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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Struggling to Manage Your Weight? Products, packaging and marketing leads to second guessing your eating.


This is a self-serving post. Really, I need to vent; because these things drive me crazy. They’re not directly harmful—except for the laxatives to be addressed in the next post—but they cause you to stumble. They mislead you. They impact your thoughts about what’s healthy and what’s allowed, and they add to your list of should and should nots.

They impact all of us, regardless of our weight. I’m just starting my list, in no special order, but I hope to inspire you to add to it—your comments, your own pet peeves. Because the more you're aware, the less you'll be mislead by the subtle, unreasonable nutrition messages. And the better you'll get at trusting your self and your body.

Almond milk: Forgive me if you are among the food allergic who can’t consume cow’s milk or soy milk. For you, almond milk is a reasonable option as a milk alternative to help meet your calcium need. But with the exception of its higher vitamin E content, it has little merit; it truly falls short as a milk alternative for those who do tolerate milk and soy. Here’s my issue: it short-changes you, because it looks like a glass of milk. But the calories don't compare, nor does the protein.

Sure, almonds, (as they proudly display on their website for Almond Breeze, one brand of almond milk) are high in protein and fiber and low in sugar. But this so-called almond milk? At 1 gram or less of protein, it is 6 or 7 grams less per cup compared to soy or cow’s milk, respectively. And a total of 1 gram of fiber. So please don’t assume that because it’s made from wholesome almonds that almond milk is anywhere near as nutritious.

Gatorade light: Why-oh-why would you choose light Gatorade? If you are consuming this sports drink for the reason it was developed—‘specifically formulated to help you perform your best’ during sports and training, then why have a reduced carbohydrate and low calorie beverage? Did I mention that calories=energy? The calories, from carbohydrate, are a convenient, easy to absorb fuel while exercising. But the light version is hardly worth it, providing minimal fuel to support physical activity.

And for the record, the electrolytes you get from Gatorade—the 160 mgs. sodium and 45 mgs. potassium from the recently increased serving size of 12 (vs. 8) ounces—is no greater than you’d get from a 12 ounce glass of milk (160 mgs. sodium and 560 mgs. potassium). 

Ok, I know you’re not about to drink milk on your run or bike ride. But unless you’re doing long duration exercise, generally more than 90 minutes, there’s little need for a sports drink anyway. You could easily replace your electrolytes when you get home, perhaps with a serving of pretzels and an orange or banana—a more generous replacement for both sodium and potassium losses. Just add any beverage to replace your fluid losses.

Sandwich thins: Made by Arnold and other companies, these seem innocuous, and are perhaps even viewed as a healthy alternative to sliced bread. And, they’re well liked, it seems. (I can't say personally—I've never tried them).

My problem? Eating one is like having just half a sandwich. And unless you are quite short in stature and quite sedentary, you likely need more than a half sandwich for a meal. Yet they look like they should be enough—there are 2 halves—but also half the calories. And, they provide little surface area to add your peanut butter or Vegemite (shout out to my Australian readers) or tuna or whatever. But if you love them and want to include them, have 2 for lunch! Or else when you get hungry later you’ll be beating yourself up thinking you’re not deserving of eating again!

Skinny Cow: I really love these ice cream sandwiches. But do you want to know a little secret? They’re no lighter than most traditional ice cream sandwiches you can buy (at perhaps a lower cost per bar!) But doesn’t Skinny Cow sound so light? All brands I looked at which are a similar size were within 20 calories (higher or lower)—and not promoted as a ‘skinny’ product. I do love their tag line, though: ‘who gives a lick about calories?’

The orange juice aisle: Maybe it’s just in US suburbs, but supermarket shopping is simply an overwhelming experience—even for me. A recent trip to the market revealed more choices than I could ever care to contemplate. Beyond the pulp options, there are orange juices fortified with calcium, and ones with fish oils (can you imagine?). It begs asking ‘Must one food item, this orange juice, meet all of my needs?’ Can’t we have orange juice for its naturally occurring vitamin C, folic acid and potassium? Must I get everything from this single item?

