Posts Tagged weight gain

An article called “Snack Time Never Ends” appeared this week in the Dining Section of the New York Times. Since I had been preparing a talk called “Feed Your Family Right: How to Choose Healthful Snacks” for parents of children at a local K-8 school, the timing of Jennifer Steinhauer’s article could not have been better. As a registered dietitian and mother of two boys, aged 11 and 7, I found the article to be extremely reflective of the 24/7 food-focused environment in which we live. It also highlighted the dire need for us as individuals and for our society as a whole to come together and do a better job of helping our nation’s children grow into healthy, fit adults.

Of course being surrounded with a vast array of snack food and beverage options at every turn makes mindful and moderate eating a challenge (to say the least) for many of us. Furthermore, huge portion sizes only add to the problem. Studies show if more we are offered/given more, we will consume more. Hopefully, the recent trend towards smaller portion sizes in convenience food and beverage products and restaurant foods can help us all eat less in 2010 and beyond.

As a registered dietitian, I have always encouraged people to include healthful snacks in their daily diet. In theory, in-between meal snacks can fill in food and nutrient gaps left at meals. For example, having one or more snacks each day can give many children, especially young ones who have tiny tummies and get full easily, more opportunities to fit in foods (and their nutrients) from key food groups (including fruits, vegetables, lean meats/beans, and low fat dairy foods).

But as we all know too well, snacking today has become more of a social ritual, or mindless habit than a nutritional opportunity. Little kids snack in their strollers, and many of us snack while walking and talking, while commuting or driving, or while being a spectator of some sporting event or other activity. Many of us snack not because we’re hungry, but simply because the sight, smell, and round-the-clock availability of food is more temptation than we can handle.

Does snacking cause obesity and overweight? We all know that over the past several decades, the rate at which children and adults tip scales has multiplied dramatically (though recent data reveals that these numbers are starting to level off –finally!). And while there is no one cause of obesity, snacking on high calorie, high sodium, sugary, or otherwise nutrient-poor foods and beverages can easily contribute to excess calorie intake and subsequent weight gain.

Studies also show that both kids and adults snack and graze more than ever before. A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition looked at national survey data collected since the late 70’s and found that on average, adults now have one extra snack per day than they did before. Furthermore, snack choices today are more energy dense (they have a lot of calories in a small portion) and tend to include nutrient-poor foods like salty chips or crackers, desserts, sugary beverages, and candies. Just like in children, snacks seem to be filling many of us adults out instead of filling in nutritional gaps.

So what should we do? Should we skip snacks and stick to breakfast, lunch, and dinner only? I believe that snacking can and should be part of a healthful diet for all of us. But snacking smart is key if we want to reap the potential benefits and minimize the perils.

Here are six of my favorite snack smart food rules my family and I try to follow; I’d love to hear your personal and family snack rules–together, they’re sure to help us all get a little bit healthier and better manage our weight.

1) Choose wisely. Anticipate snacks ahead of time and be sure to include plenty of foods and beverages from the key food groups (fruits, veggies, whole grains, low fat dairy foods, and lean sources of protein including nuts, seeds, and nut butters) on your weekly grocery list and in your cart. Choose all foods in their lowest fat and sugar form (examples include raw nuts, fat-free or low fat plain yogurt, dried fruit without added sugar, unsweetened apple sauce, whole grain/low sugar cereals, whole wheat crackers or unsalted pretzels, and low fat popcorn).

2) Find where the food (or beverage) fits. When choosing among processed and packaged foods, think about whether those foods come from any of the basic food groups. If they don’t fit neatly into any food group, chances are they won’t make the best snack choice and are more like desserts. Children and adults have between 150 to 300 extra or discretionary calories they can use for such extras--foods or beverages made with added sugars or fats (or in the case of adults, from alcoholic beverages)-- so keep that in mind when making your daily snack choices.

3) Be a portion teller. My former grad school nutrition professor Lisa Young, author of the great book Portion Teller, urges consumers to learn how to eyeball portion sizes using common objects (mousepad, dice, baseball etc) to help them consume appropriate amounts whether at home or away from home. Keeping on hand small plastic cups and bowls, and small plastic baggies can also make it easy for you to pre-portion snacks and reduce the risk of overeating.

4) Be a selective snacker. When you’re out and about–whether at work, at a soccer game, at play practice, at a movie theater, or at a birthday party or sporting event–temptations may be tough to handle. Of course you can plan ahead and bring your own snacks; but let’s face it, sometimes you just really want a cupcake, a piece of birthday cake, movie popcorn, or some other indulgence! The key is that when you have these foods, make sure to adjust how much you eat that day overall--even by a few bites--and limit items made with extra fat or sugar to keep your total daily calorie intake in check.

5) Keep tools on hand to help you end the eating. Whether it’s chewing gum, breath strips, strong mints, or mouth wash, having a few of these on hand in your purse, bag, or desk drawer can not only leave your mouth feeling fresh and minty, but can help you resist the urge to have “just one more bite,” mindlessly snack, and reduce your risk of eating when not hungry.

6) Snack when you’re sitting down. Try to make sitting when you eat (preferably at a table) a habit, whether you’re home or on the go. You may find you actually eat less AND feel more satisfied.

1) Snack Time Never Ends, New York Times, January 20, 2010:
2) J Nutr. 2010 Feb;140(2):325-32. Epub 2009 Dec 2.

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For this week's From Me to Oprah: Weekly Tips for Managing Weight and Life,  I decided to weigh in on the latest ad from the New York City Department of Health. In this 30-second video called "Are You Pouring on the Pounds?"  a man is shown drinking globs of what's supposed to be fat. The video states that having one sugary soda a day can make you 10 pounds fatter in a year. At the end of the video, we viewers are urged to not to drink ourselves fat; instead of soda, we should guzzle water, seltzer, and low fat milk.

I was interviewed about this video for last night's local ABC affiliate broadcast. I was asked about my thoughts and feelings about the video, and whether it would be effective in fighting obesity and reducing sugary soda consumption. I'll admit that I'm the last person to advocate making regular, sugary soda a dietary staple; my husband and I don't drink it nor have we ever offered it to our boys (who are  11 and 7). In general, we seldom consume sugary beverages (including spiked decadent coffee beverages or energy drinks), though once in a while my husband and our 11 year old son, who mostly drink water and low fat milk, will have a sports drink like Gatorade at sports games or practices when they sweat a lot and burn tons of calories. Although I'm not a sugary soda fan, I also don't think it's the enemy and the cause of obesity in America.

Here, in a nutshell, are some of my other thoughts about the video:

1) The video uses shock value to get the anti-soda message across; a more understated ad that simply says drink less soda and more low fat milk and water would certainly get lost in cyberspace, so of course I completely understand why the NYC Department of Health went to an extreme in this case.

2) I found watching the video to be a disgusting exercise; and after warning my 11 year-old son about the content of the video, I did show it to him; he doesn't drink soda anyway, and said this ad would certainly not make him want to either!

3) The video is a bit misleading. On one hand, soda can certainly be over consumed and the calories can definitely add up fast (especially because liquid calories are generally so much less filling than calories from solid foods and because soda portions are often huge--and the more you're given, the more you tend to consume). On the other hand, studies have not proven that soda is the cause of obesity and overweight. Yes, the more soda you consume, the more likely you are to engage in other dietary behaviors that cause you to over consume calories and perhaps your overall diet is less healthful as well. And yes, sugary sodas provide so-called empty calories and few if any key nutrients, and too much soda can contribute to excess calorie intake (unless other dietary adjustments are made to keep daily calorie intake in check to support healthy weight management). But too many calories from any source--even healthful foods or beverages--can contribute to excess calorie intake and subsequent weight gain and/or obesity. Too little physical activity is of course the other side of the equation and can have a huge impact on your body weight, good or bad.

4) Unfortunately, I believe the healthful message of the video--consuming more water, seltzer and low fat milk--got lost under the globules of fat poured down the man's throat and onto a plate.

As a registered dietitian, I often use the bees and honey analogy when communicating messages about nutrition and health. It may not get people talking, and may not be controversial or cause a stir, but it can and does help people change their behavior over time. I like to encourage people to focus first and foremost on their overall dietary pattern rather than on single foods. I encourage them to fill dietary gaps with more nutritious foods and beverages like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fish, lean meats, and low fat dairy foods. Of course I encourage people to limit fatty, greasy, sugary, nutrient-poor foods (and to keep portions small if and when they consume such foods). For those who like sugary soda, I say it's ok to drink it, but it should be counted as a treat (it has about the same number of calories as three small cookies).  I like to always point out diet rights and show people what they can and should have more of than point a finger at all the wrongs--the foods and beverages they should avoid because they're supposedly evil.

Only time will tell if this negative video campaign will get people to drink less sugary soda, and opt instead for more healthful beverages. But for now, as always, I will continue to promote positive nutrition and health messages, and encourage people to consume more healthful foods from all the important food categories, and find ways to fit more physical activity  into their lives. In my mind, that's a better recipe for long-term health and weight management.


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