Diet-to-Go Blog
  1. The Secret to Skinny: Here's What You Need to Know

    Diet-to-Go chief editor John McGran recently sat down with the fun and very informed Nutrition Twins, Tammy Lakatos Shames and Elysse ("Lyssie") Lakatos, to discuss "the secret to skinny" and getting healthier for the holidays and beyond.

    DIET-TO-GO: Since your book, The Secret to Skinny (HCI), came out there has been a lot of talk about sodium in our food and drinks -- has the situation improved?

    NUTRITION TWINS: Yes, in many ways they have! People are starting to pay more attention to salt. Many consumers have now heard that at the beginning of 2011, the new Dietary Guidelines are going to be released and there is a big change regarding salt.

    The new guidelines will call for a marked reduction in the level of salt that we consume. Food manufacturers have been warned that this will happen and in anticipation of consumers becoming much more salt savvy, many brands have started to reduce the sodium in their products. Awareness is the first step. And every step is critical.

    So, in a sense, the situation is getting better.


    DTG: Most people know there's salt on our fries and in our soups, but what are some of the unexpected places that sodium lurks?

    NT: Most of know that sodium is especially high in packaged and prepared foods and canned foods. But here's a few that many people may not realize:

    Bread: The average bread has 180-200mg a slice. This is about the same as you'd find in a serving of potato chips.

    Tomato sauce: Many have more than 400mg of sodium in just a half-cup serving!

    A cup of cereal: The average cup of cereal has anywhere from 150-400mg.

    Stuffing: Two-thirds cup = 400mg sodium.

    Pancake mixes: Often one small pancake has more than 200mg of sodium.

    Cheese: One slice of American cheese = 315mg.

    Heart healthy vegetable juice: One cup can have 480mg of sodium!

    Kraft Fat-Free Ranch dressing 2 tbsp = 350mg sodium.

    Swanson's carved Turkey Classic Frozen meal: 1,100mg sodium.

    There are a few foods that are thought of as very healthy, and these you should always go for the low-sodium options so that they truly are very healthy. Examples: Low sodium bread, low-sodium cottage cheese, low-sodium deli meat.

    Cottage cheese is a shocker. One cup of a food that's thought to be a "diet" food has 800-900mg of sodium of the recommended 1,500mg daily.

    Bread, even whole wheat (1 slice has about 200 mg of sodium, more than a serving of potato chips).

    Tomato juice 600mg sodium in a cup.

    99% fat free smoked ham or deli meat (3 ounces have 1,000mg sodium.


    DTG: Why should I care about how much sodium I eat?

    NT: Salt wreaks havoc on the entire body. It raises blood pressure and increases the risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S.

    The more salt you consume, the greater the strain on the heart. The heart is the most important muscle. If it's not functioning properly, blood and nutrients can't get to the muscles, tissues, and organs efficiently.

    Over time, salt's strain on the heart damages the entire body, even if you don't have high blood pressure.

    Eat less salt and you lower your risk of stomach cancer, osteoporosis and kidney stones.

    Salt makes you fat. Salt makes our bodies bigger (not just from bloat, although it does that too!) as we hold more water to dilute the salt.

    Plus, salt makes us hungrier, thirstier and it increases cravings. And to make matters worse, salt makes our fat cells denser, which means it actually makes our fat cells store more fat.


    DTG: What traditional holiday foods are worst offenders -- and which ones are my best bets at the dinner table?

    NT: Worst Offenders are Mashed potatoes, turkeys pumped with sodium and high fat solutions, casseroles (loaded with cheeses and butter), candied sweet potatoes and stuffing.

    Best bets are fresh turkeys or turkey breasts that have not been "pumped up" with high-fat and sodium solutions.

    To hold in moisture, try wrapping fresh turkeys in cheesecloth or a cooking bag after rubbing with desired seasonings.

    If you prefer ham, buy 98% lean spiral hams and rinse before cooking to remove any added sodium. Although lower in fat, stick to a 3-ounce (size of a deck of cards) portion since it is still high in sodium and fill up on all the trimmings.

    Pick your turkey pieces right: Try to go for just the white or at least include a mix of dark and white meat (not just dark) to save on saturated fat. And go skinless!

