Thursday, March 31, 2011

“The 5-Second Rule” and Food Safety

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by Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

Food safety advice is everywhere, and we’re always hearing debates about “use by dates” and “sell by dates” as well as the “right” internal temperature for meat consumption. Yes, food-borne illness is a problem, and we’re always looking for ways to minimize this.

One of the most overlooked ways to avoid food borne illness comes in the form of one of the most often-cited “old wives tale” – called the “5-Second Rule.” It goes like this: any food dropped on the floor and picked up within 5 seconds is safe to eat. Sounds crazy, right? But you’d be amazed how many people adhere to this! The rationale that it hasn’t been on the ground long enough to pick up contaminants is simply not true.

Think about where all those shoes and boots have been before reaching your kitchen floor or family room carpeting! When you look at it from that point of view, you’ll throw out anything that falls on the floor. And that’s a health plus!

While it’s hard to avoid all sources of food borne illness, an easy way to minimize the risk is by ignoring such silly advice. Switch that 5-second rule to a No-Second rule!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Perk Up Your Water!

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by Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

We’re always hearing how important it is to “hydrate” and keep your fluid intake up. While it’s clearly important to downsize liquid calories, people are always asking me what else they can drink instead of water. I’ve heard all kinds of reasons, from “it’s so boring,” to “it has an off taste” to “I don’t trust tap water” to “I’m sick of it.” If this sounds familiar, read on!

A new product just hit the market that makes it easy to perk up your water – in any form, whether from the tap, a water cooler, or bottled. Called MiO (Italian for “mine”), it’s described as a liquid water enhancer, and comes in multiple fruit flavors and a couple of teas. Packaged in a small tear-drop shaped bottle – you simply squirt a small amount in your water. Totally portable and convenient, and no mess. Plus, YOU control the taste – as the intensity of flavor and sweetness is based on how much you choose to add. Available in the drink aisle of your local supermarket, it contains a low-calorie sweetener combination, so it’s great for dieters and diabetics.

While a slice of lemon or lime, or splash of juice is always an option to give your water a little kick - it’s not always convenient. Give MiO a try, if you’re looking for something new and different – and let me know how you like it!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fighting Post-Exercise Hunger

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by Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

Are you hungry after your workout? Recent studies show that post-exercise hunger can actually sabotage your weight loss effort if you’re not careful.

While exercise is a key part of any weight loss effort it’s important to point out that we all overestimate the calories we use for exercise, and underestimate the calories we eat – a miscalculation that can produce steady weight gain. Add increased hunger after exercise - a normal metabolic response - and it can be a recipe for weight loss disaster. So what’s the connection between exercising and appetite?

While a severely intense workout usually dulls appetite, many people report an increase in hunger after exercising. This is the body’s response to “refueling”. But when you pre-plan, you won’t have any trouble with this!

- Have a snack of about 150 calories a ½ to 1 hour before your workout, and you’ll be less ravenous after your workout. Aim for a mixture of protein, carbohydrate, and fat.

- Stay hydrated. Make sure you have enough water during your workout, and drink at least 8 ounces of water afterwards. Hunger is often confused with thirst.

- Allow yourself a snack of about 150 calories after exercise if you feel you are hungry. Most people discover for themselves whether this snack is better before (see above) or after exercise. Account for these calories.

- Don’t figure you’ve exercised hundreds of extra calories, and it’s time for “free eating”. It takes 5 minutes to eat 500 calories, and 2 hours to burn it off!

Drop me a note about your own experiences with exercise and appetite! Do you see the connection?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Want More Activity? Get a Dog!

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by Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

It’s tough to stay committed to daily activity. Now a new study shows there’s one sure way to do this: get a dog. Of course, there’s a lot of responsibility that goes along with dog ownership, but it’s clear from the data that dog owners get more exercise compared with those who don’t have a pooch for a pet. Another study documented that, when it comes to exercise, dogs were better walking companions, compared with people! The fitness levels of those walking with the dogs increased much more (28%) compared with those walking with a person (4%).

I’ve heard from dozens (hundreds?) of dog owners over the years, and the response is universally the same: “my dog forces me to go out twice daily for a walk”. It really helps many people get over that barrier of initiating exercise. Once they’re outside, it’s no problem.

So, if you’ve been thinking about dog ownership in general, plan on this built-in boost of regular activity as part of your long-term plan. And if you already have a dog, and have others do the walking – make a change, and do it yourself. It’s the perfect way to include moderate daily exercise.

