Busting Holiday Diet Myths
Get ready, here come the holidays – that time of year that brings even the most staunch willpower to its knees. Starting at Thanksgiving and continuing through to New Year’s Day, you will be constantly tempted by the most enticing treats under your most vulnerable circumstances. Ok, so pumpkin pie and Grandma’s fudge can undermine your willpower, but there are a few common beliefs about holiday fare that are down-right wrong, from the “unavoidable” 7-pound weight gain to the groggy effect of eating too much turkey. So, let’s set the record straight about the five most common holiday food myths.
Myth #1: Most people gain 7 pounds during the holiday season
Fact: The average weight gain between Thanksgiving and New Years is about one pound, not seven, according to a study from the University of Oklahoma. Even though enjoying delicious holiday fare might not increase your waistline by as much as you’d expect, calorie consciousness is still important, since another study from the same researchers found that while holiday weight gain was minimal, people tend to trade muscle for fat, ending up fatter despite a minimal change on the scale. In addition, people often don’t reverse their gains after the first of the year, so the poundage accumulates from year to year, contributing to substantial gains as people age. To avoid gaining that one holiday pound, sneak in extra activity every day and focus on small portions of your favorite holiday goodies, while avoiding the everyday stuff, like cookies and chips.
Myth #2: Turkey makes you sleepy
Fact: Yes, turkey and other high-protein foods contain the amino acid, tryptophan, which is the building block for a nerve chemical called serotonin that makes you feel relaxed and even drowsy. But, turkey does not raise serotonin levels. Only all-carb snacks can do that. It is the tryptophan already in the blood that boosts brain levels of serotonin, and a carb-rich snack, like popcorn or a slice of bread, aids in transferring this amino acid across the blood-brain barrier and into the brain, while protein-rich foods actually block serotonin production. The real reason why a nap is so appealing after a holiday feast is the large amount of energy required to digest it. During the process, blood is diverted from the brain to the digestive tract, where it is used to help breakdown food and absorb nutrients. You get drowsy as a result. To avoid the nap after a holiday meal, eat smaller portions and limit fatty foods.
Myth #3: Holiday parties and festivities cause us to overeat
Fact: It is not the party, but being with friends and family that can lead to diet mishaps. A study at Pennsylvania State University found that dining in a group encourages a person to eat up to 44% more calories than if they ate alone. It is easy to lose track of how much you are eating, when you are socializing. A holiday party is filled with distractions, which only increases the likelihood to overeat. Don’t become a wallflower, just be mindful of your food choices at parties and make a conscious effort to choose fruits and vegetables with a few goodies to accent an otherwise healthy plate. Also, Somer recommends taking a second look at each bite before it 20goes into your mouth, to mentally log what you are consuming.
Myth #4: Traditional holiday foods might taste great, but they are bad for your health
Fact: Not so. Many of your favorites are nutrient-packed wonders that should be eaten more often. For example, sweet potatoes are high in potassium, fiber, and the antioxidant beta carotene, which help lower heart-disease risk. Pomegranates are loaded with antioxidant phytochemicals, called polyphenols, shown to reduce the buildup of plaque in arteries, lowering heart disease. Cranberries contain tannins that help fight urinary tract infections and possibly some types of ulcers, while hot cocoa, if made with 70% cocoa powder, contains twice the disease-fighting antioxidants of red wine!
Myth #5: It’s OK to eat big meals over the holidays as long as you exercise
Fact: It is true that your weight is a direct reflection of how many calories you take in versus how many you burn off in exercise. The more you exercise, the more you can eat. However, a string of big meals can stretch your stomach, which means if you pig out too often, it will take more food to fill you up, which means more and more hours at the gym to burn off the excess calories.
Just Do This Today
1. Make a conscious effort to think before you put anything into your mouth. Ask yourself, “Is this good for me? Will it fuel my health, energy and waistline?”
2. Practice “delayed gratification” at least once. Before giving into a sweet treat or food craving. Make yourself wait at least 20 minutes. See if the craving subsides.
3. Swap out one “not so good for you” food for one “really good for you” food, such as a blueberries instead of a cookie.
