Apr 21, 2010

Weight Loss vs. Weight Gain: What You Drink Impacts Your Diet, Part One

by Christine Lakatos — This ten-part series, a "beverage expedition" of sorts, will uncover how liquid consumption affects your weight, health and wellness, for better or worse.

Your liquid choices can dramatically impact your weight, health, wellness, energy, mood, and more. Unfortunately, what you are drinking can also make you fat! As I take you down this “beverage expedition,” I will briefly focus on nine liquid categories –– water, coffee, tea, milk, soda, other soft drinks, juice, meal replacement drinks, and alcohol. Each category deserves an entire article, but for the purpose of brevity, I will give you the aerial view.

What you will discover during this beverage expedition is that when it comes to liquid consumption, many of you are going the "wrong way" or taking too many detours from a healthy and fit trail. Later in this ten-part series, I will “zoom in” on each category with more specific information and tips on how to make good liquid choices, guiding you off the “fat path" and onto the “fit path.”

#1. Water
Let's start this beverage outing with the most valuable (and neglected) liquid of all –– water, which as you know, is essential to life. Water is your body's principal chemical component and makes up about 60 percent of your body weight. While water is critical to overall health, and drinking plenty each day stands alone as the best thing you can do for your body, it also plays a significant role in weight loss. The first thing to consider is that you may be retaining water because you don’t drink enough water. Bloated, yuck. You may also mistake thirst for hunger, so instead of swiggin’ down some H2O, you eat. Not good. Water will also help satisfy your desire to "feel full" so that you will eat less. Good. Lastly, if you are well hydrated you will reap the rewards of health, vitality, energy and so much more.

#2. Coffee and other caffeinated drinks
Coffee itself is not the problem so much as is consuming too much caffeine, which is everywhere –– tea, soda, energy drinks, chocolate, candy, medications, and diet pills. Coffee can give you a boost when starting your day and prior to a workout, however, if you are adding cream and sugar, it will give your caloric intake a boost too, which is not good when you are watching your calories. This is especially true when it comes to that Grande Caffè Mocha you may be addicted to (330 calories with 43 grams of carbs; 33 are sugar, and a whopping 15 grams of fat).

#3. Tea
Next on the liquid list is tea (herbal as well as black, green, white and oolong), which has a tremendous amount of health benefits and can aid in weight loss –– as long as you don’t choose pre-made teas full of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other sugar derivatives –– or add your own.

#4. Milk (dairy)
Even though dairy products could be placed in a food category, and some have their place in a healthy diet, it is amazing how many adults still think, "Milk does a body good." Not necessarily, especially when you take into account the saturated fat and cholesterol found in whole milk. Not to mention the lactose, which is a concern for those that are lactose intolerant. Moreover, consider the hormones and antibiotics prevalent in milk today (unless it is labeled "USDA-certified organic"), amongst other issues surrounding our food sources that come from animals, but I won't go there now.

#5. Soda
One of the biggest diet debacles is that instead of drinking water, many are choosing other liquids like soda and other soft drinks. This is where it gets "real sticky" –– as in way too much sugar. Most are aware of the negative affects of drinking carbonated soda –– it contributes to four major health issues: obesity, tooth decay, weakened bones, and caffeine dependence –– even so-called “diet” soda. Enough said.

#6. Other soft drinks (sports drinks, powdered soft drinks, juice boxes, and others)
There are an array of high calorie drinks labeled as "healthful," but in fact are high in sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and other sweeteners. They are adding empty calories to your diet and fat on your body; putting many on the fast track to obesity. This includes sports drinks like Gatorade (although sports drinks do have a place when it comes to athletes and high intensity workouts), powdered soft drinks like Kool Aid, as well as those cute little juice boxes and flavored waters. Crystal Light and other “no calorie, sugar-free” powered drinks use aspartame, saccharin, or Splenda for sweetening –– "caution sign" when consumed in excess.

