Blog - Alison Barkman Nutrition
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Sneaky Foods That Make You Fat

100 calorie packs can leave you feeling
hungry for more.

So you think you’re doing everything right when it comes to eating healthy. You eat breakfast daily, include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your meals, and try to limit processed and fast food as much as possible. But for some reason, those pesky 10 pounds haven’t budged. Ready to throw in the towel? Not so fast!
Most people will be surprised to learn that although their diets are very healthy, there are a few unsuspecting foods that can throw off the best of weight loss intentions. Here are three healthy foods that can sneak into your diet and throw you off track:
#1: Hidden Sugars – Granola, fat-free frozen yogurt, and protein bars all seem innocent enough. After all, it’s not like your chomping into a donut, right? You may be surprised how much sugar is lurking in your so-called healthier choices. Take a look at these comparisons:
·      1 cup Kellogg’s Froot Loops = 26 g or 6 teaspoons of sugar, compared to a “healthier” cereal, 1 cup of Kellogg’s low-fat granola = 28 g or 7 teaspoons of sugar
·      ½ cup Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream = 32 g or 8 teaspoons of sugar, compared to the “healthier” frozen yogurt version,  ½ cup Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie frozen yogurt = 34 g sugar
       3 Oreos = 25 g or 5 teaspoons of sugar, compared to a “healthy” bar, 1 Balance bar = 23 g or 5 teaspoons of sugar
Surprised? True, the Ben & Jerry’s frozen yogurt may have less fat, but usually less fat means more added sugar. Added sugars will contribute to your daily intake of calories and next, your waste line.
#2: Lurking Fat –  Most of us have heard of the healthy unsaturated fats vs. the artery-clogging saturated fats. Consuming unsaturated fats in the form of olive oil, nuts and nut butters, avocado and fatty fish help reduce inflammation that can lead to diabetes, heart disease and other diseases. Despite the health benefits, there is such a thing as overdoing unsaturated fats.
Spreading one tablespoon of natural peanut butter on toast for a satisfying breakfast is fine. Eating peanut butter mindlessly out of the jar with a spoon can tally fat intake equal to a slice of cheesecake.
The same goes for olive oil.  Drenching veggies in olive oil for stir fry or making a homemade vinaigrette can bring calories into the hundreds if you have a heavy hand.
Always measure your fats, even the healthy ones. One to two tablespoons of olive oil or peanut butter can go a long way while keeping the calories and fat under control.
#3:  Empty calorie snacks – Within the last few years, 100-calorie packs of everything from Oreo cookies to Wheat Thin crackers have cropped up on the grocery store shelves. In-between meal snacks should balance between 100-200 calories maximum, depending on your calorie intake for the entire day. However, not all calories are created equal. A 100-calorie pack of Oreos is mainly refined carbohydrates. Refined carbs may satisfy a sweet tooth, but they will empty out of your system quickly, only to leave you hungry in a hurry and looking for something else to eat.
Be wise. Choose snacks that are nutrient-dense and will keep you full longer. This includes snack foods that have protein, fat and fiber. An example is an apple (fiber) and cheese stick (fat, protein). Both items are portion-controlled and provide the right mix of nutrients to nourish and satisfy a grumbling belly.  Other ideas include a ¼ cup trail mix plus one piece of fruit, 6 ounces Greek yogurt, or an English muffin with 1 tablespoon peanut butter.
Hopefully these tips help you identify some healthy eating pitfalls. Making these slight changes can help save a few hundred calories. At the end of the day, this calorie deficit can translate to 1-2 pounds of weight loss per week.

Healthy Ways Jazz Up Your Drinking this Summer

Coconut water is all the rage and refreshing!

I am a dietitian. I am also human, therefore I am NOT perfect when it comes to eating and drinking. Last week I had a heart-to-heart with myself and realized that diet soda is a horrible habit in my life that I’d like to rid from my daily routine.  


I am not writing this post to say that diet soda is Lucifer in disguise as a refreshing, bubbly beverage.  If you drink diet soda in moderation, as in a few glasses per week, you should be fine. Personally, I felt I was becoming addicted to diet soda, grabbing for it out of habit for an afternoon caffeine pick-me-up. I also realized I was feeling bloated after drinking it, yet wanting more. To me, that’s not how I want to feel after eating or drinking anything. 


