Diet Trick or Treat?
Weight loss wonders and nutrition nightmares
By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD/LD
It bursts my balloon whenever I read bogus ads for "miracle" weight loss drugs or watch a commercial promoting the latest high-calorie, high-fat fast-food disaster.
You'd have to be living under a rock not to know that our nation is fighting an obesity epidemic. To the credit of many food manufacturers and restaurants, we're seeing more and more healthful changes on packages and menus. But there are also lots of companies trying to take advantage of overweight people who want a quick fix.
We'd all love to be able to lose weight simply by swallowing a pill or slathering on a cream. But if it were so easy, why would there be an obesity epidemic in the first place?
Of course, it's just not that simple. The only thing simple about weight loss is the math: Calories taken in vs. calories burned = weight gain, weight loss, or weight maintenance.
Over-the-counter pills, potions, and "miracle" cures are, at best, a Band-Aid approach to a very serious problem. At worst, they're just a way to separate you from your money.
Nearly every magazine has at least one ad for a magical weight loss potion, promising to help you lose weight while you sleep or detoxify your body and get trim. The ads lure us with powerful testimonials from supposedly successful losers, even celebrities.
But remember that money, not ethics, rules this business. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Here are a few of the nutritional nightmares I've spotted lately:
From treats packaged in 100 calorie servings to more healthful choices on fast-food menus, the food industry is coming up with ways to make it easier to control your calorie intake. Labels and many menus carry nutrition information and sometimes icons that show which items are healthy, helping us make informed choices.
It has become virtually impossible to go into a restaurant and not see at least some healthy offerings. The fast-food and fast-casual giants led the way with an explosion of grilled chicken goodies. Now, you'll find many more delicious choices with fewer calories and fat. Moving beyond America's favorite -- hamburger, french fries, and a giant soda -- is tough, but at least we have plenty of healthy choices on the menu. And menus at fast-food and casual dining restaurants have an enormous impact on what our nation eats. According to the National Restaurant Association, the average person eats a meal out 4.2 times per week and spends 53% of his or her food dollars on items eaten away from home.
Nutrition information is available on restaurant web sites and at most of the actual restaurants -- just look around for the poster or ask for a copy. If you want to plan ahead, check the web site before leaving home and decide on selections that fit your eating plan.
Here are some of the best bets at popular restaurants:
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