Lean Plate Club

Sally Squires
Washington Post Health and Nutrition Writer
Tuesday, July 1, 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! Today we are talking about smoothies and icy concoctions. Plus, anything else that happens to be on your mind about healthy eating and physical activity.

Today's e-mail newsletter should be in your electronic in-box right now. In it, find some links to recipes that can help you celebrate a healthy--and tasty--Fourth of July.

Now on to the chat!


North Carolina: A while back, you recommended to me on a chat that I mix hummus (instead of mayo) with tuna. I did it last night, and it was excellent. Mixed hummus, tuna, cumin, spinach and chopped carrots. Then, spread it on bread and dipped each side of the sandwich in an egg and milk mixture and browned both sides in a pan with olive oil. It turned out great. The hummus is definitely the dominant flavor.

Sally Squires: Thanks for giving us the feedback North Carolina. And that hummus is not only flavorful, but is also an excellent source of fiber, protein, healthy carbs--the kind that won't make your blood sugar soar--and of course, healthy fat, from sesame seeds. To my mind, one of those luscious foods.


Rockville, Md.: Speaking of smoothies...I tend to overbuy fruit this time of year because it looks so beautiful in the store or the farmer's market. As the week goes on and I realize I'm not going to be able to eat it all, I skin and chop it as necessary and stick it in the freezer to be used in smoothies. In the last few weeks this has saved a lot of fruit from the compost heap.

Sally Squires: That's just the kind of LPC tip that we love to get Rockville. I'm with you. It used to be that brown bananas or other fruit wound up in the garbage. (My husband still jokes sometimes about all the banana bread that I vowed to make with those over-ripe bananas but never did.) More recently, I throw them with the skin and all into the freezer. (It also works to skin them, wrap tightly in plastic and freeze them.) And yes, this frozen fruit is not only wonderful for smoothies, but also is great to eat by itself.

Bananas get a particularly creamy flavor. No added sugar or anything else needed.

Other good suggestions out there? Send them our way.


Las Vegas NV: Why is it that I often see packages of tempeh that have grayish/blackish color on the tempeh--especially on the corners of the tempeh? It's not uniformly on the tempeh--mostly on the corners. Is it safe to eat with this?

Thanks so much for any information you have on this. I'm a little afraid to buy it when it looks like this--it's quite unappealing!

Sally Squires: I have bought tempeh a number of times but never seen this grayish, blackish color on it. That doesn't sound good, Las Vegas, but I am not a frequent tempeh user. So I'll start reporting on this and also invite any LPCers to weigh in if they have similar experience with tempeh. But I take my lead from the USDA. When in doubt: throw it out.


Rhode Island: Hi Sally,

I enjoyed today's column on smoothies and other hot-weather drinks.

You mentioned the British study, in which subjects who had a high-protein drink in the morning ate less at lunch.

What would you suggest if we wanted to make our own high-protein drink? Is the protein from, say, yogurt, enough, or would we have to add protein powder or some other source?


Sally Squires: When I interviewed Barbara Rolls of Penn State, she had just done a taste test of smoothies made with yogurt, which does indeed provide some excellent protein. In today's Lean Plate Club e-mail newsletter, which should be in your electronic in boxes right now, you'll find my favorite smoothie recipe. (If you don't yet subscribe to this free service, sign up on our home page at www.leanplateclub.com.)

For those who are lactose intolerant or don't drink milk, you could also use soy milk or rice milk as alternatives. Whey (from cow's milk) or soy powder (from soybeans, of course) would be another option. But I like using the real food instead of the powdered stuff. Just my personal taste preference. It also tends to be less expensive than getting protein powder of any kind. Hope that helps, Rhode Island. Thanks for weighing in.


Atlanta, Georgia: I really need some help. I am a vegan. I was feeling extremely run down, and blood tests showed that I am anemic (and Vitamin D and B12 deficient). I am now taking daily iron pills and will have things re-tested in several weeks.

My doctor told me to eat more green leafy vegetables. Great -- I love vegetables. I have also switched to vitamin D-fortified soymilk and have ordered vitamin B12-fortified nutritional yeast.

I have been doing some serious research on the nutritional value of foods, especially iron, and I do not know if I will be able to continue a vegan diet. As a 37 year-old woman, I see that I need 18 mg of iron each day. If we can absorb about 40 percent of heme iron, but only 2 to 7 percent of non-heme iron, how in the world can I ever eat enough kale, collards, and chard each day so my body can absorb 18 mg of non-heme iron? (I know that dried apricots, prunes, raisins, etc. are good sources of iron. And quinoa, too.)

Also, I am a little confused about spinach. It seems that it contains iron, yes. But that due to something else in the spinach, the iron is basically unavailable for absorption. Is this true?

