As a dietitian/nutritionist, I am often asked if I recommend having a cheat day. (A “cheat day,” cheat meal,” or “cheat food” — is a mini-break from a calorie-restricted diet for weight loss.) My answer is that it all depends on how you define cheat. If a cheat day is a feeding frenzy that packs in lots of extra calories, then I’m against it. But if it means making room for high-calorie favorite treats, then I’m all for it. No diet should be so restricted that it doesn’t make room for favorite foods.
Normal variations in day-to-day calorie intake may be in the best interests of health. Studies of intermittent fasting schedules in animals suggest that an intake pattern of highs and lows enhances the body’s ability to cope with biological stress and, maybe, to resist disease.* Variation is the natural course of events and evolution seems to make it work to an advantage.
Consider that healthy eaters who maintain steady weights don’t usually eat the same amount of food every day.
Here in the new year, millions of Americans will try to cut back on sugar or drop it altogether. It’s a noble effort because sugar is devoid of nutrients, except for calories, which it has in spades.
Quick fact: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports each of us consumes 31 five-pound bags of sugar a year. That’s 267,840 empty calories from sugar alone. Still, people will be jonesing for something sweet to eat. Enter: monk fruit.
Traditionally, people used zero-calorie sweeteners to satisfy their sugar cravings at no caloric cost. Synthetic sugar substitutes, including aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda) and others, are added at the table but are mostly taken as carbonated diet drinks and low calorie foods. But consumption of those foods has taken a nosedive as of late as health conscious consumers flock to natural sweeteners. Stevia, the zero-calorie herb extract, is gaining appeal, but monk fruit is the real one to watch. (more…)
More than 90 percent of Americans have a microwave primarily to reheat leftovers and coffee. Yet a growing legion of eco-lovers want no part of the convenient device. The microwave oven may be falling out of fashion. Perhaps the internet is to blame.
Article after article claims microwave ovens leak radiation, and since high levels of direct radiation cause DNA damage and cancer, then microwave ovens cannot possibly be safe. Except that’s not true.
Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation, something like radio waves, that make water molecules in food vibrate, producing heat that cooks the food. Microwave ovens leak no more radiation than a cellphone, laptop computer, or an airplane flight. The Food and Drug Administration enforces strict standards for the amount of radiation that is allowed to leak. Consumer Reports says the vast majority of microwave ovens show very little leakage of radiation. And the level of exposure drops dramatically as you move away from the oven.
But because the risks of long-term exposure to low-level radiation emissions is unknown, to be absolutely safe, avoid all electronic contraptions. (Yeah right.) (more…)
When it comes to setting weight loss goals, most dieters are unrealistic. Medical experts, concerned with adequate nutrition and physical and psychological health, recommend an average weight loss of a half to one pound per week. But dieters want nothing to do with that. They expect to lose at a rate twice as high, at a minimum.
Scientists have studied, at length, dieters’ expectations about losing weight. Dr. Thomas Wadden, Director of the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania, found that even when patients were “informed repeatedly” that their weight loss goals were unrealistic, they still wanted to lose more than was recommended.
In another study, a group of women expected to lose 22 to 34 percent of their weight in six months, and when told that average weight loss is 8 to 10 percent during the first six months of dieting, they said that number was “unacceptable” and “disappointing.”
Patients undergoing gastric lap band surgery were no different. They expected to lose almost 100 percent of their excess weight when typical results are 20 to 25 percent.
But does it matter if a dieter’s weight loss goals are realistic? Apparently not. (more…)
Millions of well-intentioned American parents, unbeknownst to them, are over-fortifying their kids with too many nutrients. That’s according to a report published earlier this year by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
EWG, an American-based health and research organization, analyzed the nutrition facts labels for 1,550 breakfast cereals and found that 114 cereals were fortified by the manufacturer with 30 percent or more of the adult Daily Value of vitamin A, zinc, and/or niacin. They also looked at 1,000 snack bars and found that 27 common brands were fortified with 50 percent or more of the Daily Value of at least one of those nutrients.
Among the most fortified cereals were:
The most fortified snack bars included
When foods are fortified, vitamins and minerals that aren’t originally in a food are added by the manufacturer. Classic examples include adding vitamin D to milk, iron to flour, fiber to cereal, and iodine to salt. Since 1998, folic acid has been added to breads, cereals, and other products that use enriched flour in an effort to reduce Spina Bifida and other serious birth defects. The idea of fortification was developed almost 100 years ago to treat common nutrition-deficiency diseases.
But it is possible to consume too many fortified foods, especially by children, because the Daily Values are set for the needs of adults not kids. Furthermore, the Daily Value standards were set in 1968 and so some are higher than levels currently deemed to be safe. (more…)