#347 Spring Break!

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Spring is nature's way of saying, 'Let's party!'

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5 Ways to Avoid Spring Break Diet Disasters

By Gregg Rossen

Just as February has its own odd tradition (the societal stalking of a Pennsylvanian rodent to see if it can spot its shadow), March also has its own distinctive seasonal rite—spring break, when college students (and families, too) set out to have some fun in the sun and take a break from northern chills. Panama City, South Padre Island, Pensacola, Rosarito . . . These are just some of the legendary names in the pantheon of spring break destinations.

Map of Cancun and Kids on Spring Break

But hitting the road and taking part in this yearly tradition contains pitfalls that have little to do with sunburn and flat tires. Actually, instead of flat tire, think "spare tire," and you're on the right track, as spring break offers the uninitiated dieting pitfalls that can affect how summer is going to shape up—literally. With this in mind, whether you're a college senior headed to Cabo or a senior citizen headed to New Braunfels, here are five ways to avoid spring break diet disasters.

  1. Stick to your nutritional road map. Some spring breakers believe that nothing starts a road trip off better than a Big Gulp, a gas station hot dog, and a family-size bag of Cheetos. Others might believe that it isn't a vacation until the RV is pulled over to sample the roadside temptations that each highway exit has managed to brand as a "local specialty" (pecan logs, saltwater taffy, "homemade" fudge, etc.). But starting a trip with an eye on which high-calorie, high-fructose-corn-syrup, and high-fat items you can suck down is also a great way to get a head start on having your belly hang over your belt. Sure, we all know that what these food items lack in nutrition they make up for with calories, but never underestimate the power of the self-deluding mantra, "Hey, I'm on vacation."

    Ah, the sad conundrum. While relaxing is vitally important to the overworked, stressed-out rats-in-a-maze that many of us have become, sadly, our metabolisms don't know the difference between vacation mode and every other day of the year. So as tempting as it might be to throw caution to the wind, a little restraint is in order. Sensible dining options DO exist on the interstate, even when fast food is the only choice. Fruit plates and salads can be found in many fast food chains, and avoiding deep-fried mozzarella sticks, french fries, and onion rings always makes sense. It's all in what you order. Even if the mini-market at the gas station is your only dining choice, healthier options might exist. Check out "Best and Worst Gas Station Cuisine" in the Related Articles section below for some hints about sensible snacking—and what to avoid—while on the road.

  2. Pass on the Panama City pizza party. So you've reached your destination and you're ready for some fun. Just don't forget that spring breakers subsisting on a diet of pizza and beer are ingesting around 270 calories for each slice of cheese pizza and 150 calories per beer. To its credit, pizza does an adequate job of delivering calcium and some other nutrients, but overall, pizza makes for a relatively high-sodium, high-carb, and high-calorie meal—not something to be eaten daily for a week. Likewise, those of the noncollegiate set who are out for a little spring adventure might find all the adventure they can handle on their dinner plates instead, when they unknowingly order a 1,000-calorie entrée (think the Olive Garden's Chicken Marsala, which weighs in at 973 calories).

    SushiThe solution for all sets of travelers is to make the same sensible choices you might make at home. Salads (with dressings on the side) are a healthy alternative to fried appetizers. A meal with a low-fat protein (skinless chicken or fish) and low-glycemic-index carbs (like broccoli or other vegetables) can make a delicious substitute for, say, cream-based fettuccine Alfredo (which might sport 1,370 calories per serving as it does at Macaroni Grill). And light beer makes a great alternative to regular beer, with almost half the calories. Buying fresh food at a local grocery store as an alternative to fast food and restaurants might prove to be the best solution of all. Not only is it less expensive, but the sushi, salads, sandwiches, and fruit from nearby supermarkets give you the chance to see exactly what is going onto your plate, and into your body.

  3. Avoid drinks with little umbrellas. Okay, that's mean. The little umbrellas aren't responsible. They didn't do anything other than get brought into this world in some factory—and now they're being singled out for harassment! Well, no. The umbrellas are fine—you're not going to drink them (hopefully)! But the other elements that go into the sorts of drinks which usually have umbrellas in them, well, those bad boys often combine into cocktails with absolutely staggering calorie counts. For those who find a dram of something helps put them in the vacation spirit (never while driving any sort of vehicle, of course), these extra calories can mount up and quickly. An 8-ounce daiquiri will ring in at around 450 calories, while a margarita with 2 ounces of tequila, 2 ounces of margarita mix, 1 ounce of triple sec, sugar, and lime can come in at around 550 calories. These drinks are tremendously high in calories, not to mention that you could find yourself drinking more than one drink per sitting. In two drinks alone, an unwary reveler could approach half of his or her daily caloric needs.

