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Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, February 5, 2008; 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.

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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.

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Sally Squires: Welcome to the Lean Plate Club!

Last week, there were some technical difficulties so our sincere apologies that the Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter didn't publish until after the Web chat. This week's newsletter should be hitting your electronic in-boxes momentarily. (Please let me know if you don't receive it by e-mailing leanplateclub@washpost.com.)

In today's edition, find links to a Spicy Curry Noodle Soup to make while you watch tonight's Super Tuesday returns.

Also, there are links to healthy Chinese New Year recipes. (The year of the Rat begins on Thursday.)

You'll also find recipes from Harumi Kurihara--considered the Martha Stewart of Japan.

Plus, there are some recipes to help you fete your favorite Valentine. (It's never too soon to plan.)

I also tried making Roasted Chick Peas this week--a snack that many Lean Plate Club members who also follow Weight Watchers have written about quite a bit. (Find a link in today's e-mail newsletter to the recipe so you can try it too.)

In honor of Super Tuesday, here's a super number of prizes today:

Eat This, Not That by David Zinczenko, Editor-in-Chief of Men's Health with Matt Goulding

101 Foods That Could Save Your Life by David Grotton, RD, LDN

Dance With Lisa: Dance to Enhance DVD

Ten Years Thinner: Six Weeks to a Leaner, Younger-Looking You by Christine Lydon, MD

Women's Health Perfect Body Diet by Cassandra Forsythe, MS

Genotype Diet by Dr. Peter J. D'Adamo

Get Wet, Get Fit by Megan Quann Jendrick and Nathan Jendrick

Here's the deal: regale us with a great, tasting healthy food find that you have discovered this week. Assist a Lean Plate Club member on this chat. Tell us how you're burning more calories. Do that and one of these prizes could be yours. Winners are announced at the end of each chat, and in making this offering we are not endorsing any book, DVD or weight loss approach. It's merely a way to show you what's available as you seek to instill healthier habits.

Also, don't miss our regular updates of Successful Losers at the Lean Plate Club Web site.

Finally, here's a question to ponder (and one that has drawn a lot of comment on the Lean Plate Club Discussion Group.) A new bill proposed in the Mississippi State Legislature would prohibit restaurants from serving obese people meals. What do you think?

Now on to the chat!

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Washington, D.C.: Hi,

With the coming recession I'm really trying to save money. Do you have any suggestions for super cheap, healthy, vegetarian meals that I can bring in to work that don't need reheating?

Thanks!

Sally Squires: Well, if you follow the latest economic indicators, it's not a sure thing that we're heading into a recession. In fact, some of the latest numbers have looked more promising, although no one thinks that the sub-prime mortgage problem is a good thing.

But it's always wise to eat well for your stomach, your healthy and your bank account. To that end, you might want to take a look at a feature that I did a few months ago on stretching your grocery dollars.

Rice and beans are one wonderful meal whether you're on a budget or not. And with the huge varieties of both, you can really eat like a king or queen for pennies.

We'll also post some links to vegetarian sites in a minute.

Okay, Lean Plate Club members, feel free to weigh in with your best vegetarian, low-cost recipes.

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washingtonpost.com: Stretch Your Grocery Dollars (Post, June 19, 2007)

Sally Squires: As promised. And by the way, do look in the frozen food section where you can sometimes find great buys on frozen fruit and vegetables. Frequently at Giant, I see 10 bags of frozen veggies for $10. That goes a long way.

Other suggestions out there?

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washingtonpost.com: NutritionData

Sally Squires: Check out this site which has recently been re-designed. What I like about it is you can plug in a food that you eat and it will offer some healthy alternatives. Also you can calculate the nutrition info for your own recipes.

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washingtonpost.com: The World's Healthiest Foods

Sally Squires: Here's another site that can help guide you to healthy choices. It also features recipes and more--just the thing for figuring out how to eat better on a budget.

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Alexandria, Va.: I'm sorry about your and your husband's coughs. If you were stranded on the proverbial deserted island, what foods and beverages would you want/need to have with you?

Sally Squires: Thanks, Alexandria. We are both nearly recovered.

What would I bring? Honey, tea and plenty of citrus, plus mint, cherry bark extract and chicken soup!

How about you?

(And a note: apparently the e-mail newsletter is having trouble with transmission again, argh! My sincere apologies. Hopefully this will be fixed by next week.)

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Cold Remedy: My boyfriend used to get mustard-plastered as a kid, and now it's kinda a joke/threat. But he did introduce me to my new favorite cold remedy: Gypsy Cold Care tea. It doesn't particularly taste good, but it helps me feel better. Apparently he nursed half a Harvard dorm hall back to health on it during a summer internship program.

