Exercise important, but calories count more

chow_012916-177402469I have been doing more walking and other exercise since the first of the year, but I haven’t been losing much weight. Shouldn’t I see some results on the scale?   

First, it’s excellent that you’re boosting your activity. It’s no surprise that most Americans need more exercise, but the U.S. Surgeon General reported recently on the extent of the issue: Less than half of U.S. adults get enough physical activity each day to reduce their risk of developing a chronic disease, including diabetes, cancer, or heart or lung disease. Even worse, only one-quarter of teens in high school get enough. So, no matter what the scale says, keep it up.

With weight loss, remember that exercise is only part of the equation, and many studies indicate that it’s a smaller part than you might think. Although both physical activity and eating right play a role, research indicates that reducing calories is far more important in shedding pounds.

It’s easy to overestimate the calories you think you might be burning when you take a nice, brisk walk. Everybody — and every body — is different, but you can go beyond taking a wild guess by using online tools to help you gauge what you might be burning off. One such tool, the Physical Activity Calorie Counter, is available under “Healthy Living” on the website of the American Council on Exercise, acefitness.org. There, you can plug in your body weight and time spent on an activity, and you get an estimate of calories burned. Here are some examples for a 150-pound person:

  • A half-hour casual walk (a mile in 30 minutes): 68 calories. That won’t even burn off the 80 calories in one Snickers Fun Size candy bar.
  • A half-hour very brisk walk (a mile in 15 minutes): 170 calories, not enough to expend the 240 calories in a 20-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola.
  • An hour of very fast cycling (12-13 mph): 544 calories. That’s significant, but it wouldn’t be enough to offset the 430 calories in a Panera Cinnamon Crunch Bagel plus the 130 calories in reduced-fat plain cream cheese you put on it.

Calorie-wise, passing on one or two treats each day adds up. Water is a great zero-calorie choice of beverage, and you’ll want to enjoy just half of your bagel or skip the cream cheese before you jump on your bike. That said, it bears repeating that physical activity in and of itself provides health benefits. How much is recommended?

  • Adults should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity over the course of a week. Moderate activity is enough to increase your breathing and heart rate, but you should still able to talk during the activity. With vigorous activity, such as jogging or running, you can’t say more than a few words without taking a breath.
  • Adults also need muscle-strengthening activities that work all the major muscle groups two or more days a week.
  • Children should get an hour of moderate-intensity activity every day.

Learn more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov/physicalactivity.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, Ohio State University Extension specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

Making the ‘see food’ diet work for you

chow_080715_99185593I started keeping a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter to encourage my family to eat more produce. It works. What are some other ideas to help us eat more healthfully?

Putting healthful food within arm’s reach is a tried-and-true technique for helping make good food choices. There’s plenty of research to back that up ­— and it works both ways.

A recent study at The Ohio State University found that compared with normal-weight people, obese people tended to keep more food visible not only in the kitchen, but throughout the house. They also generally ate more sweets and other less healthful foods than their counterparts. It’s as if that old (not funny) joke were true: “I’m on the ‘see food’ diet. If I see food, I eat it.” Clearly, the food environment around us matters.

Cornell University’s Brian Wansink has been called the eating behavior guru. In a recent article in the journal Psychology and Marketing, he analyzed 112 studies and concluded that most people make food-related decisions based on three elements: They select foods that are convenient, attractive and “normal.” So, when a bowl of fruit is the first thing you see when you enter the kitchen, and it’s attractively displayed in a nice bowl, you will more likely choose to eat fruit rather than the stale corn chips on a shelf in a back corner of the pantry.

There’s a bit of overlap in the three aspects of food choice, but they’re all worth knowing more about:

  • Convenient. The concept of convenience includes both physical and mental effort. Put healthful foods at the front of the refrigerator, ready to grab and go. Buy 100-calorie packages of snacks instead of trying to guess what a reasonable portion is. Find restaurants that, as their standard options, serve fruit or vegetables on the side instead of fries or onion rings and include bottled water, unsweetened ice tea or even milk with meals instead of soft drinks.
  • Attractive. Making food attractive has to do with all manner of presentation, from how it is served to how much it costs to what it is called. Wansink’s research shows that more children will eat broccoli when it’s called “Dinosaur Trees.” The same is true when vegetarian burritos are served as “Big Bad Bean Burritos.” And, serving foods on china increases the value people place on it, compared with normal dishes or paper plates.
  • Normal. People lean toward food choices that they perceive as the norm. One example of “normalizing” healthy eating is to always put salad bowls on the dinner table, even on days when salad isn’t being served. That makes it seem like salad is a standard part of every dinner, rather than as an infrequent side dish.

