Friday, December 24, 2010

Weight Watchers gets back to its roots

Weight Watchers, the widely recognized weight loss program (and publicly traded company! – NYSE:WTW) was founded in 1963 in Brooklyn.  In Weight Watchers, every food has a “point value,” which is a function of the calories, fat, and fiber content of the particular food.  Additionally, every dieter has a point target – an ideal number of points to consume each day to achieve their weight loss goal.

Early iterations of Weight Watchers were similar to diabetic food exchanges: each day you had to eat a certain number of fruit and vegetable servings, a certain number of grain servings, etc.  These early programs are still regarded by dietetics professionals as some of the best because they encouraged a balanced diet.

However, the ‘80s, ‘90s, and ‘00s saw several significant changes to the original Weight Watchers plans.  While dieters were still encouraged to eat their fruits and veggies, a balanced diet per se was no longer the cornerstone of the program.  Instead, dieters had the freedom to eat whatever they desired, so long as they remained within their allotted points range.

Yup, it's a diet twinkie.

Several years ago, Weight Watchers introduced an alternative plan to the “points” system.  They called this alternative plan “Core.”  On the core plan, a dieter could eat his/her fill of certain whole foods (e.g. fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, whole grain pasta and rice, lean meats, eggs, fat-free dairy products), but had to count foods consumed that were not on the core list (e.g. bread of any kind, alcohol, reduced or full-fat dairy products).  The core plan was a step in the right direction of consuming a primarily whole foods-based diet, but many people – dieters and nutrition professionals alike – felt it was too restrictive, especially with regard to fats, which were limited to two teaspoons (two teaspoons!) of oil a day.  As a future dietetics professional, I find myself repeating that no one should have the goal of attaining a “perfect” diet (not that such a thing exists), but should instead work toward a moderate diet.

Weight Watchers, you have heard our plea!  In a move back toward a more balanced diet, the company has introduced the Points Plus system.  Points Plus attempts to marry the flexibility of the old Points program with the whole foods focus of Core.    

The Points Plus system is unique in several ways:

  • Higher point allotments: Dieters are given a higher daily point target, which means they can eat more on a daily basis.  While this may translate into a slower rate of weight loss, it’s a positive step because consuming too few calories not only slows down the basal metabolic rate (your “metabolism”), but also contributes to feelings of deprivation.  And we all know what happens when you start feeling deprived:

  • No rollovers: In the past, dieters had a weekly “bank account” of 35 extra points, which they could use or not use at their discretion.  The idea behind rollovers was that we are hungrier on some days than on others. The problem is that these “flex points” allowed dieters to save up for a binge, instead of spacing them out and using them as needed.  Without rollovers, it will be easier to adopt consistent eating patterns.

  • Fruits + Veggies = 0 points*: You heard me right.  In the past, fruits and veggies had points values just like every other food; i.e., they counted toward your daily point target.  Therefore, unless you already loved produce, there was little incentive to choose an apple when, say, you could eat a small piece of candy for the same amount of points.
*Except for certain items, including avocados, potatoes, and corn.

  • Increased emphasis on whole foods: Going along with the new position on fruits and vegetables is a new position on processed foods.  In the past, a 100-calorie apple and a 100-calorie cookie would both have set you back 2 points.  Now, however, the apple is “free” (0 points) and the cookie will set you back not 2 but 4 points.  This harder stance with respect to processed foods is designed to encourage increased consumption of whole foods, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and fat-free dairy products, and lean proteins.

Just as many dieters are excited about the new Weight Watchers program, some are frustrated by the changes.  What do you think of Points Plus?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cold food: It's hot, hot, hot!

Around this time each year, things can get a little dreary.  School picks up, I get less sleep even though there are more hours of night than day, and I have little time and even less inspiration to cook.  Plus, have you seen the produce aisle lately?  Unless you can get yourself to a Whole Foods, the pickings are slim.

So how can we keep our fruit and veggie intake going strong all winter long?  (You know I enjoyed that rhyme.)

The answer, my friends, is in the freezer aisle.

A thing of beauty, no?

Unlike canned fruit and vegetables, frozen produce is as healthy as fresh—and often healthier. This is because produce is frozen at the peak of freshness, when nutrients are at optimal levels.  Unlike pasteurization or preservatives (methods used to ensure the safety of canned foods), cold temperatures do not degrade the nutrients.  And the best part?  Preparation is as simple as pressing “start” on the microwave.  Ding!

Here are some ways to incorporate frozen produce into your diet:

  • Toss a handful or two into a saucepan of tomato sauce
  • Bulk up stir-fries and curries
  • Serve as a side dish, with a squeeze of lemon juice and/or a dash of your favorite spice
  • Nuke one package plain chopped spinach and one package creamed spinach; mix
  • Pre-seasoned frozen vegetables: pure genius and completely idiot-proof

  • Heat gently and spoon over waffles or pancakes
  • Stir into lowfat plain greek yogurt
  • Eat frozen right out of the bag!

 Now you can get all the fiber and antioxidants you need to stay slim and healthy during these cold months.  ¡Salud!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Dirty Dozen

“Should I eat organic produce?”

This is a question I get all the time, and it’s one that yields different opinions from different people.  Even among R.D.s, there are some who advocate for a mostly (if not completely) organic diet as well as those who are doubtful of the potential benefits of organic foods in light of their high price point.  So who’s right?

That is the question.  Relatively speaking, we have only recently begun to develop an awareness of the presence of pesticides in our food supply.  Therefore, few longitudinal (across time) studies have been conducted that assess the relationship between pesticides and our health.  In the next fifty years we will have more definitive evidence, but for now, what can we do?

The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that focuses on public health, examined 100,000 produce pesticide reports from the United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  From these reports, they identified the twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables.  These produce items, dubbed the “dirty dozen,” contain 47-67 different pesticides per serving.  Try to buy them organic.

The Dirty Dozen

Domestic Blueberries
Imported grapes (most come from Chile)

Spinach, Kale, Collard greens
Sweet bell peppers

The good news is that plenty of produce contains lower levels of pesticides.  Save your money and buy the conventional (non-organic) version of bananas, avocadoes, asparagus, sweet potatoes, onions, and more.  For a complete list, go here.

Don't sweat the sweet potatoes!

And remember, whether or not you choose to buy organic fruits and vegetables, more matters!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tea time

Tonight I am going to share a secret with you:

Licorice and peppermint tea.

Trust me, this one's a winner!  Here's the rub: Licorice root is naturally sweet -- sweeter, in fact, than sugar.  Together, the two flavors totally complement each other: at first you get the invigorating taste and scent of peppermint, and then the sweetness from the licorice.  All this from plunking two tea bags in a mug of boiling water.

It's genius.  I know.  You're welcome :)

In case you were wondering, I swear by Bigelow peppermint tea.  It's the most pungent mint tea I've tried, and it's great either by itself or with...

  • Stash licorice tea (pictured above)
  • Yogi Egyptian licorice tea (often sold in the organic/natural foods section of the supermarket)
*Note: The people at Yogi tea are one step ahead of me and already make an Egyptian licorice mint tea, which saves you the trouble of using two tea bags.  If only I were so smart!

It's back to the blustery winds of Boston tomorrow, where Major Homework will commence.  Something tells me I'm gonna need to break out the puffy coat.  Good thing I have something warm to drink!

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