Similarly, must my pasta be protein fortified—or can’t I have chicken with it? Does it need to have added fiber, or won’t my eggplant, artichoke, peppers, etc. add that? Get the point?

Whey protein powder: Some of you who restrict your food intake and those vegans who plan poorly may truly benefit from boosting your protein intake. Why not use whey protein, the refuse, the left over liquid that remains when making cheese, conveniently packaged and sold at top dollar prices at health food stores, supplement sites and health clubs?

Whey protein boosts your calories—so this might be a positive for those of you trying to add some. But a whey protein shake mixed with water, in spite of it’s high protein content falls short as a meal replacement. And let me remind you about food halos. There’s nothing magical about protein. While your body requires protein to fuel your muscles and maximize recovery, from the looks of the label you might be thinking that you need whey more (sorry, couldn't resist) than you do. Even bodybuilders need little more than 1 gram of protein per kg body weight (or .45 gram per pound body weight). 

Are you a non-body builder? Then .8 grams per kg (or .36 g/lb will meet your need. (For most, a daily total of 50 or so grams is adequate.) No doubt you'll see how over the top these whey protein supplements actually are, and not without their risks

Shrinking packages: Why has the portion of yogurt dropped from 8 oz (one cup) to 6 oz, to in some cases 5 plus ounces? And, for the same price? And why did my half-gallon of ice cream slim down in such a deceitful way, denying me the full number of portions it used to have? (It’s now 2 cups short of the old packaging, so if you feared you were plowing through it more rapidly, fear not!) Food manufacturers should not determine what an appropriate portion is, so be sure that you allow yourself to have as much as you truly need. And that's likely to be more than a 100-calorie pack, too!

Packaged nutrients, not foods: Must we be categorizing everything we eat based on nutrient content? Can't we just eat things because we enjoy them? Because they give us pleasure? 'Protein and Fiber'? Really? Looks like sweetened, cluster cereal to me.

I'm just scratching the surface. Gentle laxatives, gelato, bottled waters and other favorites of mine will be addressed in an upcoming post! Please send me your pet peeves, too!







18 comments:

  1. I think one of mine is the 100-calorie pack phenomenon. When I was dieting, I would use these for a treat. However, the 100-calorie version often tasted nothing like the item it was supposed to be replacing, and even if it did come close, it was still a pack of empty, processed calories. If you are not educating yourself, you might think that you are doing a good thing by eating the 100-calorie pack. But perhaps a serving of the "real thing" would make you happier and help you avoid a binge when the substitute was not satisfying. I think this is similar to the Skinny Cow thing.

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  2. Oh God, this is so helpful...I am so CONFUSED at this stage. I have been trying the entire "repair the metabolism" after numerous months of too low calorie dieting. And I wanted to gain muscle. My trainer put me quiet a lot of protein, as a vegetarian that's tough to achieve, but I am managing..but wow, that's all I need what you posted. That would make life a bit easier. All very confusing these "macros". I used to think I was eating pretty healthily and sometimes I feel this effort has screwed up what I thought was good for me complete.

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    1. Get those trainers to read this blog! They are among the least educated and the most guilty of perpetuating nutrition misinformation. And being so trusted by their customers--perhaps because they do a good job with the fitness training piece--what they say has such a big influence!

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  3. Ok, this is not a food product but I was annoyed this morning watching the Today Show and seeing that there is a book called, "Get more dates than your skinny friends" - to coach "curvy" women not to let skinny girls get their guy. I had no idea that if I am not "skinny" (whatever that really means) I needed a special book on dating and how to be my best "curvy" self. I plan to re-watch this and may have more venting to do! Pretty offensive if you ask me!

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  4. Skinny Girl wine and cocktails. There's about 20-25 calories less than regular alcohol. And it's the name... will you be skinny if you drink this? Are only skinny people allowed to drink it? Am I going to be just as annoying, er, I mean skinny, as the people on the commercials if I drink it? My heart breaks for those who fall for this kind of marketing.