Sally Squires: I must say that the Traditional Medicinals also seemed to help, although they were not quite as good tasting as many other varieties of tea and, of course, honey! Thanks for weighing in.

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Alexandria, Va.: I have noticed my body doesn't really respond well to preservatives and chemicals in food (headaches/migraines, moodiness) and am now trying to adjust my diet to only eat natural food, free of chemicals/preservatives. It is hard to do. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Sally Squires: You bet Alexandria. Start by choosing more fresh fruit and vegetables. Also add more whole grains such as brown rice, buckwheat, barley, whole wheat couscous as well as oatmeal (that you make from scratch, surprisingly easy to do, but you'll want to skip the varieties that come with added sugar and flavorings, of course.)

Soups from scratch are easy to do. I made a chicken, chickpea soup that I learned about during a recent trip to the Culinary Institute. It was ready in about 35 minutes and we have been eating it all week. (Or you could freeze it.) As soon as I have permission, I plan to put the recipe in our recipe database or include it in an upcoming e-mail newsletter.

Eggs can also be a great way to add plenty of protein and flavor to your diet. They're one of the original "fast foods." If dietary cholesterol is a concern, you can discard some of the egg yolks.

We'll also post a few sites that you may find helpful in a minute.

Bottom line: There are plenty of great tasting ways to eat without processed food--and you also don't have to live your life in the kitchen either!

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Hyattsville, Md: Dear Miss Squires, in your recent article on colds/coughs you mentioned mustard plasters.

It seemed to work for me. I was 5 years old and had really bad asthma, which was complicated by an omnibus case of hay fever (which could trigger the asthma).

My poor-suffering parents regularly gave me mustard plasters in summer when the hay fever could bring on the asthma attacks. I hated the plasters to begin with, but to get the hot, gooey mess in the midst of hot, humid summer was agonizing.

Still, it seemed to relieve the symptoms, and made breathing easier. Even as a youngster, I noticed and appreciated the effects.

Sally Squires: I've never experienced a mustard plaster myself, but they did sound interesting. Not so, however, for the skunk oil or the drops of turpentine. :-)

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Washington, D.C.: I eat a lot of vegetables that I roast in the oven, usually broccoli and squash, but also carrots, mushrooms and asparagus. My question is whether I'm ruining the nutritional value by coating them in extra virgin olive oil before cooking. The end result is that the veggies often come out with a little crisp on the outside but remain nice and tender inside (especially the squash which can almost come to resemble a chip). Am I essentially frying the veggies in olive oil and making a nutritious side into something unhealthy? Thanks.

Sally Squires: Actually, that olive oil helps you better absorb the fat soluble vitamins in those veggies. Plus, doesn't it make them taste even better? That's a win-win in my book.

And following my trip to the Culinary Institute, I tried a trick that Mollie Katzen recommended which is to cook tomatoes in the oven at 250 to 275 degrees for about three to four hours. They come out wonderfully caramelized and similar to sun-dried tomatoes. I put those in the chicken soup and they were great!

So bottom line: Keep doing what you're doing.

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Legislation: So, would that be prohibit restaurants from serving meals to obese people, or, prohibit restaurants from serving obese-people meals? While I'm not sure I'd be a fan of regulating eating, the two are very different. The first discriminates based on weight (I know, it's not against the law to discriminate based on weight, but that doesn't make it right); the second requires restaurants to curb gargantuan portions.

Sally Squires: The proposed legislation--we'll post a link in a minute-- would prohibit restaurants from serving meals to any people who are considered obese by state regulations. Presumably, that means people who have a body mass index of 30 or higher. So can you imagine having to prove your BMI in order to get served? Pretty silly--not to mention discriminatory. I can't imagine that it would not be challenged if it passes, can you?

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Rockville, Md.: Re your column today about cough/cold remedies:

1-What, if anything, helped your cough?

and

2-Where does one find milky-white, raw, unprocessed honey?

Sally Squires: Second part first: I found raw, unprocessed honey at Giant, Whole Foods and other stores. It's creamy and quite thick and tastes great, by the way. But is not the "honey" color that we have come to expect.

What really helped my cough? Rest and recovery. But honey, lemon and tea (and yes, with a little bourbon at night) seemed to work best for the short term help. Hope you're not asking because you are sick too. There's a lot going around these days.

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washingtonpost.com: Mississippi Legislature, 2008 Regular Session: House Bill 282

Sally Squires: Read the proposed bill yourself to prohibit restaurants in Mississippi from serving obese people food.

