Friday, September 11, 2015

I should be using fat free salad dressings, right?

Actually, no, and for two reasons:
1) When chosen wisely, fat is a very important part of your diet. Healthy vegetable fats, like olive oil and canola oil found in salad dressings, have been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Fats also help to stabilize the blood sugar. A stable blood sugar will reduce hunger and make it much easier to lose/maintain your weight.

2) Low fat dressings are notoriously high in sugar.  In an effort to improve the taste of a dressing without fat, manufacturers add in sugar. If weight loss is your goal, sugar in your diet will spike your blood glucose and insulin levels, which promotes hunger and fat storage.

Here are some recommendations on salad dressing:
1) Skip the low fat dressings; you want a healthy fat as part of your meal.

2) Go for oil based dressings like Italian, olive oil and vinegar, or olive oil and lemon juice.

3) Avoid creamy dressing like Ranch, French, Thousand Island, Russian, etc.  These are high in saturated fat and have the potential to raise LDL cholesterol.

4) Avoid dressings like Honey Mustard and sweet vinaigrettes which are loaded with sugar.

5) Keep portions reasonable.  Oils are high in calories and it is easy to go overboard. I have my female clients shoot for 1 tablespoon of oil at a meal, which would be 2 tablespoons of oil and vinegar or Italian dressing. Men can do 1½ tablespoons of oil per meal.

Sugar sweetened beverage consumption and risk of heart disease

The Study
A randomized trial was recently published that tested whether drinking sugar sweetened beverages increases risk of heart disease. In this investigation, 85 subjects were given either 0%, 10%, 17% or 25% of energy requirements as sugar sweetened beverages for a period of two weeks. The researchers measured risk factors for heart disease both before and after the intervention. After the two weeks were over, the subjects consuming the sugar sweetened beverages had significant, linear, and dose response increases in triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and uric acid concentrations. Subjects consuming the two higher doses of sugar also showed increases in non-HDL cholesterol, Apo lipoprotein B, and Apo lipoprotein CIII. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2015; 101:1144-54

Take Home Message
Years ago, sugar was considered “empty calories” that didn’t do much good, but also didn’t do much harm. That idea is changing fast. This study, and others like it, are beginning to offer proof that sugar consumption in and of itself can cause disease. The take home message here is to get sugar out of your diet entirely. If you can’t or won’t do this, do your best to strictly limit consumption. Incidentally and not surprisingly, subjects consuming the two highest does of sugar gained weight after the two week intervention.

Carbohydrate quality and long term weight gain

The Study
The glycemic load is a measure of how quickly and how severely the carbohydrate containing foods in your diet elevate your blood sugar. An interesting study was recently published that measured the impact of glycemic load on long term weight gain. Over 120,700 men and women from the Nurses’ Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study II, and the Health Professional Follow-up Study were followed for 16-24 years. Changes in glycemic load and body weight were measured every 4 years throughout follow-up. 

There were 2 relevant findings: 1) Dietary glycemic load was independently associated with weight gain. Every four years, body weight increased .93 pounds for every 50 unit increase in glycemic load. 2) The glycemic load had a strong interaction with other foods. If a food was associated with weight gain, like red meat was in these cohorts, eating that food with high glycemic load carbs increased weight gain, while eating that food with low GL carbs decreased weight gain. The same was true for foods that were associated with reducing body weight, like plain yogurt. If high GL foods were consumed with the yogurt, the weight loss was attenuated.  If low GL foods were consumed with the yogurt, the weight loss was augmented. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2015; 101:1216-24

Take Home Message
If weight loss is your goal, it is a good idea to pay attention to the glycemic load of your diet. Mechanisms by which a lower glycemic load diet promotes weight loss were discussed by the authors of this study. A higher resting energy expenditure, increased satiety, and reduced cravings with a low GL diet are all possibilities. If you want to lower the glycemic load of your diet, substitute fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains for bread, pasta, white rice and sugar. It is also a good idea to keep carbohydrates in the range of 45-50% of calories.

Product Review: Tanita Ironman Scale

When deciding on which products to review for this newsletter, I always ask myself two questions: 1) Will this product make it easier for my clients to succeed in attaining their health and fitness goals?  2) Am I asked about this type of product on a regular basis? An accurate, reliable scale answers both of these questions with a resounding “Yes”. Therefore, it is time to review the Tanita Ironman BC554.

Basic principles of weight loss are the same for everyone and can get you pretty far on your weight loss journey. However, to get those last few pounds off, I have found that the strategy becomes highly individualized. Some people will need to apply additional focus to their cardio to get there. Others need to look more closely at their total calories. For others, it may be lifestyle factors like alcohol consumption, snacking, or late night eating. The last few months of the weight loss journey very much boils down to trial and error. You make a change and see if you lose weight, if not, you try something else the next week.

In order to find out what will work for you, you need to weigh yourself properly and consistently. To do this, you need an accurate and reliable scale. I have been a huge fan of Tanita Ironman scales for years. I currently have the Ironman BC554.

