Lean Plate Club

Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, June 24, 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. www.leanplateclub.com/group.

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Discussion Transcripts

A transcript follows.


Sally Squires: Welcome to the Lean Plate Club column. We're talking about fruit and vegetables today as well as about whether kids ought to walk to school. And if you've already read today's LPC e-mail newsletter and feel like you're having a case of deja vu it's understandable. Last week's e-mail was inadvertantly re-transmitted today. Hopefully, we'll get this technical error corrected. Look for more later in the chat and sorry for any inconvenience.

Now on to the chat!


Chevy Chase: A healthy eating tip-- I find one way to encourage healthy eating is to read cookbooks. The Moosewood series is very good, and has nutritional information for each recipe. I enjoy reading through them and marking recipes I am interested in. Get them from the library (and use post-its to mark) and you won't break the bank, either. Deborah Madison's vegetarian cookbooks are good, too. And a lot of the cookbooks have interesting background information and stories about the recipe (Madhur Jaffrey is especially good at this).

Sally Squires: The Moosewood cookbook is excellent and I've had the pleasure or meeting Mollie Katzen at the Culinary Institute of America in recent months. One caution: the original Moosewood featured recipes quite high in fat, especially saturated fat. Katzen has updated her books, but if elevated blood cholesterol is a problem for you, you may want to read those books with a grain of salt. Speaking of which, some of the recipes can be high in sodium. So if hypertension is also a problem, well, you know that you'll need to adjust accordingly.

Thanks for weighing in.


Great Mills, MD: clever ways to burn calories while commuting or delivering the kids or senior parents:

I've started shopping at Wal-Mart for some of my groceries, not that it is a SuperWal-mart... Instead of driving 2 miles in the car, I can walk less than 1 along a path through our neighborhood. I bring the kids along for the walk and they help carry home the groceries we buy. It's like getting exercise without the griping. AND it saves us time and money...

Sally Squires: Terrific idea, Great Mills. I've been doing a lot more walking to errands myself these days. It feels really good AND you burn calories while getting your errands accomplished--what I call a two-fer. If the dog comes along, then it's a three-fer in our household. If we return library books or videos in the process, it can be a four-fer. Can anyone come up with a five-fer? Or a six-fer?


Westminster, Maryland: Sally, when you write that "Dietary supplement makers have tried to duplicate the health effects of fruit and vegetables, without success," do you include products such as JuicePlus in that comment? JuicePlus is produced by NSA headquartered in Tennessee. Thank you.

Sally Squires: Hey Westminster: I wasn't referring to any one product. It's more the sense that much as dietary supplement makers have tried to make some great products, there's no evidence yet that they can duplicate what nature provides in food. And there's at least one striking evidence of a study where a subset of participants--smokers--actually were at higher risk of developing lung cancer when they took beta carotene in a supplement compared with those who didn't. That was a big surprise. And it illustrates how complex some of these food issues can be.

As remarkable as what science can do, it still hasn't matched everything in nature. That's humbling, don't you think?


DC: I hope you can clarify this for me once and for all...I get a lot of mixed information. Is coconut healthy or not? (the meat, milk, oil or water??) I know avocado is a "good" fat and I always assumed that coconut was a good fat too. Am I wrong? Any other nutritional merit to coconut?


Sally Squires: Join the club on this one, DC. There's a lot of confusion about coconut. It's certainly a flavorful food, but the oil it contains is nearly all unhealthy saturated fat. So 1 tablespoon of coconut oil has 117 calories and nearly 12 grams of saturated fat.

Figure it this way: on a 2,000 calorie a day diet, about 7 percent of calories are recommended to come from saturated fat. That works out to about 14 to 15 grams per day of saturated fat. So 1 tablespoon of coconut oil nearly provides a day's worth of saturated fat.

Under debate by scientists is whether this saturated fat is a dangerous as other types. For example, I've heard Harvard's Walter Willett question whether it may be as bad for you as other sources of saturated fat. For now, however, the majority of groups urge limits on saturated and trans fat.

Hope that helps.


Washington, DC: Hi Sally: In your column today, you state that most of us should eat 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables daily. I think you should clarify that that amount corresponds to a 2,000 calorie intake. I and many women my size eat nowhere near that number of calories daily. For a 1,200-1,600 calorie intake, the amount is 1 cup fruit and 1.5 cups vegetables, according to the MyPyramid Food Intake Patterns page.