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Stretching your grocery dollar: Hi

I remember that article from June where you took $120 and went shopping. I did end up going to the USDA Web site, because they list recipes that are inexpensive to make (each lists the cost) and might appeal to certain groups of people (children). I've been following those recipes (particularly the veggie ones) and have cut my food bill down significantly. The only downside is that some of the recipes seem bland, so I've added extra spices to some (but I understand why they might be bland, the recipes need to appeal to a wide audience).

Thanks!

Sally Squires: Great illustration of how it IS possible to trim that grocery bill. How much have you been able to cut?

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Richmond, Va.: Besides being discriminatory, it would be dangerous to imply that the solution to obesity is NOT eating. The solution to obesity is sensible eating.

Sally Squires: Hear, hear. I couldn't agree more. And let's not forget moving more too. Thanks Richmond.

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Edmonton, Canada: Hi Sally,

A few weeks ago, one of your chatters commented that it's fine to bring empty water bottles through airport security, then fill them up at water fountains. I recently took a trip to San Diego and I didn't want to get sick on vacation! So I brought along an empty sports bottle, some trail mix, Larabars, a few other assorted treats, and some of those Vitamin-C packets you mix in water.

I'm pleased to report this chatter's tip worked great for me! Once I got through security I filled my water bottle up and drank it with a Vitamin-C pack while we waited to board. Then I filled it up again before boarding, and made sure to drink the whole thing on the flight. The snacks helped when I got hungry, and I spent my vacation feeling great. Thanks for the tip!

Sally Squires: You're quite welcome, Edmonton. I thought it was a cool idea myself. And here's something else that I learned from Paul Anderson, a naturopathic physician on the staff of Bastyr University in Seattle. He reminded me that in addition to the re-circulating air on a plane the humidity is very low. That can make it easier for viruses to burrow into nasal passages. Black Elderberry may help prevent this a little. So the next time I travel, I'm not only going to make sure I drink lots and lots of water, but will also try taking some elderberry with me.

Anybody out there ever try this? If so, would love to know if you have found it helpful. And by the way, this gives me an opportunity to note that herbs and botanicals can have active ingredients that may interfere with medications. But the herbs mentioned in today's Lean Plate Club generally have no side-effects or any known interactions, according to Anderson, making them a pretty safe option.

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Washington, D.C.: For your cold -- Vick's vapor rub -- on your feet with socks at night.

Yes it's disgusting, yes I didn't believe my aunt when she made me try it -- and crazily enough it worked. Someone told me once it had to do with pressure points.

Sally Squires: Sounds good to me. Last week, I was ready to try nearly anything--except skunk oil!

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Tampa, Fla.: Are there residual effects from caffeine? We're just starting to try to have a family and I wanted to know if I need to cut out coffee in advance or just when I may actually be pregnant?

Thanks.

Sally Squires: According to The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World's Most Popular Drug, caffeine's half life is 2 to 4 hours. (Half-life is the time it takes for half of a drug to leave your body after you have taken it.)

So to be on the safe side, it's not a bad idea to cut back on caffeine while you're trying to conceive. You might switch to decaf and avoid drinking too much of caffeinated tea or other caffeinated beverages.

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Washington, D.C.: The Mississippi bill doesn't state how the restaurants are supposed to determine who is fat. Does a customer have to be weighed and have their height measured prior to ordering? What if a fat and thin person want to share a menu item? Beyond being discriminatory and reprehensible, this bill seems incredibly impractical.

Sally Squires: Yep. I agree. And let's also underscore that there are some well-known professional athletes who are technically overweight or obese. So using BMI would be an imperfect measure.

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Stretching grocery dollar, part II: I've been able to cut our food bill down by about 28 percent, because we don't eat highly processed, pre-packaged food anymore. We used to eat microwaveable dinners, Lunchables kids' lunches, etc. We also are eating more healthy, because since I am making fresh food, the preservatives aren't there anymore. I never believed it was possible to cut the bill by so much (and I never understood just how much we were paying for convenience, either).

I've also lost weight.

Sally Squires: Wow! That's a win-win-win. Dollars gained, pounds lost and better food eaten. Congratulations!

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Alexandria, Va.: re: the deserted island

I like your list. Mine would be water (a given), tea, avocados, chocolate, whole wheat bread and peanut butter.

Sally Squires: Yum. You're making me hungry! I might also put almond butter in that list. They served a fair amount of that and cashew butter at the Culinary Institute. Also used these nuts as flavorings. So we dined on almond English muffins, quite nice, I must say. Look for more of the recipes that we sampled in coming weeks.