While water is best to keep you hydrated in this sweltering heat, it is nice to have something different here and there. Check out my list of some alternatives to regular and diet soda to keep things less boring while you hydrate this summer:

  • Unsweetened Iced Tea: Try adding 1 teaspoon of agave nectar or organic honey, a slice of orange, and a few grapes cut into halves or quarters. The juices from the added fruit, along with a touch of sweet agave nectar will make this a refreshingly tasty beverage with no sugar or chemical sugar substitutes. If you don’t have time to brew your own, there are some brands that sell bottled unsweetened iced tea, although it’s not always easy to find. 
  • Coconut water: This fairly new beverage has been getting a lot of attention in the past couple of years. It took me a while to try it, but after taking my first sip last week, I was sold. I tried CoCo Exposed’s Peach & Kiwi (picture above), with a short and sweet ingredient list including coconut water, aloe vera juice, peach, kiwi, and citric acid (Vitamin C). The 12 ounce bottle only had 60 calories and 14 grams of sugar. You can’t beat that!  Coconut water is also a good sports drink alternative for any runners or bikers racking up the miles in this summer heat. Coconut water is a natural source of sodium and potassium, electrolytes we lose through sweat during intense exercise.
  • Seltzer with fruit: Buy plain or flavored seltzer. Add any fruits you desire to make it more interesting. Try oranges, grapes, peaches, raspberries … don’t be shy! You can also add splashes of your favorite 100% fruit juices to seltzer. Look for “no sugar added” on the label to be sure you’re only getting sugar from real fruit and not added white table sugar.  Instead of seltzer, you could add fruit and 100% juice to good old water as well. 
  • Honest Ade beverages: It would be nice to think we always have time to brew our own iced tea or make our own seltzer. But in our hurry-up and rush-around world, sometimes we do need some convenience in food and drinks. Honest Ade drinks are a good quick grab.  They come in a variety of flavors, such as Orange Mango, and will set you back about 50 calories and 12 grams of sugar per 8 ounces. Other sweetened beverages contain double that amount of calories and sugar per 8 ounces. 
  • Gus brand soda: I’m not an advocate of drinking sugar-sweetened beverages on a regular basis, but every once in a while is perfectly fine. If you must drink regular soda, the Gus brand is a great alternative to your usual Coke or Dr. Pepper. I’ve tried Gus’ Extra Dry Ginger Ale. A 12 ounce bottle has 90 calories and 22 grams of sugar. Compare this with other brands that typically have 125 calories and 32 grams of sugar per 12 ounces. Plus, Gus uses natural flavors such as real ginger root extract for its ginger ale. Not bad for an occasional sugary beverage, as in once per week at most!
Hopefully some of these suggestions will liven up your drinking routine or help you to get some diet soda out of your life. Cheers! 


Lazy Summer Days = Mindless Snacking?

A few days ago I officially kicked off summer with my first visit to a local beach. Looking around, I saw people snacking out of huge bags of Doritos or standing in line for hot dogs and fries at the vending stands.  These foods aren’t good for us in general. Do we really need to be eating mindlessly out of an endless bag of chips while we are doing nothing more than lounging in a beach chair?

During the lazy days of summer, it’s time to get smart about eating. Here are some tips to help keep you feeling better about yourself in a bathing suit during these summer months:

  • Bring your lunch and snacks.  Most of us haul a cooler to the beach or pool already, so why not fill it with healthy options? Make a turkey or roast beef sandwich with mustard or hummus and lettuce on whole grain bread. Bring cut up veggies and fruit, yogurt, nuts, or cheese sticks. Any of these items are a better choice than fried food.
  • Make your own snack bags.  It’s a dangerous idea to bring a large bag of chips to the beach. You are more prone to continuously dig in and can do some serious damage in the calorie department.  First, choose a healthier snack option such as pretzels, lower fat chips like Pop Chips, or mixed nuts. Portion them into snack-size zip lock bags at around 100-200 calorie portions. To be more “green”, invest in some small snack-size reusable containers and ditch the plastic bags. 
  • Invest in a large, soft cooler.  Soft, insulated coolers are lightweight and have a shoulder strap for easy transportation. Hard, plastic coolers are heavier and more cumbersome, making it tempting to leave it behind and forget about bringing your own food. 
  • Eat like you normally would eat at home or work.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that because you’re having a great day at the pool, why not eat “junk” the entire time you are there?  If you’re there around lunch time, have lunch like you normally would and perhaps a small snack a few hours later. Again, there is no need to load up on excess calories.
  • Sneak in some exercise. Swim, play ball, go for a long walk along the shore. You are outside and should take advantage of some calorie-burning fun time. 
The biggest takeaway is to plan ahead. Bringing your own food to the beach or pool doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Get things ready the night before. Find easier ways to carry them such as a lightweight cooler, or even invest in a push-cart or wagon to haul all your stuff. You would be surprised how following a few of these tips can save extra calories and, in the end, prevent the scale from creeping up on you this summer. 