Can you please help me understand how to calculate the amount of vegetables I need to eat daily so I can get enough iron in my diet? For example, to meet my iron requirements today, I will eat: 1 cup of quinoa (7.8 mg of iron), 5 dried apricots (2 mg), 5 prunes (1.5 mg), 1/2 cup lima beans (1.7 mg), 2 cups kale (3.4 mg) and 2 cups of turnip greens (3.6 mg). This calculates to at least 18 mg of iron for a total of 439 calories. But if I am absorbing only 2 to 5 percent of the iron in these vegetable sources, do I need to eat 20 times the amount of vegetable matter?

Sally, I don't think I can chew 80 cups of kale-turnip green salad each day! I only have an hour for lunch.

Sally Squires: Sorry to hear that you are anemic, Atlanta. That run-down feeling is no fun, nor is it healthy.

There are people who eat a vegan diet and do it healthfully. But to be honest, it can be challenging to hit all the right nutritional notes, as you are discovering. You might consider expanding your culinary horizon to be a vegetarian, which could open up the possibility of eating eggs, dairy and fish, depending on what kind of vegetarian regimen you followed.

If I recall correctly, since 1995, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines have said that a vegetarian diet could be a healthy approach. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines emphasize a mostly plant-based diet. But it's very difficult to get enough vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin, but also found in milk) or vitamin B12 (found mostly in meat) or iron.

Yes, there are key plant-based sources of iron. But as you have also discovered, much of that iron is not as readily available for absorption as the iron found in animal products, particularly red meat. It's substances called the oxalates that bind to iron and make it more difficult to absorb from vegetables, such as spinach.

The iron tablets will help. We'll try to post some links in a minute to additional resources that will help you and others with vegetarian/vegan eating in a healthy way.

You might also check the Vegetarian Resource Group--a non-profit organization in Baltimore (look for a link in a minute), plus the check the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine which advocates a vegetarian--and mostly vegan--approach to eating.

Stay tuned for more links shortly.

Hope you'll let us know how it goes.


Great turkey sandwich: Hi Sally and crew, I wanted to share this recipe I got for a great turkey sandwich. And from what I remember, it includes a good amount of protein, calcium and other healthy items.

You spread a little bit of honey on each slice of whole wheat bread. You obviously want just a little or else it'll seep through the bread. I use 4 slices of turkey meat with slices of cheddar cheese and apple.

I think the recipe said it should be granny smith but I find any apple will do. I love the sandwich and consider it an upgrade from regular turkey with lettuce and tomato.


Sally Squires: Yum. That sounds like an original way to make a honey "baked" turkey sandwich. Other great additions to sandwiches that don't add a lot of unhealthy fat or calories:

avocado (either slices or if the avocado is really ripe then smoosh and spread).

half mustard/half mayo

red pepper/eggplant sauce (Trader Joe's has a great dip and let me hasten to add that I have no connection to the company.)

And let's not forget either hummus or baba ghanouj.

Also I find a really tasty yogurt cilantro dip that is also delicious on sandwiches.

Other suggestions out there? Send them our way.


washingtonpost.com: A New Food Guide for North American Vegetarians (PDF)

Sally Squires: As promised...


washingtonpost.com: Iron in the Vegan Diet (vrg.org)

Sally Squires: As promised...


Tempeh: Abnormal coloring on tempeh is not a sign that it has gone bad. At least it says this right on the packages that I buy! (Lightlife.) As it ferments, it changes color. Of course, better safe than sorry.

Sally Squires: Thanks for weighing in. And I guess I should confess here that I have bought tempeh half a dozen times, but then wound up never using it. I was motivated to try it by our wonderful documentary film editor who came to our house daily to cut our PBS documentary, Triumph at Carville. She bought it at Whole Foods and put it on her salads. It also looked delicious, but when I bought it what seemed like a great idea at the store, just didn't seem the same way at home.

You'll prompt me to try again!


Afternoon Slump: I try to eat healthy everyday, lots of fruits and veggies, but every afternoon around 1-ish I hit a slump. Usually my breakfast consists of a cup of coffee, yogurt, and a piece of fruit. My lunch is another piece of fruit, a 100 calorie pack of some sort of crackers, and couscous. Should I be eating more? What snack can I eat to give me more energy! Thanks!

Sally Squires: Yep. I'm betting that you likely should be eating more. And by the way, it's not unusual to feel a slump in the afternoon. I once interviewed a scientist who explained that we are more likely to satisfied by whatever we eat during the morning and less likely to be satisfied as the day wears on. Interesting, don't you think? (And yes, this was based on research, not his opinion.)

Anyway, not only do you likely need more calories, but it seems like you are a little light on protein and fairly heavy on carbs.