#7. Juice (fruit and vegetable)
Most commercial juices contain sugar and very little of the fruit or vegetable they are supposedly derived from, which means that their nutritional value is suspect. They are high in calories and low in fiber — the opposite of most fruits and vegetables in their natural complete states. Even with no sugar added, 100 percent juice is loaded with sugar (fructose; a more natural source and better option) and calories. So-called veggie drinks are a little more complicated and there are some decent choices on the market. Better yet, "juice it" yourself –– a safe and effective way to add wholesome, healthy calories to your diet.

#8. Meal replacement drinks (protein shakes, smoothies, and green drinks)
The billion-dollar fitness industry makes money off quick-fix scams and false promises and drinks are high on their list of schemes. Just like meal replacement bars, they can have a positive "force" toward weight loss and nutrition on the go; still, it is all about "what's in them." Next time you pick up a so-called “diet or protein shake," smoothies as well as those trendy green drinks, take a look at the ingredients. Most of these pre-made drinks contain a lot of sugar, fat, additives and preservatives. On the other hand, there are some good meal replacement and green drinks out there, as well as great products and ways to make your own.

#9. Alcohol
I hate to be a "party pooper," but if you are serious about losing weight (fat), alcohol should be off limits, though a few drinks here and there won’t hurt. The “dark side” of alcohol is well known, yet some studies show possible health benefits (moderation of course), however, “balancing risks and benefits” is very complex.

As far as the fitness aspects, you should be aware that alcohol has short-term effects on health and body fat; its nutritional value is nil, as in empty calories, and those mixed drinks pack on more calories than you think. Drinking a lot of booze can also cause dehydration, create electrolyte imbalances and alcohol can indirectly make you fat –– "while your body uses up all the alcohol circulating in the blood, the oxidation of fats, carbohydrates and protein becomes suppressed." Translation: these macronutrients are not used for their intended purpose and are "forced into storage."

Bottom line: what you are drinking can make or break your diet when it comes to weight loss and health. An occasional detour will not harm your efforts, but staying on the wrong path for a long period of time will. Dehydration has its dire consequences; alcohol may give you that occasional "fun buzz" and not so fun hangover, yet it has the potential of making you fat and unhealthy. Furthermore, your beverage choices may have you on a pathway of consuming excessive amounts of caffeine, calories, empty calories, sugar, sugar derivatives and artificial sweeteners, as well as fats and the possibility of countless other food additives.

Knowing the impact that liquid consumption has on your “fitness trail” is the first step in making better choices; ones that will move you faster toward your weight-loss goals as well as further down the road to health and wellness.

Stay tuned, this beverage expedition will continue...

Part of Fitness Flash on Blogcritics
Blogcritics Sci/Tech section offering a wide range of interesting and valuable topics
Published April 20, 2010 Weight Loss: What You Drink Impacts Your Diet –– Part One
MY DIVA DIET "Tools for Success" Blog

Apr 12, 2010

Protein, Energy, Diet, and Nutrition Bars: Fit or Fake?

Fitness Flash....

The answer is both; however, it all depends on what’s in your meal replacement bar –– the ingredients.

Okay, you are on a "quest" to get healthy and fit –– if not, you should be. That said, is your hectic schedule keeping you from eating fit and wholesome meals? Due to your time restraints, do you continually resort to junk food and fast food that only sabotages your chance of lasting success? Well, you are not alone. Finding "healthy and fit fast food” items can be quite a chore itself, even when it comes to sifting through the hundreds of protein, energy, diet, and nutrition bars –– AKA “meal replacement bars."

The positive sides to meal replacement bars are their convenience and portability as well as providing a way to keep you from skipping meals and starving all day long, which in reality has many benefits when it comes to weight loss, energy, mood, and overall health and fitness. But are meal replacement bars fit or fake?

