Confused about artificial sweeteners and after-dinner snacking? Dr. Michael Dansinger, the weight loss and nutrition adviser for the hit television series The Biggest Loser, answers your questions about serving sizes and diet plans.
Q: How much of each food group should you try to have while dieting?
A: The Biggest Loser Food Pyramid makes it easy to remember how much of each food group to eat daily: just think 4-3-2-1. That's at least four servings (cups) of vegetables and fruits, three servings of healthy protein (fish/shellfish/poultry breast/egg whites/lean red meat/soy/low-fat dairy), up to two servings (cups) of whole grains, and no more than one sweet treat (for example, diet pudding) per day.
Q: How many servings of protein are acceptable?
A: Three 8-ounce servings of protein is a good rule for everyone. This is much more protein than most people eat, however we want to eat more healthy protein to help keep hunger away and because our muscles and tissues need protein to maintain optimal health. In general, people aiming to lose weight need to focus much more on eating more healthy protein and much less starch. Since 8 ounces of dairy or egg contain fewer calories than meat, those choices are especially favorable for people aiming to maintain a lower weight.
Q: As a general rule, how much fat should be in your diet?
A: We recommend about 25 percent of calories come from fat. To accomplish this, aim to minimize unhealthy fat from meat and dairy. Chose the breast meat from poultry, and avoid red meat unless it is 95 percent lean or leaner. Dairy foods should be 1 percent fat or fat-free. Minimize butter and margarine. Use olive oil or canola oil for most cooking needs, and keep it to a minimum. Olives, nuts, seeds, and avocados have healthy fats, but limit these foods to 1/4 cup per day when weight loss is the goal. When eating eggs, try to eat mainly the whites, although a few yolks per week seems reasonable. Fish has the healthiest fat and is a great food for weight loss and good health.
Q: Is there anything you should cut out entirely?
A: Trans fats, which are an unhealthy artificial fat used at some restaurant chains and found in certain processed foods, should be eliminated whenever possible. These unnatural fats are clearly harmful and promote heart disease.
Q: Is it okay to have some sugar? If so, how much?
A: Sugar is okay when it is part of a natural food. The problem comes from sugar added to processed foods or when it is concentrated as in fruit juice. Eating two or more portions of fruit per day is a great way to satisfy that sweet tooth. In addition, almost everybody wants to find the right balance between eating some sweet treats and maintaining good health. Eating a low-calorie sweet treat no more than once daily seems reasonable for those who want something besides fruit.