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Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, February 26, 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 Web chat.

The e-mail newsletter should have already arrived in your electronic in-box. In today's issue find 36 soup recipes perfect for this time of year. Plus, links to recipes for Spicey Mole Oatmeal Chili, Cumin Roast Pork with Dried Fruit, Spanish Chicken and Rice, Butternut Squash and Sage Lasagna and more. Is your mouth watering yet? Mine is!

Also, yesterday at the Sulgrave Club here in DC where I spoke about the Lean Plate Club, I had a wonderful healthy lunch of broiled fish, red quinoa, watercress and a fantastic dessert of fresh fruit served in a half coconut. My contribution: black bean brownies. I made two batches with two different types of black beans and there were none left to take home. Guess that says it all.

If you'd like to sign up for the free, Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter, you can do that at www.leanplateclub.com.

To get us started, here's a question that we've also been pondering over at the LPC Discussion Group today. Would you be willing to give up some food convenience to help save the planet?

Today's prizes are:

Element Ballet Conditioning (DVD)

Abs on the Ball: A Pilates Approach to Building Superb Abdomincals by Colleen Craig

Eva Bonder Maui Pilates Abs Made Easy (DVD)

Here's the deal: Share a healthy food find or recipe. (Please give credit where credit is due of course.) Tell us how you have instilled healthier habits. Share a great way to be more active. Or just assist a Lean Plate Club member on this chat and you could be one of our winners today. Winners are announced at the end of each chat.

Also, check out the growing list of Successful Losers on our home page. Now on to the chat!

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Northern Virginia: Anything that makes labeling clearer would be wonderful. How about Safeway and Giant offering this as well.

Sally Squires: In today's LPC e-mail newsletter, I asked for reactions to the growing trend of nutrient profiling. That is, scoring foods according to how healthy they are. Hannaford, a New England based grocery store chain already does this. Harris Teeter also scores its house brands. As you'll see in today's Lean Plate Club column, a number of other chains are considering this too.

I don't know if Safeway and Giant are expected to follow suit. But as you'll also see in today's Health section, Safeway has an interesting tool to crunch the numbers for how much you munch.

How about it? Would you find this kind of scoring of food a help? Or will it just add to the many things now on products?

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Bride can't stop the sweets!: Hi Sally - Thank you for hosting these wonderful and educational chats. Help! I can't stop the cookies and chocolates! I'm getting married this summer and have gotten into a workout routine and I've been trying to eat healthier at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I feel like I've done well (eating pasta only twice a week instead of five times a week, more fish, salads, grilled chicken) but I can't seem to stop the sweets. I'm not trying to lose weight, but I feel like I'm moving backwards when I can't help buy buy those two cookies from Subway! I'm also a chocolate lover, although I prefer dark, bittersweet chocolate. I'm not a big fruit person, although I like fruit in the summer more than the winter, and I'm having trouble coming up with other foods to tame my sweet tooth. Do you have any ideas? I was on a Craisins kick for awhile, but I've grown bored with them. Thank you!

Sally Squires: You might like to try sipping chocolate, available at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and elsewhere. You serve it hot or warm, so you can't down it quickly (unless you want to burn your tongue!)

And if you like dark bittersweet chocolate, you might try the Traveler's Chocolate at Trader Joe's. It comes in a little metal can. You can (conceivably) eat one small piece and be quite satisfied.

You might also try making black bean brownies. I can share the recipe, if you're interested. But you will need to practice portion control with them.

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St. Louis: How can consumers not be confused with so many different programs in place? It seems like there should be one solid program in place.

Sally Squires: Most of the scientists working on nutrient profiling agree with you. Of course, each one hopes that his or her algorithm will be the one that gets implemented. No word yet on whether the Food and Drug Administration might go for something like this either. And since different countries are implementing different profiling systems, it also raises the question: how do consumers make sense of different profiling systems on international food?

No answers yet on that either. Maybe we can have a translator that tells us how a food ranks in each system!

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Maine: While some view the Guiding Stars as helpful, I believe it just adds to the confusion. It puts too much emphasis on the "bad" nutrients and not enough on a complete nutrient profile or nutrient density of a food.

Sally Squires: Since you're in Maine, where Hannaford is based, do you ever shop at their stores and if so, do you use the system?

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washingtonpost.com: Shirataki Noodles

Sally Squires: Here's a link for the noodles mentioned earlier. And let me take this opportunity to thank our producer Paul Williams for his help and to welcome Elizabeth Terry, who is also producing for us today!