The answer is both; however, there definitely is a negative side to meal replacement bars –– they are man-made food products with too many ingredients, including ones that are not conducive to health and fitness. Unlike nature, men and women have a tendency to mess things up, especially when it comes to creating food products. Moreover, meal replacement bars are packaged with “labeling hype” like healthy, diet, lean, lose weight, muscle building, and other misleading claims, yet, they fall short on many fronts. While I am sure these food-type products were designed with good intentions, the majority fail the most important trial of all, the “real and natural” purity food test. A good number of today’s meal replacement bars are "fake" and many fitness experts categorize them as "glorified candy bars" –– kind of like Snickers or Kit Kat on steroids.

Back in the early '90s when I was an avid bodybuilder, I promoted one of the first protein bars when it hit the market, the Power Bar (average rating), and oh my, they were very chewy. Since then, I have watched meal replacement bars evolve, with everyone but Grandma getting in on the craze and "bars" popping up everywhere. In analyzing most of the protein, energy, diet, and nutrition bars, not all of them are created equal when it comes to taste and, more importantly, nutritional value. The good news: you can find meal replacement bars that are healthy, those using real ingredients without all the added sugar, sodium, trans fats, and other unhealthy additives. Others also provide fiber and added vitamins and minerals to increase their value, and for those who are gluten intolerant you can find gluten-free meal replacement bars, which brings me to the “energy bar” winner, the Larabar, with the Cliff Bars scoring high points as well.

There are a few more things you should consider before "chewing on" your favorite bar along with its colorful packaging and hype:
  • Most meal replacement bars are high in calories, contain added sugar (or high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners), wheat and other flour sources, fat and hydrogenated oil, salt, milk products, nuts, cocoa and cocoa powder as well as other additives and preservatives. Some also contain caffeine and other stimulants like ginseng.
  • Most meal replacement bars are very high in sugar (25 plus grams), still others contain sugar alcohols and nonnutritive sweeteners, which are intended to enhance flavor while lowing sugar and calorie content, however, in excess these ingredients can have certain side affects and some have the potential (depending on which argument –– for or against -- you subscribe to) of becoming harmful to your body; as in hazardous to your health.
  • So-called protein bars contain different types of protein blends like whey and casein (cow's milk), and soy, used in the Genisoy Bars (average rating), but the majority of bars contain a combination of all three.

Keep in mind that there are four main factors to consider when choosing the best meal replacement bars: nutrition, ingredients, taste, and purpose. The purpose of consuming a meal replacement bar can range from increasing your protein intake and energy requirement to a more complicated matter of losing weight. Other uses include gaining muscle mass and/or boosting strength and endurance for athletes. It could be as simple as providing yourself with a nutritious morning “fast food” breakfast, afternoon snack, or pre- or post- workout meal, or those times you may be craving something sweet.

Considering the vast variety of brands, categories, and flavors when it comes to meal replacement bars, finding and choosing quality is complicated. Taking the guesswork out of the equation can be helpful when seeking the "bar" that is right for you and AskMen.com has laid out a very useful guide, “Top 10 Energy & Protein Bars.” Interestingly, diet.com put some meal replacement bars to their own test, where they analyzed bars based on calories, calorie density, saturated fat, trans fats, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and gave their “Top 5 Worst Meal Replacement Bars.”

What matters most is whether or not the protein, energy, diet, or nutrition bar you choose is healthy and fit, because at the end of the day, one “bar” is not going to make or break your diet; what counts is the totality of your diet program coupled with your activity level. Which brings me to the most important rule when selecting a meal replacement bar for yourself or your family. Just like with all man-made food products you must read labels and according to WebMD, “If you want a healthy nutrition bar you have to read past the label” and that means the ingredients panel.

My advice: go for the fit, not fake meal replacement bars, those high in fiber (close to 5 grams or more); ones with fewer ingredients, low in sodium, no added sugars, artificial sweeteners, and other flavor enhancers, additives, and preservatives. Be leery and avoid those that have trans fat and are high in saturated fats, but don't be afraid of the "good fat" grams, except those that go over ten grams per bar. Better yet, unless you are an athlete, meal replacement bars are best used in an emergency situation, because you will be much happier and healthier than if you eat that dreaded Happy Meal.