Wansink calls this the CAN approach — short for “convenient, attractive, normal” — and he says the opposite is also true: Making less-healthy food less convenient, less attractive and less normal can decrease its consumption. Put less-healthful snacks in a cupboard in the laundry room, he suggests, or try the cupboard above the refrigerator. Learn more at his website at foodpsychology.cornell.edu.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, Ohio State University Extension specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

With kids, forget ‘weighty’ discussion

AA032300Like me, my children are overweight. I’m having trouble figuring out how to talk with them about it. What’s the best approach?

A lot of people get nervous about how to discuss weight issues with their kids. In fact, a 2011 survey conducted by Sanford Health and WebMD found that parents felt more uncomfortable talking about weight than they did about alcohol, sex, drugs or smoking.

There’s probably good reason for this. A 2013 study published in JAMA Pediatrics revealed that if such conversation isn’t handled properly, things can turn sour. Researchers concluded that, with adolescents, at least, focusing on weight and size led to more binge eating and other unhealthy weight-control behaviors. On the other hand, focusing on health and on being a positive role model, not on the child’s need to lose weight, tended to be more successful.

Some parents get nervous because they think they have to have “the talk” about weight. But, unless your child brings it up, a more subtle approach is probably best. Talk about what you’re doing to eat more healthfully and become more active, and then do it.

Be careful you don’t become the “diet police.” You’re on your child’s team. You can help by removing temptations and offering alternatives: Instead of chips and cookies, buy a lot of fruit. Eat meals as a family and serve more vegetables. Limit screen time and plan some physical activity the family can enjoy together. Making small changes over time is better than trying to do everything all at once.

Some resources that offer additional practical guidance include:

  • “Weigh In: Talking to Your Children About Weight and Health.” This guide for parents of kids ages 7-11 is produced by the STOP Obesity Alliance and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. It includes situations you might encounter and how to prepare for them. It’s available to download atbit.ly/UPennWeighIn.
  • “We Can! Families Finding the Balance: A Parent Handbook,” from the National Institutes of Health. This 32-page booklet focuses on children ages 8-13 and is available atwww.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/parent_hb_en.pdf.
  • Raising Fit Kids. Available at webmd.com/parenting/raising-fit-kids/, this website is produced by WebMD and Sanford Health and focuses on how parents can help their kids take a holistic, healthy approach to food, activity, rest and emotional health. The parent resources can be used together with related interactive materials (fit.webmd.com) for children and teens: Fit Junior for ages 2-7; Fit Kids for ages 8-12; and Fit Teens for ages 13-18.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Dan Remley, field specialist in Food, Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

For now, stick with low- or nonfat dairy

478289497I tend to drink 1 percent or fat-free milk, but recently I’ve heard that full-fat dairy might help with weight loss. Should I switch?

There’s some interesting science going on these days regarding dairy fat. For example, a review of 16 studies, published last year in the European Journal of Nutrition, supported the view that high-fat dairy foods don’t contribute to obesity. And it’s not hard to find other research with similar findings.

Despite results from these studies, most nutrition professionals believe the verdict is still out on whether or not dairy fat can help you manage your weight. Until the science is settled, they recommend sticking to the advice offered in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: “Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk.”

Why? It all goes back to saturated fats. Diets high in saturated fats tend to raise the low-density lipoproteins, or “bad” cholesterol, in your blood, and that increases the risk for coronary heart disease. Whole milk, many types of cheese and other full-fat dairy products are high in saturated fat.