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Sally! Thanks for the tip re: the healthy vending machine snack you found-- the Energy Mix. One thing I have to watch out for, even with the healthy stuff, is the # of servings per package-- I noticed that there are two in that bag. For me it's such a challenge to only eat 1/2 a bag and save the rest for another time! But even two servings of a healthy-ish snack could be better than one helping of a bad snack, don't you think?

Sally Squires: You raise an excellent point and to be honest, even I got fooled by that bag. I read the 1 ounce size and missed the two servings. Guess I better wear my glasses at the vending machine! Thanks for pointing that out!

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Watertown, Mass.: Hi Sally! The snacks you discovered in the Post vending machine look yummy -- especially the minuscule amount of sodium. But it looks like there were two servings per bag at 130 calories each. Is that right? That's more of a snack than I generally "allow" myself.

Sally Squires: Yep. It is indeed right. And you're also correct about those calories--they're definitely on the high end for a healthy snack for most women. (Guys are a bit larger so they may be able to get away with it.)

Other options: soup (for those who like savory snacks) and Kashi bars for those who like sweeter snacks. Or just a slice of whole grain bread with hummus, peanut or almond butter. (A couple of teaspoons is about the right about of spread.)

If you have a whole grain bread such as Ezekiel, that snack would add up to 80 calories per slice plus about 25-40 calories for hummus, a little more for the nut butters.

Thanks!

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Nutrition info: I would love to see more cookbooks and magazines/papers give nutritional information for recipes. I love that the Washington Post Food section does it, but they seem to be the exception. Sure, you can probably try to calculate it all out using fitday.com, but it's not that easy!

Sally Squires: No, it's not easy. And I'm proud that not only does the Washington Post Recipe Finder list nutrition information, but all the recipes are also tested before they go into that database or are published in the newspaper.

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Re chocolate lover: I have two suggestions for the sweet-loving poster. First, I used to have the world's worst sweet tooth (seriously, I could eat straight sugar out of the sugar bowl.). I decided to pretty much eliminate sweets about a year ago, and it is pretty shocking, but I actually don't even miss it much. When I do have something sweet (e.g., birthday cake at a party), I don't even enjoy it that much anymore.

That being said, a great chocolate fix is to just buy unsweetened cocoa (Hershey's in the tin is good) and make hot cocoa with skim milk and NO SUGAR. If you love the bittersweet chocolate, this is especially good, because you really taste the chocolate without the added sweetness.

Sally -- I also submitted a long tofu-related post last week in response to someone who asked about how to eat tofu in different ways. I know you picked me for one of the prizes, but I never sent an e-mail to claim one. I have a friend who is interested in trying Pilates but is a little home-bound caring for an older relative, and I would love to give her the Pilates DVD! (no pressure, of course)

Sally Squires: Thanks for the tip. And as for the other, best to contact me after the chat at leanplateclub@washpost.com

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just need to vent : Discovered Ken's lite sesame and ginger salad dressing -- a fraction of the fat of my regular salad dressing, and very tasty, yea! However, it's twice as much sodium! Food manufacturers, have a heart! (pun intended)

Sally Squires: Yes, look for sodium to become a hot topic in nutrition circles. You could tell that when the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Grocery Manufacturers Association got together for a meeting on sodium last fall.I can't recall the last time those two groups have held a meeting together.

But I'll bet you could also make a wonderful dressing that rivals Ken's. I'll look for some recipes to include in the next e-mail newsletter.

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Silver Spring, Md.: For the person with the sweet tooth: How about dried apricots, figs, prunes, raisins?

Sally Squires: Those would be great. Just look for dried fruit without added sugar, if you can. Those Craisins, for example, have quite a bit of added sugar.

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Washington, D.C.: I would love the black bean brownie recipe. That sounds awesome!

Sally Squires: Okay, here's the recipe, which was originally posted on this Web chat and also appears in Secrets of the Lean Plate Club book.

1. Take any brownie mix.

2. Take one 15 ounce can of black beans.

The original recipe just called for putting the black beans (liquid and all) into a blender. Pulse until pureed. Then mix with the brownie mix (no need to add eggs, oil, water or any other ingredients.) Put into a greased pan and back according to the directions on the package.