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Veggie lunch: I am a vegetarian and I bring lunch every day. Today's lunch -- a sandwich made with two slices of whole wheat bread, two slices of sauteed tofu, portobella mushroom, lettuce, and salsa verde spread on the bread.

Salad is always good, and if you add some sauteed cubes of tofu or tempeh, you'll get that filling protein. Or use hard boiled eggs instead. Hummus on a whole wheat bagel is also nice (and quick). If you have a fridge at work, you can keep hummus there and simplify matters.

Also, a lot of people like veganlunchbox.com.

Sally Squires: That sounds like a wonderful site and a great lunch! You've given us another example of how food need not be expensive to be great. Some of my favorite parts of the Culinary Institute conference were demonstrations from chefs showing native Mexican, Thai and Indian cuisine. Most of it was vegetarian. And all of it was wonderful!

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Washington, D.C.: Sally, I love your chat!

Is there a point where your body just gets tired of the lifetime of "dieting," or should I really say, the feast-or-famine type eating that career yo-yo dieters (like myself) do? Do you end up damaging your metabolism so badly that you just end up fatter and fatter and have to work harder and harder to lose the weight that in the past seemed to come off quicker or easier?

My weight can fluctuate 20-25 pounds in any given year, and that's a lot for a short person. I'll go through periods of apathy, overeating, and low activity (significant rapid weight gain) and then I'll reach rock bottom and then get very active and watch my intake. I've done this a zillion times in my life (I'm 41 now) and it gets harder and harder to "rebound" so to speak. But I'm wondering about the physiological/metabolic damage I've done and is this just going to be my future of getting increasingly heavier?

Sally Squires: Studies suggest that yo-yo dieting doesn't have the ill effects that have been feared. But as you've pointed out, it's just not a fun thing to do. And with age, our metabolism slows a few percentage points because we are losing muscle mass. (Muscle burns more calories than fat.)

Also, when you shed pounds, you also shed fat, muscle and water. When you re-gain weight, you mostly add fat. So this large fluctuation in pounds likely doesn't make your efforts at reaching and maintaining a healthy weight any easier.

You might take a look at Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, PhD. Also if you can find Judy Rodin's Body Traps, it's also a good read. And many Lean Plate Club members--including Liz Binder, one of our newest Successful Losers--recommend Breaking from Compulsive Eating by Geneen Roth.

My guess is you know how to eat healthfully and how to workout well. What you need to figure out is why you overeat. That's the key for long-term success.

Good luck with your efforts. Hope you'll let us know how it goes.

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Chatham, Ill.: Last week while on Vacation (and taking in a Purdue BB game) we stopped at a McDonalds for lunch. What was notable about this was that for the first time in a long time I had a simple hamburger and half a pack of small fries for a total caloric intake of less than 400 calories! I took my time and enjoyed it -- realizing that it had probably been over 30 years since I'd last had a meal like that. It actually helped me stick to my meal plan for that day and the small simple hamburger and half a small fries was lower calorie than many of the "diet/healthier" options.

Sally Squires: I know that the fast food chain restaurants have taken a lot of heat for what they serve, especially the huge portions. But quite a number of fast food restaurants now offer much healthier options. (Who ever thought that it would be possible to get edamame at McDonald's? Or a veggie burger at Burger King?) And while the nutrition information isn't always easy to find, these restaurants have also been among the first to feature calorie and other information on their Web sites and at their restaurants.

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Eugene, Ore.: I've traded in my low-fat yogurt for low-fat cottage cheese. We have a local creamery that makes the most wonderful piquant curds while retaining the live cultures. The cottage cheese has more protein, less sugar and more possibilities than yogurt: great with fruit and nuts too.

My new favorite Danish: toast a piece of whole grain bread. Butter very thinly with real butter. Place butter-side down in frying pan, as if you were making a grilled cheese sandwich. Spread the plain top side of the toast with 1/4 cup cottage cheese. Sprinkle with nutmeg, cinnamon and frozen blackberries or blueberries. Cover and heat through on medium low heat for about ten minutes. Yummy fragrant goodness!

Sally Squires: Yum. That sounds really good too. And that cottage cheese--as with the yogurt--is a good source of calcium and protein. Not to mention having great taste!

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Super Bowl treats: Which is the lesser of two evils: baked or whole grain/wheat tortilla chips?

Sally Squires: Hmm. If I understand you correctly, you wonder if the baked regular chips might be a better choice than whole grain chips that have more fat, right?

The baked chips will likely have a slight higher glycemic index--which means they may make your blood sugar spike faster and then drop precipitously. As it climbs back up again, you could find yourself hungry quite soon.

