Posts Tagged ‘diet’

PostHeaderIcon Don’t be Fooled by Labels

I am pleased to announce that I have passed my exams and am now a certified fitness nutritionist specialist! I hope you don’t mind if I start posting more blogs on nutrition as well as exercise and yoga. Proper diet and exercise go together and it is not possible to be truly fit and healthy without a combination of both.

That being said, there is a lot of information about food  that is not based on sound scientific principles and they are mostly shared with the intent to sell a particular supplement or diet. Some dietary information is shared because it worked for one particular person but it may not necessarily be the right diet for other types of people. Since I have no other motive than to help people reach their goals in the most healthy way possible, I hope to give you the most unbiased information on nutrition I can.

I’m writing this post on reading labels because nutrition and food labels can be very misleading and if you aren’t an expert on the subject, you are likely to garner the wrong information from them. Also, studies have shown that many people do not reach their goals simply because they don’t know what they’re doing. They might think they are eating something that is good for them when it actually is not. Proper education on what is in the food you buy is integral to success.

For example, the following illustration shows a package of ground beef that is only 20% fat. This may not seem like a lot until you realize that the percentage is not based on calories but on weight. If you look at the part of the label that says “calories that come from fat” you see that 270 of the calories comes from fat while the entire serving has a total of 290 calories. This pound of beef is not lean at all!

I took this picture at the grocery store…..



Here are more facts to consider when reading food labels

Health Claims:

Many labels have large print that says they are “heart healthy” or “trans fat free” or “high in calcium” or some other vitamin or nutrient. These labels can be very confusing or misleading, making us believe that an item is very healthy when it may not be. This was brought to to the attention of the food and nutrition board in 2011 when food such as sweetened cereal, macaroni and cheese and ice cream had a smart choice label on it which was supposed to mean that the food was healthy for the heart. More legislation is trying to be passed to make food packaging more honest but it is an on going process. The best way of knowing if what you are eating is healthy is to get educated on proper diet and learn to read the nutrition section of the label and the ingredients. Do not judge a food by the front of its label.

Trans Fats:

Another example of mislabeling is trans fat. A label might say “free of trans fat” when in fact, it does contain trans fat or hydrogenated oils. The reason the food might claim to be trans fat free is because, by law, they only have to reveal a certain amount of trans fat on the label. If its less than .5 grams, the company can get away with saying that it is trans fat free. It may not show up in the nutrition label but it will be on the ingredients list. Trans fat and hydrogenated fats or oils are the same thing. They are the least healthy form of processed fat and can contribute to coronary heart disease, damaged blood vessels and high cholesterol. Often a label will say trans fat free, when it does contain hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list so watch out for this trick.

Whole Grains:

Also look out for labels that claim to be “whole grain.” A package may say this on the front of the label but when you look at the nutrition label, you might find that the fiber content is actually quite low. Look at the ingredients list. The most ingredients are always listed first and the minor ingredients are listed last. If the first ingredient is “whole grain” then you are getting just that. However, if the first ingredient is enriched white flour or something else and the whole grain is farther along, listed after white flour and other sugars, then you probably aren’t getting as much whole grain as you think you are.

Amounts Per Serving:

When looking at a nutrition label, look at the “amounts per serving” first. You might choose a box of crackers have very few calories but then you find out that one serving is only 2 crackers when you usually eat 10 crackers for each serving. This changes things. When comparing labels, always keep in mind how much a serving is because one brand might have 10 ounces as a serving while another has 20 ounces.

Fat Free:

Another thing to watch is when one unwanted ingredient replaces another. Say, you are on a low calorie diet and you see a package that is “fat free,” you might think that package has less calories. However, when I read labels, I often find that the fat free packages contain more sugar in them. Because of the added sugar, the calorie content does not change. In general, if the food is processed or cooked with many ingredients  like a box of pastries, bread, soy milk etc., extra sugar may be added if the fat has been taken out. However, if you are buying whole foods such as meats or milk, the fat is skimmed off without sugar additives. Always read the nutrition label and ingredients list just to be sure.

Rich in Vitamin Claims:

Many times a product might claim to be rich in a certain vitamin. For example, a cereal box might claim to be rich in vitamin D but when you compare nutrition labels, you learn that all products of cereal have the same amount of vitamin D added to their product. Many advertisers will pick out a fact that is true for all products, but make it seem like they are the only product that carries it.

This illustration is taken from the Ace Fitness Nutrition Manual, 2013


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PostHeaderIcon A Breakdown of Popular Diets from a Registered Dietician’s Perspective

Sona Donayan MS, RD is a registered dietitian who has been teaching at Glendale Community College and Calstate Northridge for last ten years while doing  outpatient nutrition consulting. She recently joined the food service management company Sodexo as a patient services manager at Huntington Memorial Hospital.

I interviewed her so that my followers can get expert advice on things to consider when starting a dieting plan. Sona’s knowledge is vital when considering what kind of diet program to use if you plan to lose weight, especially if you wish to make weight loss a permanent goal that doesn’t jeopardize your health.

Sona is also my local hero of the month. If you want to learn how she won her battle with obesity and cancer, check out this link:

Rhea: What is the difference between going to a registered dietitian and nutritionist?

Sona: Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. A registered dietitian (RD) has a minimum of bachelors, and often a master’s degree and a one year of internship and is registered with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. RDs have to keep up their continuing education in medical nutrition therapy. They work with prevention or treatment of disease with nutrition intervention. For example: Diabetic patients, stroke patients etc… They work in hospitals and other health care settings.

Rhea: What are the pros and cons of most popular diets, such as Atkins, the Zone, etc?