Sally Squires: Yes, when I say most, I'm referring to the average 2,000 calorie a day adult. And you're correrct, that won't include all women. But because of increasing national girth, it does include many. And because fruit and vegetables are foods that are generally quite low in calories, better to eat a little more of them than to eat more of a lot of other far less healthy foods. But it's a good point. Thanks for posting. And even better, the My Pyramid Web site now allows everyone to see what is the best amount of all foods for them. It's a cool tool!


Alexandria, Va.: For my commuter/errand running, I bought saddlebags for my Trek and pedal everywhere. If I have to drive, I call friends and see if they need to go to the same store and share the ride.

Sally Squires: Great idea! And I'll bet your friends are thrilled too. Thanks!


Washington, DC: At the risk of turning this into a relationship question... how does someone convince their significant other to eat better? My boyfriend seems to have an allergy to many fruits (they make his throat itch), and simply doesn't like most vegetables, with the exception of broccoli, which we steam and mix in with stir frys and panang chicken. Are there any tricks (or tips) to getting a grown up to eat even a LITTLE better?

Sally Squires: Sure, but do you really want to use them? I know you care about your boyfriend, but this is really up to him. There's a fine line between coaxing and nagging and coercing. You have to tread carefully, or you can cross the line without meaning to.

Also, it may be that your boyfriend has some food allergies. If so, he definitely will need to be careful. You might encourage him to get tested for food allergies if he hasn't been already. And then help him focus on the stuff that he really likes. Guacamole is a vegetable. Bean dip is a vegetable. Pumpkin is a vegetable. Salsa is loaded with veggies as is hummus.

As for fruit: grapes, cherries and bananas can capture a lot of palates. Dried fruit counts. Has your boyfriend every tried grilled fruit? Or have you ever tried chocolate fondue with fresh strawberries. I'm not suggesting this as a daily dish, but there are many ways to gradually encourage more adventurous eating. A trip to a wonderful farmer's market that has food samples might be another way to help him experiment a bit.

But my advice is to soft pedal this unless you want him to rebel and go the other way.

What do the rest of you think?


Denton TX: Energy Saving Tips -- Keep your cloth/recyclable grocery bags in the front seat of your car as a reminder to carry them with you in to the store!

Sally Squires: Excellent idea! Mine are usually in the back and while I remember most days, it would be very smart to put them up front when I head to the grocery. Thanks Denton!


Washington, DC: I read recently that because organic fruits and vegetables have such a higher level of antioxidants and other good nutritional features, eating them can be so good for you it's as if you're eating an additional serving of fruit/vegetable a day. This is astonishing, and good news. Can you verify if this is true?

Sally Squires: Hmm. There's strong evidence that organic food is better for the environment. And there's been some evidence that some organic foods may be slightly higher in vitamin C. But much higher? The evidence is still a bit scanty to make that claim.

Here's the abstract of a 2007 study conducted by researchers at the USDA Weslaco's facility in Texas and published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry:

"Most claims that organic produce is better tasting and more nutritious than nonorganic (conventional) produce are largely unsubstantiated. This is due mainly to a lack of rigor in research studies matching common production variables of both production systems, such as microclimate, soil type, fertilizer elemental concentration, previous crop, irrigation source and application, plant age, and cultivar. The aforementioned production variables common to both production systems were matched for comparison of Texas commercially grown conventional and certified organic Rio Red red-fruited grapefruit. Whole grapefruits from each production system were harvested between 800 and 1000 h at commercial early (November), mid- (January), and late season (March) harvest periods for three consecutive years. Within each harvest season, conventional and organic whole fruits were compared for marketable qualities (fruit weight, specific gravity, peel thickness, and peel color), and juices were compared for marketable qualities (specific gravity, % juice, and color), human health-bioactive compounds (minerals, ascorbic acid, lycopene, sugars, pectin, phenols, and nitrates), and consumer taste intensity and overall acceptance. Conventional fruit was better colored and higher in lycopene, and the juice was less tart, lower in the bitter principle naringin, and better accepted by the consumer panel than the organic fruit. Organic fruit had a commercially preferred thinner peel, and the juice was higher in ascorbic acid and sugars and lower in nitrate and the drug interactive furanocoumarins."