What do you dog owners out there have to say? I’d love to know!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Fifth Taste Bud

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by Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

Let’s talk about taste buds. You might know there are four “basic” tastes: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. But did you know there’s another? It’s time to discover the “fifth taste bud,” called umami (oo-mommy)! Umami is the taste that is described as savory, or meaty – and there are loads of foods that stimulate this tasty bud. If you’re looking for easy ways to boost the flavor of your foods, read on!

No chemistry lesson here, but when you eat, certain flavors within food stimulate taste bud sensors (called receptors) on your tongue, and send a message to your brain that you’ve tasted something. There are thousands of these all over your tongue, just waiting for flavorful foods. And highly flavored foods have been suggested to help support fullness with fewer calories eaten – a huge potential help to dieters.

Here are some top foods to make those umami taste buds jump! And you can eat them alone, or use them as flavor enhancers.

- Tomatoes
- Parmesan Cheese
- Mushrooms
- Soy Sauce
- Anchovies

Try a grating of parmesan cheese (with about 10 calories per teaspoon) on fresh or frozen veggies for a flavorful treat. Add some mushrooms to any soup, or salad. While soy sauce is a high sodium choice, try the reduced sodium variety in salad dressings and marinades, as well as for sushi. And anchovies don’t have to be fishy; put one or two in a marinara sauce, and they melt in, to enhance flavor, with no fishy taste or smell. Tomatoes are a major umami-rich food – but stick with canned varieties, except in the summer months, when the flavor is most developed.

I hope you give it a try! Let me know your experiences with the fifth taste bud!!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Manage Your “Trigger Foods”

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by Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

Say the word “trigger food” and you’ll hear dozens of different responses. It’s a food that promotes that uncomfortable sense of “loss of control.” While this sensation can often feel like it’s a true “chemical addiction,” most evidence supports a behavioral response to foods that stimulate overeating.

The good news is that we all can learn to manage food cravings, and maintain control over food (and not the other way around!!). See if some of these work for you!

  1. Identify the problem food or food group.

  2. Determine whether portion control or substitution with another food will help you satisfy but not trigger over-eating.

  3. Cut out specific foods (not whole categories!) that trigger rather than satisfy.

  4. Avoid specific settings (restaurant bars or your kitchen at home) that trigger overeating.

  5. Substitute another behavior for the act of eating - learn to knit or chew sugarless gum.

To help get you started, here are three major categories of struggle, and some suggestions to satisfy:

For a SWEET tooth: Try some sugar free gum and mints, sugar free Jello and popsicles, 60-calorie puddings, low-cal (25-50 calorie) hot chocolate. Don't like the low-calorie sweeteners? Try the single-wrapped peppermint LifeSavers, peppermint Tic-Tacs, Altoids, or mini lollypops.

For a FAT Tooth: Look for 100-calorie bag of chips, pretzels or popcorn, low-fat single serve cheese (Laughing Cow light or Mini-Bon Bel), extra creamy non or low-fat yogurt, turkey pepperoni (about 15 slices), or low-fat hot dogs.

For the STARCH lover: Find some low calorie, whole grain options – about 50-70 calories a serving, including 100% whole wheat thin sliced bread, tortillas, or mini-pitas. Try a handful of a high-fiber cereal of your choice – that’s about ½ cup, and 100 calories.

There are no "right" answers – and personal choice occurs after much trial and error. What works for you might not work for someone else. So, be open-minded but realistic in your quest to conquer food cravings. It can be done…you CAN regain control.

Let me know how you’ve solved your “trigger food” issues!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A “Double Duty” Food for Dieters: Dairy!

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by Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

You might not know that cutting calories and losing weight can both affect bone density. To fight back, the best one-two punch for dieters is to include low or non-fat dairy products. Packed with both protein and calcium, these are two of the key nutrients where most dieters fall short.

Calcium supports bone health (enhanced by vitamin D, also found in dairy foods). That extra protein keeps your hunger in check as well.

Here are some dairy diet tips, and a few of my favorite choices - ready-to-eat at any time of day. I’ve included some non-dairy calcium options, for those of you who cannot digest dairy products, or choose not to eat them.

- Avoid artery-clogging, full-fat dairy products. Low and non-fat dairy contain the same protein and calcium as the full-fat version.

- Choose low or non-fat yogurt, including drinkable forms. Watch out for added sugars that add only calories, without further nutrients. Add your own frozen or fresh fruit to plain yogurt.

- Organic yogurt doesn’t mean low in calories – read the labels.

- Try some “greek-style” yogurt, which is very thick and tasty,

- Dark green leafy veggies like broccoli are good sources of calcium, but far less concentrated than dairy products (it takes more than 2 cups of broccoli to equal the calcium in an 8 ounce glass of milk!)

- Lactaid milk is calcium fortified, for those who have lactose-intolerance.

- Soy milk is a calcium-rich, high protein “milk alternative”

- Check out calcium-fortified foods, like orange juice, and pasta; while not a natural food source, these products can help boost your calcium intake.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Learn to Enjoy Your Food!

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Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

It’s important to break the bad habit we all have of “eating on the run”, which leads to mindless overeating. Whether it’s in the car, standing in the kitchen, or walking down the street between appointments, these activities show a disconnect between eating on the run and a structured setting in which to eat.

For your on-the-run meals, try some portable meal replacements and fruit. Don’t skimp on some downtime for meal preparation and enjoyment – even when it’s dinner for one. You’re worth the effort! Here are some of my favorite ways to treat yourself right:

- Set the table, with a place mat and nice dishes. A bud vase with a flower is a nice touch. Even dinner for one should be acknowledged – you’re worth it.

- Sit down at the table and eat! Make a mental note to focus on the taste of the food. Don’t multitask while eating. Put on some quiet music. If it relaxes you, it’s okay to read the paper, or watch the news.

- On the go? Take a protein bar or shake, along with a fruit, and take 15 minutes to eat, undisturbed. Listen to your iPod, or some music, to help reset your day. Location is less important than setting aside the time.

- Take time for your meal, which helps you eat slowly and maximize your contentment with fewest calories. Don’t gobble your food. It takes 15-20 minutes for your stomach to send a signal to the brain that you’ve eaten.

How do you find ways to truly enjoy your food?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Check Your Freezer to Save Money, Eat Healthy

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by Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

Food prices are soaring, and it’s not your imagination that the cost of healthy foods seems to be rising by the day. Fresh fruits and vegetables are especially out of control. Even the usual ways to cut costs don’t seem to work – like cutting up veggies yourself, or buying bagged fruits that are smaller in size and not as perfect. A tough problem!

Fruit and vegetable requirements don’t change with the seasons and it is harder to meet these needs in the wintertime. First, when it comes to fresh produce – become a “seasonal” eater. Choose fruits and veggies that are in season and not flown in from around the world. With a global food supply, we can now get produce from all corners of the world – hey, it’s always summer somewhere! As you might have already discovered, melons, berries, peaches, and cherries, are priced high, while the flavor is low. For now, stick with fruits like apples, pears, and oranges, and veggies like cabbage, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. That’s one way to trim your costs.

Now for the major savings! Visit the frozen food aisle – but choose carefully. You’ll save a bundle, and get the same nutrient content as the fresh varieties. Most frozen produce is flash frozen before bagging, making it nutrient-rich and the same as fresh. Select those without added sauces (veggies) or sugars (fruits). To make sure, turn over the package, and read the list of ingredients; it should only contain the fruit or vegetable you selected – and nothing else!

You can splurge for the “microwave right in the bag” varieties, but you’ll cut this cost nearly in half, if you take one minute to dump the bag into a covered container first. Either way, you’ll save in a big way.

Another thing I love? No waste!! Just take out what you need – and prepare. You won’t be throwing out a lot of fresh food you couldn’t get around to eating in time (say no to the big-box store’s giant fresh produce bags and boxes unless you can share them with a friend).

Let me know how you’ve been saving money on fruits and vegetables!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Skinny on Belly Fat

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by Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

I have to chuckle when I see the new “spin” on abdominal fat (apple shaped people!) as in “Banish Your Belly Fat Now!” or “Foods That Fight Belly Fat!” As if belly fat were some kind of separate part of the body that responds to a specific type of diet plan. If only…

The bad news on belly fat is that because belly fat cushions several key metabolic body organs, it makes this fat more damaging to your health compared with the lower-body fat around your hips and thighs. So, even if your weight is not dangerously high, if your body fat settled in your middle, you are at greater risk for diabetes, and other metabolic diseases related to excess weight.

Where do you fit in? National studies show that women with a waist circumference larger than 35 inches, and men with a waist circumference larger than 40 inches, are at a greater health risk. You don’t always need a tape measure to determine your belly fat status. For example, if you cannot see your toes, it may be a sign to consider making some health improvements.

To see where you are with your body fat, enlist the help of your doctor for greatest accuracy in your waist measurements.

The good news on belly fat is that when you start any weight loss plan, it’s usually the first area of reduction. You literally feel like you are deflating. And you can monitor your progress by your belt notches or your waistband. Or, being able to button your jeans and still breathe. We all have our own ways to measure up!

So forget about those ads with supplements or foods promising to melt belly fat. Not true. No food targets the abdomen, specifically, to “break down fat.” When fitness solutions sound too good to be true, they usually are.

What stories about belly fat have you been hearing?