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  • The Calorie Conundrum


    Busting the top 3 myths about calories and weight management.

    It seems like there is a new headline every day with the “magic” answer to maintaining your weight. For celebrities, the answer seems to be a personal trainer, chef, nutritionist, spiritual healer, and possibly a plastic surgeon, but what about for the rest of us?

    The truth is, for successful weight management strategies, think less “magic” and more “math.” Thankfully, there’s no algebra involved, but you (a.k.a. your smartphone) may need to do some simple addition and subtraction to create a balance between the calories you consume and calories you burn. Understanding calorie balance is truly the key to losing or maintaining your weight. But even with tons of science proving that it’s all about calories, there’s still some confusion and misperceptions around this topic.

    Here are the top 3 myths I see and hear every day as a dietitian that are contributing to the “Calorie Conundrum.”

    MYTH #1: Calories from different food sources contribute to weight loss more than other sources.

    FACT: All calories count the same towards weight loss.

    Think calories from protein, carbohydrates and fat differ? The fact is that a calorie is a calorie no matter what food source it comes from. Whether you consume 100 calories from yogurt or 100 calories from a candy bar, you are still ingesting 100 calories. Although the body generally metabolizes calories from carbohydrates first, then calories from protein, and finally calories from fat, many popular diets have emphasized restricting the amount of fat, carbohydrate or protein consumed instead of encouraging people to focus on total calories consumed.

    In fact, what is most important is focusing on eating a well-balanced macronutrient diet. The USDA recommends that for adults, aged 19 and older, 45-65% of calories originate from carbohydrates, 10-35% of calories are from protein, and 20-35% of calories stem from fat.

    With this framework, it will be much easier to actually stick with this type of diet in a more long-term fashion rather than jumping from to and from the next fad diet that restricts a certain macronutrient. Various studies support the idea of eating a well-balanced macronutrient diet and have examined the impact of various diets, each with different amounts of fat, protein and carbohydrate, on weight loss. Many examples have shown that reduced-calorie diets in combination with exercise result in long-term weight loss regardless of which macronutrients study participants were assigned to consume as the majority of their diet. The bottom line is that weight loss is similar for everyone who cut back their calorie intake overall, regardless of the type of diet. This means that when it comes to weight management, all calories count.

    Now, not all calories are created equal if you look at it from a nutrient perspective. For example, 100 calories of yogurt is going to provide more protein and other important nutrients than 100 calories from a candy bar. So it’s important when trying to achieve calorie balance for weight management that the total, balanced diet is taken into account and you are still meeting your nutrient needs. For this reason, consuming a balanced diet with a variety of foods that also meets your daily caloric needs is the ONLY way to go for long term weight management.

    MYTH #2: There’s no way to eat what I like and still maintain my weight.

    FACT: Being aware of portion sizes is THE WAY to eat the food you want without adding to your waistline.

    We all have those foods that feel like our individual kryptonite when trying to maintain or lose weight. We feel powerless under their spell and therefore decide to erase them all together from our pantries and relegate them to our food fantasies instead. However, that is probably not the best strategy for long term weight management and satisfaction.

    Rather than steering completely clear from the foods you love, reframe your thinking to “I can eat the foods I enjoy as long as I manage the portion sizes.” As cliché as the “M word” (moderation) sounds, it is 100% true. Consuming all the foods you love within moderation makes way more sense than committing yourself to a “cleanse” of specific foods only to binge on them later when feelings of deprivation take over. Bottom line is, if you are trying to maintain your weight, you CAN have your cake and eat it too as long as it all balances out with your daily caloric intake and physical activity.

    MYTH #3: Physical activity doesn’t help that much with weight management.

    FACT: Physical activity can go a long way in terms of keeping you in balance.

    If you are trying to maintain your weight and consistently taking in more calories than you need then physical activity can have a huge impact on weight management. Think of your body as a gas tank. When you consistently overfill your tank and eat and drink more calories than you burn through physical activity, you will be out of balance and you will gain weight.

    If you are trying to maintain your weight, then you want to take in the same amount of calories that your body burns each day.

    scientific review found that burning calories can be broken down into three parts: the resting metabolic rate, the energy used to digest food, and the energy expended during physical activity. The first two components are collectively referred to as “metabolism.” The last component can be broken down into day-to-day activities such as walking, plus planned exercise activities. Typically, we burn the most calories through metabolism, but expend more calories through additional exercise.

    If you want to lose weight, then you should consistently eat and drink fewer calories than your body needs each day and use up stored calories by moving more. While each person has unique calorie needs, generally for every one pound of weight you want to lose per week, you need to cut back what you eat or increase physical activity by approximately 500 calories each day. You can do this by consuming smaller portions of higher-calorie foods and beverages or by switching to lower-calorie or calorie-free versions.