More paramount, get your calories from natural, fresh, and wholesome foods, even when you are looking for convenient and portable meal ideas –– like an apple, banana, a mixed green salad, some on-the-go carrots or celery, a cup of natural trail mix with almonds and raisins. Take advantage of the “pure fast foods” that nature offers in variety of flavors and colors –– raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. I promise, you won't regret it (food allergies aside, of course)!

Part of Fitness Flash on Blogcritics

Protein, Energy, Diet, and Nutrition Bars: Fit or Fake?
Opinion by Christine Lakatos — on Apr 13, 2010

NOTE: Due to the fact that there are too many meal replacement bars on the market today, I could not cover them all. Considering "new bars" are produced at a rapid pace, it is best to know how to analyze them appropriately –– that way you can make good choices no matter how many "news bars" show up on the health and fitness scene.

My Diva Diet "Tools for Success"

Apr 3, 2010

Eggs for Easter and Year Round

Fitness Flash...

Every year about this time, we find ourselves either participating in or thinking about the “Easter egg hunt.” While many of us may too old to participate in this yearly event, we are not too old to eat eggs -- they are good to eat year-round.
That is unless you are a vegan.

At any rate, this is a great opportunity to “crack” the shell and display the value of eggs.
In an "egg shell"…
  • Eggs are one of the highest qualities of proteins.
  • Egg whites contain adequate amounts all essential amino acids and are used as the standard, which all protein is measured.
  • One large whole egg = 75 calories, 6 grams protein, 5grams of fat.
  • One large egg white = 17 calories, 3.6 grams protein, 0grams of fat.
  • Eggs whites have zero carbohydrates, zero fat, and zero cholesterol
  • The cholesterol is found in the egg yolk at depending on the size has about 185 to 213 mg.
While there are a variety of eggs to choose from, –– organic, Omega-3 eggs, and brown eggs –– eggs are a good source of low-cost, high-quality protein. Dietary protein provides us with amino acids that we use to make our muscles, tissues, skin, immune system antibodies, nutrient-carrying transport proteins and many other compounds vital to physiological function!

Eggs also promote healthy thyroid function (iodine), brain health (choline), heart health, and eye health (carotenoid lutein). Eggs have additional health-promoting benefits. They contain nutrients that help with bone-building vitamin D, K and phosphorus, energy producing (vitamin B2 and B5), and more!

If you are worried about the cholesterol found in eggs, then it is important to consider the recommended daily limits, which should be less than 300 mg. per day. If you already have "cardiovascular disease, diabetes or a high low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") blood cholesterol level, you should limit your dietary cholesterol intake to less than 200 mg a day." However, it is best to rid yourself of other high cholesterol foods like fried, fast, and junk food, before you throw the egg out of the pan. And, you can always skip the egg yolk and use the white only.

It is best to choose your eggs from cage-free hens that are fed a !00% vegetarian diet. And there are many things you can do with eggs and egg whites like making a wholesome omelet or frittata. Eggs and egg whites can also be scrambled, poached and hard-boiled –– they make a great "fast food" snack without all the garbage. You can also use them in a sandwich or salad.

Here is a quick idea for a healthy, light, and low fat egg dish.
Summer Frittata
from the "master health chef," George Mateljan

Found in the MY DIVA DIET diet books; our very own Diva Frittata Recipe.

Fitness Flash: the new feature...

Fitness expert, diet book author, and retired bodybuilder and fitness competitor, Christine Lakatos, offers concise fitness articles –– dieting, food facts, nutrition, and exercise –– for those interested in losing fat, getting fit, gaining health, increasing energy, as well as general wellness. Fitness Flash includes E.A.M.; Education, practical application, tips, motivation, and more.