    Alsos, use more vegetables as sides rather than casseroles. Casseroles often have a lot of added salt, or contain foods that are salted (not to mention they are high in fat and calories).

    Steam carrots or green beans or blend in a butternut or acorn squash.

    Always choose fresh vegetables over high calorie side dishes.

    De-fat your gravy: Use a fat separator or put the gravy in the fridge in advance to cut away some of the fat. This offers a huge fat savings without losing the gravy flavor.

    A few more pointers:

    Bring your host veggie crudite. It will fill you up with very few calories. Instead of using a creamy dip, save the calories and the bloating sodium by using a nonfat yogurt with dill for dipping or sprinkle with spices like oregano, rosemary or pepper

    Opt for a side of rice over the mashed potatoes. The potatoes are loaded with butter and salt and will puff you up immediately and for days to follow. Rice is sodium free.

    Swap candied sweet potatoes for a small sweet potato sprinkled with cinnamon. Save 300 calories.

    Swap mashed potatoes for a baked one with lemon. Save 300 calories and a quarter day's worth of bloating sodium.

    Swap that fruitcake for a piece of fruit. Save hundreds of calories.

    Steer clear of breading coating-it spells calories, sodium and bloat.

    Craving high-calorie pumpkin pie? Open a can of pumpkin and add a few packets of Splenda and cinnamon. A half cup will give you just 40 calories, 300% vitamin A and 5 grams of fiber. If you need a little crunch, spread that on a graham cracker-you'll never need the real pie again.

    Exercise to sweat out the bloating sodium.

    If you are going to have pie, you can cut the calories in half by choosing apple or pumpkin instead of pecan.


    DTG: What can I do to give my favorite foods flavor without using salt?

    NT: Herbs and spices! Aside from re-training your taste buds to enjoy and appreciate the flavor of the actual food (this will take about 21 days of reducing the salt in your food), herbs and spices and sodium-free seasonings like Mrs. Dash are the best way to add flavor without calories or sodium.

    Also try intensely-flavored, aged vinegars in place of salt in sauces, dressings, marinades, and "drizzles" for steamed and roasted meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables. Aged balsamic vinegar can be simmered over medium heat, and you can reduce it down to a syrupy consistency (and drizzle it over chicken, fish, and vegetables).

    Watch out for "seasoned" vinegars, they often have tons of sodium. Experiment and see which flavors you like best. Be adventurous, try new spices on different foods and try new flavor combinations. You'll be surprised to learn about your new favorite flavor combinations!


    DTG: In addition to sodium levels, what else should we lookout for on nutrition labels?

    NT: Always check labels for the serving size, calories, protein, saturated and trans fat and fiber. If you're looking at a snack food or breakfast cereal, take sugar into account too. If you're eating a something that you'd consider a "junk" food, set guidelines for yourself and set limits for yourself.

    For example, if your goal is to lower your cholesterol and lose weight, be sure to pay special attention and limit calories from "junk" to a maximum of 200 calories a day. You'll need to pay close attention to the serving size. Are those 200 calories referring to the small bag of chips or half the small bag of chips? Also try to avoid transfats and keep saturated fats low.


    DTG: I want to be healthier in 2011, so what's a good New Year's Resolution to make... one that I can stick with and one that will make a big difference in the way I feel?

    NT: Exercise! Even if it's just going for a walk each day, it will kick your body's feel good chemical, serotonin into high gear. When you feel good you will have an easier time following a healthy eating plan and being committed and motivated to meet your New Year's resolution.

    For a copy of The Secret to Skinny, click here.

    Tammy Lakatos Shames and Elysse ("Lyssie") Lakatos share more than identical features; they share identical success in the competitive field of nutrition and wellness. Lyssie and Tammy, known as The Nutrition Twins, strive to cultivate and enhance the lives of their clients through improved nutrition and lifestyle behavior modification. After relocating from Atlanta, Georgia in 1999, the twins have built a thriving private practice in New York City helping both individual and corporate clients. Tammy and Lyssie have become known for their unique approach to nutrition counseling, corporate lecturing, writing, making media appearances and consulting to multi-national food companies. For more information, go to

    Author: John McGran

    Archived posts 2010
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