In interviews that I've done with agriculture professors and ardent believers in organic food, they are quick to note that it's key to find a balance between getting organically grown food from far away and conventional food grown locally.

Finding a way to eat both--again we get back to that question of balance and moderation--still seems to be key. Hope this helps.


King of Prussia, PA: What is it going to take to recognize that the phrase "Do you want fries with that?" has perpetrated the obesity epidemic of the last generation? White potatoes, white rice, and white flour are inherently the lowest in nutrition of all meal ingredients YET, unfortunately they remain most popular.

We have Low carb, Low sodium, Low fat, Low sugar and still these substitute HIGH WHITE ingredients replace their primary colorful original foods. Things like yams, carrots, brown & wild rice, whole wheat and whole grains are all too slowly making their way back into our healthier diets. We need to get rid of the pyramids of pomposity because with $4 to $5 gallon gas, we will need to be healthier to walk and pedal more.

Sally Squires: Hear,hear about the pedalling more. And certainly the brown and wild rice, sweet potatoes and more are wonderful, nutritious choices. Nor is there any recommended intake for french fries! But...there's nothing terrible about eating baked potatoes from time to time, or have white rice or white pasta. It's all a matter of finding balance. And let's face it, rarely does anyone make a meal of these foods. So what they're eaten with also counts. But I understand what you are saying. And saying "no thanks" to those fries at every meal is a very good thing. Isn't it great that there are now other options from which to choose too?

In a minute, we'll try to post a recent column on "white foods."

Thanks for weighing in.


Falls Church: Two books I'm reading that I like a lot are French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano and The Writer's Diet by Julia Cameron. I am reading them at the same time (i.e., a chapter of one, and a chapter of the other) and think they complement each other beautifully. Neither makes you follow a specific plan or count anything. Both look at our attitudes towards food. The Writing Diet helps you channel your emotional issues around food to the page. I would recommend this for any creative types, or just anyone who is battling emotional eating. It's really helping me reflect on whether I'm really hungry or if I really want to eat something when I put it in my mouth. When you look past the condescending title, Frenchwomen don't get fat has some really sound advice (the wierd 2day leek juice fast aside) and is a decidedly reasoned approach to food and nutrition.

Sally Squires: I must admit, I had to struggle a bit with that French Woman's book. And the leek soup is simply a modified fast which will jump start most everyone on losing water weight.

But what you illustrate is a way to look at all this advice and take what makes sense, then use it in the best way you can. That's where you retain control and design what works best for you. And to my mind, that's the key to long-term success. What do you think?


Fairfax, VA: When I was in high school, I had a half mile walk to school. But I could also leave early and make it a 2-mile walk. More often than not, I did that. A walk before school is a great way to start the day. If only I'd been able to do it at an earlier age, I think I would have been less chubby and more focused during school hours.

I wish all kids lived in places where they could safely walk to school-- and that more adults could walk to work, too. For my part I take the bus that stops a mile from my apartment, rather than the one that stops out front, and allow myself to enjoy the bookends of my workday!

Sally Squires: I wish more kids could walk to school too, Fairfax. I remember walking to school well until high school when we moved to a suburb of Chicago and then to a suburb of New York where walking wasn't possible. But there was a wonderful freedom of walking to school. Of course, there are new safety concerns these days. But maybe the rising cost of gas will make us more creative in finding ways to help more kids hoof it safely to school. That would be wonderful, don't you think?


washingtonpost.com: In Designing a Healthful Diet, White Can Be a Fine Accent Color (Post, June 10)

Sally Squires: As promised, here's the recent column on white foods.


South Riding, VA: Hi Sally,

Can you refer me to a resource that lists height/weight guidelines for toddlers, to see if they are in healthy proportion? I know my little guy is tall for his age, but I haven't been able to find a resource to tell me if he is at a healthy weight for his height.

Sally Squires: You bet! The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a clever calculator on-line that will allow you to assess toddlers to teens. I'll post a link in a minute.


washingtonpost.com: www.leanplateclub.com/group

Sally Squires: As promised...


washingtonpost.com: BMI Calculator for Child and Teen: English Version (cdc.gov)

Sally Squires: Oops. My fingers flew too fast. That last link was for the Lean Plate Club Discussion Group. We have more than 500 LPCers who regularly participate in this group throughout the week. I update news several times a week, sometimes daily, depending on the week. Hope you can join us.

