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Weight Loss

A Zero-Cal Refresher: Sparkling Water

As a kid, I never really liked sparkling water.  However, my tastes have since changed.  I no longer need items to be loaded with sugar to appeal to my taste buds.  I now find that I can appreciate the carbonation alone to satisfy my senses.

In fact, at this point in my life I’d rather have sparkling water than a can of soda filled with sugar, artificial flavorings, and empty calories.  I really enjoy the sparkling waters that have just a hint of flavor, such as Deer Park’s Sparkling Water with Berry Lime Essence, or Pellegrino’s Sparkling Water with a hint of lemon.  When I have lemons or limes on hand, I always cut a slice add a squeeze of my own fresh flavor to the bubbly water.

Sparkling water is a great way to enhance the senses.  The carbonation adds a nice surprise from what the eyes would normally perceive as regular water, and the subtleness of the tastes hones the taste buds and the mind, requiring just a slight bit of concentration to pick up the accents of the flavors.

Drinking sparkling water can be the perfect way to cut down on mindless snacking.  Instead of reaching for a snack, once can enjoy a glass of zero-calorie sparkling water without packing on the pounds.  To fully appreciate its magnificence, one must take a few moments to stop and think about its flavors as he/she savors the water.  This process in itself will help to reverse the habit of mindless snacking.

Sparkling water may seem a bit bland at first because it doesn’t contain tons of salt or sugar, a large component of the foods that many Americans consume per day, training the taste buds to primarily reach for these foods.  However, these salty & sweet  foods also tend to be filled with calories/fat.  Sparkling water is a great way to bring our senses back to the simple, and subtly flavored foods/beverages such as this can eventually allow us to enjoy more wholesome, simpler, and healthier foods.

Once you begin to cultivate an appreciation for simpleness, it will allow you to pick up on the flavors that are often overpowered by salt and sugar in most foods. The entire taste of foods becomes enhanced.

This is why I love sparkling water.  It’s simple, yet not tasteless.  To me, with a little fresh lime or lemon, sparkling water provides just enough flavor to satisfy one’s thirst for something a little different than water.  A perfect refresher for when sitting outside on these lovely spring days.

Note:  Many associate sparkling water soley with pricy brands such as Pellegrino.  While I love Pellegrino and their beautiful glass bottles, there are tons of other brands that offer sparkling water at a cheaper price.  A 6-pack of Deer Park’s Sparkling Water pictured above is just $3.39.  It’s unfortunately packaged in plastic rather than glass, but the taste is equally as good.

Taco Bell Drive-Thru Diet Opinion Article

Check out my latest article published in the Temple News.

Shedding Pounds By the Burrito

Taco Bell’s commercial gives off the wrong impression, despite the fine print.

Fast food is hardly synonymous with diet. Instead, fast food is generally the food that any dieter, or health-conscious person, stays away from. Grace-Dickinson

But Christie Dougherty, the 27-year-old star of Taco Bell’s newest commercial, contributes her two-year, 54-pound weight loss largely to eating food items from Taco Bell’s Fresco Menu five to eight times per week. As Dougherty boasts about the “fantastic results” in before and after photos, a disclaimer – “Taco Bell  Drive-Thru Diet is not a weight loss program” – flashes across the screen. Considering the commercial revolves around Dougherty’s success with the Drive-Thru Diet, the fine print is worthless.

On Feb. 1, Philadelphia law went into effect requiring chain restaurants with at least 15 locations nationwide to list the calorie count for foods on their menus. I am afraid to see how fast food companies will distract consumers from their high-calorie intake. Fast food restaurants may abuse the concept of dieting by grouping together their lowest-calorie menu options, as Taco Bell has done, and simply slapping on a “diet” label.

Therefore, it’s important for consumers to realize “diet” is no longer a loaded word, especially when fast food companies are trying to sell unhealthy food in an increasingly health-conscious market. Dougherty didn’t lose weight because of the Drive-Thru Diet – she drastically cut the amount of calories she consumed. She ate as few as 1,250 calories per day and increased regular exercise time.

The Drive-Thru Diet is, like many other weight-loss mechanisms, an unhealthy way to slash calories. Like most fad

The kind of taco that should be placed into a diet- Whole grain wrap, beans, romaine lettuce, salsa

diets, the Drive-Thru Diet also causes dieters to miss out on essential nutrients and quality foods.