The whole grain chips have more fiber--and complex carbohydrates--which are less likely to send your blood sugar soaring. But they will also have more fat. Let's assume that the fat is healthy fat. Even so, it's still has calories.

So what the choice really comes down to is how to either of these snacks fit into the rest of your diet? If you've been eating a lot of processed fare, then it might be a better choice to go with the whole grain tortilla chips. You could also add bean dip to both. That would lower the GI of the baked chips and might make you less likely to eat more of the whole grain chips. (Guacamole would be another great choice as would salsa.) It's all a matter of finding balance.

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Richmond, Va.: Saving money on fresh vegs: I sometimes go to a salvage grocery store that sells soon-to-be old veggies. Sounds gross, but as long as you consume the veggies that day, it's okay. Since I can't always use the veggies that day, I use the 'peak' vegetables in my juicer to make salt-free, preservative-free, sugar-free veggies juice to replace high-sugar fruit juice. My fav is celery/spinach/ginger/lime.

Sally Squires: And those veggies and fruit would also be wonderful in soups and stews or just baked. That lime would also go well on some bean dip and tortilla chips!

Thanks for chiming in.

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Washington, D.C.: For weight-loss purposes, can the required 60 minutes of exercise be broken up into a 30 minute walk, 10 minutes of yoga, and chasing the toddler for 20 minutes, or does it need to be continuous cardio to keep that heartbeat up? I've read that one gets more cardio benefit on the elliptical machine or treadmill from varying the intensity, rather than just running at the same pace for the full amount of time.

Sally Squires: You can do increments as short as five to 10 minutes throughout the day for weight loss. That's been proven by studies at the University of Pittsburgh, Brown University and the University of Virginia. Plus, variety really is the spice of life (and exercise!) It will help keep you interested, engaged and using all sort of different muscles including your heart.

What you're doing is great. Another tip for weight loss: it appears that 60 to 90 minutes daily is optimal for both shedding pounds and for weight maintenance.

Hope that helps!

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Drink Question: Hi Sally! Given the choice of Crystal Light or caffeine-free Diet Coke, which would you choose? I drink plenty of water (milk, tea, some juice, etc.), but when I want something sweet to drink, which is better?

Sally Squires: Sparkling water with a bit of lemon, lime or cranberry would be my first choice. I rarely if ever drink the others, not because of any health risks, but simply because I don't really like them. I'd choose unsweetened iced tea with lemon above both for something to quench thirst with a little more flavor than water alone.

The Diet Coke will give you caffeine--although you can also get it caffeine free. The Crystal Light will give you different flavors. It's really a toss up guided by what you like most.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Sally,

I was hoping you could offer some suggestions on high fiber veggies and grains. I'm really quite ignorant which whole grains have a good source of fiber, and which aren't worth the trouble. Thanks!

Sally Squires: Oatmeal, Triscuits, shredded wheat, Wheaties, Raisin Bran, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, amaranthe, buckwheat and barley are just some of the popular foods with whole grains.

You might also check the Whole Grains Council for more. I love whole grains and these days, you can even get whole wheat white flour to make bread, pancakes and more.

It's an easy switch. As for fiber: beans and berries are huge winners, particularly beans. Same is true of most fruit and vegetables. They're wonderful choices.

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Washington DC : HI Sally,

I had hit a frustrating plateau in my weight loss endeavors. I was still watching what I ate, mixing up and sticking to my cardio routine, when I read that strength training could make the difference. And it did! Although I was afraid of bulking up, I didn't, and I added free weights and used one of the machines at the gym for my quads.

I think muscle loss is insidious, we don't realize we're losing it, and I started losing weight (and gaining strength) when I added in 30 minutes/week of strength training!

Sally Squires: Congratulations! And yes, muscle loss is quite insidious and accelerates at age 60. So the older we get, the more we need to lift weights just to stay even. And as you point out, no need to lift huge amounts or to spend lengthy amounts of time doing it. By the way, taking the stairs also counts as weight training. With each step, you lift your entire body weight. Pretty cool, huh?

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Sally Squires: Thanks to all for a great chat. My apologies that the e-mail newsletter has had problem transmitting for two weeks in a row. Hopefully, the technical folks will get this fixed by next week. Winners today are:

Edmonton, Veggie Lunch, Eugene, Cold Remedy, Wash. DC, Stretching Your Grocery Dollar and Tampa.

Next week's Lean Plate Club column is on chocolate.

Happy Chinese New Year to everyone! And enjoy watching the results of Super Tuesday!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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