In a famous stand-up routine, comic Roseanne Barr shared her favorite recipe for trail mix: a bag of M&Ms, a bag of Kraft caramels and a bag of peanut M&Ms. “The kids love it ’cause it tastes great, and the moms love it ’cause they know it’s trail mix!” Ah, we all have our trail mix moments. Unfortunately, our bodies know better. We can’t really get away with anything.
Take sugar. According to the USDA, Americans consume an average of 32 teaspoons of added sugars per person per day. Whoa. Where is all that sugar hiding? Well, some of it is hiding in plain sight. Baked goods, soft drinks, sport drinks, and those yummy coffee beverages are all loaded with it. It also sneaks into savory foods: salad dressings, spaghetti sauce, soups – and just about anything with more than five ingredients.
Sugar In Disguise
Then there are the foods that are marketed as healthy but taste like a treat, so we feel as though we are getting away with something when we eat them. If you’ve ever eaten a cereal bar and thought, “Wow, this tastes like a cookie, but it’s breakfast!” … how do I say this gently? You have basically just eaten two cookies for breakfast. A Nutrigrain Bar and a couple of fat-free Fig Newtons have strikingly similar nutritional makeups. The cookies have 100 calories, no fat, 22 grams of carbs, 12 grams of sugar, 1 gram of fiber and 1 gram of protein. The bar has 120 calories, 3 grams of fat, 24 grams of carbs, 12 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein. True, the cereal bar has some added vitamins. Now you have eaten the equivalent of two cookies and a gummy vitamin for breakfast.
My Nutritional Advice
The nutritional advice I give is simple, but not necessarily easy:
- Try to make half of what you eat fruits and vegetables, but corn and potatoes don’t count as vegetables.
- Drink only milk and water.
- Limit sweets to once a week. Note: A cookie eaten while standing in the pantry counts.
- Shop the perimeter of the store.
- Have a plan at restaurants. Googling the menu ahead of time can help.
- Turn off the TV, sit together as a family and eat slowly.
- Watch portion sizes: protein should be the size of the palm, starch the size of the fist and the rest of the plate should be vegetables.
Of course, we need exercise, too – about an hour a day. And while it pains me to say this, using only your wrist to play Wii Boxing won’t really burn 400 calories an hour. Somehow, our bodies know.
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Dr. Condron is a pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic – Fort Bend Medical and Diagnostic Center whose clinical interests include obesity, nutrition, allergies, asthma, childhood development, literacy, infectious diseases and preventive medicine.