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Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, March 4, 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. Bear with me because I am having a few mysterious computer problems today. The Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter should be in your electronic in-box now.

Today's prizes are five cloth Lean Plate Club grocery bags. Winners will be announced at the end of the chat.

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Minneapolis, MN: Plastic Bags-

I have recently purchased 4 canvas bags from my grocery store to use for my grocery and household shopping. I was tired of the huge number of plastic bags that I would accumulate and there is no place locally the recycles the plastic bags. Now with the canvas bags I can fit more into the bags and generally only need 2 bags for a weekly grocery shopping trip. I would encourage everyone to consider using these bags to reduce the number of plastic bags used.

Sally Squires: That's a great strategy. And I wonder if we bring bags, if we might also buy less? What do you think?

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Chatham, Ill.: Sally:

I had just read an article about the Shagri-La Diet. Has anybody in the Lean Plate Club tried this with/without success?

Thanks!

Sally Squires: I'll put this out to the membership for comment. And we will also try to post a link in a minute for those who'd like to know about it. Remember this: all diets work for someone. No diet works for everyone. So the trick is finding the habits changes that you can live with.

Anybody out there tried the Shangri-La approach? If so, what did you think about it?

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washingtonpost.com: Shangri-La Diet

Sally Squires: As promised. Thanks to our producer Paul Williams.

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Washington, DC: Hi Sally - I have a question about salads...can there ever be too much of a good thing? I eat a salad everyday for lunch and try to include only a small amount of the toppings but end up with a decent sized salad. I only put healthy things in - mixed greens, spinach, tomatoes, chickpeas, kidneys, mushrooms, egg whites, and a touch of fat free dressing. It usually weighs about .75 lbs. Is that too much for a 125 pound female? What do you suppose the calorie count is on that? Thanks!

Sally Squires: Sounds like a wonderful salad. I can do a quick estimate of calories: the greens have about 5 calories per cup, in short, virtually nothing to really count. The tomatoes will be a little more. Depending on portion size, probably in the 20-40 calorie range, tops. The beans are higher in calories, but boy are they packed with good stuff: fiber, complex carbs and protein. Figure about 160 calories per cup; 80 for half a cup, which is quite a lot for a salad.

Egg whites have 10 calories per white. Mushrooms are nearly as low in calories as those greens. Fat free dressing is likely 20-30 calories per tablespoon. And let me add that you might want to consider switching to a low fat dressing or adding olives or nuts or seeds which have a little fat.

The reason? You need a little fat to absorb some of the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K.)

So, in short, this is a fantastic, high-fiber, nutritious meal. Do you like eating it?

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Lexington, Ky.: We do several different things to hold the line on restaurant food -- and save considerably on the cost:

1. We go out for dinner but order the lunch portion.

2. We order one dinner and get an extra side salad or side vegetable with it. We split the meat portion, so the serving size is more manageable.

3. We order two dinners and only eat half of what's on our plates and box up the rest to take home.

Sally Squires: Those are all really smart ideas, Lexington. They are great strategies for controlling both portions and cost! Thanks.

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Little Rock, Ark.: My husband and I love Tex-Mex, so when we go out to eat, we share. We always start with chips & salsa, no cheese dip; then share an entree, either the two taco & two enchilada plate, or the steak & chicken fajitas for one. We get more than enough to eat because the portion sizes are so large, we save money, and the best part is nothing goes to waste (my husband likes beans, I like rice). It is a win-win all the way around.

Sally Squires: It sounds like it, Little Rock.

Mexican food is a big winner in our house. In fact, I plan to make Mexican food tonight. At the Culinary Institute of America's Worlds of Health Flavors conference in January, I came back with lots of new recipes to try. When I have tested them, the plan is to put them in our interactive recipe database.

Thanks much for chiming in.

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Philadelphia: I've been buying re-usable bags for a year now, but I usually forget to bring them to the grocery store. I'm much more likely to remember them if I'm taking the bus than if I'm going in the car. Luckily, I got a set of bags for Christmas, along with lots of hand towels/wash cloths to use instead of paper towels, so I have some at work and some at home, so I don't have any excuses.

Sally Squires: I now keep some paper bags and re-useable bags in the car. They come in handy not just at the regular grocery stores, but also when I shop at Costco. At Whole Foods, they gave one re-useable bag to customers, 'though I don't know if they are still doing that.

The other thing that we have done at home is to switch to making our own seltzer from four re-useable bottles instead of carting home cases of sparkling water from the store. It always seemed a bit odd to drink water shipped from France to Fiji. I really like the seltzer system and it seems to work quite well.

What else is everybody doing to be green in the kitchen?

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washingtonpost.com: washingtonpost.com Recipe Finder

Sally Squires: Here's our interactive recipe database, where all the recipes have been tested by our team of testers.

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Dupont Circle: I started working from home and have developed two big problems. One is coffee. I now drink about 2-3 cups a day. Sitting at home in the chilly weather just makes me crave it. I tried tea but just doesn't feel the same. Do you think it's a problem?

