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Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, April 15, 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.

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Sally Squires's Recent Columns

Discussion Transcripts

A transcript follows.

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Sally Squires: Welcome to the Lean Plate Club! We've got probiotics as one of the topics up for discussion.

Also, for an upcoming Lean Plate Club column, I'd love to know if any of you take vitamin D supplements? If you'd be willing to talk about why you take them--or why you don't--please zip me an e-mail to leanplateclub@washpost.com and please put vitamin D in the subject line.

Today's Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter should be in your electronic in-boxes right now. In it, find links to Crossfit, a very rigorous workout--definitely not for everybody--but interesting to check out.

Plus, there are links to plenty of recipes, including some for Passover, which begins this weekend. Among the others: Salmon Arugula Wraps, Chicken and Summer Vegetable Tostadas and a Pork Burrito that is a finalist for the Pillsbury Bake-off.

Now, on to the chat!

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Vienna, Va.: As for affordable lunches, I often have a falafel sandwich at Perfect Pita. It comes in about $5.50, and is quite filling. If I don't want a big lunch, I'll get the whole wheat pita with hummus side-- together for a grand total of $1.02! Makes a good afternoon snack, too. And no, I don't work for Perfect Pita or represent them in any way.

Sally Squires: Those sound like delicious lunches that also happen to be healthy and can fit the current economic pinch we are all feeling. In today's Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter, I asked for cheap eats that are also great tasting -- and of course, healthy!

Got one? Send it our way. And in this case, I'm looking for those lunches that you have to buy out, not the ones that you can eat by bringing from home.

We'll keep this feature going while the economic downturn continues.

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Falls Church, Va.: I don't think there are lunchtime bargains in D.C. I bring my lunch almost every day, I strive for 4 out of 5 days, and then "allow" myself to get take-out one day a week, and I try to keep that to $7. I sometimes supplement what I bring with something from our cafeteria. I bring snacks from home and also either drink ice water (from our filtered water supply here) or the little Crystal Light on the go things that you add to water. There are some places such as International Square and other carryouts, where you can eat for under $10 and that includes your meal and a drink.

Sally Squires: Sounds like a great plan. And can you believe that we now think eating for under $10 for lunch is somewhat of a bargain? I'll date myself with this, but I recall living in NYC and working in publishing. Salaries were so low that I had to live in the Columbia University Medical Students dorm. For a splurge, my college roommate and I used to go to restaurants in Manhattan for lunch, where we could only afford to order an appetizer and then split a dessert.

Needless to say, the waiters weren't so thrilled with us, but we were very broke!

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Tallahassee, Fla.: It's expensive everywhere -- even here lunches are usually around $7-10. Friends and I save money by splitting. Yesterday, we got two baked potatoes, a bowl of chili and two cups of water -- all for around five dollars. If we can both eat for five or six dollars, then we're doing good.

Sally Squires: Actually, I'm really sorry to hear that about Tallahassee. We here in the Nation's Capitol are under the illusion that if we lived outside the Beltway, we might stretch our dollars farther. But it's good to know the splitting of meals works well nationwide!

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Harrisonburg, Va: I've been reading a lot about nutrition and what and how much to eat. If I consumed all the necessary servings of diary, fruits, vegetables, and protein that is recommended, I would gain weight from eating so much. What are your thoughts on this?

Sally Squires: Actually, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee did these very calculations for all of us. Meeting all the recommended intakes can be tight, but it is doable. It's just that most of us have very, very few "discretionary" calories for things like a little margarine on toast, a little salad dressing or, dare I say, a small piece of dark chocolate?

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San Francisco: I've been taking acidophilus for years on the recommendation of a doctor who couldn't figure out what to do about my idiopathic, but severe and occasionally disabling abdominal pains. She proposed it as a guess . . . and it saved my quality of life. My "lactoses intolerant" husband also now takes acidophilus with his multi, and can have all the dairy he needs. We've added lactobacillus GG - it helped kick eczema.