And now, drum roll, please, here's the CDC's on-line calculator. Sorry for the glitch. It's been a weird technilogically challenged day with transmission of last week's e-mail newsletter and some other issues. But these things happen. We'll soldier on!


Richmond, VA: I love the taste of not-quite-thawed berries mixed into yogurt for breakfast.

Which has retained its nutrients more - berries that were purchased fresh in the produce section and put in the freezer, or bags of berries (without added sugar, of course) from the freezer section?


Sally Squires: It's nearly impossible to say for sure, Richmond. And here's why: you'd have to take a sample of those fresh berries and see how much vitamin C and other nutrients they contain. Then take a sample of those frozen berries and do the same. But the studies that have been done comparing the nutritional attributes of frozen, fresh, canned and dried produce find virtually no difference. The point is to eat what you enjoy and what you can afford. Don't sweat the small stuff.


Pennsylvania: I am expecting my first child and am unfortunately overweight. Thus far everything is going very well--no morning sickness and I feel really good. I had intended to lose some weight before getting pregnant, but it didn't work out that way. But I'm eating well and exercising every day.

So I don't really have a question, just a comment. I can't tell you what a relief it is that I don't have to worry about losing weight for the next six months. This worry has been a major part of my life for the past 15 years. After the baby comes, I'll try to do something about this, but it's really nice not to have to worry about it.

Sally Squires: Congratulations! What an exciting time of life. While you need not worry about losing weight now, it's also smart to be careful about how much you gain, particularly if you are starting your pregnancy overweight. I'll post a link in a minute to a relatively new site by the USDA that offers a calculator to help guide you on how much weight to gain during your pregnancy. (It's also wise to discuss this with your obstetrician too, of course.)

There's also a very good book that you might enjoy:

You and Your Baby: Healthy Eating During Pregnancy by Laura Riley and Stacey Nelson. Riley is an ob/gyn. Nelson is an RD. It's a great guide to staying healthy and fit during your pregnancy.

Hope you'll let us know how it goes.

Congratulations again!


washingtonpost.com: Eating for Two, One Trimester at a Time (Post, Oct. 30, 2007)

Sally Squires: Here's a recent column on eating for two.


Fairfax, VA: Thanks for the article on fruits and veggies. My question revolves around the sugar content in fruit. I've had more than one trainer tell me to avoid fruit because of the high sugar content. A key to staying fit is avoiding sugars and carbs at all costs. What are your thoughts on the amount of sugar in fruits? Thanks.

Sally Squires: I don't know where some trainers get this idea. Fruit and vegetables provide healthy carbs. Check out Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook for lots more on this very topic since we are just about out of time. It's published by Human Kinetics.


Philadelphia, PA: Hi Sally. I keep reading articles that say that one of the best predictors of developing heart disease is waist circumference. Why is that? Also, the articles give a specific upper limit for men (40 inches) and women (35 inches). But doesn't that need to be adjusted for height and build? I got worried reading the articles and had my husband--who is very tall--measure his waist and it is about 42 inches and I wasn't sure if being slightly larger really matters given that he's big (not heavy, just large) all over. Thanks for everything you do.

Sally Squires: Waist size is emerging as a very important factor in heart disease risk because it is a measure of the metabolic syndrome. If you look at the LPC discussion group, I included a new effort by the Japanese government to measure all adults' waists. (And in Japan, the numbers are are little lower.) So even if you husband is tall, these numbers are well regarded. If you are so inclined, I'd love to talk to you after the chat-- or anyone else who wants to weigh in on waist size--for an upcoming Lean Plate Club column. Leave a message for me with your phone numnber and best times to call either at leanplateclub@washpost.com. Or by calling the toll free: 1-800-627-1150, ext. 45018.



Sally Squires: We're out of time so before they get the hook, thanks to all for a wide-ranging and lively chat. Winners today are Great Mills, Philadephia, Denton and King of Prussia. Please send me your U.S. postal address to leanplateclub@washpost.com and please put winner in the subject line for faster handling. I plan to do a mailing this week, so if you won last week, look for your prize in the coming mail. (Since the changes at the Post, I am back to being my own assistant again, so please bear with me!)

Thanks to all. Hope to continue the conversation throughout the week at www.leanplateclub.com/group. And see you next week, same time, same place. In the meantime, eat smart and move more with the Lean Plate Club. Cheers!


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