What I've been experimenting with, is trying different types of black beans and also with draining the liquid, rinsing the beans (to remove some of the added sodium) and then replacing with water. It's turned out quite well, but is a bit more detailed than I can go into here, although it's still a very simple recipe. And yes, the brownies are delicious. Let me hasten to add that they're not low calorie--but they are low fat, high fiber and relatively high in protein.

Look for the recipe soon in our recipe database.

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Seattle, Wash.: I recently tried a Mojo Salty'nSweet trail mix bar (by the folks who make Luna Bars) and it was very yummy, but it was very high in fat. Is there a way to make something like this myself, but healthier? I googled recipes for a few days but generally came up empty handed. I think its the concept of this in a "bar" that makes it difficult to re-create. Thanks!

Sally Squires: Do you mean the Mojo Bar by Clif? If so, they've got 200 calories per bar, with 9 grams of fat. These bars have no trans fat and only 2 grams of saturated fat, which is a healthy level. I see what you're saying if you're worried about the calorie count.

I ahve a good recipe for Power Packed Peanut Bars, but they're even higher in calories.

I'll see what other trail mix recipes I can find for next week.

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Maine: I always shop at Hannaford. I think it is a great grocery store. However, I do not use the rating system. I am in the habit of buying what my family eats and a start or two isn't going to change an old habit!I applaud them for putting something out there but I think the system is flawed and they shoudl rework it. Eggs don't receive a star!

Sally Squires: Thanks for the feedback, Maine.

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Madison, WI: Dear Sally,

Thanks for another informative column! I'm a little bemused by all the complaints about complicated food labels. The labels we have on food today strike me as simple, standardized, and complete. I generally look at calories, serving size, fat, and fiber, and that's enough to give a basic nutritional overview. Also, if the list of ingredients is long, I leave the item on the shelf. The whole process takes a few seconds, without the need for a star rating system. (But perhaps it helps that I'm young enough to have grown up with these labels and parents who taught me how to read them at an early age)

And if all else fails, why not just adopt Michael Pollan's advice, "Eat food. Not too much, mostly plants."

Sally Squires: It's good advice. And is strikingly similar to what Ancel Keyes advised half a century ago (along with many other wise elders from all our families.) Maybe we should start listening!

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Kyiv, Ukraine: As an American living in Kyiv, one of the surprises I found here was the general lack of food packaging.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was used to buying food in outdoor markets and providing my own re-used, sturdy, plastic bags. But here in a large, German-owned supermarket, frozen food from fish to vegetables is sold in freezer bins with zero packaging. There are tongs to keep things sanitary and the food looks exactly the way it does in the box, just minus the paper and instructions. It is sold by weight. During a recent trip to Italy, I also visited a Roman grocery store that offered the same service.

Another major change here is the purchase of plastic bags for carrying groceries. They are stronger than typical U.S. plastic bags and come in 3 different sizes. The only hard part is figuring out how many I'll need ahead of time.

People are very adaptable and even thing different practices seem strange at first, we can get used to anything.

Sally Squires: We sure can adapt to a lot. And I find it really interesting to see how other countries handle food. By the way, for those who have not yet read today's e-mail newsletter--I put in a link to a new Nielsen Survey which finds that about half of people worldwide would give up some convenience in food packaging to help save the world.

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RE: brownies: Can you taste the black beans?

I have a friend who doctored brownie mixes with pumpkin pie filling - I believe she, too, omitted the water/oil/eggs. Not sure what the nutritional value of this would be, but you can't taste the pumpkin!

Sally Squires: Nope. And that's not just my opinion. I took two batches yesterday to the speech/luncheon at the Sulgrave Club. Everyone liked the brownies. I brought in another batch today to the office. So far, everyone from the Health section and Food section have liked them. And my family also loves them.

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Another problem with "Lite" dressings: is added sugar! They take out the fat and put in sugar. Like the earlier poster, I have tried to eliminate sugar altogether and I was surprised how you don't miss it and how decreasing sugar intake decreases your appetite.

I now usually make my own salad dressings. Sometimes just lemon juice and olive oil. I also really like rice vinegar (although I think it has a little sugar). You can add a little mustard to a vinegrette to add zing.

Sally Squires: I love making dressing with a walnut or virgin olive oil and various vinegars, from Balsamic to my favorite, orange muscat champagne vinegar.

Got a favorite vinegar or oil? We'd love to hear about them.

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Hanover, Md.: Does your blood type have anything to do with the types of foods you should eat? If I am A+ what types of foods should I incorporate in my everyday diet?