Sally Squires: As a former childhood eczema sufferer, I sure wish that this possible benefit from probiotics had been known when I was a kid. Would have save me a lot of itching! And it definitely would have been worth a try over the medicines that the dermatologist gave me that often caused sleepiness.

The whole probiotic field is continuing to unfold with interesting results. But I should underscore that even proponents say there is much to be learned. Glad that it has worked out so well for you and your husband. Thanks for weighing in.

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Always on a Diet in NoVA: Hi Sally,

As a consistent dieter, it is blatantly obvious for me that my weight is a direct result of the food I eat. Unfortunately, I can't hire a personal chef and it doesn't seem that there are many home delivery options in this area. I am a single, busy late 20's woman and I feel like I need a diet with more structure meaning I either need someone to tell me what exactly I should be eating or have something already planned for me. I was wondering if you had any recommendations for diet plans where I would be able to have someone customize a food plan for me based on my needs or for places where I could buy all my meals. Thanks for any assistance you can provide.

Sally Squires: There are a growing number of options that may fit well with your lifestyle. And few of us can hire a personal chef. But let's also point out that even Oprah who can and does have a personal chef, still struggles with weight. So that's not the only solution.

If you are not into cooking -- or simply don't have time -- consider stocking up on prepared frozen meals. They're often on sale at Giant, Safeway and I've seen them at Costco and suspect Sam's Club probably has them too.

Kashi makes some great meals. So do Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, Weight Watchers, Smart Ones. The list continues to grow. They can help you with portion control and having something to grab when you are hungry. Just a heads up: they often have moderate to high in sodium.

Soups are another great food to have on hand.

If you want a more structured program, think of Weight Watchers, Nutrisystems, Jenny Craig, Diet to Go, and Slimfast.

They provide mostly processed foods. But you will get portion control. These plans may be more affordable than you think. Shipping is sometimes free. And you can find some online communities -- as well as well as meeting with Weight Watchers -- to help in your efforts. Plus, we are here to cheer you on.

Hope that helps.

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washingtonpost.com: Ready to Lose a Few Pounds? They've Got a Plan for You (Post, Jan. 8)

Sally Squires: Here's a Lean Plate Club column about "boxed" diet plans.

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Seattle: Hey Sally,

It's interesting to note that probiotics and probiotic "foods" have been used in other countries for many years. When I lived in SE Asia in the early 1980s, a popular food was Yakult, basically a little yogurt shot of probiotics. On a more immediate note, I have sent two kids off traveling, one to Mexico and one to Peru, with their "happy germs" in tow. On both occasions, they were the only member of their groups to avoid "travelers diarrhea." What more can I add!

Deb Katz, RD

Seattle

Sally Squires: That says it all! Thanks very much.

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Passover is almost, here: With Passover approaching fast, I begin my annual search for healthy, Passover-appropriate foods to feed myself and my family for 8 days. Nearly all grains are out (whole or otherwise), and it makes it tricky to eat enough healthy food. I'm hoping you or the peanut gallery have some good ideas. Thanks!

Sally Squires: "Hip Kosher" by Ronnie Fein is one of the first options that comes to mind. But let me also open this to the membership at large for more.

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washingtonpost.com: COOKBOOK: 'Hip Kosher: 175 Easy-to-Prepare Recipes for Today's Kosher Cooks' (freep.com)

Sally Squires: As promised...

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Richmond, Va.: Got my first scale ever (I'm 46), but want to be cautious about over weighing and stressing over minor fluctuations. How often should I weigh myself? I can't help but wonder if I'd been tracking my weight for the last few years I might not have been able to coast along in denial for so long.

Sally Squires: You're very wise to think about this. So once a day if fine. Best time to weigh yourself is in the morning, just after hitting the bathroom and step on that scale in your birthday suit. Also be sure that the scale is placed in the same spot. (Numbers can fluctuate.) And there are a number of scales now that will track the pounds for you, day to day and keep a running total.

As an experiment, you could take a weekend day and weigh yourself throughout it just to see how much weight does fluctuate. It isn't unusual to see two, three, four pound shifts. Also women can easily experience three to eight pound monthly shifts premenstrually. It will all even out eventually...That's why it's important to use the scale as on of many tools.

