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How Many Calories Do I Need? And Other Questions From The Boys & Girls Clubs Fit Family Challenge

This year’s finalists for the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Fit Family Challenge are about to be announced. I’ve had the privilege of acting as nutrition coach for the semi-finalist families, and have had fantastic interactions with them about common nutrition questions. In my continuing Q&A series, I thought I’d share some of our email conversations:

Q: How many calories do I need per day, and how many should I eat to lose weight?

I like to use this Mayo Clinic calculator to get a rough estimate of daily caloric needs.   If you enter your height, weight, age, and activity level it will tell you approximately how many calories/day you need to maintain your weight. To lose one pound a week, you need to subtract 500 calories/day from that number. So, for example if the calculator suggests that you need 2000 calories/day – you should follow a 1500 calorie/day diet to lose 1 pound a week. Studies have shown that people who drop more than 500 calories below their daily maintenance needs have a hard time sticking to their diet. You may feel weak, trembly, and irritable if you cut down too low too fast. You will have to play with the amount a little bit since the calculator is not exact – if you don’t see the scale moving when you cut out 500/day, then you have to wonder if you’re counting calories correctly or perhaps if you have to go a little bit lower still. Unfortunately, the “reward” for losing weight is that you have to permanently eat less when you are at your desired goal because there is less of you to feed!

Q: What do you think about sports drinks? Do my kids need them when running races?

As far as sports drinks are concerned, their benefits are often over-hyped and exaggerated. That being said, I believe they do have a role in hydration during endurance sports like long distance running. When you do strenuous exercise for long periods of time (over 1 hour of effort) you lose a lot of body salt and minerals (electrolytes) in your sweat. It’s important to replace certain key electrolytes so your body doesn’t become depleted and begin to cramp. This is more likely to happen to folks running very long distances, such as marathons and triathlons. However, if it’s hot during your race, you could be at risk for dehydration and electrolyte loss as well.

Regular Gatorade (made by Pepsi Co.) has water, sugar, sodium, and potassium in it. Powerade (made by Coca Cola) has water, sugar, sodium, potassium and B vitamins. Powerade has a little bit higher sugar concentration, which could be an advantage on a long run. Both are reasonable choices for hydration during a race.

The rough rule of thumb is to take in 6-12 oz of fluid for every 20 minutes of running. Water is sufficient for runs that last less than an hour. Sports drinks (or adding electrolyte gels/chomps to water) are helpful if your run will last longer than an hour. It’s better to sip the water slowly at regular intervals than to dry to gulp it all down at one time. You may feel nauseated or have a “sloshy stomach” feeling if you don’t spread out your hydration.

Sports drinks can be quite expensive – and you can easily create your own at home. The World Health Organization has a simple recipe for rehydration fluids, and I found this (probably slightly tastier) version on a blog site.

Outside of endurance sports, I don’t see a physiologic need for sports drinks (with the exception of extreme sweating in hot weather or during illness with vomiting and diarrhea) – they can add unnecessary calories to your diet.

Q: Should I cut down the amount of salt in my diet?

Not necessarily. Too little salt, as well as too much salt, have both been shown to be unhealthy. If you’re eating a lot of fast food, you’re probably getting too much salt. If you cook for yourself and focus on fruits and veggies, whole grains, and lean protein you may not need to cut back. Unless you have a kidney problem or very high blood pressure, salt is generally not dangerous for you. About 2.5g of salt/day (roughly a teaspoon full) is optimal, but for most people up to 4g/day probably won’t hurt (and at least one study suggests that heart disease risk doesn’t increase until the daily intake of salt exceeds 7g/day).

Follow Along With The Fit Family Challenge!

Tina Thompson, Mario Lopez, Dr. Val Jones

The Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) are about to kick off their annual Fit Family Challenge. The goal is to support families as they commit to a lifestyle of healthy diet, regular exercise, and strong moral qualities.  It’s called the “Triple Play” approach – a game plan for body, mind, and soul. I’m honored to be their “mind” coach again this year, and will help to shepherd 250 BGCA families from across the country. Five finalists will be chosen to compete in Los Angeles for the title of fittest family near the end of 2012. We have timed the competition to coincide with New Year’s Resolution planning, and hope that these fit families will inspire others to turn over a new leaf in 2013.

As part of my support for the competition, I’ll be publishing several blog posts (at Better Health and the Fit Family Challenge Blog) with evidence-based healthy eating tips for the families – and for anyone who wants to follow along with the Triple Play Fit Family Challenge. I can’t wait to see how lives will change – and how together we can tip the scales against obesity, disease, and unhealthy relationships. Please join the Boys & Girls Clubs in this important initiative.

Food Truths, Food Lies: Final Nutrition Advice For The Boys & Girls Club’s Fit Family Challenge

Over the past 6 weeks, 5 families (selected by the Boys & Girls Clubs) have been working hard to develop new healthy eating and exercise patterns (part of The Triple Play Fit Family Challenge). Their ultimate goal is to maintain these habits for a lifetime, and teach their peers to follow in their footsteps. Next week I’ll be traveling to Los Angeles to meet the families and participate in the awards ceremony – where the winning family will receive an all expense paid vacation. (Maybe if I play my cards right they’ll take me with them? One can always dream…)

I myself have been challenged to encapsulate all the best nutrition research into simple guidelines for daily living. I gave it my best shot in this blog post, and today I’m going to review some final food philosophy, straight from one of my favorite books, Food Truths, Food Lies.

Food Truths:

  1. Calories matter most – food is like fuel. It is burned for energy, and when we have reached our daily calorie needs, the rest is stored as fat. Some food is more calorie-dense than others, but the bottom line is that to maintain our weight we need to balance calories in (what we eat) with calories out (what we burn through activities of daily living and/or exercise).
  2. You can’t exercise your way to weight loss. In other words, you can’t outrun your mouth. Just think about it Read more »

The Cutest Nutrition Video Ever: Introducing The Porter Family

As my regular readers already know, I’ve been eagerly coaching the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Triple Play Fit Family Challenge (FFC) participants on healthy eating. During a recent phone call with the families I expressed some wistfulness about not being able to *see* what they’ve been eating (the FFC blog is filled with charming action shots of the families exercising, but almost no food cameos). And this is what the Porter family just sent me. It’s a video inviting me to a dinner of grilled tilapia, brown rice, acorn squash, mushrooms and broccoli. Tell me if this isn’t the cutest nutrition video ever?

A Healthy, Affordable, Home-Cooked Meal In Under Nine Minutes?

In my recent phone chat with the Boys & Girls Clubs participants of the Fit Family Challenge, one of the callers confided in me that she works long hours and struggles to find time to cook healthy meals for her family. This is a very common problem, though there are tricks to make meal preparation fast and affordable. I decided to take the challenge myself, cooking a pork chop dinner for three, with only 9 ingredients in 9 minutes. I took a photo of the starting ingredients here. The total cost of the used portions (I’m not counting all the PAM, and apple sauce that I didn’t use for example) was about $9. That’s only $3 per person, less than most fast food meals! (I served ice water with the meal, but a glass of skim milk would have been fine too.)

My ingredients include:

1. Quick-fry pork chops, seared in a pan coated with PAM cooking spray. I chose pork chops with very little fat, and cooked them for 4 minutes on each side. Read more »

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