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    1. Agreed! We all need to be more critical consumers of ads and marketing! But it's amazing how the messages can subtly seep in and impact our beliefs!

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  5. Special k. Basically everything they do as far as advertising since 1. There 'diet' is super unhealthy and disordered and 2. The entire focus of their "what will you gain when you lose" campaign reinforces the idea in young, impressionable girls that skinny is always better, and healthier. What about those of us who just love your cereal and want to be healthy? For the large amount of people who would be healthier if they maintained or gained? Urggg I used to love their cereal but I refuse to buy it now.

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    1. Fortunately, I watch so little TV that I don't get to see these ads! It's bad enough they focus on the high protein content--like it makes a difference!

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  6. Yoplait "swap-ortunity"

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    1. Let's just swap 'em right out of the grocery cart, then!

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    2. Exactly! And my other pet peeve is all the Greek yogurts that use artificial sweeteners to lower calories. It just reinforces the idea that healthy means low calorie, and clearly shows that we aren't really focused on health, we are focused on thinness. I believe a higher calorie natural chobani is better than an artificially sweetened light and fit:/

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  7. Off topic, but I work in healthcare and my BIG PET PEEVE / RANT is the big money maker known as bariatric surgery.

    I am a big girl, I come from German farmers and I will never be a size 6. My BMI is pretty high because I am big boned, muscular and ( to be honest ) toting about 50 extra lbs. However - I bike, hike, lift weights, do cross fit and kayak. I love to be outdoors. I am happy with myself. As I was shopping for a new physician (my old one moved away ) a physician in the practice I was trying out told me in the first 5 minutes that I was morbidly obese and needed to have gastric bypass surgery - and would not let up. She was shoving the BMI chart in my face. ( I never went back to that doc )

    A very good frined of mine is in the ICU today from a major complication she had from gastric bypass a few years ago (through this same proactice ) . While she is thin now and touted as a major success story, I don't see her as healthy. So I am not saying it's a bad thing - but GEEZ - I see it really pushed and pushed as a quick and easy way to meet your goals.

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    1. I'm with you! And while somewhat off topic, I certainly welcome the opportunity to let you air your most appropriate Pet Peeve/Rant! Check out the post with the cupid to the left which shows we are on the same page! Thanks for commenting! Perhaps as health care providers we can educate others to shift their perspectives! See the posts under the label "Share with your MD", too!

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  8. Protein bars and meal replacement bars. They have a lot of calories and sugar and additives. A cheese sandwich / peanut butter sandwich is always more appealing to me. I am also very suspicious of the additives, soy protein and all the stuff in these bars. I am very reluctant to let my teen boys have these, What I do is pack them an extra lunch to eat between school and sports. PB and apple sandwich - in my mind just works better.

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  9. I've never eaten diet foods and I avoid most of the things in this list (other than sandwich thins - love those)! This year I've made a pretty successful effort to move away from processed foods towards home cooking from whole ingredients. And I've gained weight. I don't weigh myself regularly but my weight has been fairly stable for years and suddenly this year I've gained 10-15 pounds and I am completely at sea. Should I be worried, and should I try to lose the weight, and how on earth would I go about it when my healthy changes seem to be the root of my problems?

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  10. Don't do it, Jessamy--don't start a diet to try to lose weight!Instead, consider these points:
    -it's possible that the weight gain is appropriate for you (I can't say without knowing the full picture);
    -there may be other nutritional benefits from your shift in eating;
    -the weight gain may correlated with your dietary changes, but may or may not be caused by them. For instance, perhaps you've also reduced your activity level. Just a thought;
    -You may be experiencing the 'halo effect' described in a previous post http://dropitandeat.blogspot.com/2011/05/halo-effect-your-thoughts-about-healthy.html (which coincidently has the same image as this current post!

    Hope this helps!

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  11. Ok, slightly off-topic but my son's sixth grade school planner last year had a chapter at the front about health and wellness(?) that preached about the calories in fruit juice in such a way as to make it sound as though calories themselves are bad.

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