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Green Bay, Wis.: Is it my imagination or is it possible that since I've entered menopause it has been increasingly difficult to maintain my weight? I'm starting to bulge in places I don't want to bulge. I'm exercising harder and eating smaller portions but it's not coming off like it use to. I feel like I'm trudging up a very slippery slope. And to make it worse my husband thinks I'm just making excuses. Help.

Sally Squires: It's definitely NOT your imagination. And you're not alone. The declining estrogen seen with menopause does all kinds of new things to the body and especially helps accumulate weight around the middle.

If you're not yet engaging in weight training, now is the time to start. Check out Strong Women by Miriam Nelsonm PhD., of Tufts University.

Also, go easy on the alcohol. It's definitely linked to weight around the middle. And at 7 calories per gram, alcohol is second only to fat in calories. Plus, there's growing evidence that alcohol raises risk of breast cancer for women.

If you can get enough sleep that may help too. Also, try to stay as active as possible throughout the day, in addition to workouts. I'm writing this chat while standing up. And if I ever get my wish, I'll be walking on a treadmill at a very low pace while writing one day soon.

Hope that helps. Hang in there.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hello, please help if you can. I'm on my get-healthy journey and I try to eat very healthy, especially at home, where I have the most control. My problem is brown rice. I like the stuff that takes 45 minutes to cook. I don't enjoy the quick cook kind. I don't have a rice cooker and I don't have a huge amount of space so I'm wondering is there a way to cook rice in a slow cooker?

Sally Squires: I'm certain that you can, although I have never tried it myself. But there are a number of recipes for doing this very thing. (And your question is going to inspire me to try cooking brown rice at home.)

In the meantime, here's what I do:

I make a large batch of brown rice, then freeze in either half cup or one cup portions. When we need rice, I just take out a bag, stick it in the microwave--or if there's more time--in the fridge to thaw.

It works well and means we always have rice available for side dishes, soups, even fritattas.

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Arlington, Va.: Another good idea for saving money on lunches... there is a Harris Teeter right next to where I work and my colleagues and I often try to hit up the grocery store at lunchtime. They have a lot of CHEAP premade sandwiches, salads, etc. and many of the stores also have a deli counter where you can get made to order sandwiches for less than $5. There is a hot and cold sandwich special each day of the week for just $2.50 and they are BIG!!! Grab a piece of fruit or some veggies and you're good to go for sometimes way less than $5 and a very filling meal.

Sally Squires: Grocery stores can be a great place to get lunch. And now with a number of groceries coming downtown, this can be a really smart option. Thanks!

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washingtonpost.com: strongwomen.com

Sally Squires: As promised, information on Strong Women.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I recently heard that manufacturers pasteurize dairy so much that they take out all the healthy bacteria and that these new food products are simply ones where they add these "healthy bacteria" back in post processing. I also heard that the bacteria they put back in are not even necessarily the ones that should be in these respective dairy products either.

Sally Squires: Pasteurization--which involves heating--does kill microbes including some friendly bacteria. But by definition, yogurt must contain live cultures. Whether those strains of bacteria can make the transit through the acid-filled stomach is what is uncertain. So scientists--and food companies--are looking for ways to deliver this friendly bacteria to places where it can thrive. The other option: to provide food that can help the friendly bacteria in the body flourish.

And yes, some of the strains added don't naturally occur in these foods but are being added because of their health benefits. Hope that clarifies things.

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Falls Church, Va: Would it be safe to consume the yogurt and cheese with probiotics while pregnant? I was wondering if they'd help with pregnancy-related constipation.

Sally Squires: Drinking extra water and getting plenty of fiber and activity can help with that pregnancy related constipation. The iron in prenatal vitamins can sometimes slow transit through the GI tract.

As for consuming probiotics: check with your doctor to find out what is okay for your particular needs and what is not. For example, there are some cheeses that pregnant women are urged to avoid. I've never seen yogurt on the list of products to be banned unless it's made from raw milk. But again, the safe thing is to ask your doctor.