My Big, Fat Cereal Bowl

Ahhh, cereal. When the warm weather hits, I tend to trade in my oatmeal for cereal. The only problem is, my cereal bowl can get a bit out of hand to the tune of 100-200 extra breakfast calories. Definitely not a good thing for bathing suit season.

Perhaps some of you can relate to my cereal dilemma. Using your larger-than-normal bowl you pour in some cereal. Next you throw in some fruit. Then you pour an endless stream of milk, hopefully skim or 1%.  If it’s 2% or whole milk, you’ve got even more problems with your cereal.

As a dietitian who counseled many clients on the importance of eating breakfast, I know that cereal can lead many into the high-calorie danger zone. Even me. Here are my tips when it comes to attempting a healthy cereal breakfast:

  • The bowl. Are your bowls short and shallow or wide and deep? If you have what seems like a bottomless cereal bowl, you really ought to measure your cereal. Mindlessly pouring cereal in a large bowl can easily add up to hundreds of calories before you even add milk or fruit. 
  • The type of cereal. You are much better off eating cereal that has protein, fiber, and is low in sugar (less than 8g per serving). Cereals with protein and fiber will keep you full longer. Special K may be a low calorie cereal, but it also has no fiber or protein, so you’ll most likely feel hungry shortly after eating it. You can find cereals that are good sources of protein and fiber in the organic or natural food aisle. And there are certainly some hiding in the regular cereal aisle. Brands like Kashi and Barbara’s offer some great choices. Be sure to always check the labels because even some of the healthier brands offer cereals that have little to no protein and fiber, as well as too much sugar. 
  • Make your cereal satisfying. If you’re eating breakfast at 6 AM and know you won’t be eating lunch until noon, you definitely want your cereal to satisfy you for several hours. Using a plain, low fat or nonfat yogurt instead of milk can increase the fullness factor, especially when using Greek yogurt which is typically higher in protein. Throw in a small banana and 1-2 tablespoons of sliced or crushed nuts for added fiber, protein, and fat.
  • Stick to the serving size.  Most cereal serving sizes are 3/4 to 1-1/2 cups.  Use a measuring cup and stick to the serving size. Without measuring you can easily pour out 2-3 servings of cereal. 
Don’t be afraid of cereal. It can be a satisfying and healthy breakfast when done properly. It can even make for a nice afternoon snack. Ever try mixing Kashi GoLean Crunch into some low-fat vanilla yogurt? It can also be a quick lunch alternative on hot days when the heat makes everything else seem less appetizing. 
Just remember: measure, use a smaller bowl, and go for cereals with more fiber and protein!

Are Pesticides Keeping Us Away from Healthy Eating?

Apples are on the hit list for high pesticide residue

Perhaps you have heard of the “Dirty Dozen”. This is a list of the top 12 fruits and vegetables that are notorious for harboring the highest level of pesticides. This list includes celery, apples, strawberries, peaches, and potatoes. Experts recommend when it comes to purchasing these foods, you are better off buying organic, thus avoiding high levels of pesticides.


The article How Dirty is the Dirty Dozen? (LA Times) attempts to answer if we need to go crazy buying only organic versions of the produce on this hit list. What will happen if we buy non-organic?  What are the top nutrition and food experts saying?


Some studies show a link between ingesting pesticides over the years and cancer, birth defects, nerve damage, lower IQ, and ADHD. But like so many other diseases and disorders, not enough studies have been done to definitively say pesticides are a major cause. While there may be a link between pesticides and these health issues, why not be safe and buy organic versions when possible? One drawback for many is that organic foods can carry a bigger price tag. It is another instance of paying more to be healthier.

