Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Losing Weight: Nutrient Density (even while eating out)

For the first time in years, the scale this morning showed me weighing less than 200 lbs (198). I started a new "diet" back in September. I was up somewhere around 215 or 220, and my cholesterol numbers were persistently high (not awful, but too high). After losing some weight, I had my cholesterol checked and it had dropped a lot. Not all the way down, but very close to the "targets".

My new diet is based on a book on Calorie Restriction. They also use the term "optimal nutrition," and that's meaningful. I don't follow the book literally (and to their credit they encourage that), but I picked up some big concepts from it.

The optimal nutrition concept is key. I try to eat things that have a lot of nutrients in them. There's actually a list in the book of a variety of foods and their "nutrient density" - a measure of the nutritional value per calorie. Not surprisingly vegetables are great. One of the easiest things I do now is eat more vegetables. In restaurants I ask for vegetables on the side instead of fries, pasta, rice, and other things that are not great on nutrient density. Most restaurants will accommodate that. I also order a side of vegetables, maybe even two.

There's a few things I make at home now with some frequency that I like and are good on the nutrient density thing. One is a blueberry smoothie. 1 cup nonfat yogurt, 1 cup skim milk (maybe an extra 1/4 cup), and 2 cups of blueberries. Put it in a blender, add some brown sugar or other sweetener - not needed but not horrible either - and drink. Blueberries are loaded with nutrients. Sometimes I use other berries, bananas, or some combination of the bunch. Be careful when you buy blueberries. The first time I bought a tub from the freezer and didn't notice it was in syrup - which dramatically increased the calories without helping nutrition - and didn't really taste better either.

The other recipe I adopted was tuna-hummus salad. Instead of mixing tuna with mayonnaise, I mix it with hummus. I usually include some onion, maybe some spinach leaves, and maybe some peppers too. Honestly, I like this just as much as tuna salad made with mayonnaise, maybe a little better. I eat it open face on a slice of whole wheat bread (I like whole wheat better than white), usually with spinach and/or other salad greens over the top. Plus maybe olive salad and things like that.

I also eat healthier at breakfast. Kashi GoLean Waffles are pretty good. I also make a variety of things with Eggbeaters, usually scrambled with vegetables. I sometimes use veggie substitute things from Morningstar Farms, like their veggie sausages (better than real sausage) and a "Veggie Crumble" thing that they have at Target. You can have waffles, scrambled eggs and sausage - a very filling meal, with a lot fewer calories and a lot more nutrients.

I also just make vegetables sometimes at home. Last night I made asparagus with some onion, garlic, and a bit of soy sauce and sushi vinegar. It was pretty good. A couple months ago I bought frozen asparagus at the store (I wanted to try it - fresh does taste better). I checked the package label. The whole 10 ounce package had 60 calories. That's all. Just 60 calories. You can eat a lot of vegetables and really fill yourself up without getting too many calories.

If my wife makes spaghetti at home, I'll nuke a veggie Italian sausage or a veggie burger (there's a big variety of these nowadays) to go with it. I also buy some "healthy" frozen entrees - the Kashi ones are pretty good. The organic section has some others I like. They're usually 300-400 calories.

Another good thing about this approach is you can pig out once in a while and it's not really a problem. At first I did this about once a week, but now it's less often than that. If we go out to a really nice restaurant, then the diet is out the window - but I'll still get extra veggies. This isn't hard for me. I really do enjoy eating them.

I went to Via Fresca on Western Ave. the other day. They have a good selection of veggie side dishes. Plenty of other good things too, but it's important to have places you can go and eat healthy. Panera Bread usually has good soups and salads, and a half-sandwich once in a while isn't too bad for you. I pay extra for the fruit cup side.

My "sins" are not so bad. Dark chocolate is pretty good on nutrients, so I eat some of that. Camembert is one of the better cheeses so I have that on crackers sometimes.

I think one of the other keys to healthy eating is that when you're going to eat bad, don't soften the blow with "lite" versions. Don't get lite salad dressing. The olive oil and canola oil are good for you anyway. Get smaller portions of the bad stuff, not full portions of the lite version. The lite version isn't nearly as tasty and is ultimately unsatisfying.