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Washington, D.C.: Years ago in college (early '80s) I got my first yeast infection. The doctor told me to eat yogurt every day in addition to taking the meds prescribed. Ever since then I've tried to eat yogurt when I have to take antibiotics for any reason. I think it generally worked--only had two other cases in 20+ years.

Sally Squires: Yogurt seems to be quite helpful in preventing the diarrhea that often occurs from taking antibiotics. And there's a fairly long list of studies that have looked at yogurt for yeast infections. As I recall, the results are mixed, but somewhat promising. Thanks.

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For Brown Rice: Your suggestion of making your own and freezing it is much more economical, but Trader Joe's has a great box of pre-cooked frozen brown rice that you just microwave for 3 minutes. It is a staple in my house!

I also love the grocery store specials at lunchtime. Even Whole Foods has reasonable deals (although I wind up spending a small fortune if I go the salad bar route...)

Sally Squires: That's exactly where I got the idea, because that TJ box of brown rice is convenient but pretty pricey. One thing I have found is that I let the rice cool completely before putting it into bags. Otherwise, it tends to clump together more than the TJ's rice does.

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Farragut North, D.C.: I am all about the cheap eats in the Farragut North area, which seems like an oxymoron! My find for the month is the $5 footlongs at Subway. Eat half for lunch, and save the other half either for dinner or lunch the next day. Personally, I go for a healthy option -- turkey on wheat, no cheese, a little honey mustard, and I ask them to load on the veggies. If you get lots of veggies, a 6-inch sub is quite a filling sandwich! And to drink, I get water from our office water cooler -- free! That's 2 days worth of lunch, at $2.50/day + tax.

Sally Squires: And that's quite a bargain, Farragut. For those outside D.C., Farragut is near the White House and The Post. It's highly trafficked and pretty pricey.

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Washington, D.C.: I am so glad you wrote about probiotics this week. About two years ago I got a really bad bacterial infection while traveling in Africa which resulted in the development of post-infectious IBS for several months after my return. After enduring several months of frequent diarrhea and abdominal pain, and a sigmoidoscopy which showed I didn't have anything serious like colitis or colon cancer, I started eating yogurt every day. Within weeks my symptoms were gone. It was like a miracle drug! I highly recommend yogurt with active cultures for anyone with GI issues or IBS.

I have recently read that yogurt or acidophilus supplements can also help in treating mild yeast infections or thrush in adults. Is there any truth to this?

Sally Squires: What a great example of the power of probiotics. There are a number of studies looking at whether acidophilus can treat yeast infections. But a quick search on PUBMED at the National Library of Medicine didn't reveal a definitive answer. Still evolving is what it appears.

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Washington D.C.: Hi Sally,

How different is Dannon Activia from other yoghurt brands available in the market. For example, Stonyfield contains more types of probiotics than Dannon Activia. Is Dannon just trying to turn profits on the probiotic hype.

Sally Squires: Stonyfield also has inulin, which serves as food for those probiotics. But yes, food companies are trying to position themselves with slightly different strains of bacteria in their products. That means for consumers, that you may want to try different products and see which ones you like best based on flavor and price.

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Florida: I was diagnosed with breast cancer three weeks ago and am going for a double mastectomy next Tuesday. This is my first surgery and it is a doozy. I am 34, a bit young for this. Can you recommend good healthy foods to stock up on, or dishes to freeze so I can do minimal cooking for the weeks after my surgery as I won't be able to lift anything? I am currently a vegetarian, no meat/chicken/pork/fish, yes to eggs/cheese/dairy but am willing to put some fish back on the menu if it will help with healing.

Sally Squires: So very sorry to hear about your diagnosis and upcoming surgery. Extra protein is a very good thing for wound healing. Fish may be a good thing to add. Beans, nuts and eggs, particularly egg whites, will be very good for you as well as skim milk and cheese.

Normally, soy would be another option. But as a breast cancer survivor, or should you go on tamoxifen, raloxifen or other similar medications, you may not want to load up on too much soy since they could potentially interfere with each other. Soy is a great food, but it is a source of plant based estrogens. Ask your doctor how that might affect you.