Sally Squires: There sure are a growing number of books on this various topic, aren't there? I can think of a couple by Dr. Peter J. D'Adamo. What I haven't seen is any strong research to back up the contentions. But what you could do is try this approach, see how it fits for you and adjust--or not--accordingly.

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For the sweet craver: Try eating more carbohydrates. I found that when I started cutting out bread and pasta my sweet tooth went haywire. Add in more whole grains and I bet those sugar cravings will disappear.

Sally Squires: Very interesting observation. And let me add that vegetables, fresh fruit and nonfat dairy products are also sources of healthy carbs.

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Chatham, Ill.: I've read and studied a LOT about eating healthy and the stores that break down what we've bought will certainly be of some use but the big issue for me and I suspect others is how to cut down the AMOUNT of food we eat.

I do find your listing of "successful losers" very helpful -- now the problem is how to draw from that inspiration and apply it in my situation.

Sally Squires: Portion sizes are a huge problem--to play off your point. Just take a look in an antiques store at the plate and cup sizes and you'll realize that we're not the only things that are getting...well, bigger! So you're absolutely right: we can choose wisely, but we still have to be careful about portion sizes. Of course, it may be that eating healthy food could help you feel more satisfied with a smaller portion.

I'm delighted that you like the Successful Losers. For those who haven't yet checked out this growing gallery, we'll try to post a link in a minute so you can see them.

And if you're a successful loser, we'd love to hear from you. We're looking for those who ahve lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year.

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Mr Nature snack: Sally - you did notice that one bag of this is actually two servings, correct? If you managed to measure it out and only eat half at a time, you're a more disciplined person than I am!

Sally Squires: No, I have to admit that I am a bit shocked myself to have read right past that point. And I thought I scanned the label pretty carefully. Maybe it was a case of wishful thinking!

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Washington, D.C.: I have recently started down the road to wellsville with a rash of doctor's appointments, trying to eat better, and hopefully soon joining a gym. The unfortunate thing is, my husband is often a roadblock for me. He refuses to let me change our dinner diet (the one meal we usually eat together) to the point it needs to be altered. I've suggested seeing a nutritionist as well, but he won't stand for it, because it would mean he would have to likely get rid of some of his favorite things. Additionally, he wants me to join the gym he's a member of, under the idea that we would work out together, even though we don't usually have free time at the same time. His gym also doesn't have a pool, which I would like to have the benefit of due to bad joints.

All griping aside, do you have any advice for a person who is dedicated to achieving their goals, but has such a large roadblock that seems very difficult to overcome?

Thanks!

Sally Squires: First, congratulations on what you're trying to achieve. And I give your husband credit for wanting to be together. But I also understand the pull of a pool and not really having the time to work out together.

As for that nightly meal: sounds like you need some ground rules. So try starting with some foods that you can both agree on. That might be salad, soup or veggies. It could be fish. Or whole grain roll. Or a great rice pilaf. Whatever, find some things that you can both eat with comfort and still stick to your goals.

Then, if you can each tweak the rest of the meal according to your tastes and goals. So maybe he has an extra serving of the main course. Or adds more butter to his baked potato. Or adds meat to a vegetable dish.

You might also check out Eating Well's excellent cookbook for cooking for two. But you are absolutely correct that you have to do this together.

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

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washingtonpost.com: Lean Plate Club Success Stories

Sally Squires: As promised, here's a link to the Lean Plate Club Successful Losers, where you will find lots of inspiration.

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Charlottesville, Va.: I'd like more information now, before I shop for groceries! I'm glad to hear that some grocery stores are beginning to provide the information. I hope one comes along in Charlottesville, VA soon!

Sally Squires: If you happen to have a Food Lion in your fair city, you will likely see the Guiding Stars system later this year. If you have a Harris Teeter store, you can also get some guidance on their house brands. And look for the ONQI to come to a TOPCO Associates store near you also later this year. Pathmark, Harris Teeter, Acme, Wawa and more are members of this group.

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Bronx, NY: My breakfast has become fat free yogurt with fruit and either hot oatmeal a dry cereal such as Cheerios. I pile this all together and it is quite satisfying.

Sally Squires: My husband loves doing this very thing for lunch with yogurt, granola and fresh berries. He swears by it too. Thanks!

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Fairfax, Va.: Because I have Celiac Disease, I depend on the ingredient list to keep food safe for my consumption. I find packaging excessive on almost all counts, so I'd happily forgo the excess there. In my experience, the excessive packaging is related to more to market share than protecting the food supply!