Sona: These diets “demonize” a particular food group or nutrient such as carbohydrates. But the actual goal is to cut back on calories which translates into weight loss. Modern nutrition science believes that all food groups contribute to your nutritional health.

The Atkins diet believes in eliminating carbs and emphasizing protein. It tricks the body into using stored fat as fuel in the form of ketones. Ketones are byproducts of fat metabolism in the absence of carbohydrates.  On the first day on the diet, you might have some reserves of carbs which you use up. The next day, you start mobilizing fat from stores, turning it into ketones and using it as fuel. It works in the short term.

However, you are changing your metabolic reactions and messing with nature. You are not meant to burn calories this way. In the long term, if you keep your carb intake below a certain threshold, you remain in a state of ketosis. It is very much like being in starvation mode. At the same time, protein coming from your organs or muscles is sacrificed. Going on an Atkins diet while training is against medical advice because you weaken your muscle mass and a lack of carbs will ruin athletic performance. In the absence of carbs in your diet, you will quickly run out of fuel.

Rhea: I see that happen in my classes when someone is on a low carb diet. They have to stop because they get nauseous or dizzy. Can you explain what ketosis is?

Sona: There are three ketone bodies. Two are acids and they build up in your blood and are eventually cleared by the kidneys. The third ketone is acetone, the same chemical found in nail polish remover. Someone on a diet with very low carb intake is at risk of reaching a state of acidosis where the blood PH level shifts into an acid state. You can die from this or your kidneys can shut down. You can tell if someone is in ketosis when you smell acetone in their urine or in their breath. Most people get off the Atkins diet and they recover and restore kidney function but they start to gain the weight back. So they go back to it and it becomes an up and down cycle.  In the long term, people tend to go up and down and end up where they were in the beginning.

Rhea: I once heard that this diet is used by athletes or models that need to lose weight fast because it causes fast water loss

Sona: When you stop eating carbohydrates, you might see rapid weight loss which is from water in your muscles that is usually stored with the glycogen. After the first day, glycogen in muscle breaks down and turns into blood sugar. The water that is part of the glycogen is eliminated, thus the sudden weight drop. What you lost is not fat, just water.

Rhea: What do you think of popular cleanses that sell herbs and other supplements for people to take while they fast?

Sona: The food and drug administration (FDA) polices these practices. Unlike medications, FDA’s regulations on supplements are very “loose” and often do a disservice to consumers instead of protecting them.  Basically, it comes down to “If no one has died from a supplement or a non conventional therapy, FDA allows it to be on the market. They will investigate and possibly pull a product off the market if an adverse effect is reported. Proponents of supplements and therapies such as “colon cleansing”, etc claim that they are FDA approved just because FDA has not banned it yet.  The FDA is not endorsing it. It is not saying “do this. It works.” They are just saying that you are free to do it at your own risk.

The insides of your body are not dirty. Our body cleanses itself fine. If we eat enough fiber and water, our body will stay “clean”. If we eat junk, our gut will not perform well. That doesn’t mean we have to “cleanse”. We just have to fix our diet.

Rhea: What would you say to people who wish to go on a cleanse in order to lose weight?

Sona: If cleansing works and your large intestines empties your stool, it won’t make you lose fat. Fat is all over your body. It is not in your colon. You might lose some water weight or a pound of weight from your stools but that doesn’t mean you will take off the fat.

Drinking herbs and fasting has not been proven to kill you but it hasn’t been proven to work either.  If you do this today, what about tomorrow? In the long run, you will be severely malnourished.  If you can’t keep up what you have started, you will gain the weight back. Instead, have a long term plan for not just weight loss but, also, maintenance in the future.

Rhea: What about dieting programs such as Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig or Lindora?

Sona: Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers emphasize food groups with balance and variety. Indirectly, they teach you to eat better by using points or selling pre-packaged food. There is some merit in these programs but the question still remains, can you stay on this diet and keep it up in your own world? What happens when you run out of money? Can you keep it up on your own? If you go on a diet several times, you are probably wasting your money. If you have to go back on it, because after you stopped the diet you regained the weight,  then whatever you are doing IS NOT WORKING.

Lindora is similar to Atkins in terms of protein emphasis and carbohydrate reduction, but you are medically monitored.  I still don’t recommend it if you can’t sustain your way of eating over a lifetime. Can you be on Lindora for life? What happens when you get off of it?

Rhea: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a diet program?

Sona: Any diet you get on, you have to get off in the end. That’s a bad idea. Instead, make small, incremental, radical but permanent changes in your food and activity habits. These changes have to be incorporated into your lifestyle. You have to like to do them and they have to become second nature to you.  Take small steps.

Plan ahead what you are going to eat. If you wake up in the morning but you have not shopped the day before for healthy foods and you only have junk food in your fridge, you can’t eat healthy. If you wait till you are starving, you will overeat or eat whatever you see.

Always eat breakfast. Always include some of the major nutrients: complex carbs, healthy fats, protein, vitamins and minerals. Breakfast will fuel you for the rest of your day. . Examples of a healthy breakfast: Egg whites, whole grain bread and yogurt, or a cup of fruit, yogurt, peanut butter on whole grain bread. These examples incorporate all food groups.

Want a permanent change?  Plan meals with a shopping list. Have snacks ready to go. Maybe cook some chicken breast over the weekend and have it ready to go so you aren’t stranded and left to resort to high calorie food. Write down what, when and how much y you eat in a food diary for a week, then look over your notes to get some clues about your own ways around food so you can fix your mistakes Use the USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines and the “My Plate” system for guidance on proper food selections and portion sizes for a healthy diet. And, for expert advice, find a registered dietitian (RD). To find one in your area, or for additional reliable nutrition information, you can use, the official site of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

If you have any questions for Sona, you can email her at: