Monthly Archives: June 2008 A mini-series

If your diet needs tweaking or you need to lose weight, you might want to try, an updated version of the Food Guide Pyramid accessible via the Internet. Though the new pyramid graphic is entirely useless (it takes full page to explain the meaning of each color and symbol in the text from which I teach), the new, customized approach makes it a very useful tool to assess, track and improve your diet.

Most of us suffer from diets that lack balance — that is, we eat too many meat/beans, grains and sometimes milk but neglect fruit and/or vegetables. For those of you trying to lose weight, it usually means you are consuming foods containing more calories, fewer vitamins and minerals and more sodium.

Taking a peak at your dietary needs, and then assessing your dietary habits are the best places to begin to make changes that will improve your health (and encourage weight loss, if necessary).


On MyPyramid, that means you want to start with MyPyramid Plan (located on the bottom right of this picture, on the home web page. If you click that link and enter your age, gender, weight, height and level of activity from the pull down menu, the program will generate a pyramid showing your dietary requirements (see screen grab, and no, those are not my real stats). If your activity level is 30 minutes or below, repeat MyPyramid Plan pretending that you engage in activity on the next level so you can see something that might inspire you to get up off that thing you’re sitting on: activity lends an extra 200 calories or more per day to your menu.


If you are overweight, MyPyramid Plan will ask if you would like a plan that will lead to gradual weight loss (or you can choose not to do that).

On the pyramid diagram you will see a “Tips” section where you can find out more information about each food category. You can also use the tag on the left that says “Inside the Pyramid,” which will tell you what kinds of foods fall into each category and in what amounts. Please note (with disdain, I know) that foods like solid fats (butter), cream cheese, and jelly fall under “discretionary calories” and are considered extras. because they do not contribute much nutritionally.

The next step is to print a tracking form (there’s a pdf located on this screen that will print your results) OR you can just record what you eat for a day (but 3 days is best) and see how you measure up using MyPyramid Tracker. You can record up to a year’s worth of your meals, and the tracker provides a full analysis of the nutrient content, and balance of those meals for you. The only downside: you’re limited to their database. More on this next time.

Calling all Californians! Come get your menu labeling on!

There are two bills currently in the California State Legislature about food labeling. One, AB 2572 is sponsored by the restaurant industry, while the other, SB 1420 is sponsored by the American Cancer Society and consumer groups like Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Hm. Which do you think best represents your needs?

AB 2572 allows restaurants to provide nutrition information much as they do now, on tray liners, with pamphlets and online, but NOT on menus or menu boards where consumers are more likely to see it BEFORE they make their food purchases.

If you knew that the burrito you were about to order had 1,100 calories before you ordered it because the number was right there on the menu, would you still order it?

SB 1420 is a reintroduction of a bill vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who must have been mightily conflicted given his ties to both business and health. State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Van Nuys) co-authored the bill, which requires restaurant chains of 15 or more outlets to include calorie information on the menu, and to make more information like saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrates and sodium available on the spot. The bill would take effect July 1, 2009.

You vote with your food dollars every day, but if you knew more about what you were eating and made better decisions as a result, restaurants would listen. They’re in the business of selling food. When McDonald’s wasn’t doing well financially and sensed that people wanted healthier choices, they introduced some. And now that the economy is tanking, they’re introducing chicken on a biscuit for breakfast as comfort food. See?

So what should you do? You should write to your local legislator and kick up some dirt about it if you’d really like to know what you’re eating. Take a minute and click this link to find out very quickly who represents your district (it might be helpful to know anyway, huh?). From there you can link to legislators’ individual sites and hit “contact me” to ask them to vote for SB 1420.

Or, use this link from the American Cancer Society to write a very, very quick email.

You could also write to Arnold and gently suggest that he not veto the bill this time.

Vitamin D gets its day in the sun

Every Vitamin gets its 15 minutes of fame.

Vitamin C got a serious boost from Linus Pauling, such that people still think that a megadose (a gram, instead of the recommended 75-90 milligrams) of the stuff will keep a cold at bay (not so much, but it will make your urine quite fluorescent and expensive – do it regularly and you could get kidney stones.  So don’t).

It was widely believed that Vitamin E was the savior of all scourges: Non-toxic (mostly) and an antioxidant and curer of all ills (especially heart disease), it was the vitamin of the hour until it was found that you could indeed overdo it (especially if you’re on blood thinners) and worse, in supplemental form it looks like it doesn’t prevent heart disease after all (so you can stop downing one with your burger and fries).

Turns out that the best way to get vitamins is when they’re delivered by actual food (usually fruits and vegetables) where they are more likely to play a role in disease prevention because of the mix of other beneficial plant chemicals along for the ride.

Now Vitamin D is the new sexy hot vitamin that’s going to save the world.

Vitamin D is a bit of a freak.  It’s not present naturally in a whole lot of food (it’s in fatty fishes like tuna, sardines and herring, otherwise it’s added to milk and breakfast cereals), but we can make it under our skin using cholesterol (yes, cholesterol, the baddie).   Unlike other vitamins, it acts a bit like a hormone.

Scientists know we probably need more Vitamin D than is currently recommended, and that many of us are deficient even under the current guidelines (200-600 IU).  However, and you won’t see this until at least the 10th paragraph in every article – Vitamin D can be toxic.  And there’s the rub.  Too much of it can cause calcium deposits in otherwise soft tissue – with resulting pain and/or tissue damage. Continue reading

Drink up!

Whoo! It’s hot out there!