4. Have a salad at one meal with the dressing on the side. Leave most of the dressing in the bowl by the time you’ve finished the salad.
Hot Off the Diet Press
1. Eat Well, Live Long: Women who eat well in their middle years can expect to live longer and healthier than women who take their diets for granted, according to a study from Harvard Medical School. Using the Alternative Healthy Eating Index and the Alternative Mediterranean Diet scores, dietary habits were gathered at baseline on a group of 10,670 women in their late 50s and early 60s. After 15 years, those women who are reported eating well had a 34% increased likelihood of being healthy as they aged, with lower risks for chronic disease, major impairments in cognition, or reduced physical or mental function. Those women who ate diets similar to the classic Mediterranean diet had a 46% greater odds of healthy aging. They also were most likely to live past age 70 without heart disease, diabetes, or other chronic diseases. In short, women who took time to eat well not only lived longer, they thrived. The bad news – Only 11% of the 20women were classified as healthy agers overall.
Samieri C, Sun Q, Townsend M, et al: The association between dietary patterns at midlife and health in aging. Annals of Internal Medicine 2013;159:584-591.
2. Peanut Butter to the Rescue: Young girls who eat peanut butter on a regular basis have a lower risk of developing benign breast disease (BBD) later in life, according to a study from Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. The researchers followed 9,039 young girls between the ages of 9- and 15-years, having them complete dietary recalls annually for 14 years. Results showed that girls who ate peanut butter at least three times a week when they were young lowered their risk for BBD by 39% late in life. Daily servings of peanut butter, peanuts or other nuts, beans, and/or corn lowered risk by 68%.
Berkey C, Willett W, Tamimi R, et al: Vegetable protein and vegetable fat intakes in pre-adolescent and adolescent girls, and risk of benign breast disease in young women. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 2013;141:299-306.
3. Sweet Memory Blues: Even a high-normal blood sugar is enough to jeopardize your memory, according to researchers at the University of Halle in Germany. Memory, HbAIc, insulin, and blood sugar levels were assessed in a group of 141 people with an average age of 63 and who did not have diabetes or pre-diabetes. Results showed that people with lower blood sugar levels scored far better on memory and recall tests compared with people with blood sugar levels in the higher range of normal. The size of the hippocampus, the region of the brain especially important in memory, also was larger in people with lower blood sugar levels. The researchers conclude that, “…chronically higher blood glucose levels exert a negative influence on cognition, possibly mediated by structural changes in learning-relevant brain areas.”
Kerti L, Witte A, Winkler A, et al: Higher glucose levels associated with lower memory and reduced hippocampal microstructure. Neurology 2013;October 23 rd.
Food & Mood Tip -Double Up on Servings!
Vegetables and fruit are the #1 supplier of brain-protecting antioxidants. Not only is produce your best source of antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamin C and beta carotene, but most of the tens of thousands of plant compounds, called phytochemicals, in fruits and vegetables have antioxidant abilities. Thousands of flavonoids identified in plants, anthocyanins in red cabbage and cherries, lycopene in tomatoes and watermelon, lutein in spinach, sulphorophane in broccoli, ellagic acid in berries, and sulfur compounds in garlic, to name only a few, are all antioxidants. The darker the plant’s color, the greater the antioxidant punch! Include at least two servings at every meal and at least one at every snack.
Eat Your Way to Sexy This Week – Smiles are Sexy
Health is sexy and sexy is all about cherishing every day. It’s about love, humor, health, being optimistic, having a purpose, feeling secure, giving and being kind to others. To nurture all of this, you must work at it, just as you would workout your muscles by exercising. You can’t expect to be fit by thinking about exercise. Well, you can’t expect to be fully happy and sexy by just thinking about it, either. Besides, it takes effort to be happy or crabby, so put your energy 20where it will help, not hurt!
