go out this weekend and purchase those specific flours.

Also, in terms of burning calories over the holidays, how about dancing? Many holiday parties have a DJ and at least a small dance floor; just getting out there to boogie for a half-hour can burn a ton of calories.

Sally Squires: You're quite welcome. And dancing is such a great activity. It's fun, it's active and it's hard to do without putting a huge smile on your face. That may not burn extra calories, but it sure does help boost mood. And yes, dancing can burn a surprising number of calories depending on its intensity. Enjoy!


Warrenton, Va.: Anti-bacterial soaps cause my hands to get red, then develop cuts, and get worse over time. I no longer use any anti-bacterial soap.

Sally Squires: Sounds like we really have a consensus on this topic in this chat: no antimicrobial soaps! Thanks!


Dinner Dilemma: My problem is figuring out what to prepare for dinner for two people on different schedules. I get home between 6 and 6:30 p.m. and my husband usually arrives at 8 p.m. but wants to unwind a bit before having dinner. That can go from 8:30 to 9 p.m. and he wants at least 3 courses -- meat, starch, and veggie which can be overwhelming a couple of hours before bedtime. Not to mention all those calories not being burned. Any ideas on a good compromise? Thanks!!!

Sally Squires: Yep. How about stews or soup? They can be prepared ahead of time. Then you can add a course of salad and a side of veggies or whole grain bread. Another option is making a roast with vegetables and then serving individual portions.

I made a roast chicken with squash and other vegetables for my husband and me last week. We ate it for several meals, some of them at different times because of schedules. And I can't say enough for that squash. It was carnival and delicious.

Other things that might work for you include lasagna. He could add a vegetable or salad to his. You could have a smaller piece. Spinach lasagna is particularly good and quite filling.

You might also make a pot of rice on the weekend and then put in individual portions to freeze and then reheat during the week.

Hope this helps and hope you'll let us know how it goes. Thanks.


squash recipe: I have made a wonderful risotto with squash. Some of it can be mashed and others left in small chunks (left slightly al dente) and it marries wonderfully well with arborio rice and chicken bouillon. I don't think one needs an exact recipe for this. Try it.

Sally Squires: Oh that sounds good. Thanks!


NJ: I wanted to report on having too much of a "good" thing -- namely calcium. I am 56, female, a jogger with a pretty good diet. Last year I had a bone density scan and my doctor said my density was low (actually it turned out on second glance to be within the normal range) so I should do something. Not wanting to start medication at this point, we agreed I would try adding calcium supplements -- he recommended 600 mg calcium with vitamin D, twice a day.

I started noticing my legs felt heavy when I jogged. This progressed to hurting first in my upper legs and later down into my calves -- but only when I ran or tried to move fast, like if I had to dash across the street, I almost couldn't do it at all. I got progressively stiff, had trouble straightening up after sitting for awhile, like after a car ride or air travel, I could only walk very slowly at first. I also got a burning pain in the ball joint of one foot. My jogging speed, which I track, went down and down till I was just hobbling along and not really enjoying it.

I was asking everyone what this could be and no one had an answer. Finally I did a web search -- thank goodness for WebMD! And it hit me that hypercalcemia could be the culprit, among other things of course. I decided to go to my doctor and get a blood test - the calcium was a little over normal but not extremely high. Still we agreed I would hold off on the calcium and see what happened.

Gradually my pain and stiffness have eased. My foot doesn't hurt at all. My legs are still a little heavy when I jog, but much much better. My speed has been increasing although I still have a ways to go before I am back where I was a year ago - it's been about 6 weeks without the calcium supplements. I go for a follow-up blood test tomorrow.

I also looked into my medications -- I take a diuretic every day for Meniere's disease, and it turns out that it has the effect of impeding calcium excretion in the kidneys. So I am probably more sensitive to calcium overdose than most people. Probably this level of supplementation would be OK for most people but not for someone like me. But still I wanted to warn people, not to just load up on calcium. It can have very serious effects like kidney stones, even heart and brain problems if you take too much.

Sally Squires: Sounds like quite a medical odyssey. So glad that you figured out what was going on and are correcting it. Thanks for the heads up. It's an important reminder that you can have too much of a good thing. Hope all goes well with your upcoming tests. Thanks.


Boston: I'm trying to drop about 10 pounds by snacking less and smarter. I've got some mung bean sprouts for when I need to nibble, which I figure provide numbers and crunch while being mostly harmless. Am I on the right track with those guys? And, can you make any other snack suggestions (relatively tidy since I'll be at my desk) for those times that I just can't fight the 3 p.m. hunger doldrums? Thanks!