Calories also count: A cup of whole milk has 145 calories, while a cup of fat-free milk has just 90 calories. An ounce of regular cheddar cheese has 115 calories, while an ounce of cheddar cheese made from 2 percent milk has just 80 calories. Just look at Nutrition Facts labels and it’s clear that choosing low-fat or nonfat dairy can help keep you from consuming more calories than you need.

Why eat dairy at all? Nutrition experts say it’s a nutrient-packed food — an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D and riboflavin. Dairy foods also contain protein, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins A and B12.

Health benefits linked to dairy products include better bone health, which could reduce the risk of osteoporosis, as well as a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Dairy consumption may also improve blood pressure, especially because of the potassium in milk and yogurt.

The Dietary Guidelines recommend 3 cups of milk a day, or the equivalent of other dairy products, for everyone 9 years and older. A “cup” of dairy includes:

  • 8 ounces of yogurt.
  • 1.5 ounces of hard cheese.
  • 1/3 cup of shredded cheese.
  • 2 ounces of processed cheese.
  • 2 cups of cottage cheese.

For more information about including dairy foods in your diet, see choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/dairy.html.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, assistant professor and community nutrition education specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Eat fruit, veggies for health, not weight

467006435I was hoping that eating more fruits and vegetables this summer would help me lose a few pounds, but so far, no luck. Am I missing something?

A lot of people think that eating more healthfully will automatically help them slim down. And no wonder: Most weight-loss plans emphasize the importance of incorporating more fruit and vegetables into the diet.

That’s advice worth following for most Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults in the U.S. consume fruit only 1.1 times per day on average, and vegetables only 1.6 times per day. At the same time, U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend adults eat 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit daily, along with 2 to 3 cups of vegetables. Boosting fruit and vegetable consumption is a good idea for just about everyone.

But for most people, unfortunately, that’s not the only change in diet required for weight loss.

A meta-analysis published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on weight. Researchers reviewed seven studies conducted between 1998 and 2013 involving more than 1,200 people. All of the studies were randomized and lasted for at least eight weeks, and all focused on fruit and vegetable intake and weight loss or gain.

The authors found that, across the board, increased fruit and vegetable consumption had no effect on weight loss in those studies.

From one perspective, it might sound like there’s no reason to focus on fruits and vegetables if you want to lose weight. But as the authors noted, in these studies, eating more produce didn’t cause weight gain, either. And there are plenty of reasons to eat more fruits and vegetables. According to the CDC:

  • A healthful diet rich in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.
  • Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals that contribute to good health.
  • Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and can help you feel full without resorting to less-healthful choices.

The CDC offers links to additional resources to help you get the fruits and vegetables you need each day on its “Nutrition for Everyone” website. Included is a link with ideas on how to incorporate more produce in your weight-loss effort. For more information, see cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/fruitsvegetables.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or filipic.3@osu.edu.

Water, weight loss link needs research

609_3640759I heard about a study that showed drinking more water can help people lose weight. But I thought that was a myth that had been debunked a long time ago. Can you clarify?

You probably heard something about a recent review of previous studies on this topic, published ahead of print online in late June in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Researchers searched through nearly 5,000 records of research in online databases for studies that reported on an association between daily water consumption and any weight-related outcome. They found just 11 original studies and two other systematic reviews. Of the 11 original studies, only three specifically focused on people trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss.

Those three studies did, in fact, show a relation between increased water consumption and increased weight loss, the reviewers said. But two other short-term studies that included mixed-weight populations that weren’t necessarily dieting didn’t show a relation between drinking water
and weight loss. Other studies reported on water consumption and current body weight status, and results were inconsistent. In fact, some showed obese people tended to drink more water.

Still, nutritionists and other professionals specializing in weight loss often recommend that their clients drink more water, which some believe can help reduce hunger pangs and increase a feeling of fullness with absolutely no calories. In comparison, juices and sweetened beverages often have 160 calories per serving.

There’s also speculation that drinking enough water helps the body’s metabolism and increases energy expenditure, but solid research on that is hard to find.

But water does help the body in countless other ways, including:

  • The functioning of every cell and organ in the body.
  • Regulation of body temperature through perspiration. (You need more water when you exercise — at the gym, in the garden or any other time you work yourself into a sweat.)
  • Prevention and relief of constipation by helping food move through the intestines.
  • Lubrication and cushioning of joints.