When you don’t feel happy, act “as if” you are. In other words, fake it ‘til you make it. Put on a happy face, walk tall, and shut out the kill-joy thoughts, worries, and frets long enough to be kind to those around you. Share happy memories, connect with people by looking them in the eye. Say ‘thank you’ a hundred times a day, and mean it! Often, just putting a smile on their face is enough to get the happy genes revved. Even if you don’t feel sexy, slap on a smile and greet people with a big welcome on your face. You’ll get more smiles back, which will help you feel better. And, studies show that men find women more attractive when they radiate confidence.
Mood-Boosting Recipe – Creamy, Low-Fat Fudge
From The Food & Mood Cookbook by Elizabeth Somer and Jeanette Williams
Fudge is notoriously high in fat, sugar, and calories. But, hey what are the holiday’s without it?! This yummy fudge takes some of the guilt out of indulgence. By using fat-free instead of whole evaporated milk, prunes instead of fat, and Splenda to replace much of the sugar, this fudge tastes just like the original, but packs a much lower calorie, fat, and sugar punch.
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup Splenda
2/3 cup fat-free evaporated milk
16 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (2 1/2 ounces) jar baby prunes
1 7-ounce jar marshmallow creme
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1) Line a 13″ x 9″ x 2″ baking pan with wax or parchment paper, extending the paper over the edges of the pan. Set aside.
2) In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in sugar, Splenda, and milk. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil gently for 5 minutes stirring constantly.
Remove saucepan from heat and slowly stir in chocolate chips. Stir until chocolate melts. Then stir in prunes, marshmallow creme, walnuts, and vanilla until well combined.
4) Spread mixture in the prepared pan. Chill in refrigerator until firm, overnight or at least 3 hours. To serve, use the wax/parchment paper to lift fudge from pan. Cut into pieces. Keep extra pieces refrigerated. Makes 48 pieces.
Nutrition Information per piece: 94 calories, 34% fat ( 3.5 grams), 2 grams saturated fat, 64% carbohydrates, 2 % protein, 0.8 gram fiber.
Answers to “ Do you Know?” from last issue:
1. Do certain food combinations help you lose weight, while combining the wrong foods at the same meal can lead to weight gain?
This metabolism myth persists despite any supporting evidence (Ok, there was one decade-old, unpublished study on rats). You don’t find studies to support the benefits or detriments of food combining because there are none. In reality, our bodies were designed over hundreds of thousands of years to readily digest and thrive on a wide variety of foods and food mixtures. Beliefs that protein and carb or fat and carb foods don’t mix goes against both common sense and everything known about digestion. Besides, almost all foods (except sugar, oils, and most fruits) are already a combination of carbs, protein, and fat. (A slice of bread contains 3 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbs, and 1 ½ grams of fat; a bowl of black beans is a nice combo of 15 grams protein, 41 grams carbs, and 1 gram fat; while even broccoli contains a little bit of all three nutrients.) This diet fad is a complete hoax.
2. Does dividing your food intake into frequent meals and snacks aid in weight loss compared to eating the same calories, but in two to three large meals?
A few studies show that people who divide their food intake into little meals and snacks have an easier time managing their weight, sometimes because they take in fewer calories, other times because nibbling helps control their appetites. Eating more frequently aids weight loss, not because it speeds up metabolism, but because it helps a person deal with hunger signals. On the other hand, other studies show that obese people eat more frequently than their leaner buddies, so obviously it’s not just when , but what, you eat that is important. Once again, it’s an issue of losing sight of the forest for the trees. Even if meal frequency has a slight advantage over the standard three-square meals a day, it’s insignificant if your lifestyle is not conducive to frequent snacking. Designing an eating plan that both maintains a desirable weight AND fits your lifestyle is the ultimate goal.
Do You Know?
1. Does protein increase metabolism, so you can’t get fat on protein-rich foods?
2. Does eating most of your calories later in the day (at and after dinner) causes more calories to be stored as fat?
Check next week for the answers…
What does “A Good Source of….” mean on a label? Not much. A food can use this claim if it contains at least 10% of that nutrient. Don’t be fooled. You still need to read the ingredient list, check the amount of fat and added sugar, fiber, and sodium content. Kool Aid can claim to be a good source of vitamin C, but that doesn’t make it a health food!