Good luck with your surgery. You'll be in our thoughts and prayers. Please let us know how it goes.

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Elmira, N.Y.: Probiotics have been a large part of my diet since I ended up in the hospital with colitis from an antibiotic in 2002. I particularly enjoy KEFIR (vanilla flavored) over granola and the no fat Greek yogurts by FAGE and Chobani.

Sally Squires: I'm with you: I love that Total yogurt by Fage. (And I have no connection with the company.) However, when I tried to make tandoori chicken last night with Fage, it proved to be a little too thick. So I may need to go to a different yogurt for that.

Thanks for weighing in.

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Dallas: Hi

I'm not a breakfast person but am trying to make myself eat it and I don't like eggs. I've been eating Activia every morning (no connection to the company) but noticed how much HFCS is in the product -- would I be better off having a smoothie with plain low or non fat yogurt and frozen unsweetened fruit?

Thanks

Sally Squires: I just checked the nutrition facts label on Activia, Dallas, and here's what I found:

CULTURED GRADE A REDUCED FAT MILK, STRAWBERRY, FRUCTOSE SYRUP, SUGAR, CONTAINS LESS THAN 1% OF FRUCTOSE, WHEY PROTEIN CONTENTRATE, CORN STARCH, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, KOSHER GELATIN, NATURAL FLAVOR, CARMINE (FOR COLOR), SODIUM CITRATE, MALIC ACID.

I don't see any high fructose corn syrup in it. But if it had it, remember that that this common sugar has proved no worse than any other added sugar, although that is not what some scientists feared. So if your purpose is to cut out added sugar, then yes, plain, non-fat yogurt with fruit would be a great choice.

Hope that helps.

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Miami, Fla.: I was eating Activia Strawberry Yogurt and noticed an additive called "Carmine." I looked it up and it's a "natural color" derived from insects. Yuck! How do they explain that one?

Sally Squires: I hate to tell you this, Miami, but carmine is a widely used ingredient. That may be another reason to go with plain yogurt and add your own fruit.

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Akron, Ohio: I began taking probiotic supplements years ago when I was on a course of antibiotics. I stopped taking them some time later, but started again two years ago when I was diagnosed with IBD (ulcerative colitis). I am off of prescription medicines for IBD at this point but still take the probiotics and credit them with keeping the disease under control.

Sally Squires: Good for you Akron. That's great!

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Batesville, Va.: Thanks for the information on probiotics.

IBD patients are told to use probiotics, but there are so many kinds out there. Are ones requiring refrigeration better? What are the parameters of getting live probiotics down to the colon? Should they be enteric or just consumed in huge quantities? With meals or between?

Sally Squires: These are all the things that researchers are still sorting out. And you should also know that ConsumerLab.com tested probiotics on the market and found that some fell short.

For that reason,it may make sense to get your probiotics in food--unless your doctor advises otherwise.

Hope that helps.

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Dover, Ohio: My best lunchtime bargain is at home! If we cook more than we need for dinner, we save the excess for lunch the next day. We can control the salt and fat content of what we're eating and have a nice lunch to look forward to! If there aren't any yummy leftovers, we always have fruit & cheese on hand. We often make a large fruit salad on Sunday so we have it to pick at during the week. The added benefit is that lunch doesn't take long to fix or eat, so we can take at least a brief walk around the yard before heading back to work.

Sally Squires: And having been to Dover, Ohio, I know what a lovely place you have to walk. Sadly, for those us stuck in cubicles, the options are more limited. But I applaud your lifestyle. And the more we can all take charge of our kitchens the better. Thanks for weighing in, Dover.

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Sally Squires: Thanks to all for a great chat. Keep the conversation going-throughout the week on the Lean Plate Club Discussion Group--a social network/mini blog that I update daily at www.leanplateclub.com/group

Winners today are: Vienna, Tallahassee, Arlington and Florida. Please send your name and address to leanplateclub@washpost.com and please include winner in the subject line for faster mailing and handling.

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

Cheers.

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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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