How could you tweak your diet?

First figure out roughly how many calories you need each day to stay at your current weight. A good rule of thumb is to take your weight in pounds and multiply by 12. So if you weigh 150 x 12 = 1,800 calories if I just did my math correctly.

If you eat three meals daily, you need about 600 calories per meal. If you want to have three meals daily and a snack, then you might have three 500 calorie meals and one or two 100 calorie snacks. You get the idea.

What might you consider adding? Soup, preferably low sodium would be a good choice that Penn State research shows can be very filling. (Stay away from cream based soups which tend to be higher in calories.)

Salads: great ways to get greens and other veggies. Plus you can top with slivered almonds and seeds for crunch and healthy fat. And I think a salad isn't a salad without beans, one of nature's wonder foods.

You might also consider a baked sweet potato.

Peanut butter, almond butter or cashew butter would give you some healthy fat and protein. About two tablespoons has 190 calories and is quite filling. You could slather it on a slice of whole wheat for a sandwich or use it to dip celery, carrots, slice pepper slices and more.

And make the couscous whole wheat if you can. You could also add some garbanzo beans, some slivered nuts, some raisins, some good spices and yum, you've really got quite a meal.

Hope that helps. And hope you'll let us know how it goes.


Alexandria, Va.: An idea about sweet coffee drinks:

I love Mocha lattes but they are too expensive. So every day I prepare my own and drink it on the way to work:

1/2 to 1 cup strong coffee.

1/2 to 1 cup skim milk (if I want something really thick and creamy, I substitute part "fat free half and half")

one packet of low calorie hot chocolate mix -- Swiss Miss or whatever is on sale.

This is usually less than 100 calories and delicious.

Your article inspired me to try to adapt this for summer. I want to try grinding up some ice in the blender and adding it to the mix.

Sally Squires: I'm with you, Alexandria. (And I also happen to be a penny pincher--well, who isn't with a kid in college!) So I, too, make my own iced tea, seltzer, smoothies and iced coffee for a fraction of the cost of getting one commercially. Plus, I get to control the ingredients. So it's a real, win-win. Thanks for weighing in.


Baltimore, Md.: Sally, due to the fact that smoothies pack so many calories - and don't quite give me the satisfaction of "eating" I buy frozen fruit. I'll get a bag of blueberries, blackberries, peaches and cherries, mix a little of each in a bowl and not only get the benefit of the fruits, but it's cold and takes longer to eat.

On a side note, I've been a years long reader and I always admired people's weight loss when they posted. This time I'm writing to say that through my training for a 5k, I've lost 31 pounds. I'm still 29 away from goal, but I feel so much better. It all starts with one small step. Once you do something good for yourself (such as a workout, you don't want to eat calorie laden items).

Thanks for helping us all get closer to our goals.

Sally Squires: Congratulations Baltimore! Those 31 pounds are very impressive and inspiring. Way to go! And thanks for offering your take on smoothie alternatives. Depending on ingredients, home-made smoothies don't have to be a lot of calories. But you're right: you do need to watch the bottom line to be sure that they fit into calories for the day.

Thanks for weighing in. And I hope you will keep us apprised of your progress.


Burke, Va.: Loved the column on smoothies. My office is near a Robeks and it is hard to resist, especially on a 2-fer Tuesday. But to cut down on calories and bolster my fiber and protein, I've been making my own in the blender in the mornings using French vanilla Slim-Fast Optima as a base, then 1/2 cup of pomegranate or V-8 Splash juice, 1/2 banana and a cup of frozen fruit (cherries, berries, mango and/or pineapple, whatever I'm in the mood for), 1 teaspoon of psyllium husk powder and ice. I sip it on the way to work and I've been amazed how well that holds me. Not hungry for lunch until 1 or 2!

Sally Squires: Not bad at all. Sounds delish, Burke, as Rachel Ray would say. Thanks for chiming in today.


Largo, Md.: In response to today's column:

Drink water! You don't have to worry about calories, don't have to worry about whether it's actually quenching your thirst, and it's cheap.

Also, I have an allergy to raw fruits and vegetables (e.g. - I can eat an apple pie, but can't eat an apple without my throat/tongue itching; can eat canned peaches, but can't eat raw, etc.).

Any ideas on how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into my diet without them being in a dessert or processed otherwise?


Sally Squires: Water is a great alternative Largo. And research suggests that it can particularly help you feel full when you drink it with meals. (The sodium helps you retain it.) And if you drink tap water, it's very cheap. Although in yesterday's Lean Plate Club Discussion Group (have you joined that yet? it's where we keep the conversation and news going throughout the week--sign up on the LPC homepage at www.leanplateclub.com) I included a new report that found bottled water is sometimes not all that's cracked up to be.