Food Finds/Food Fails
Lean Cuisine Honestly Good Frozen Entree: I’m not a big prominent of frozen meals and would much rather all Americans cooked real food from scratch. But, let’s get real. Sometimes you just need a quick fix. Each of these frozen entrees features a chicken breast, beef strips, or fish filet over brown rice or whole grain pasta, along with a vegetable. They are low in saturated fat and calories (averaging about 300 to 400 calories each). They also contain a good amount of protein and fiber to help fill you up on the fewer calories. They also are not drenched in sodium. My favorite is the Lemongrass Salmon.
2. Frozen Shrimp: I can toss together a shrimp salad, stir fry, or pasta dish in minutes when I have a bag of frozen shrimp in the freezer. The Food Find here is to save money by buying your shrimp at Target, Walmart, or Sam’s Club where they are cheaper than brands, such as Tastee Choice in regular supermarkets. On the other hand, the Costco and Whole Foods brands have the least sodium, at about 175 milligrams/serving.
1. Tim’s All Natural Reduced Fat Potato Chips: This might sound like a nutritional have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too snack, but like the old adage says, if it sounds to good to be true, it is. First, chips are the #1 snack food in America. They have so little nutritional value and so many calories that they, like soft drinks, contribute to America’s expanding waistline. These chips are “all natural” potato, oil, and salt (don’t be fooled by “sea salt” since all salt comes from the sea and is sodium chloride), which means they have the same calories as a regular chip, a teaspoon and a half of fat, and 110 milligrams of sodium for every 15 chips. I have yet to find a chip snack that wasn’t a nutritional disaster.
2. Lipton Natural Energy Tea: Products like this remind me of the old days when some peanut butter brands would tout that they were cholesterol-free. (Hint: All peanut butters are cholesterol-free!) Well, all caffeinated teas contain caffeine, too! Lipton says it has “created a natural process to unleash the natural essence” of tea. Hmmm. Sounds like putting a tea bag in hot water to me. Don’t be fooled. You can unleash that natural essence at home just by leaving the bag in the water a little longer.
The Daily Menu
Put know how into practice with this simple, nutritious meal plan. Eliminate the snack if you want to cut additional calories. And, with all the menus in my newsletter, feel free to tweak to your food preferences and choices.
2 frozen whole wheat waffles, toasted and topped with 3 Tbsp. fat-free sour cream and 2/3 cup fresh or thawed blueberries.
6 ounces grapefruit juice
Coffee or tea (optional)
1/2 turkey sandwich made from 1 slice whole wheat bread, 2 ounces turkey breast, and 1 Tbsp. cranberry sauce
Romaine salad made with 1-1/2 cups chopped outer romaine lettuce leaves, 4 sliced mushrooms, 2 Tbsp. fresh red raspberries, and 2 Tbsp. fat-free raspberry vinaigrette dressing
Sparkling water with lime
Linguini with Tomatoes and Clams:
1 cup cooked linguini noodles topped with:
Sauce: 1/2 cup chopped onion, 8 ounces stewed tomatoes, 2 tsp. chopped fresh parsley, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp. marjoram, salt and pepper simmered in non-stick skillet until onion is tender. Add 1/4 pound fresh, shelled steamer clams and cook for 10 minutes over medium-high heat. Pour over pasta.
1 cup steamed broccoli
Roasted Eggplant with Mozzarella & Basil: Slice eggplant into rounds, spray with olive oil spray and roast at 425 degrees F, turning once, for approximately 20 minutes or until browned and cooked through, but still firm. Cool. Top 2 slices (one serving) with a thin slice of fresh mozzarella cheese and a fresh basil leaf. Drizzle 2 tsp. low-fat balsamic vinaigrette dressing over the slices.
1 mango, peeled and sliced and topped with 6 ounces nonfat lemon yogurt and chopped mint leaves.
2 pieces of Creamy Low-Fat Fudge
Nutritional Information: 1,800 Calories; 17% fat, 34 grams total fat, 11 grams saturated fat; 21% protein, 94.5 grams protein; 62% carbs, 279 grams carbs; 32 grams fiber; 1,117 milligrams calcium; 484 micrograms folate; 1,643 milligrams sodium.