Lean Plate Club

Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, March 11, 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.

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. I've been talking to experts about the recent findings that drinking water has trace amounts of contaminants. We can talk more about that or about the new USDA menu planner. You'll find more about both in today's Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter, which should be in your electronic in-boxes now.

In today's issue, find some great recipes from the Oregonian and the Los Angeles Times -- two subscribing newspapers to the Lean Plate Club column -- as well a a white northern bean chili from Meatless Monday and plenty of others.

Now on to the chat!


McLean, Va.: Hi Sally. I like the idea of using frozen fruit for convenience and cost-saving, but, other than using it in smoothies, I've never had much luck -- defrosting seems to turn frozen berries, mangoes, etc., to mush. Any suggestions?

Sally Squires: I've had good success using frozen berries in pancakes, muffins, breads, etc. Also, before so many flavors were available in yogurt, I used to take frozen blueberries and mix them with nonfat plain yogurt for a pretty good dessert.

I keep very ripe bananas in the freezer and use them for those smoothies or in baking. And I sometimes snack on slightly thawed frozen peaches or raspberries (without added sugar.) If you eat them slightly frozen, they're much less mushy.

Other thoughts out there?


Washington, D.C.: Here's an easy and delicious vegetable side dish. I use winter squash (I like butternut); peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks. Put into a baking dish, drizzle generously with good olive oil and bake until done. The squash comes out looking like yams (gorgeous color) and the natural sweetness is enhanced by the olive oil.

Sally Squires: That sounds delicious, although for those watching their calories, being too generous with the olive oil could add a fair amount of calories. Each tablespoon of olive oil has about 120 calories. On the other hand, that squash is quite low in calories.

I have become a huge fan of spaghetti squash. Depending on how many are eating dinner at our house, I pop the leftovers into a container and put them into the freezer. We now (almost) prefer spaghetti squash to pasta. Well, almost!


Indiana: I tried the new electronic planner and entered yesterdays food log. I LOVE IT! I have been focusing in on calories but this helped me see it based on the fruit/vegetable/grain goals. The area that I thought I was poor in (vegetables) was actually good. I had not been worrying about grains because I thought I was eating enough but I was low (a little better than 1/2 of what I should eat.) That was a shock but now I will work on eating more grains. This is a good use of taxpayer monies.

The only thing I wondered was, how do you add items you eat that are not listed like frozen meals or for example blackberries were not in the database. Other than that I would use it to help improve my eating choices.

Sally Squires: Thanks very much for the feedback on this new electronic tool from the U.S.D.A. You Lean Plate Club members are among the first to test drive this tool, which was just unveiled this morning at 12:01 a.m. (I would have tried it then but we had an unusual power outage at 11 p.m. last night.)

After the chat, I'll raise your questions and others' with the USDA folks who designed this new interactive tool.

Other thoughts out there about it?


Oberlin, Ohio: Hi Sally!

Appreciate all your tips and the readers, too. I tried the new USDA electronic planner this morning but have gotten nowhere trying to enter grains like buckwheat, amaranth, teff spelts or quinoa. Only wheat or barley works when you use the search function for the menu planner. What gives? If we are supposed to be eating more whole grain they need to step it up. The visuals are nice, not too thrilled with the bonky audio add on.

Sally Squires: That's a very interesting finding, Oberlin. Makes me wonder if these ancient grains are not yet in the database, although they should be. I'll ask and report back.


Eugene, Ore.: I need a little help with strategy.

The good news is I'm losing weight steadily with a combination of sensible eating and exercise. (I've discovered the no-impact "dance" workout called NIA which makes it so much fun to move.) I've lost about 15 pounds in two months.

The "bad" news is: my big clothes are starting to hang on me and my slim clothes that I saved, hoping to fit into them someday, are still too slim.

So, Sally, any advice or strategies for bridging the time until my slim clothes fit again? I don't want to wear the baggy trousers and I don't want to invest in a transition wardrobe -- that would be counter-motivational. Any help is appreciated.

Sally Squires: Congratulations on those 15 pounds, Eugene! That's very cool. And I understand your dilemma. No sense in loading up on stuff you may not be using in the future. On the other hand, you might treat yourself to a couple of clothing items that you could wear even as your slimmer self. Lands End, Chicos and even Wal-Mart often have pants and skirts with elastic bands that will go a couple of sizes either way.

You might also try vintage clothing stores for something different and fun that will make you feel great as you are transitioning. Or you could swap with friends or family...

Other ideas out there?


Frozen berries: Hi Sally,

Frozen cranberries are great when cooking steel cut oats. Immediately after adding the oats to the boiling water, I pour in some frozen cranberries and let the whole thing simmer for about 30 minutes. I imagine any kind of berry would work as well. Only one note of caution - don't let it boil too vigorously, or the berries tend to pop and splatter a bit. I often make several servings at a time and refrigerate the leftovers for easy breakfast all week.