Also I find myself munching a lot since I am now only a few feet from my kitchen. I don't know if I am, but I feel hungry all the time. I chew a lot of gum but curious if there are any other things I can do to keep me from thinking about food all the time!

Sally Squires: Two to three cups of coffee is not a big deal, unless the caffeine is interfering with your sleep, giving you heart palpitations, headaches, etc. But if you're worried about it, you might get some decaf beans or brew to mix with the full strength stuff or substitute for it.

Now the munching can be more difficult. So consider cutting up healthy veggies and fruit in the a.m. when you are not hungry. Park in the front of the fridge where you can reach for it first. You might also have clear soups and flavorful teas ready to sip. Since it's hot, you can't down it too quickly. And we just tried some green tea with peppermint Candy Cane Lane Holiday Decaf Green Tea by Celestial Seasonings that is terrific. It may be available now in limited quantities, but it's an example of what is out there to sip.

Hard candy might be another option. You could limit amounts by putting together a little treat bag in the a.m. When it's gone, it's gone...

Other thoughts out there to combat mindless snacking during work?

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Sharing entrees: Do these people who share entrees TIP on the price of two meals? Or do they stiff the staff, which has to do as much work, if not more, to serve them as if they ordered individually?

Sally Squires: I'm hoping that they tip to reflect two diners. But it's a very good question. How about it? What do you do?

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Portland, Ore.: For shopping: yes, I have several reusable store bags, but my favorite containers are two baskets made by a women's coop in Ghana. They're good-sized, rigid-sided (so they don't collapse when you're loading them), beautiful, STRONG and light when not loaded. I'm sure I've carried 30 pounds of groceries in each one, and the leather-wrapped handles never threaten to break. Disadvantage: one cost $20, the other slightly over $30. But they will last nearly forever, I've economically helped some women in Africa whom I'll never meet, and I always, always get comments about how wonderful the baskets are. A great find - I leave them in my car and use them just about every day.

Sally Squires: What a wonderful idea, Portland! Is there a place where we can find this co-op on-line? Or if others know of similar co-ops, please send the info our way. Thanks! By the way, I love the fact that the Portland Oregonian is one of the Lean Plate Club newspapers. If you'd like to read the column in your paper, please send me an e-mail to leanplatelcub@washpost.com.

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leg cramps: Isn't there some mineral, like potassium in bananas, that help with middle of the night leg cramps? I can't remember quite what it was.

Sally Squires: Yes, low potassium can indeed be one cause of night-time leg cramps. Low iron may also affect some people, as can B12 deficiency. We'll try to post a link to more information on leg cramps in a minute. Hope that helps.

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Indianapolis: Since I have a meeting during your Web chat, I'm submitting early.

When eating out, I almost always have takeout. I'm trying to remember to ask for the takeout box when I get my food, so I can put part of it in the box early. If I wait to ask for the box when I think I'm done eating, I tend to continue eating until the takeout box arrives.

As far as getting rid of plastic, I have "grocery bags" from Trader Joes that I use instead. I've noticed a lot more groceries stores selling bags now. I even saw it in military grocery stores (commissaries).

Sally Squires: Your posting reminds of one of a Lean Plate Club member who used the Holiday Challenge as a springboard to major weight loss. She is a university professor who loves to eat out and did so at least five times a week. But once the food arrived, she started putting half it it right into a take out container which became another meal. She wound up losing more than 70 pounds by making this and other changes. Pretty inspiring, don't you think?

Thanks!

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Fairfax, Va.: I'm trying to lower my cholesterol. Is boneless chicken breast really much better than beef? While it's lower in fat, the nutrition labels show almost as much cholesterol. Should I eat less boneless chicken breast too?

Sally Squires: There are a number of diet changes that you can make to help lower blood cholesterol. Switching from fatty meat--think pepperoni, bacon, fatty hamburger, salami, sausage, etc.--to skinless chicken breasts would be a very smart choice. (You'll also likely get less sodium that way too.) But as you point out, lean red meat is not all that different in either saturated fat or cholesterol from chicken breasts without the skin. So you may be able to alternate.

But saturated fat and trans fat are likely bigger players in your diet than dietary cholesterol. We'll post a link in a minute to the Portfolio Plan, a cholesterol-lowering diet designed by David Jenkins at the University of Toronto. It includes foods that individually each lower cholesterol a little; collectively, they can lower blood cholesterol as much as some prescription drugs.

Hope that helps.

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washingtonpost.com: A Smart Diet is Good for What Ails You (Post, Oct. 2, 2007)

Sally Squires: As promised...

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Portland, Oregon: Finding the Ghanaian shopping baskets: Unfortunately, I just stumbled upon the first basket several years ago at a music/craft fair in Seattle, and the second about a year ago at a small shop on the Oregon coast. If your area has any kind of retail store that sells international crafts/basketry (such as 10,000 Villages here on the West coast), I suggest plaguing them with requests until they do the research and find an importer. You might find something by searching online, but basically I just got lucky.

