Thursday, July 23, 2015

Healthy Grilling & Is Diet More Important Than Exercise?

The Healthy BBQ  Did you have a great Fourth of July? – barbecues, baked beans, potato salad, pulled pork, beer & wine…luscious desserts...Monday morning regrets...and a few too many carcinogens with those ribs?

Besides the excess calories, grilling fatty meats at high heat creates harmful chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).  These can be hazardous to your health - regular consumers of well done grilled meats were found to be 60% more likely to get pancreatic cancer.

Marinades, particularly with spices & herbs can help reduce HCAs.  Rosemary has been found to reduce HCAs by up to 90% in some cases.  Using a marinade with wine or beer six hours before grilling can cut carcinogens by 40%. However, its been found than long marinating times seem to cut the antioxidant activity in the sauces.  So, a few hours is fine – overnight is not necessary.

Use Lower Heat & try to keep the temperature below 325°, but cook to an internal temperature of 160° for burgers.  Here's a chart of safe minimum cooking temperatures from

Precook In The Microwave – this reduces HCAs by 90%.  Just one or two minutes at medium can do the trick.  And it’s recommended that you discard the juice – HCAs concentrate there.

Add Veggies - Is there anything better than grilled veggies?  A nice mix of vegetables will add healthy nutrients & antioxidants. Try some zucchini, fennel, peppers, onions or other thin sliced vegetables tossed with olive oil before grilling.

Here are some smart &healthy BBQ recipes from for BBQ ribs, chicken, salmon, meatloaf, BBQ sandwiches, pork, and more.  Side dishes can be found here.

The MD Anderson Center also has good information on BBQ safety and cancer prevention, which is found here.

In the News:    For readers of the New York Times,  you may have come across an article by Aaron E. Carroll, MD entitled “To Lose Weight, Eating Less Is Far More Important Than Exercise More”.  Although Dr. Carroll cites evidence that exercise improves outcomes for weight loss, the title of the article, his reasoning, and conclusions are misleading.  With the prestige of the NY Times behind his article, the danger is that John Q. Public will stop exercising.

A rebuttal by John M. Jakicic, Ph.D., who is director of the Physical Activity & Weight Management Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh, points out  the role of physical activity in weight loss interventions.   In his article Dr. Carroll emphasizes that neither weight loss intervention – diet or exercise – is more important than the other.  He reasons that many people can lose weight, in the initial 3-6 months of almost any program, but that it is challenging to maintain that loss without physical activity.  Research has established that people lose & maintain the most weight loss with a combination of dietary changes and exercise.

Dr. Jakicic recommends eating appropriate portion sizes, following the current recommendations.  For exercise, 30 to 60 minutes of activity per day. which can be broken into 10 minute intervals, is also commonly recommended. Lastly, folks should try to increase more activity into their daily lives to increase daily total energy expenditure.

My Opinion – we do tend to focus on more exercise (eg. The Biggest Loser, & Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move program) as the key to weight loss, while tending to lose focus on the importance of a healthy diet.  Dr. Carroll’s contention is that even though Americans are exercising more, we are more obese than ever, so that, therefore, exercise isn’t working.  In fact, his article quotes studies that show exercise & diet are more effective than diet or exercise alone.  His other references are meta-studies which have a built in bias in that the researchers choose the studies they wish to include.  Meta-studies are not double blinded studies, but can give useful information if done correctly.  However, until those studies are validated (meaning the results can be repeated), I’ll go with the validated and verifiable exercise physiology & nutrition studies quoted by Dr. Jakicic.

The Bottom Line:  We could all eat more healthily and move more throughout the day - 30-60 minutes a day is really the minimum.  The NY Times article & headline could easily confuse those who don’t know the background of diet & exercise research.

Coming up:  What to order at the fast food place….shopping tips at the grocery store…

©Fitness Spark Personal Training, July 2015.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Eating On The Road; Sunscreen & Hydration Reminder; A Watermelon Cake

 How To Eat On Vacation

The calendar & my schedule are saying its vacation time!  Last time, we looked at ways to exercise on vacation.  But as you know, the other part of the equation is trying to maintain healthy eating patterns while away.  Here are some ideas - planning ahead is the key.

On the road:
Pack some healthy snacks with you – fruit, trail mix, jerky, pretzels, popcorn, raw veggies, fruit & even yogurt.  Look for single serve packaging which will help curb mindless overeating.