The Institute of Medicine recommends that women consume 91 ounces (about 11.5 cups) and men consume 125 ounces (about 15.5 cups) of water a day, but that includes water from other beverages and from food. The institute says on average, people get about 20 percent of their water intake from food.

Healthy eating tips the easy way

78036797I’m interested in eating more healthfully and hopefully losing a few pounds, but I don’t want to track everything I eat or count calories. Do you have any general tips that could help?

Many people do find that keeping a food log helps them lose weight, but if you’re not interested in doing that right now, yes, of course you can take other steps. Here are some tips:

  • The Harvard Medical School suggests cutting back on carbohydrates, particularly from sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks and from refined-carbohydrate foods, including many types of bread, cereal, pasta, snack foods, and French fries and other types of fried potatoes. Instead, choose water or unsweetened beverages, and whole-grain foods that offer fiber and other nutrients. Look for at least 2 grams of fiber per serving.
  • Pay special attention to portion sizes, even if you’re eating something you consider to be good for you. A study recently published in the International Journal of Obesity showed that people tend to eat more of a food if it’s labeled as “healthy,” even if it has the same number of calories as similar options.
  • Similarly, don’t assume cutting fat is always healthier. Some low- or no-fat food products replace the fat with added refined-carbohydrate ingredients — not necessarily a benefit. And, research has shown a little fat, such as that in dressings or avocados, helps the body absorb nutrients in leafy greens. Instead, focus on limiting saturated fat and eliminating trans fat, opting instead for unsaturated fats.
  • Eat a wide variety of produce, whole grains, and beans and other legumes to get a broad range of nutrients. In particular, choose fruits and vegetables of many colors, especially green, red, yellow, orange and dark purple. The pigments in colorful produce contain vitamins and phytochemicals that are linked with a lower risk of certain cancers and heart disease.
  • Incorporate more fish and small amounts of nuts into your diet. They are good sources of protein and healthy fats, and Americans tend to not get enough of them.
  • Never shop for groceries on an empty stomach. A study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a journal of the American Medical Association, provided compelling evidence supporting what you probably already know: People tend to choose more high-calorie foods if they shop when they’re hungry. Eat first and you’ll be healthier for it.

Behavior changes key in weight loss

What are some of the things people do (besides eating less) to help them lose weight successfully?

That’s an interesting question. Most people, for obvious reasons, focus on food when trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

But behavioral scientists studying successful weight loss have found a few strategies beyond cutting calories that seem to work for many who have lost weight and kept it off.

In a recent study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers at the University of Minnesota studied behaviors of more than 400 people who successfully lost at least 10 percent of their body weight in the past year. The researchers grouped the behaviors in four major categories:

  • Regularity of meals: People who tended to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner routinely were more likely to have better success at weight loss during the past year. They were also more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • TV-related viewing and eating: Participants were asked how often they ate snacks or meals in front of the television, how much TV they watched on an average day, and how often they ate after 7 p.m. Those who were more likely to engage in those behaviors tended to have a higher BMI (or body mass index, a standard measure of body fat based on height and weight) and higher fat and sugar intake.
  • Eating away from home: These behaviors include eating out at a restaurant (sit down or fast food); eating food provided by an employer or another employee at work; purchasing food at a convenience store or a gas station; and purchasing food items for a fundraiser. People who did these things more often had a higher fat and sugar intake and a lower fruit and vegetable intake, and engaged in less physical activity.
  • Intentional strategies for weight control: Participants were asked how often they wrote down the amount and type of exercise they engaged in, as well as the calorie content of the food they ate; how often they planned meals and exercise in order to manage their weight; and how often they used meal replacements. Those who did these things more often saw many benefits: they tended to have a lower BMI; they experienced greater weight loss in the last year; they had a lower fat and sugar intake; they ate more fruits and vegetables; and they engaged in more physical activity.

Take a look at the behaviors and see if any of them make sense to incorporate in your life. Adopting a few healthy strategies can make a big difference.

Mindless eating’ leads to weight gain

I try to eat healthfully and normally do well during the day, but in the evening when I’m watching TV, I snack way too much, even though I’m not really hungry. Any ideas?