    You can also participate in various forms of physical activities that burn extra calories each day and allow you more flexibility with the foods you eat. Do you NEED physical activity for weight management or weight loss? Technically no, but remember: people who do physical activity AND control their diet have the most success in managing their weight.

    However, exercise is just one piece of the weight loss puzzle as there are limits as to how much physical exercise one can do, especially when trying to lose weight. As with most activities, there is a limit to how much exercise a person can actually do that is safe and does not cause injury. It is important to consider exercise as a part of holistic, healthy weight maintenance and to find a type of exercise (anaerobic vs aerobic) that fits your needs.

    Sarah Romotsky, RD, is the Director of Health & Wellness at the International Food Information Council. Sarah leads the development and implementation of strategic communication initiatives on science-based health and wellness topics. A native of Southern California, Sarah received a BA in Mass Communications from UC Berkeley and later completed the Dietetic Program at SF State University.

    Main Photo Credit: Gts/Shutterstock.com.

  • No, but Really, What Makes Something a Superfood — and Is It Worth the Hype?


    Here’s to healthy. Because healthy is happy!

    The word superfood gets thrown around a lot to describe everything from cauliflower to bee pollen. But most of us don’t stop to think about what actually makes something a superfood and whether every food labeled as such deserves the hype.

    In true Greatist fashion, we’re cutting through the crap to get to the bottom of the nutritional buzzword — and calling out the foods that deserve their superfood status and those that are overrated.

    The Need-to-Know

    While the term technically dates back to 1915 (when it was first used to describe wine), superfoods didn’t become popular till the 90s, when nutraceuticals (food-based products that claim to improve your health, like supplements) hit the market and the idea of food as medicine went mainstream.

    Today superfood generally implies a nutritionally dense food that contains antioxidants (think blueberries and spinach). But since there is no formal, agreed-upon definition, it’s also become an overused marketing term. In fact, the EU banned the word from food labels unless manufacturers are able to prove their health claims.

    “The bottom line is that we just want people to eat nutrient-dense foods,” says Lauren Pincus, R.D.N, owner of Nutrition Starring You. Calling something a superfood is problematic, Pincus says, because it either places too much emphasis on the claim or it tricks people into thinking they can eat unlimited quantities.

    Foods That Are Worth the Hype


    “You’re getting a whole grain, and that’s very nutritious,” Pincus says. “Plus oats have soluble fiber, and that helps to lower cholesterol.” A recent study even found that eating more whole grains may reduce the risk of premature death. And though oats might sound a little dull compared to more exotic offerings (we’ll get to one in a second), there are plenty of ways you can dress them up. Just check out these oatmealand overnight oats recipes that make breakfast a breeze.


    Sor-what? “Sorghum is in the grass family, and it’s an up-and-coming grain,” says Martha McKittrick, R.D.N. McKittrick suggests using sorghum the next time you would normally reach for quinoa, since it’s high in minerals and proteinSorghum flour also has a neutral taste, making it a perfect stand-in for wheat. Bonus? You can pop it like popcorn.


    “People might think only vegans eat tofu, but it can be used in so many different ways,” Pincus says. The high-protein base takes on the flavors it’s paired with, adding bulk without tons of calories. Pincus suggests using soft tofu in your morning smoothie, nondairy desserts, or salad dressings.

    Because soy (from which tofu is made) contains estrogen-like compounds, some believed it could raise the risk for hormone-related cancers. However, now we know that’s not true. There’s lots of ongoing research about soy, but recent studies (see hereherehere, and here) indicate it may lower the risk of breast cancer in women.


    “Coffee gets a bad rap,” McKittrick says. Assuming you’re not loading it up with sugar and cream, studies show it might help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and liver damage, McKittrick says. Plus, it’s a rich source of antioxidants. (In fact, coffee is the No. 1 source of antioxidants in most Americans’ diets.) So go ahead and enjoy your morning cup.


    As if you needed another reason to eat the wonderleaf! Kale is packed with vitamins A, C, and K — plus a slew of other minerals and fiber. Other nutrients in kale support your immune system, heart, and eye health, while its antioxidants can help prevent cell damage and protect against cancer. Though throwing it into a salad is probably the easiest, kale also makes a hearty side dish and even a healthier chip alternative.

    Foods That Are Overrated

    Coconut Oil

    “The coconut oil thing makes me crazy!” Pincus says. “It’s the best PR campaign I’ve ever seen.” While there might be a crazy number of ways to use the famous oil, eating gobs of it daily shouldn’t be one of them.