Sally Squires: Hmm, I must confess that after sprouting mung beans in college, they would not be on my top 10 list of snacks, although they certainly do have some nutritious value. Are you growing the sprouts yourself? If not, check the source, because as I recall there have been some outbreaks in recent years of E. coli in sprouts.

So what would be other options? There are so many and such little time!

Soup would be a terrific choice. Choose lower sodium varieties or make it yourself to keep sodium intake low.

If you like crunch, you might consider making your own crudite of fresh veggies, a few olives and a little dip: salsa, guacamole, bean dip such as hummus. The list goes on and on.

An apple or other piece of fruit and a small piece of cheese would be another great option. The point is that you want something in the 100 calorie range--maybe up to 200 calories depending on what else you're eating during the day.

Hope that helps. And hope you'll let us know how it goes.



Washington, D.C.: Sally, I need some help and advice from you. About 4 years ago, I lost 30 pounds (160 down to 130 on a 5-6 frame). I did it through running, weight lifting and greatly restricting my caloric intake. Perfect right?

Only I've now been forced to admit to myself that I've almost erased all that good work. I've gained about 15 pounds back over the past 2 years.

I still run, although not as far as I used to (I'm in graduate school now as well as full-time working). I still do weights. And I eat sensibly.

I think it's mostly due to the fact that I am not almost starving myself. But I really can't face going back to a measly cup of plain oatmeal and an egg for lunch, and brown rice with egg for dinner. I enjoy food, and am fortunate to have a husband who enjoys cooking and eating with me as well.

Half of me says I should just accept the weight I am at now (only a dress size bigger than I would like to be), and try to maintain. The other half of me says I should bite the bullet and get back on the wagon.

Any ideas?

Sally Squires: First question: Are you at a healthy weight? If so, then stick maintain where you are right now.

Do you have any health problems? (High blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, joint problems, sleep apnea, high blood sugar.) If so, then yes, you may want to trim some pounds to help improve those.

As for biting the bullet again, I hear you. It feels discouraging doesn't it, like you're Sisyphus trying to get up that hill again. But here's the good part: you succeeded at losing this weight. That's a huge accomplishment even if you regained those pounds. It shows you can do this.

And whether you realize it or not, you've learned something along the way. So if you're up to it, try a new habit or two to test the waters. If you're not right now, then vow to maintain your weight. That also takes focus and practice and will serve you well in the long run until you are ready to do more.

Hope you'll let us know how it goes!


Cambridge, Mass.: Is there any food that helps cartilage maintenance or build up? I lead a healthy lifestyle but my knees are giving way!

I'm turning 65 next month and want to keep up my good health.

Sally Squires: That's a tough one. Can you switch to non-loading bearing activities such as swimming or biking? You might also ask for a referral to a physical therapist who could help you design a workout that will be gentler on your knees.

Hope that helps.


Rapid Weight Loss: I am a 5-6 woman who weighed 175 pounds (I look my best between 150 and 160, not a perfect BMI but it suits my build), three short months ago. I now weigh just over 130. The problem, I can't eat, if I do I immediately regret it as I become really, really ill. I know what the problem is, a separation from my husband, and while that will get better with time I am a mess for the moment. What type of liquid meals or something along that line do you recommend? I have found I can tolerate diet drinks like Slimfast and at least get a few calories that way, but I need something more. I know the loss wasn't healthy for me, I get the "shakes" frequently. I'd like to sit down to dinner and eat, but my body isn't ready for it.

Sally Squires: So sorry about the break-up of your marriage. That's a very tough life event. If you haven't had a physical exam lately, consider getting one. The shakes may be due to lower blood sugar.

As for food, consider soups and stews. Also oatmeal. Smoothies. Foods that will be easy to swallow, but will also help nourish you. You need that to stay healthy and move on to your new life.

Hope you'll let us know how it goes. Good luck to you.


Montreal: I am slightly overweight, 67 years old, and very healthy. I don't want to lose weight in my face or elsewhere EXCEPT on my abdomen, which is huge. I gain all my weight there.

Why is this? What can I do about it?

Sally Squires: It's very common with age to start putting weight around the middle. In fact, there's a name for this: the metabolic syndrome, which also involves elevated blood cholesterol, blood pressure and more.

Losing weight from a specific region of the body is very difficult, so you don't be surprised if lose a little from your face as well as your middle and other parts of your body.

But shedding even a few pounds, as you'll see in today's column, can really make a big difference with health risk. Good luck with your efforts. Thanks.


Sally Squires: Thanks to all for great chat!

Winners today are Baltimore (for the fiber response), Lombard, Ill; Phoenix (for the dance suggestion), squash recipe submitter and Washington, DC who has recently separated. Please e-mail me your address to leanplateclub@washpost.com and please include winner in the subject line.

Thanks to all!


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