Saturday, June 25, 2011

What Eggsactly is Going on Here?

One egg a week, one a day, egg whites only, brown eggs only, pasture-raised, vegetarian fed... enough choices to crack open your brain, aren't they? OK, I'll lay off the puns. (oops) Starting now. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how many eggs you should eat and what kind of eggs to buy, from the makers of Eggland's Best to the urban chicken owner.

It's another Bountiful Bite conundrum. So I decided to see if I could unscramble (dang, sorry) the differences between one egg and another, and to figure out how many eggs we should feel comfortable eating in say, a week.

How Many eggs per week?

Eggs are often shunned by dieters hoping to avoid a doctor's report of high cholesterol. Eggs do contain about 70% of the USDA's recommended daily 300 grams of cholesterol. A large chicken egg also contains 6 grams of protein (more than your average breakfast bar). The USDA used to recommend no more than three eggs a week, but has since withdrawn that, and replaced it with advice to consume no more than 300 grams of cholesterol per day. Translate to my breakfast plate, please?

Yes, eggs top the cholesterol list. But butter, cream, cheese, sausage, shrimp, and organ meats (like liver) are all high in cholesterol. A Harvard University study of almost 120,000 health professionals (mostly nurses) who ate one to four eggs per week showed no increase in their likelihood of getting heart disease. Not the folks who ate one, or the folks who ate four. Of course, they had to factor in all the other reasons these subjects might get heart disease and then compare.

So lets lay it on the breakfast table. Let's say, every Tuesday and Sunday "Carter" sits down in front of a 2-egg cheese omelet cooked in lots of margarine, with a side of bacon, and his girl "Tamra" opts for one hard-boiled egg sliced and topped with salsa. Who's playing heart-disease roulette, Carter, Tamra, both or neither? Nutritionists might never have the answer to the chicken or egg question, but they may be able to answer that one.

Until recently, I believed in a myth. I thought when you eat an egg, all that cholesterol goes straight to your bloodstream and then into your arteries. Wrong city, says Harvard Medical School. I thought saturated fat and cholesterol were just two names for the same thing. Wrong again.

"For most people, only a small amount of the cholesterol in food passes into the blood.
Saturated and trans fats have much bigger effects on blood cholesterol levels.
So you see, it's likely that Tamra's twice-weekly breakfast would be Harvard approved but Carter's would come with a side of Caution.
Reminder: a lot of baked goods contain eggs.

Bon Apetit!

Next up: Eggsactly, part II. Free-range eggs or what?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Losing Weight is not for Sissies

People have been asking me lately, at work, at the gym, over the phone, do I have any suggestions? They generally start by saying they're trying to "eat healthier" or "lose my belly", and then mention some friend who trying some"new" diet they saw on TV. (Don't even get me started about the baby-food diet.) I feel like saying to every one "go talk to a dietitian!" but losing weight is perceived as some kind of semi-secret recipe that anyone can follow if they have the "will power".

In fact, losing weight and keeping it off is a fairly complicated process, because your body will resist you. Eating healthy isn't complicated but it takes a bit of education, some planning and getting used to. From what I've been reading lately, all compasses point to an annoying fact: your body will try to settle at a weight that you accidentally climbed to in the last 5 or 10 years.

First of all, recent liposuction studies indicate that your fat cells kind of stick around, and even if lipo doesn't cause you to gain fat elsewhere (some researchers say it does), a 2008 study found the number of fat cells after adolescence remain constant, and those cells can get larger or smaller. Freaky, huh? But don't despair, you are not doomed to fail at reasonable goals, not at all.

Secondly, you live in a society where the dairy and sugar industries are revered for their contributions to the economy. Corn farming is heavily subsidized (think, corn syrup and nachos). We are raised to celebrate everything from a baby shower to a birthday to a business dinner with a high-calorie low-nutrient meal, or cake. So it's kind of like, if you want to eat in healthful ways you have to swim a little harder to resist the undertow.

I know, happens to me all the time. Yesterday, I took my 5th grade buddy to dinner and he asked for a salad with his kid's meal burger. The chef "forgot" and gave him french fries. The nice server brought out a salad after that. She said the kids almost always order fries. Well, this kid wanted a salad. This is the atmosphere we live and diet in.

So you want suggestions? Um, I'll try.

1. Be more physical, like those folks on the reality shows. The losing weight ones. That could mean mowing the lawn with a power push-mower, riding a bike, going more often to the gym, or actually pushing PLAY on the P90x DVD before opening your chem textbook.

2. Don't eliminate healthy food from your diet like eggs, avocado, or whole milk yogurt. Believe me, that caramel macchiatto you had did a lot more damage than the whole milk in the yogurt.

3. Ask your teen to stash the chips and cookies in their room away from you.

4. Try having 6-8 oz. of milk or a handful of nuts (almonds or peanuts, if you're not allergic) about 20 minutes before dinner. This will help curb your appetite.

5. Don't assume that a food labeled "low fat" is a low calorie food. Sugars have lots of calories, too. Whole unprocessed food generally has fewer calories, and the higher-cal unprocessed food 'burns' slower, keeping you full longer. So, the more you stay away from boxed, prepared foods the easier it is to eat fewer calories, especially the "empty" kind.

And here's my bonus hint: when cutting back, never eat without putting the items on a plate. Why? Because you're not going to count it as food if it's not on a plate. Are you?

I guess you can see, I'm all about you getting the help you need to change your diet and not giving up if you slip back to your old habits. Whole food... whole food! And help from doctors and restaurant menus. Nutrition and weight are not rocket science but there's a lot of good science in it, and a lot still to be revealed. If there is a secret to dieting, it's to change what you did that didn't work. And the hard part is finding a new plan that does work. The genies are working on it, I promise.