    Why? Coconut oil is high in calories (about 121 per tablespoon) and saturated fat. Some studies have shown that coconut oil may help lower lipid profiles (cholesterol and triglycerides) in post-menopausal women, but the jury is still out. McKittrick also notes that while the research around saturated fat is changing, it’s still best to avoid large quantities of it based on what we know right now. When it comes to coconut oil, limit yourself to a teaspoon or less. “If you like the way it tastes, have a little,” McKittrick says, “But it might not help with a bunch of health conditions.”


    Once a sweetener darling loved for its low-glycemic index rating, agave has fallen from grace. While it does contain some antioxidants, there aren’t enough to give you any health benefits.

    “Maple syrup is a better choice,” McKittrick says, adding that the amount of phytochemicals in maple syrup could have potential health benefits. Just remember: It’s still an added sugar, so use it sparingly, McKittrick says.

    Goji Berries

    Goji berries are the poster child for hip, exotic health foods. But since they’re dried, the calories and sugar can add up quickly, McKittrick says. And despite claims that the little red berries can help with weight loss, diabetes, high blood pressure, and myriad other health problems, there is insufficient evidence to support any of these claims. But they are high in one type of antioxidant, vitamin A, and copper, so if you enjoy the flavor, go ahead and eat them (in moderation, of course). Just don’t expect any life-altering results.

    The Takeaway

    So what should you do the next time a superfood hits your Instagram feed? “I would ask, ‘Where did you hear about it?’” McKittrick says. “Be skeptical. No food is perfect, and everything you eat should fit into a balanced diet.” She suggests looking to reputable websites (ahem, ahem) when searching for nutrition information or checking the validity of health claims. Use sites that end in .edu or check the National Institutes of Health.

    “I’d also look for any negative health aspects,” McKittrick says. For instance, kombucha (fermented tea) might be great for most, but if you have a compromised immune system or you’re pregnant, you might want to avoid it, because it could contain bacteria that’s harmful to you. The bottom line, Pincus adds, is that you need to eat a wide variety of foods daily — in all the colors fruits and veggies have to offer.

    Greatist and KIND have teamed up to break down complicated nutrition basics and buzzwords. Get even more great content about the ingredients that make for a flavorful life by following Ingredients. And be sure to click recommend if you read something you like!

  • Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Chocolate Anymore

     Tara Milhem

    Nutritionist, Traveler, and Blogger at TheWholeTara.com. ❤

    It’s Monday morning and you’ve committed to leading a healthy week. The pressure is on, and so are the cravings! Between the pizza and muffin urges, what’s a girl to do? As a nutritionist, I can tell you that you don’t have to give up all the indulgent things in the world when you set out to live a life of wellness. It’s all about finding balance and feeling confident in the food choices you make. If you’re constantly focused on all the foods you should avoid, you’ll miss out on certain foods that can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle in moderation…like chocolate.

    As a self-proclaimed chocolate lover, I can tell you that there are health benefits that go way beyond how good it tastes. Of course I’m not talking about your run of the mill Twix and Snickers chocolate, but rather the darker chocolate varieties. All chocolate comes from cacao beans, which are technically seeds, from the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree. Once the beans are harvested they go through a process of drying, roasting and fermentation to reduce the bitter flavanol levels to produce the rich chocolate flavor we all know and love. Cacao is the purest form of chocolate you can obtain, while cocoa is the heated form of cacao in powder form. As mentioned, when looking for chocolate, choose dark and aim for a cacao percentage of 70% or higher, according to Dr. Mercola, as a good guideline to reap the benefits which have been shown to include lower blood pressure, stress, and obesity levels.

    1. Think Smarter: Dark chocolate has been known to give the brain a short term boost, along with increased focus. Cocoa is rich in flavanols, which help direct blood circulation to the key areas of the brain. This can help fight brain fatigue and even decrease the aging process.
    2. Protect Your Arteries: It’s been shown that the polyphenols found in cacao may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by delaying the oxidation of “bad” low-density lipoprotein cholesterol in the body.
    3. Save Your Skin: If you’re a sun bum like me, then you’ll be psyched to know that the flavanols in dark chocolate help protect the skin from harmful UV rays. While it’s always recommended to use sun protective lotions, dark chocolate that is rich in flavanols has been shown to give you an extra boost.

    For chocolate lovers who regularly indulge, choose dark chocolates that are high in cocoa solids and stick to the recommended serving size of one ounce. One way I like to get creative is by adding dark chocolate to some of my favorite recipes: oatmeal cookiesbanana bread, and chocolate oatmeal.

    So, while there’s no harm in the comfort of having a piece of dark chocolate, it’s important to be aware that most chocolate varieties can be high in sugar, fat and calories. These are not diet recommendations and you should always consult your MD/RD for specific dietary preferences.

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