Nutrition

Percolation of Lies: Why I Hate Nutritionally "Sensational" Headlines

This is why America has no idea what to eat. This is why our collective relationship with food is so darn complicated. The following is akin to the constant stream of media articles that claim a food is horrible one week and a wonder food the next. (We all know how  frustrating and confusing that is!)

Time ran an article about an Iowan science teacher, John Cisna, who ate nothing but McDonald's for three meals a day for 90 days and lost weight. It's also HERE entitled: "Man Loses Nearly 40lbs Eating Only McDonald's."

That's an extremely misleading title! While I can't blame the new sites for wanting catchy titles to reel in readers, the articles don't expound too much on Cisna's diet (or what the nutritional composition of those meals were) and they down play the plethora of other factors within his self-experiment.

A quick run-down on the facts expressed in the articles (in case you don't want to ready them). With the help of his class, John Cisna:

1. Constructed 3 meals based on a 2,000 calorie diet and the recommended intakes for protein, carbohydrates, and fat by the USDA (which I think are bunk, but that's a whole 'nother ball game).

2. Walked 45 minutes per day (when previously, he was doing no extra physical activity)

3. Resulted in a 37 lb weight loss and a drop in cholesterol from 249 (dangerously high) to 170 (decent level). His LDL dropped from 173 to 113. (also insanely high to an ok-level).

I'll state the glaringly obvious that, any a man who was quite overweight to begin with (280lbs) performing NO extra physical activity, and was probably over-eating anyway, WILL lose weight with calorie reduction and added physical activity. That's just physiology. At this point, ANYTHING he does towards reducing his calories and increasing his exercise will produce weight loss. Also, the cholesterol reduction is a result in the weight loss, not necessarily the food he ate. Can you start to see why this title is misleading?

To quote the man himself, "The point behind this documentary is, Hey, it's (a) choice. We all have choices. It's our choices that make us fat, not McDonald's." source

On one hand, I agree with Cisna; we are not victims of our environment, we do have the option to choose healthier foods when out to eat. No one forces us to purchase a Big Mac over a salad. It is imperative that we be wary consumers when fast food is involved (the food companies strive to make their food palatable, cheap, and addictive) and Cisna proved that when one digs a bit and is aware of the caloric values of food, that empowers us to make smarter food choices.

On the other hand, the real message is convoluted and lost amid that headline. It presents the situation as a justification for choosing McDonald's instead of  a home cooked meal. Or instead of a meal composed of WHOLE, minimally-processed foods ('cause I guarantee that McDonald's has very few whole foods on the menu.). Conveniently, you can read along with this handy ingredient guide. You'll want to refer to this as we move on.

Cisna admitted to having double cheeseburgers and a Big Macs throughout the experiment. Hmmm... Big Macs have roughly  29 grams of fat (and not the good kind check out the "Big Mac sauce"), 46 g of carbohydrates (definitely not the minimally processed kinds, look at the guide under "regular bun"), and 25 g of protein (but, really, where does that meat COME FROM?)

"Yeah Kelsey," you say, " we already KNOW that's not a 'healthy' choice." Fair enough, let's take a gander, shall we, at the yogurt parfait he ate regularly:

2 g of fat, 30 g carbohydrates, and 4 g of protein. Once again, I question the quality of the source of the fat and protein (from the milk). I can't imagine that the milk used in that is really that great. However, that is overshadowed by that 30 grams of carbs, that is, SUGAR. Highly processed, sugar (though there's a smidge of natural sugar in the milk and fruits, but it's NOT 30 grams worth). Don't believe me? Look up yogurt and granola in that handy guide. Ick. Sugar has, time and time again, been shown to be a culprit in increasing inflammation in the body and creating insulin resistance (to keep the list short), both of which are risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. The same criticism rings true for the maple oatmeal he ate, except that little bugger has some light cream in it... yum!

At first glance, the Eggwhite Delights that Cisna consumed seem like a good idea, only 250 calories each, oh but wait, check out the "whole" grain muffin and egg white and margarine ingredients. Super appealing right?

I could continue in this vein for a while, but I'll cease my tirade and allow my point to actually surface: 240 calories of crap is still crap. The composition of food absolutely matters. The message, as it stands on the surface, is still, "reach for processed foods over whole foods." How much BETTER do you think Cisna would feel if he had chosen whole, minimally processed foods?

I applaud Cisna for sticking with his endeavor, to keep walking even when he didn't want to, and to making conscientious food choices. I'm so glad he lost weight, is healthier than before, and has learned the value in monitoring caloric intake. This is a great stepping stone on his path to a healthier lifestyle. I hope very much that he will be able to continue without the help of McDonald's.