1) Accuracy. I consider the Tanita Ironman line research quality. Knowing you have an accurate measurement is, for obvious reasons, pivotal.

2) Durability. My last model lasted me for almost 10 years.

3) Long battery life. I am amazed at how long the batteries last in these scales. You go years without having to replace them.

4) Measures body fat. If you are lifting weights while you are losing weight, a time may come where you will be building muscle and losing body fat at largely the same rate. This can become a bit frustrating as the number on the scale stops going down. At this point, your percent body fat is a better indicator of progress than your weight. Tanita Ironman scales come with a bioelectrical impedance analyzer to measure body fat. When used correctly, these scales provide an accurate measure of body composition which can become a very useful measure of progress toward your goals. 

1) A bit pricey. The BC554 currently lists on Amazon for $147.99. This is a lot for a scale. Other models in the Ironman family range from $99.99 up to $239.99, depending on features.

Would I Recommend Tanita Ironman Scales?
Without a doubt. These scales can be a bit on the pricey side, but they last forever, are highly accurate, and allow you to measure your body fat. Overall, they are a great investment in your health. 

To learn more about Tanita scales, visit If you want to buy one, you can pick it up on 

Monday, July 13, 2015

What are good snack ideas if I am trying to lose weight?

If weight loss is your goal, the best snack for you is the one you don’t eat!

Here are the reasons:
1) You shouldn’t need one. If you are eating a diet that promotes a stable blood sugar, you will not be hungry. Most hunger in between meals is due to blood sugar drops which can be totally prevented by eating the right foods in the right combinations.

2) Very small amounts of food eaten consistently can cause serious damage to your waistline. If you have 100 more calories a day than your body needs, after a year, those calories add up to 10.4 pounds. And let me tell you that 100 calories is not a lot of food. It is way too easy to get too many calories when you snack.

3) My most successful weight loss clients are consistently those that don’t snack.

Eliminate snacking entirely and you will have a much easier time losing the weight and keeping it off.


Metabolic adaptations to extreme weight loss

The Study
Your resting metabolic rate is the number of calories your body burns each day to perform its basic metabolic functioning. The higher your resting metabolic rate, the easier it is to manage your weight. It has been known for some time that resting metabolic rate decreases with weight loss. Prevailing wisdom was that this drop was due to the loss of metabolically active muscle tissue during the weight loss process. This may not be the whole story.

A study conducted by the Pennington research group tested this theory. They measured the resting metabolic rate of 16 Biggest Loser contestants before, during, and after the 30 week competition. In order to reduce the loss of muscle during the weight loss process, the contestants on this show engaged in a lot of resistance training exercise. They were successful in sparing their muscle. The average weight loss after the 30 weeks was 30% of initial body weight. Of this weight loss, 83% was fat and only 17% was muscle. After adjusting for the losses in fat and muscle mass at the end of the 30 weeks, resting metabolism in these contestants decreased by a stunning 504 calories per day. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 2012; 97:2489-96.

Take Home Message
This study tells us a few important things. The first is that resistance training prevents the loss of muscle mass with weight loss, which is really important. The second is that despite the preservation of muscle, metabolism drops a lot after extreme weight loss. A drop of 504 calories per day is no joke. The question that I don’t have the answer to, is whether this decrease in metabolism happens all the time, or is due to the very extreme nature of the weight loss in this study. The contestants on this show lost an average of 5 lbs. a week. I am wondering if this severe drop in metabolism would occur in those who lose weight more slowly. 

No one really knows why resting metabolism drops so much after weight loss when accounting for lost muscle. The authors of this study believe that the drop in metabolism may be due to changes in leptin and thyroid hormones or perhaps a reduction in the size of very metabolically active organs like the heart, brain, kidney and liver. One thing is certain, when you lose a lot of weight quickly, your body fights very hard to put it back on.

We need to learn more about this phenomenon. Many people who lose weight gain it back within a short period of time, and this drop in resting metabolic rate could be a big reason why.


Are restaurants making it impossible for you to lose weight?

The Study
Most people know that eating out at restaurants is not a good strategy when trying to lose weight, but it may be worse than you think. Researchers from Tufts University purchased the 42 most commonly ordered meals in the Boston area from 9 categories of restaurants: Mexican, American, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Greek and Vietnamese. They then measured the calorie content of the meals by bomb calorimetry. The average calorie content was a stunning 1,327 calories. This amount is more than twice the amount of calories necessary for weight maintenance. The scary thing about this study is that the researchers did not include appetizers, bread or drinks in the calorie analysis! JAMA Internal Medicine 2013;173:1292-99.

Take Home Message
Women looking to lose weight should be hitting about 1200-1300 calories per day. Men looking to lose weight should shoot for 1500-1600 calories per day. One meal out in your typical restaurant will make it impossible to hit these goals. To lose weight, eat at home the majority of the time and save restaurant meals for the couple of times a week you are allowed to cheat. The authors argue that mandatory calorie listing on menus would promote lower calorie meals by restaurants and better choices by customers. I am beginning to think that this is a good idea.