And guess what? Your body, though very clever indeed, takes a while to register dehydration. So when you’re thirsty, you’ve already lost quite a bit of water (1-2% of your body weight). By then you start to feel fatigued, and maybe even hungry (though really, you’re just very thirsty).
Water is the best liquid out there for hydration (unless you’re vigorously exercising more than 30 minutes, in which case you could go for a cup — 8 oz. — of Gatorade to ensure you get enough electrolytes. There’s also a number of water products with eletrolytes that would fit the bill). If you can’t stand the taste of plain water, try squeezing a fruit (or floating some, like oranges and a cut strawberry) in there for some flavor. Tea or coffee will help, but they aren’t as good as water. And soda? If you have no other choice. Soda’s got some water in it, but it also may have sugar or artificial sweeteners and a ton of chemicals. Have water also. A water chaser?

If you are carrying water around all day, the safest way to avoid chemicals is: The Klean Kanteen. The stainless steel keeps water cool, the plastic in it is safe and does not leach chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA). You can order one here. There are also safe bottles by Sigg. Even better than recycling.

Disposable bottles are relatively safe, but do not let them heat up in the car, as all plastic can leach chemicals into your water. Avoid Polycarbonate bottles with a recycling “7” on the bottom, because most of them contain BPA, which can cause hormone-like effects and may cause other health problems. Filtered water from the tap, or heck, plain tap water are just fine!

If you can fog a mirror, you’re losing water. Water humidifies our breath, comes flying out of our pores (even if you aren’t visually sweating), and of course we excrete quite a bit. So drink up!

Microbes: Nature’s party crashers

It’s getting hot out there – time to don that Kiss the Cook apron and throw a shrimp on the barbie.

I certainly don’t want to spoil the fun with school-marm rules for safe food handling, but nothing says “I care” quite like following a few easy rules that will keep you (and your guests) from some internal bacterial cha-cha. And you do care. I can feel it.
I’m guessing you’d prefer your guests remember you for your Godlike grilling skillssupergriller, to the rescue! and killer potato salad rather than doing the toilet huddle. So let’s get to it:

  • Before you get the party started, make sure that your refrigerator and freezer are in good working order. The heat of the day (as well as dawdling children who hang out in front of the open fridge) can cause temperature fluctuations, so keep a thermometer posted and make sure it stays at 40 degrees or below. The freezer temperature should be at 0 degrees. If you can’t maintain these temperatures, it might be time for a new refrigerator.
  • When you shop, be sure to check the expiration dates for the foods you purchase, and always wrap trays of meat in plastic bags to avoid leaks onto other foods you may be purchasing (or the grocery clerk’s counter).
  • Bring a cooler bag or ice chest filled with refreezable ice. If you bag your own groceries or request that the clerk put the items for the ice chest in one bag you can quickly pop them in and keep cold foods cold until you get home (this will also keep you from wanting to throttle the aforementioned dawdling children or the person in front of you waiting an eternity to turn left out of the parking lot).
  • According to FDA food safety guidelines, raw hamburger meat will only last 1-2 days in the fridge. After that it’s garbage. No, it really is garbage, there aren’t exceptions to this rule (smell and sight are not indicators of bacterial content), so plan ahead or freeze meat and then thaw it in the fridge, never on the counter, before grilling. Steak, and prepared items like egg salad, however, will last 3-5 days in the fridge, and an opened package of hot dogs will last up to 1 week. For more storage guidelines, check here. Continue reading

Food Safety tip: label the leftovers!

Necessary implements for preventing food poisoning from your leftover food:

1 Sharpie pen

1 regular pen

Tiny Post-it notes

Refrigerator and Freezer storage chart from the FDA

Common sense

Can’t remember if it was last Friday or Saturday (or was it Thursday?) when you put that leftover chicken salad in the fridge?

It’s a good idea to break out a Sharpie pen and scrawl the date across the empty ziploc bag before placing food in it, or take a Post-it and tag that takeout container. Yes, yes, you don’t’ have time, you have to get a pen, it’s a phenomenal pain. So is doubling over with diarrhea.

Keep the pens in the utensil drawer (unless you have a small child and don’t care about your walls) with the sticky notes.

And remember, the refrigerator is not a time capsule, so almost no food will stay fresh there for a week. Raw hamburger, for example, needs to be used in 2 days max (if you’re not going to use it get it to the freezer).

If you’re playing a guessing game, don’t go over 3 days for most open containers of cooked (but print the FDA chart for the exceptions).

Salad days

Left to my own devices, I could eat carbohydrates with bouts of protein consumption and nothing else. Usually by dinnertime my interest in going face down into a bowl of food at the end of the day when I’mYum! make-upless in my “tired pants” (nicknamed by the child for the proclamation about my mental state that usually accompanies their donning) is keen.

Turns out this is also how the vast majority of my students fill the bill when they’re left to their own devices. They work a lot, can’t afford a lot, and thus they eat breakfast and generally return home looking for food with raptor-like hunger. Many of us can finally relax at dinnertime (or lunchtime if we work the night shift, hopefully). They don’t have enough time to shop, don’t have enough time to eat, and as a result they don’t meet up with vegetables very often unless they’re in a wrapper squeezed between a piece of meat and a bun.

So how about a salad?

When you’re really hungry, this sort of thing tastes really, really good. The prep also lends itself to the popping of ingredients into one’s hungry mouth without a trace of guilt. And if one is a serious cheater like me, this can all be done rather quickly (and somewhat cheaply, but let’s not kid ourselves, produce can be expensive — but you’re worth it!! Excuse me while I put down my pom-poms). Here’s how — any or all of these: Continue reading