I think the true message of this experiment is food quantity and quality matter, along with regular exercise. Unfortunately, the second half, food quality, is buried under the lie that choosing "healthy" options at McDonald's is a viable way to improve health. Again, crap is still crap. Don't let the media's sensationalism divert you from the truth of eating real foods.

The Battlefield is in the Kitchen: Part II

Maria Halkiadakis, once again, graces the Blog of SAPT. Take it away Maria!

Last Friday’s post began the discussion, The Battlefield is in the Kitchen.  Before moving on to Part II let’s do a quick recap on the topic…

Training alone is not enough to help anyone achieve the results they are after. Common sense tells us that eating right and exercising are the two key elements to taking care of our bodies. It is important to find a balance between the two by not over training or depriving oneself of proper nutrition. Translation = pick up the right amount of heavy things and eat the right amount of good food.

Today we are focusing on what needs to be done in the kitchen to reach our goals. Last week we discussed how planning and preparation are crucial factors. This means creating weekly menus, using these menus to make grocery lists, and dedicating time to prepare meals. Two days a week my kitchen counter looks a little something like this…

We also discussed purging your pantry last week. If you find yourself eating junk food because it is around the house, get rid of it! Donate it, throw it in the trash, or give it away. It is perfectly okay to have snack foods in the kitchen, but it needs to be the healthy kind, which brings me to the first new point of today’s discussion.

EAT REAL FOOD

There are no secrets or anything new to be learned here. Just eat real food. It really is that easy.  Eating a variety of real food, meaning fruit, vegetables, meats, grains, legumes, nuts/seeds, and dairy, will provide the human body all the nourishment it needs.

A good rule of thumb is not to eat anything that has more than five ingredients. Unless of course you made it yourself and know it is filled with wholesome ingredients.  For example, grains and dairy products are perfectly acceptable as part of a healthy diet.However, be cautious when deciding which ones to purchase from the grocery store. As far as ingredients go on prepackaged items, less is definitely more. (Note from Kelsey: How To Read Food Labels.)

EAT IN MODERATION

Slow down, set aside the fork for a minute, and enjoy how your food tastes. I hate seeing people practically inhale their meals. Food is NOT fuel, it is so much more than that. Therefore, don’t treat your body as if you would treat your car at the gas pump: by filling up with the cheap stuff and going on with your day.

Food is delicious! Slow down and enjoy every bite of it. Strive to be mindful of what you are eating while you are eating it. Avoid distractions during meals such as watching television or talking on the phone. Doing these things won’t allow you to pay proper attention to your body’s hunger signals.

It takes approximately 20 minutes for the human body to realize it’s full. For this reason it would make sense to allow yourself at least 20 minutes to eat a meal.

Below are a few tips:

- Try drinking water between bites to slow down.

- Eat meals with friends or family whenever possible.

- Lengthen mealtime by enjoying their company and engaging in conversation. As a bonus you’ll be killing two birds with one stone; adopting healthier habits and spending time with the people you care about.

Sometimes you may need to eat in a hurry. If this happens make an active decision to do so and pay attention to your portion size realizing you may not feel full by the time you have eaten enough.

You do not have to deprive yourself of your favorite foods and restaurants.  Follow the 90% rule, meaning aim to keep your diet on point about 90% of the week.  If you eat 3 meals a day, roughly 21 meals per week, and 90% of that is 19. Therefore, you can eat out twice a week, make your favorite meal twice a week, or some combination of the two.

MAKE SMALL CHANGES

Don’t expect to do a complete 180 over night. This is why hasty, lofty New Year’s resolutions tend to fail. In order to be successful it is better to start by making small changes rather than throwing all caution to the wind and diving into unknown territory. Here are a few ways to implement small changes into your routine:

  • Start by swapping out snacks like chips or candy with something healthier such as fruits, veggies, or nuts.
  • Try learning one new recipe a week or every other week if you all ready have some healthy favorites.
  • Gradually reduce portion sizes if you are eating too much.
  • Be willing to try new things! You might just fall in love with a fruit or vegetable you’ve never had before.
  • Substitute things in your diet one at a time. For example, swapping out yogurt with a list of unpronounceable ingredients you can’t understand for plain yogurt with fruit or honey mixed in.

Remember to apply these suggestions at your own pace. Set small term goals while you are planning your menu each week and write one at the top of it, such as, “this week I will put one less teaspoon of sugar in my coffee and next week I would like to try this new kale recipe.”

Take care of your body, feed it right, and you’ll see the results you are working so hard to achieve.  Use this advice, find people to support you, and ask for help if you need it.  It may not always be easy, but you can do it!