Check out menus on line for lower calorie & healthy offerings.  Be aware even the lowest calorie items may still be high in sodium.  If the restaurant is part of a chain, nutritional information needs to be available, either on the menu or near the counter.  Websites also often have this information.

Try to eat in once a day – with hot water available either from the in room coffee pot or a carafe in the lobby, it’s possible to tote along instant oatmeal, whole grain cereals, power bars and fruit.

Try to eat smaller meals, but don't miss any meals.  Avoid eating heavily late at night.  Monitor your hunger levels.  Eat slowly enough that you don’t over eat!

Find a supermarket or farmer’s market to restock as soon as you arrive. Having a stock of fresh food can keep you from stopping at the nearest fast food place.  Check out

Drink water, not soft drinks.  Zero calorie beverages will help counteract the extra food calories.  Watch the alcohol intake.  Each drink can add 150 to 450 calories.

Try to maintain a “Five A Day” policy even on vacation – you’ll be getting fiber which is more filling, helps with regularity.  Plus you will be getting important antioxidants and vitamins that guard against getting sick.

In the hotel:  Avoid the minibar – not only will you avoid empty calories, but you’ll avoid the exorbitant charges on your bill.  See the first tip above in On The Road.

Restaurants:  Find sit down restaurants that bill their food as “locally sourced”.  Check the internet for menus.  Let your concierge call to let the restaurant know your diet limitations – no fat, no salt, lots of vegetables and so on - they’ll always try to please the concierge.

Downsize portions - Split entrees & avoid splurging on the higher fat, higher calorie selections.  Don’t finish everything on your plate – if your room has a refrigerator, take a doggie bag back…or see if you can order a half portion.

Ask your waiter how the dish is prepares  See if a fried entrée can be grilled instead.  Ask for sauces, dressings & gravies can be served on the side.  Ask for fresh vegetables or a salad instead of fries.   Request whole grains wherever possible – whole wheat bread/buns, pasta or steamed brown rice.

Order fruits & veggies whenever possible.  Be aware that condiments are high in calories, fat & also sodium.  Aim for less than 25 calories sodium per serving of catsup, marinara, mustard or BBQ sauce.

Order fish, but avoid fried & battered preparations. 

Beware of table munchies – these can add up to hundreds of calories before the entrée ever arrives.  Send the bread basket away & order a no calorie drink, salad or healthy appetizer.

Exercise:  Walk!  In many cities it’s the best way to immerse yourself in the local culture.  Pack those walking/running shoes.  Find hotels with good gyms, or nearby walking/running trails.  The local Tourist Information Bureau may have maps.  Westin hotels are becoming known for being able to accommodate exercise needs.  Getting exercise can make you feel better about a bit of indulgence – you are on vacation, after all.

But have fun!   Enjoy your vacation – even though you may think something is over the top unhealthy – trying a bit adds to the experience of being in that place for vacation….Poutine in Canada, haggis in Scotland, Borsch in Russia, Baklava in Turkey, gelato in Italy…..hmmm…just limit yourself to one treat a day.

Sunscreen & Hydration Reminder:  With summer temperatures rising, it’s more important than ever to make these part of your daily routine.  Apply that sunscreen a couple times a day or more, when out in the sun & especially around water, and remember to drink fluids before you get thirsty, particularly if you are exercising actively.  Remember there are annually heat stroke deaths, particularly in the hot & humid areas of the country.
The thirst mechanism lags behind actual needs, so you need to keep ahead of things.  General rule of thumb is to drink half your weight in ounces in fluids a day.  Yes, coffee & tea count.  Your urine should be colorless or the color of light straw.  If you’re an active athlete, you may wish to consult an exercise physiologist, or exercise nutritionist for a hydration plan that has the right ratio of fluids to carbohydrates and protein.

Happy Fourth of July!  This is traditionally a day of outdoor eating – picnics, barbeques, & grilled foods on the grill.  We’ll discuss healthy grilling in the next blog.  In addition you may have noticed a NY Times article which claims that diet is more important than exercise.  It’s not so simple, and we will explore this topic further. 

For the time being here’s a link to a unique festive, healthy & low calorie dessert.  The whole recipe is a bit lengthy with photos to reproduce here, but the watermelon, blackberries, kiwi slices and red raspberries make for a perfect ending to a summer holiday celebration.
Click here for recipeNo Bake Watermelon "Cake"


© Fitness Spark Personal Training, July 2015.