Sally Squires: Sorry about your celiac disease, Fairfax. But thanks for weighing in on the packaging question.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi -

I am interested in getting some type of protein snack for later in the day before I exercise in the early evening. I am concerned about sodium so processed meat items are out for me. I do keep unsalted peanuts nearby -- Can you suggest any other type of foods that might fit the bill? Thanks.

Sally Squires: Unsalted nuts would be a great option for you. You can also get plenty of unsalted nut butters too. Almond and cashew are great option. There are soy and sunflower butters too, but you'll need to check the sodium content.

Hummus and whole grain crackers would be a high protein snack for you. You could also fill tiny sweet peppers with hummus or bean dip.

Dairy products--make them low fat or nonfat--are good protein sources. So a glass of skim milk, a half cup of cottage cheese or some nonfat plain yogurt with added fruit would be other smart choices.

Soy milk or soy nuts are other options. And if it doesn't make you feel too full, you could also try a half cup of bean soup. Of course, to ensure that you don't get too much sodium, you may need to make this yourself.

Hope that helps.

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Perry Hall, Md.: Is there a diet that limits calcification in the heart?

Sally Squires: I don't know of an anti-calcification diet, Perry Hall, but the DASH Diet is great for lowering blood pressure; and the Portfolio Plan can help with cholesterol lowering. Hope that helps.

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New Haven, Conn.: What are your credentials? I couldn't find a bio of you on the website. What kind of nutrition background do you have?

Sally Squires: I'm so glad you asked. And maybe we need to make my bio more prominent on the Lean Plate Club Web site. I have a master's degree in nutrition from Columbia University's Institute of Human Nutrition as well as a master's degree in journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. My undergraduate degree is in biology/political science and I took one year of a PhD. program in physiology at the University of Connecticut Medical School in Farmington. (That's when I realized that being a bench scientist would not be a good fit.) I've also done other graduate work at Columbia and put my way through graduate school in New York by working as a medical technologist in clinical chemistry at what was then Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

I'm also a board member of the National Association of Science Writers and have covered health, medicine and nutrition for well, a while in Washington. Let's just say I'm a seasoned veteran! And I'm the author of two books on nutrition: The Stoplight Diet for Children, published in 1988 with Leonard Epstein, PhD. and more recently Secrets of the Lean Plate Club.

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Worcester, Mass.: Hi,

I have lost 13 pounds since the begininng of the year by eliminating fast food, soda, and after-supper snacks.

I have reduced portion sizes on pasta and breads too but haven't eliminated those.

Is there a simple way to count calories, short of weighing my food and referencing a book or website?

I know from previous experience that the weight loss will stabiize before I reach my target and am trying to determine what I do next to avoid that.

Thanks.

Sally Squires: Congratulations, Worcester! Losing those 13 pounds is great. As for calorie counting, you can read the nutrition facts labels on products--just do it more carefully than I did with that snack food!-- and then yes, otherwise, you must sadly consult a Web site or a book. Wish it were not so!

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Sally,

I exercise 5 days a week, which is the most I've ever done in my life. I find that my appetite is out of control -- I'm always hungry and craving all sorts of food. What's going on -- should I be eating more or less of something? I'm not gaining weight since I exercise consistently, but I'm worried... Thanks!

Sally Squires: We're out of time, DC, so I'll be very brief here. But I suspect you are not eating enough. More in the upcoming newsletter.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Sally I wanted to pass on a tip for people out there who love pasta but are trying to reduce their carb intake. I discovered a pasta substitute called tofu shirataki and am blown away by how much it resembles real pasta. A dinner portion has something like 4g of carbs and 40 calories and lots of protein. It is a miracle food. I find it in the dairy aisle at Whole Foods and it comes in linguine or spaghetti style. I think you can also buy it in bulk online.

It comes fully cooked so all you need to do is drain it and put it in the microwave. I serve it tossed with tomato sauce and parmesan so a quick, delicious and very low carb lunch or dinner. I have also made a great scampi with it.

Sally Squires: My apologies--I thought I had posted this one earlier.

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Sally Squires: Thanks to all for a great chat! Winners today are DC for the noodle suggestion, Ukraine, Bride, chocolage lover and Seattle. Please send me your name and address to leanplateclub@washpost.com. And please include winner in the subject line.

Until next week, eat smart--and move more--with the Lean Plate Club. I'm going out for a walk now!

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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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