What you’re doing is so common that it has a name: “mindless eating.” Researchers, especially Brian Wansink at Cornell University, have explored this concept and have found that when Americans eat, we tend to rely not on internal cues, such as how hungry we are, but on other factors. And that leads to overeating.

One of those factors is eating while distracted — when watching TV, talking with family or friends, or eating in the car. When our attention is diverted from what we’re eating, we simply tend to eat and eat and eat — often not even really enjoying the food or the experience of eating it. Research at Yale University shows that viewing television food ads, especially those for unhealthy food, also triggers more food consumption.

Another external factor influencing how much we eat is serving size: If a larger serving is in front of us, we tend to eat more no matter what. Convenience and visibility of a food is another factor — if it’s easy to reach out and grab a food, we’ll be more likely to eat it. Even the way a room is lighted can cause us to eat more: Dim, soft lighting encourages us to prolong the eating experience and we eat more. Still other factors include stress, boredom or emotional reasons for eating.

The kicker? None of this has anything at all to do with how hungry we are.

So, how do you counteract these subconscious influences on eating? That’s a whole other line of study, called “intuitive eating.” Intuitive eating rejects restrictive approaches of dieting. It avoids the idea of “taboo” foods and encourages us to increase our awareness of what our body is telling us related to hunger, cravings and eating behavior. The idea is to actually pay attention whenever you’re eating, pausing to determine your level of hunger versus your feeling of fullness. The idea is to start eating when hungry, no matter what time it is or if others around you are eating or not, and to stop eating when full, no matter if there is more food at hand. Imagine a scale where 1 is starving and 10 is stuffed: Go ahead and eat when you feel like you’re at a 3 or 4 on the scale; stop when you’re at a 6 or 7. It requires thought and self-awareness, but prevents cycles of starving and binging, and also helps prevent emotional eating.

The concept of intuitive eating also lets people eat whatever food they want, as long as they pay attention to hunger/fullness cues. Research shows that such permission also reduces binge eating and is associated with a lower body-mass index.

First, focus on health, not weight

I’ve tried every diet under the sun, but I always gain back everything I’ve lost and more. Before I completely give up, what can I try next?

First, you know this already, but I’ll say it anyway: You are not alone. Most people who lose weight tend to put it back on. Studies suggest that we just tend to return to old habits that started the problem in the first place.

That’s why, for years, nutritionists have recommended adopting a lifestyle change rather than a “diet,” which people tend to think of as a short-term meandering off their normal routine. But adopting such behavior change can be extremely difficult, and is influenced by many things often out of your control.

That doesn’t mean giving up is your only option. Here are some things to consider as you find a new path:

Focus on health, not weight. Size and shape don’t necessarily reflect health. Eat plenty of vegetables (about 2.5 cups a day) and fruit (about 2 cups a day). Choose whole grains over refined, and lean proteins over fattier options. When you use fat, reach for oil instead of margarine or other solid fats. Get regular physical checkups and monitor your blood sugar, blood cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. If they’re in normal ranges, you’re doing a lot of the right things.

Move more. We live in a sedentary society. Most of us spend too much time in front of a television or computer monitor, never approaching the 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity we should get five days a week. Take a good look at your typical day and see if there’s a way to add a 20-minute brisk walk to your regular routine. Whether or not you’re already physically active, taking these extra steps (literally) will help.

Eat less. That piece of advice is so simple it might sound, well, laughable. But portions have grown so much over the last few decades that it can be hard to tell what a real serving size should be. You might try a simple step: Fill your plate as normal — then remove one-third of the main dish and the starch (whether it’s grain-based or a starchy vegetable). See if you’re satisfied with the smaller amount; if not, have another serving of non-starchy vegetables to see if that does the trick.

At some point, you might try measuring a few foods you commonly eat to see if they’re within proper portion sizes. If you’re not sure how much of each food group you should be eating, download a PDF file of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Patterns at http://1.usa.gov/FdPatts. It has charts that show you how much of different types of foods are recommended for different calorie intakes. Then — step away from the computer and take that walk.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or filipic.3@osu.edu.