When it comes to foods on the dirty dozen list, personally I opt for organic MOST of the time. But not ALL of the time. If I’m faced with eating a non-organic apple, I certainly won’t eat a sleeve of cookies instead because I’m afraid of pesticides. Eating the non-organic apple is a better choice than processed foods laced with saturated fat and sugar. When it comes to pregnant women, infants, and children, I think it is best to opt for organic as much as possible because here we are dealing with developing brains and bodies.

Purchasing organic produce to me is a better-safe-than-sorry scenario.  However, it’s important for consumers to realize certain truths about organic vs. non-organic foods:
  • “Organic” does not mean a food is 100% pesticide-free. The article mentions that pesticides are used on organic farms, but they are found in nature (not created chemically) and less toxic.
  • Organic foods are not lower in fat or calories, and do not have more vitamins and minerals. A non-organic apple and organic apple offer the same nutrients.
  • Organic foods may or may not be tastier than non-organic. I shop at several different grocery stores in my neighborhood. One store stands out above all the rest when it comes to organic produce. Perhaps this is because they get frequent, local shipments of the freshest produce and move them off the shelves quickly, whereas the other stores may have organic foods shipped from further away and perhaps sit on the shelves longer. 
  • Organic produce still needs to be washed. You never know who touched your fruits and vegetables before you bring them home.
  • It’s not necessary to make your entire grocery cart organic. For instance, you don’t need to buy organic cookies. But when it comes to some produce, dairy, and animal foods, organic may be a less toxic choice. 
Bottom line: Foods on the dirty dozen list may be worth investing extra cash for the organic version. But if you are thinking of cutting these foods out of your diet completely rather than invest more for organic, don’t! The benefits of eating the non-organic versions of foods like strawberries, potatoes, pears, apples, and spinach most likely outweigh the risks or avoiding these nutritious foods entirely. 

Is a Late Night Dinner Making Me Fat?

Most of us are fed up with hearing what they are NOT supposed to do when it comes to eating right.  I remember Oprah once told her viewers they should NOT eat past 6 PM in order to help with weight control. Well if Oprah said it, we better listen, right?

WRONG! I came across this article today, What Time Should I Stop Eating? (Fox News Latino), on the topic of how eating a late dinner will actually not make you fat if you do it the right way. This is something I’ve routinely preached to nutrition clients. As the article mentions, many people living in Latino and European countries eat dinner as late as 9 PM and do not have the same obesity issues we have here in the U.S. 

If you fall prey to late dinners, perhaps past 7 or 8 PM, this will not set you up for rapid weight gain. The problem with late night eating is that most people are not eating much during the day. In the U.S, we tend to skip breakfast, eat a sub-par lunch at our desks, and skip healthy snacking only to find ourselves starving at the end of the day. Suddenly we are eating two or three helpings of dinner, or so ravenous that we pick up fast food on the way home. Then we stay up late watching TV and continue with mindless snacking. We then wake up not feeling too hungry for breakfast because we just consumed about 75% of our daily calories the night before.
I have always told clients fearful of eating a late dinner that it is fine if you follow some guidelines. First, be sure you are eating breakfast, lunch, dinner, and healthy snacks in between. All of this eating should obviously be well balanced meals and within reasonable portion control. So no, I don’t mean grab a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast, two slice of pizza for lunch, an ice cream cone for a snack, and then a burger and fries for dinner. What about a day like this:
Breakfast – 2 slices whole wheat toast with peanut butter
Morning snack – 1 banana
Lunch – Salad with grilled chicken, vinaigrette, and a side of whole grain crackers with hummus
Afternoon snack – Vanilla Greek yogurt with chopped strawberries mixed in
Dinner – Grilled salmon, wild rice, veggies
If you eat healthfully and space your meals and snacks out every 3-4 hours, eating a late dinner should not cause weight gain. Whether a person eats that dinner at 6 PM or 9 PM, it should not make a difference. The only thing I will caution is that if you eat a late dinner, no matter how healthy, and go to sleep in less than two hours, you may suffer from indigestion. You want to give your body enough time to digest food before going to sleep.
Hopefully for all of you getting home from work late and trying to be healthy, you will find this to be good news.

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