“For some people, the act of cognitively restricting their intake for a period of time can trigger a compensatory binge response when the restriction is lifted,” Alison Ventura, Ph.D., an adjunct public health instructor, said.

Not only is the Drive-Thru Diet fairly restrictive, but it also lacks key ingredients.  Besides some chopped tomatoes and a few measly slivers of iceberg lettuce, Taco Bell’s menu items do not include the real food you should be eating on a diet – vegetables.

Instead, menu choices are high in sodium, which the Dietary Guidelines for America recommends limiting to 2,300 milligrams per day. Excess intake is linked to increased risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.

“Hypertension is a problem because it places unnecessary stress on your arteries and causes your heart to work harder than if you had lower blood pressure,” Ventura said. “High blood pressure can also cause your heart and other vital organs, such as brain and kidneys, to become damaged and fail.”

Ruth Carey, registered dietician in Portland, Ore., and a consultant for Taco Bell on the Drive-Thru Diet menu, told the New York Times that “not everyone is sodium sensitive and has high blood pressure.”

One may not have high blood pressure going into the Drive-Thru Diet, but after enough Fresco Burrito Supreme Chickens – each containing 1,410 milligrams of sodium – one might see his or her blood pressure skyrocket.

Considering Taco Bell is supposedly not a diet for weight loss but does include components that actually diminish health, the Drive-Thru Diet is pointless.

It’s obvious that Taco Bell and most other fast food restaurants are not the places to turn to healthily lose weight. While it is great that Taco Bell does offer some lighter options on its menu, it’s absurd to turn the menu into a diet plan. What’s next, the Crown Fried Chicken Diet?

Calorie Listings Required In Philadelphia

Listen up fellow Philadelphians!  The City Council of Philadelphia, a city ranked as one of America’s fattest, has finally passed a law requiring chain restaurants and retail food establishments to list calorie counts.

As of this coming Monday, February 1st, chain restaurants and retail food establishments with 15 or more locations nationwide will be required to list the calorie counts for foods on their menus.  Starting April 1st, they will also be required to provide information on the saturated fat, trans fat, carbohydrates, and sodium content of the menu items.

There is much speculation as to whether this will actually induce people to eat less calories.  A study done in New York City, the first place to mandate calorie listings, showed that calorie listings had little effect on consumers.  So will the listings be enough to bail out Philadelphia from being one of the fattest cities in America?  In short, probably not.  Calorie listings won’t be required for mom and pop restaurants or individual restaurants, which often serve higher quality food than chain restaurants but that is often just as fatty and calorie-heavy.

However, hopefully it will be the first step in bringing awareness to just how unhealthy the typical fast food/chain restaurant meal is.  While I almost never go to a chain restaurant, I am happy to see that now if I do decide to venture to one, I’ll be able to use the listings to make wiser decisions.  As obesity continues to become a pressing and prevalent issue across America, hopefully citizens at least in the city Philadelphia will actually start to use the information placed right in front of their face to make healthy food choices.

Along with Philadelphia, New York City, California, Oregon, Maine, and Massachusetts have also passed menu labeling ordinances.

Would calorie listings keep you from ordering certain items off the menu? Do you use eating out as an excuse to splurge and allow yourself to eat whatever you want?

Take a look at some of these astounding nutritional facts from some of the nation’s top chain restaurants.

McDonald’s: Cheeseburger with medium fries = 680 calories, 31 grams of fat, 43% saturated fat, 41% sodium

Subway: Foot long chicken bacon ranch sub = 1080 calories, 50 grams of fat, 100% saturated fat, 60% cholesterol

KFC: Chicken breast with side of mashed potatoes and gravy = 1,160, 59 grams of fat, 75% saturated fat, 57% cholesterol, 140% sodium

Chili’s:  Boneless buffalo chicken salad with a side of their famous chili with cheese = 1,370 calories, 90 grams of fat, 130% saturated fat, 168% sodium

Choosing Condiments Wisely

Check out my latest article published in the Temple News.

Condiments Present Healthy Eating Decisions

If you frequented the Philadelphia Phillies’ Dollar Dog Day this past season or you simply eat a lot of hotdogs and hamburgers because they’re quick and easy – a combination that appeals to most busy college students – you may want to consider what you’re loading on your burgers and dogs. Picture 12

Piling on the condiments can certainly jazz up a cheap burger or dog, but it can also lead to an additional pile of empty, unneeded calories on your diet.

Whether selecting condiments for a burger, sandwich or vegetables, be careful which ones you choose. Use these guidelines when you’re dining out and about in Philadelphia – or simply at a Main Campus dining hall – to help you add flavor without excessive calories.

Ketchup Vs. Mustard

While neither ketchup nor mustard packs an alarming amount of calories, mustard is the healthier choice. Comparing calories, mustards have little to none, while ketchups can contain 20 calories per tablespoon. Ketchup also has a significant amount of sugar, whereas mustard doesn’t have any. Also, those who are fans of ketchup tend to use it often.

“I use it on everything and almost always use at least a couple tablespoons,” Deirdre Kurtz, a sophomore international business major, said. “I know it’s filled with a lot of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, so I’ve been trying to use less on certain things, such as scrambled eggs, but I love it.”

Mustard’s flavor is stronger, and although both ketchup and mustard have a significant amount of sodium per tablespoon, mustard’s strong flavor tends to keep it from being overused. Try experimenting with mustard’s wide variety of flavors, such as Dijon or honey.

If you simply can’t skip the ketchup, squirt smaller amounts, so you won’t end up consuming excessive amounts. Also, opt for organic ketchup to eliminate high fructose corn syrup, an ingredient that has been linked to obesity.

Magnify Your Mayo
Mayonnaise is one of the key condiments to watch out for. Typically containing 100 calories per tablespoon and a whole lot of fat, mayonnaise certainly isn’t a healthy addition.

Rather than succumb to eating sandwiches on dry, tasteless bread, simply switch to a low-fat variety. Many brands now offer low-fat or light varieties, which generally contain less than half the fat and calories of the original versions. The popular brand Hellmann’s offers both light and low-fat mayonnaise. The light version contains just 35 calories per tablespoon and only 3.5 grams of fat, and the low-fat version contains a mere 15 calories and one gram of fat per tablespoon.

The tastes are relatively similar, making it an easy switch. For an even healthier option, replace the mayonnaise altogether with either olive oil or plain, low-fat Greek yogurt. Simply drizzling olive oil and some salt and pepper on each inner side of your sandwich bread will moisten the bread and add flavor. Similarly, yogurt can be used when making a sandwich. Or, try lightening a recipe, such as potato salad, by using half the mayonnaise.

No Cheese, Please
Adding cheese to any sandwich, hamburger or hot dog will undoubtedly add a great deal of calories. Cheese tends to be high in fat, considering just one slice typically has 10 percent of your daily fat.

Velveeta cheese sauce, which is offered at places like 7-Eleven, isn’t very healthy either. Dipping your broccoli in Velveeta cheese sauce or squirting it on your hot dog will cost you 85 calories per ounce, along with a substantial amount of artery-clogging saturated fat and cholesterol.

According to the Food Network’s Web site, an ounce of cheese is about the size of your thumb, meaning that when you use cheese as a condiment, most likely you’re consuming more than just one ounce. Instead of cheese, load vegetables onto sandwiches, and choose healthier condiments for burgers and dogs. If you’re a fan of broccoli and cheese, instead try dipping your broccoli into low-fat dressing, or skip the dipping all together and sauté it with some olive oil and garlic.

Slimmer Salad Dressings
A good rule of thumb for salad dressings is to generally skip the creamy ones, which tend to be higher in both fat and calories. Stick to the vinaigrettes or low-fat varieties. To really know what’s going into your dressing, try whipping up some of your own.

For an easy salad dressing recipe, combine two parts olive oil to one part of an acidic ingredient, such as vinegar or lemon. Add salt and pepper to taste. Experiment by adding honey, hot sauce or herbs if desired. By making your own olive oil-based dressing, you can cut back on artificial processing and calorie-heavy ingredients and incorporate some heart-healthy fats into your diet.

Embellish with Relish
Relish is a safe bet when it comes to seasoning your food. Relish contains around 15 calories per tablespoon, and a little can go a long way. Pickles, which are virtually calorie-less, are also a good topping. But don’t go overboard: Both are salt-heavy if eaten in large amounts.

While hamburgers and hot dogs aren’t the healthiest choices, adding certain condiments can make them even worse. Also, many condiments can turn a healthy meal into a meal full of fat and calories. Try to stay mindful when choosing condiments to season your food.

Holiday Foods, the Good and the Bad

It’s that time of year again.  The time for friend and family gatherings, singing, decorating, and holiday cheers.  And while the holidays also usually include some tasty, festive treats, holiday cuisine can take its toll on one’s body.

For Thanksgiving, I posted some tips on how to keep your physique in tact over the Thanksgiving holiday.  Keeping those tips in mind, this post is going delve deeper into the eating side of the holiday season, specifically addressing which dishes you should definitely keep yourself away from over the upcoming days of celebration.  Check out some of the worst dishes of holiday gatherings, and some alternatives you can turn to instead.

Worst Appetizer:  Pigs in a blanket-  Just one bite-sized “pig” packs in 65 calories and 8% of your day’s fat.  Eat three bites, and you’re well on your way to a 200 calorie snack.

Healthy Alternative: If you must munch before the main meal or have a bite while at a party, reach for the crudites.  Baby carrots, celery, cucumbers, broccoli, and other assorted vegetables pack in an array of nutrients instead of loads of calories.  If you reach for the vegetables, you can harmlessly take more than a few bites.

Worst Holiday Drink: Eggnog-  One glass of this creamy drink contains about the equivalent to about a half a meal of calories.  Per 8 oz., eggnog contains approximately 350 calories, 19 grams of fat, and 56% of your daily recommended allowance of saturated fat….That’s a lot of unhealthiness packed into one cup.  Spice the eggnog with alcohol, and the numbers only keep going up.

Healthy Alternative: If you’re yearning to indulge in a seasonal drink with a little sweetness, try sipping on some hot chocolate.  Typical hot chocolate contains about 110 calories per cup, less than half the amount in eggnog.  Use low-fat milk or soy milk to make the drink, and the fat content will remain relatively low.

Worst Holiday Cocktail: Mulled wine may seem like a sweet and spicy delight to you taste buds, but it’s not so delightful for your body.  With 256 calories and a whopping 29 grams of sugar per serving, this drink will send you and your body crashing.  Leave the aromatic spices to please your nose, not your mouth.

Healthy Alternative: As the cold weather approaches, warm yourself up with a big mug of tea rather than automatically reaching for the alcohol.  Try Celestial Seasoning’s Gingerbread Spice for a great holiday treat.

Worst Entree: Turducken-  I’m not sure whose idea it was to stuff a chicken into a duck into a turkey, but who ever came up with this was crazy!  Thismeat-lovers dream is packed with more than just meat.  It also contains an approximate 836 calories and 52 grams of fat per

Image taken from

serving.  That right there provides enough calories and more than enough fat for your whole holiday meal.

Healthy Alternative: Instead of centering your plate around the meat, make the vegetables of the meal (green beans, salad,  yams, greens, etc.) the main focus.  Fill at least half of your plate with veggies, and then serve yourself small portions of the remaining side dishes.  If you do eat meat, opt for a lean meat, such as grilled chicken or roasted turkey breast.

Worst Side Dish: Candied sweet potatoes-  As a kid, I loved my mom’s sweet potato casserole topped with

gooey, melted marshmallows.  Now both my taste buds (much to sweet for me now) and my body knows better.  Candied yams are loaded with sugar (according to msnbc, 26 grams per serving) and contain about 320 calories and 12 grams of fat per serving.

Healthy Alternative: Baked sweet potatoes are naturally sweet and really don’t need any sugar added to them.  They are also filled with nutrients, such as beta carotene.  A typical sweet potato only contains 180 calories and 12 grams of sugar, less than half of the sugar in it’s doctored counterpart.

Worst Dessert: Pecan pie may be a sweet ending, but it’s definitely won’t provide your body a happy ending.  Just one slice contains about 500 calories, 27 grams of fat, and a quarter of your day’s saturated fat.  If you add a scoop of ice cream, your plate of pie becomes a meal in itself.

Healthy Alternative: How about ending your meal with some fruit?  Fruit is naturally sweet and typically contains tons of vitamins and nutrients, without the cost of too many calories..  Choose something you wouldn’t normally have on a daily basis, such as a mango or papaya, which will turn your view of fruit as “health-food” into a treat.

We all have our favorite treats, and while these treats aren’t always healthy for us, it’s okay to indulge once in awhile. My philosophy:  Life is all about enjoying yourself and having fun.  If this means eating your favorite Christmas cookie, then so be it.  The end of the year holidays only come around once a year, so let go and don’t be too hard on yourself.  However, stick with indulging in solely your favorite treat, not all the other trillion options of goodies at the table.  Allow yourself to enjoy your favorite holiday indulgence, and don’t feel guilty about it, but mindfully stop yourself after just one.