Anyway, back to those fruit and veggies. You could make some wonderful cold soups with fruit or vegetables. Gazpacho would be one choice. I make a cold potato soup in the summer with commercially prepared potato soup that gets a can of skim milk and about a cup of nonfat sour cream. Top with chives and a dash or two of hot sauce for a wonderful refreshing meal in a flash.

(Nonfat yogurt can be substituted for the nonfat sour cream.)

Salsa would be another option for you. So would a cool cantaloupe or watermelon soup. And you can take a can of peaches in fruit juice or light syrup. Put it in the freezer. Then once it's solid, take it out of the can and put it in the blender for your own home-made sorbet.

Other suggestions out there? Since we're just about out of time, please e-mail them to me at leanplateclub@washpost.com.


washingtonpost.com: www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/fruits.html; www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/vegetables.html

Sally Squires: As promised...


washingtonpost.com: www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org

Sally Squires: As promised..


Rocky Hill, N.J.: I recently discovered juice concentrate (pomegranate and cherry) at my local health food store. They say do a 1/4 juice/water (Or seltzer) ration. I simply stick about a tablespoon of juice into the seltzer and have a sparkling drink. It helps when I want a fruity summer drink. I am not 100 percent on the nutrition of it.

Use Tempeh all the time, never experienced the gray stuff--sounds strange!

Sally Squires: That drink sounds quite refreshing. We do something similar at our house with unsweetened cranberry juice, lime and seltzer. If it's too tart, you can add a teaspoon of sugar (just 16 calories) or a teaspoon of Splenda (0 calories.)



CSA Bounties: Hi, we're getting back into the swing of all the fresh produce we get from our CSA, and I'm looking for ideas. This year we have been getting lots of beautiful spring onions (bigger bulbs that you see on those grocery store ones) and I'm wondering if you have any ideas for using them more creatively than chopped on tacos and salads?

There must be something else I can do with these lovely mild onions, but I am just at a loss, thanks!

Sally Squires: I found a spring onion potato mash from Bon Apetit magazine. We'll try to post a link in a minute. Also, I use spring onions (and shallots) in frittata's--a kind of egg omelet/pancake that I load with veggies. I start it on top of the stove and finish it in the oven.

You could use those onions in stir fry. Add them to soup. Or sautee them slightly and add to other mixed veggies or to wraps.

Those are just a few ideas...


Capitol Hill, D.C.: Hi, I read your column this a.m. re: smoothies. You didn't mention anything about Smoothie King. It's been awhile since I've been there for one, but in the past, those have always filled me up and I've considered them a meal. Are those any healthier than the ones you mentioned today? Additionally, as of late, I have been making them home and I've come up with delicious variations! Vanilla yogurt is my base, instead of ice I use frozen fruit, a dash of a fruit/vegetable juice and one piece of fresh fruit. The combinations are endless!

Sally Squires: I should have mentioned Smoothie King, but I was under the mistaken impression that they were local to DC. My apologies. They are indeed national. But do read the calories closely, since all commercial smoothie can be pretty high in calories unless you choose wisely--or split the bounty!


washingtonpost.com: Mustard and spring onion mash epicurious.com

Sally Squires: As promised!


Chantilly, VA: Hi Sally!

I wanted to share my favorite smoothie recipe:

-6oz container of yogurt, any flavor (I use Danon Light 'n Fit; it's fat free & no sugar added--but no connection to the company!)

-1 small to medium banana

-1 small orange (optional)

-handful frozen berries

Put everything in the blender & blend away! I like to add a dash of cinnamon sometimes as well. This makes a sweet, cold, creamy treat that's just as good as ice cream, but is low-cal, fat-free, and high-fiber. Plus, you get some protein and calcium from the yogurt.

Sally Squires: Thanks Chantilly!


Ephrata, Pa.: Given the state of the economy, I think the problem is going to solve itself. Since most of us can only afford mac and cheese out of a packet, and adding only water since milk is too expensive, (and mac and cheese only once daily with the rest of the meals falling by the wayside) and since very few can afford to run their automobiles due to the price of gas, and so are forced to walk or bike miles to get to work, we will in fact become a very "healthy" nation. Just like those in other third world countries!

Sally Squires: You could indeed be right, Ephrata. And perhaps like everything in life, there is a silver lining to the economic downturn--at least in some ways. Thanks for weighing in.


Sally Squires: Thanks to all for a great chat. I'll try to check the tempeh question this week. In the meantime, winners today are:

Rockville, Tempeh (the original poster) and Alexandria. Please e-mail me with your address to leanplateclub@washpost.com.

Until next week, eat smart and move more!


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