By Julie Dean Kessler
Weight gain and all that goes with it—sluggishness, too-tight clothes, and frustration—may be sneaking up on you in ways it never did for your Grandma Mary or your Great-Uncle Gene.
So says Jerry Sabo, certified nutritionist for Methodist Hospitals in Northwest Indiana, where he works in cardiac rehabilitation services. In this revealing Q & A he unwraps some nuggets of information about how food is served, and how to foil trends that can sabotage your weight-loss efforts.
Q: What change do you see that affects the way people eat now compared to a few decades ago?
Portion sizes have changed over the years. In 1954 a Burger King french fry order was 2.6 ounces; that has doubled, and a jumbo fry is 6.9 ounces. A standard McDonald’s burger in 1955 was 1.6 ounces, about 333 calories. Now it’s 3.2; other burgers are 8 ounces, even bigger. It’s almost a joke how they treat nutrition and how the food is marketed: “We’ve got the biggest burger.” The standard burger now is about 590 calories. A good source for information is fastfoodnutrition.org.
Q: What about beverages?
A standard Burger King soda in 1954 was 12 ounces; now we have 32-ounce sodas and more. People may not think about the calories they drink: 22 percent of all calories now come from beverages.
Q: Are we getting enough fiber?
Actually, the biggest thing typically missing is fiber—whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains, whole cereals. McDonald’s does have yogurt with granola, but you don’t typically see an Olive Garden with whole-grain pasta or pizza.
Q: How do we figure out how much food we need?
Your height, your gender—you need to adjust calories for that; a nutritionist or dietician can help you understand how many calories you need. Visit mypyramid.gov to see your portion sizes for height and weight. Keep a food diary to see how much you really eat.
Q: So it’s about portion size?
Aim for smaller portions—3 or 4 ounces of meat in a meal twice a day, not all three meals. Eating bacon, eggs and sausage five or more times a week, that’s totally inappropriate. A majority of the heart patients I see, their standard breakfast has no fiber, yet generally we need at least three whole-grain servings every day. I like a whole-grain cereal such as Cheerios, with plant protein, not meat protein.
Q: Plant protein?
Like nuts or seeds. Sprinkle almonds, walnuts, or pecans on top of cereal. If you have nut allergies, most people can tolerate seeds—flax seeds or sunflower seeds. And you need good teeth: people with poor teeth or with dentures that don’t fit properly find fiber hard to eat. So because it hurts, they eat calorie-laden white bread or potatoes without the fiber. And with no fiber to fill you up, you eat more. That’s why you can eat a monster burger with bacon and cheese—there’s no fiber.
Q: What else contributes to people eating more?
A lot of people eat in 20 minutes or less. In that amount of time you don’t feel full, so you keep cramming things down. And we think somehow we have to finish that plate; we don’t even feel full until the plate is empty. You can eat less without even changing anything except using smaller plates.
Q: What do you do to avoid eating everything on your plate when you dine out?
I take a container and put half the food in it to take home.
Q: Any other tips?
You can lose weight just by changing your environment. [In a recent study] keeping a chocolate bar in a desk drawer instead of on the desktop led to a 40 percent reduction of candy that was eaten. Keep the candy wrapper in front of you—don’t throw it away, so you can see how many you’re really eating. Juices—I don’t drink the pure form of cranberry juice, because there are still calories in juice. You can make your own sauces to avoid the added sugars [that come in bottled sauces]. Never eat snacks out of the bag. You can also find good information at foodfacts.com, and nutritiondata.com.
Q: You really get energetic over this, don’t you?
This is my passion. I was a chef for ten years in Chicago restaurants. I saw how people ate and the effect it had on them. Over time, I knew of customers who died, and that made me become a dietician.