Sally Squires: That sounds great! And reminds me of a demonstration at the Worlds of Healthy Flavors where Chef Mark Furstenberg made steel cut oats with dried apricots and cherries in a slow cooker. I hope to get him on camera one of these days soon so that he can show all of you with video on our Web site. Stay tuned...


Ellicott City, Md.: I'm a type 2 diabetic, and I try to eat fairly low carb. I have a recipe for a Ghanian chicken stew that is normally served over rice. I've thought of serving it over green beans, but I'd like some other low-carb ideas. Do you have any suggestions for foods to replace pasta or rice when you have a meat sauce or stew? Thanks.

Sally Squires: Yes. Spaghetti squash would be one excellent option. Also, you can now get all kinds of higher-protein, lower-carb pastas with whole grains that may be worth trying (and checking how they fit with your nutritional needs.)

Hope this helps. Other thoughts out there?


Frozen Fruit: In the hot summer, I like to eat mostly frozen cherries with cocoa powder sprinkled on top. I feel like I am getting an "ice-cream" style treat without all the calories, fat and dairy.

Sally Squires: Yum. That sounds really good. I eat those frozen dark bing cherries too. And the best thing is that they are always in season. By the way, besides good flavor, that cocoa has stearic acid -- a healthy fat -- in it too.


Annapolis, Md.: I have a large can of pumpkin for use in pumpkin pie, but I really don't feel up to making a pie and want to use up the can. Do you know of a soup recipe that I can try instead?

Sally Squires: You bet Annapolis. We've got some recipes from our Recipe Database including one for Australian Pumpkin Soup (although that appears to be butternut squash. You could also try it with regular pumpkin.) But don't despair: I also just found recipes for pumpkin bread, pumpkin burgers and pumpkin apple soup. Links to be posted in a minute. Anyone else have a pumpkin soup recipe that they'd like to share?


washingtonpost.com: Southwestern Pumpkin Burgers

Sally Squires: As promised...


washingtonpost.com: Sherried Pumpkin Apple Soup

Sally Squires: As promised...


washingtonpost.com: Pumpkin-Wheat Bread

Sally Squires: As promised...


washingtonpost.com: Australian Pumpkin Soup

Sally Squires: As promised...


washingtonpost.com: Nia: A Group Dance Exercise With Purpose (fitcommerce.com)

Sally Squires: As promised...and thanks to our intrepid producer Paul Williams for coding in these links!


Philadelphia: Can you supply the link to the new USDA site? I can't seem to get there on my own and this is something I'd love to try.


washingtonpost.com: Here you go.

Sally Squires: Here you go Philly. And for those who are wondering, the USDA today unveiled a new interactive tool called My Menu Planner. It allows you to plug in your food, see how it rates and then, as needed, find healthier choices.

What do you think about it? Please send in your feedback.


Salt Lake City: For the reader who is in need of a transition wardrobe, I understand. I have lost nearly 50 pounds, but don't plan to stay here long. I have had good success with the "comfort" waist pants. I went out and bought a couple of pairs (that I could wear with different shirts) that were on the small size of where I was (possible with the stretchy waist), and now I have shrunk into them. I hope to be able to where them for quite a few more pounds. I have also found that I have to do laundry more frequently until I am willing to fork out the cash for a new wardrobe.

Sally Squires: Fifty pounds! Way to go Salt Lake. Congratulations and thanks for chiming in today. Continued success with your efforts. You could soon be part of our gallery of Successful Losers!


Morganfield, Ky.: For dieter who has lost weight-

I understand your problem and why you feel it might be counterproductive. However, its my understanding that it takes about 10 pounds to drop a size. At a healthy rate of weight loss, it might be another two months before you are able to fit into a smaller size. I think it might be very motivational for you to show off the progress you are making and to feel good in the clothes you are wearing. Sally's ideas are good, but I think it might be worth it to invest in a least one pair of pants or jeans that fit you really well right now. You'll feel a little more confident going out and the compliments you'll receive will keep you motivated to lose those last few pounds you are working towards.

Sally Squires: We're in agreement...Get a few things now either by purchase or trade and get ready to really have fun SHOPPING later, right?

Thanks for weighing in.


New England: An idea for getting a wardrobe - maybe advertise two listings on Craigslist. One that you want size X and another that you have a wardrobe of size X+2 to give away. There has to be someone else in your city who has lost weight and is now at X-1 or someone who has gained weight and is now at X+1, and would be willing to get rid of a stack of stuff. As you lose more weight, relist the clothes and let someone else use them. I'm surprised the larger weight loss support groups (WW?) don't offer something like this already.

Sally Squires: That's a great idea, New England. I often forget to use Craig's List, but when I do, am always surprised at how much I find. Thanks for the tip.


washingtonpost.com: Pumpkin and Tomato Curry

Sally Squires: One more pumpkin recipe buried in the queue.


Winona, Minn.: Lunch today: good clean (I hope) well water, Ak-Mak (I am not associated with company, but everyone out there should try these wonderful crackers), and Red Lentil Soup from Quick-Fix Vegetarian by Robin Robertson. I got the book from the library last weekend and made this wonderful soup, and it works great as left-overs now during the work week.

1 T olive oil, 1 bunch green onions, 1 T curry powder, 1 cup red lentils (rinsed), 1 can diced tomatoes, 4 cups veggie broth, salt & pepper, any veggie (I used frozen peas), extra water as needed to thin soup.

Heat oil, add green onion and curry, cook 30 seconds, stir in lentils, tomatoes, and broth, simmer 10 minutes, add veggies, salt, pepper, simmer 10 more minutes until lentils are soft, adding water if soup is too thick. This is the best tasting lentil soup I have ever tried. I plan to try more recipes from this cookbook.

Sally Squires: I agree: Those Ak-mak crackers are wonderful. And I buy them at Trader Joe's for about 50 cents less per box than at Whole Foods. They're a healthy whole grain and are fairly low--as crackers go--on sodium. (And like you, I have no connection with the company, other than being a fan of their products.)

That lentil soup also sounds great. And checking out cookbooks from the library is such a smart way to try new recipes without having to clutter your house with added volumes. And as you likely know, those lentils not only quick quickly, but are filled with complex carbs, fiber, protein and last but not least, flavor! Plus, they're a bargain. And if you're like me, I'm always looking for ways to stretch food dollars, especially with the rising cost of gas which is starting to be reflected in higher food costs.


washingtonpost.com: Lean Plate Club Success Stories

Sally Squires: For those who have not yet seen our latest successful loser--meet Sonia Bunch, who has lost 75 pounds. And find plenty of other successful losers. If you've lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year, we'd love to hear from you too. Send me an e-mail to leanplateclub@washpost.com.


Anonymous: Just broke my leg and will spend the next six weeks in a cast. I'm 65, in good health, doing home PT but of course not as active. Any suggestions on what percentage to cut back on food?

Sally Squires: So very sorry to hear about this injury. It sounds very painful. To get a rough estimate of the daily calories you need to stay even, take your weight in pounds and multiply by 10. That's a baseline. (Others who are not in a cast, can multiple weight by 12.)

So if you weight 160 pounds, you can aim for about 1,600 calories per day to stay at your current weight. Try that level for a week and it you see any pounds going on, you might scale back to 1,500 calories. (We lose muscle mass as we age, so your daily calorie needs could be a little lower.)

Then try for as much high volume food as possible. That means fiber, water filled soups and stews (but not cream based) anything puffed (including smoothies and popcorn),which is filled with air. Fruits and vegetables, beans, hot cereal, plenty of interesting tasting teas would all be good options for you. Ditto for whole grains and lean meat, poultry or fish. Check with your doctor to be sure you are getting enough calcium and vitamin D which are very important for bone health and repair.

Sonia Bunch, our newest successful loser, sprained her ankle while losing 75 pounds. She was really worried about gaining weight, but managed with careful eating and isometrics for the uninjured parts of her body to stay the course.

Hope you'll let us know how it goes. And wishing you a very speedy recovery!


Keep on keeping on!: Just wanted to share that after two months of plateau followed by a month of gain (I gained back 15 percent of what I had lost, how depressing) I made a promise to myself that I was going to give it a really good effort for a week and see how it goes. Just a week. To prove to myself that I'm in charge. So I did, watched what I ate and counted calories, made it to the gym 5 days a week. And I finally lost, 3 lbs, one week, as if my body was so thankful to get back to healthy habits. Good luck to everyone out there, and stick with it!

Sally Squires: Hooray!! You'll get lots of cheers from us. Congratulations. Thanks for the update and for providing a great example of staying the course.


I vote for frozen fruit: Sally, I do the same thing you do with frozen fruit, and I love it! My favs are frozen whole strawberries, pineapples and mangoes. Harris Teeter sells a frozen fruit pack containing just those three fruits for about $3.50 for one pack. This saves me time from having to always pick fresh fruit, and saves me money because frozen lasts longer and usually tastes better because the juices from the fruit are preserved at the peak.

I fear that the availability of frozen fruit (and canned) could decline due to oil shortages and soaring prices.

Sally Squires: Yes, I hope that doesn't happen too. I have noticed that my local Trader Joe's are no longer carrying raspberries (or black truffle oil or walnut oil.) I've also found huge bags of frozen berries (without added sugar) at Costco.

Fingers crossed that our economic outlook improves!


Syracuse, N.Y.: I just made banana muffins w/whole wheat flour & flax seed meal(?). Could not find wheat germ so substituted wheat bran flakes. Used apple sauce instead of oil. They were moist and delicious. Is this a good morning snack that would be considered whole grain?

Sally Squires: Sounds delicious, Syracuse. (Can you tell I have not yet had lunch?) Whole wheat flour is indeed a whole grain. Flaxseed has healthy omega three fats in it. And the apple sauce and bananas count towards your servings of fruit for the day. Plus, those wheat bran flakes provide fiber. Seems like a winner to me. How did they taste?


Chatham, Ill.: Regarding your salt recommendation: "... Adequate intake is 1,300 milligrams per day for people ages 51 to 70 and 1,200 for those 71 and older. ..." While I agree this is very important -- in practical terms it's very difficult to stick to and I think it gets worse as we get older and have to depend on assisted living facilities and nursing homes. The food served in those places is VERY salty -- I complain but it doesn't seem to do any good. My MIL is at an assisted living facility and I would swear their staff pours salt on everything.

Sally Squires: Unfortunately, salt is one of the quick ways to add flavor to foods that are lower in fat, so you're right:Most of us consume way too much sodium. It's too bad, because once you start substituting other flavors, your palate quickly adjusts and finds that old food way too salty. Based on drumbeats that I keep hearing in the food industry with prodding from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, I suspect that we consumers will be finding more lower salt options. And hopefully that will move into assisted living facilities too. My mother-in-law lives in just such a place as well so I understand the difficulties.

Thanks for chiming in.


Maryland: Sally,

What do you think of the Michael Thurmond's "Six Week Body Makeover"? I am considering this program for myself and husband.


Sally Squires: I'll have to take a closer look to say anything informed about it. In the meantime, remember this: all diets work for someone. No diet works for everyone. Carefully evaluate the promises made and look at whether the program is something that you can LIVE with for a long time. You can lose weight lots of different ways. The question is, can you and your husband live this way. Only you can really answer that question.


Arlington, Va.: On clothes to wear during extended weight loss: go to your local dry cleaner to get your current clothes tailored! Believe it or not, they can take in clothes at least a couple of sizes.

Sally Squires: That's a great idea, although do check the cost ahead of time. I had a jacket lining that proved to be more expensive to fix than to replace.


Washington, D.C.: Please discuss ways to lose 10-15 pounds for older adults. I walk 3 miles at least three times a week, make sound food choices (no fast food, no desserts) but I still have a very difficult time. What do you suggest?

Sally Squires: You're doing some great things. If you aren't already doing strength training, you might consider adding that to help tone muscle and maybe even add a little. Muscle burns more calories than fat. Beginning in middle age, we lose about 1 percent of muscle mass per year. So weight training can help stem the tide.

You can also build muscle. Even 90-year-old can do that. But you won't build as much as a 20-year-old body builder and it won't happen overnight. You might check out the National Institute on Aging's weight training program for older adults. Also Miriam Nelson's Strong Women site has a lot of information to help.

Then, check to see how active you are when you're not working out. You might consider getting a pedometer. If you're getting 7,000 steps or less per day, you are likely pretty sedentary. And that reminds me to tell you that I'm test driving a pedometer by Omron (no connection with the company, I bought the pedometer myself). It fits in your pocket and measures steps as well as other activity. I'll let you know how it goes.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Sally: I've been adding more beans to my diet and generally add them to whatever soup and veggie recipe I'm making with some tasty results. My problem is with calculating the calories. For dried beans, the nutritional info is for dry weight. Is there a conversion for once I've soaked them to know what the corresponding serving is? Maybe I need to weigh them dry and cooked and then do a little math? Not sure. Thanks!

Sally Squires: My Pyramid.gov has a great site that will help you with this. Look Inside the Pyramid, then check the meats and beans category. (Yes, I know this takes a little digging.) Once there click on what's in a serving.

A quarter cup of dried beans usually makes about half a cup of beans. As a rule of thumb, a cup of beans has about 160 calories. Half a cup has 80 calories.

Hope that helps.


washingtonpost.com: Strength Training for Older Adults (cdc.gov)

Sally Squires: As promised.


Sally Squires: We're out of time--and I've got to write for tomorrow's paper on water--so thanks to all for a great chat. Winners today are Indiana, Eugene, Ellicott City, Anonymous and Salt Lake City.

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

Join me and other Lean Plate Club members on the new Lean Plate Club Discussion Group daily. Also, look for Triumph at Carville: A Tale of Leprosy in America--a PBS documentary that grew out of stories I wrote for the Post later this month. It's slated to air nationally on Friday, March 28 at 10 p.m., but check local listings to be sure.

Until next week: eat smart and move more with the Lean Plate Club.


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