Sally Squires: Thanks much for the update. If anyone else finds sources of these or other baskets on-line please let us know.

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washingtonpost.com: Night Leg Cramps (mayoclinic.org)

Sally Squires: As promised...

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Georgetown: I am all for full disclosure of nutrition information for restaurants, wherever practical. I am fed up with restaurateur's saying that we "don't want to know" nutrition facts or that it "doesn't matter" because eating out is a "special occasion." What other health risks are we willing to bury our head in the sand about?

While it may may be easy to know that the fried chicken salad is not the healthiest option, there are many examples of items that sound healthy/light but aren't, and only the cold hard nutrition facts can save us from making a mistake.

I love Rock Creek restaurant and hope the idea of healthy, nutritious and delicious food with reasonable portion sizes and calorie/fat content catches on, especially since I live in Virginia and can't make it out there that often.

Sally Squires: For those who have not yet read today's e-mail newsletter, I asked if Lean Plate Club members would like to see restaurants carry nutrition facts on their menus. And for those who don't live in the DC region, Rock Creek is a restaurant that does carry this info.

Elsewhere, Seasons 52 is a small group of "white table cloth" restaurants that also label their menus with calories, etc. For the most part, the only other restaurants that take these steps are the fast food chains and places such as Ruby Tuesday, etc. Find a growing listing of restaurant info on the Lean Plate Club homepage under tools.

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I tip 20 percent of the bill. Period.: Why is carrying one full plate more work than carrying two full plates? Methinks that waiter just likes complaining. You'll get a good tip from me, but it's based on the bill, not the number of diners.

Sally Squires: Good point. Thanks.

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Basking Ridge, NJ: I'm one of those high-maintenance types who grills the servers about whether the chicken is made with oil, whether I can get the eggs scrambled without butter, and whether or not there's cream in the soup. I also routinely bring my own low-fat dressing for salads since I don't trust the restaurant's dressings. While I'm sure my vigilance saves me calories, it also makes me feel like a royal pain in front of my fellow diners. Anything I can do to seem a little more easygoing to my tablemates while maintaining my diet? It's not like I'm trying to seem better than anyone--I really wish I were the one ordering the fettuccine Alfredo, extra sauce!!!

Sally Squires: You're not alone in doing this. When we were filming our upcoming PBS documentary--Triumph at Carville: A Tale of Leprosy in America (slated to air on March 28 at 10 p.m. ET; check local listings to be sure), our film crew carried their own salad dressing too. And I know that fitness guru Jack LaLanne--now 93 years young!--eats out nearly every night and does the same thing. So I say, be polite, smile and go for it. After all, it's your body and you're paying the bill both for dinner--and for any upcoming medical expenses.

If you'd like to see Jack LaLanne in action, catch him on video at the Lean Plate Club home-page.

And I hope many of you will get to tune-in to Triumph at Carville. We spent 10 years doing the project. And it has an original score by Bela Fleck with accompaniment by Edgar Meyer and others.

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no flour, no power: I went to my first Overeaters Anonymous meeting last night, and the strategy seemed to be no flour, no sugar, no snacks. Their mantra was 3 meals a day, 0 snacks, and take it 1 day at a time. I feel like my life is made up of flour, sometimes whole wheat, and sometimes gram flour, but I can't imagine a world without it, hence, one day at a time. It was suggested to me to check out the American Diabetes Association for a diet plan, as I guess they have similar obstacles. My problem is that while I eat a little meat from time to time (1 or 2 meals a week), hubby is vegetarian, and I can't fathom what I could cook anymore. It was suggested to me that oatmeal and eggs make a good breakfast, but salad and beans or legumes for lunch and dinner seems like a death sentence. Please, could you offer me some food suggestions?

Sally Squires: OA has worked quite well for many people. But it doesn't fit everyone. It may not be for you. Neither may eating three meals and skipping snacks. Some people do better on five or six small meals. Others on regular meals with a couple of tiny snacks. You need to figure out what works best for you.

Whole grains are a wonderful source of healthful carbohydrates. But so are hummus, salsa, split pea soup, tomato soup, pasta, bean and many other foods that are plant based, popular and yes, vegetarian.

You might also check out the American Heart Association, Weight Watchers, the American Institute for Cancer Research,

Dean Ornish, the DASH diet and more for great, healthy eating plans. Others are by Walter Willett and also Secrets of the Lean Plate Club--written by me with help from all of you. There's a quiz in the front that may help you determine if you are an emotional eater. It's from Yale University's Kelly Brownell.

Hope that helps.

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Sally Squires: We're out of time, so winners today are:

Lexington, Portland, Minneapolis, Indianapolis and No Flour, No Power. Please send your name, address to leanplateclub@washpost.com and please include winner in the subject line.

Join me between now and next Tuesday on the Lean Plate Club Discussion Group, where we're talking more about those plastic bags and many other newsy topics.

Until then, eat smart and move more with the Lean Plate Club.

Thanks to all!

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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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