    Don't worry, though. You can enjoy alcoholic beverages while you're on vacation, beverages that do not rack up such massive calorie counts. For starters, stay with simpler drinks which don't blend in cream, fruit, or large amounts of sugar. "What's wrong with fruit?" . . . Nothing is wrong with fruit. However, the fruit-flavored syrups used in many blended drinks have a large amount of high fructose corn syrup and calories. Drinks that already have a lower calorie count (like a gin and tonic, with around 150 calories) can have their calories reduced further by substituting club soda for tonic, which reduces the overall count by around 50 calories. Wine is an excellent alternative to these other drinks as well, and a wine spritzer (4 ounces of white wine and club soda) comes in at only 80 calories. Of course, one way to avoid any of these calories is to go dry, and if that's in your vacation planner, more power to you.

  4. Go to bed. Late nights, dancing, partying, hanging out—these seem like innocuous hallmarks of the spring break experience, right? Actually, these sorts of late nights could easily take a toll by making you pack on extra vacation pounds, as several recent studies have drawn interesting connections between the amount of sleep people get and obesity rates. According to studies conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), those who sleep 5 hours a night are 73 percent more likely to become obese than those who sleep 7 to 9 hours per night.

    SleepSome scientists point to how inadequate sleeps interferes with the production of hormones that play a role in communicating hunger and satiation. In studies, when test subjects were denied sleep, the hormone leptin (which conveys the message of being "full" to the brain) decreased while the hormone ghrelin (which conveys the message of hunger) increased. The end result is that partying into the wee hours and getting irregular sleep can result in a perfect storm, making you put on extra pounds. So when you're on vacation (or when you're at home, for that matter), get a good night's rest to fortify your body's hormonal metabolic rhythms.

  5. Dance, dance, dance. One of the best things about vacations is the way they get you out of your rut and into an environment where moving your body can take many forms, all of them healthy. Take dancing, for instance—a staple of spring break (or at least movies about spring break). Dancing on tables, dancing on the beach, dancing under the limbo pole—wherever you choose to dance, you'll be burning anywhere from 60 to 110 calories every 15 minutes. Oh yeah, it's also fun and an excellent way to relax. And you can even dance in your hotel room—just Push Play with Shaun T's Hip Hop Abs® or Rockin' Body®.

    If dancing's not your thing, there is no shortage of other vacation activities that offer ways to burn calories while relaxing. While scuba diving might be available in Boston, for example, most of us are far more likely to give it a try in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico—and, in the process, burn as many as 490 calories an hour. Gentler activities play their parts, too. Frisbee burns 210 calories an hour, the equivalent of two light beers, as do other quiet beachside pastimes like horseshoe tossing or shuffleboard. Few activities provide as much bang-for-the-calorie-burning-buck as swimming, as even leisurely swimming can burn well over 500 calories an hour. The point is to avoid parking yourself on a chaise lounge and flipping through Us Weekly while sipping on a 500-calorie daiquiri. It might feel good, but so will going into summer without carrying extra weight.

Related Articles
"Best and Worst Gas Station Cuisine"
"7 Tips to Prevent a Diet Catastrophe"
"5 Reasons to Sleep Your Way to Better Health"

Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this coming Monday, March 16th, at 7:00 PM ET, 4:00 PM PT, in the Beachbody Chatroom!

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Nutrition 911, Part V: 5 Quick Steps to Mastering Food Labels

By Steve Edwards

Welcome to part V of our oh-so basic nutrition class. So far, we've discussed marketing slogans and how they can affect your eating habits, and the basics of what we should eat. If we've made one conclusion, it's that we need to understand food labels to get out of the supermarket without a bunch of garbage masquerading as food. Since we probably won't scrutinize each item we toss into our shopping carts, let's take the CliffsNotes approach.

Today's lesson: How to judge a food in 15 seconds or less!

Shopping Cart, Nutrition Facts Label, and Woman Reading Nutrition Facts Label

You should learn how to read a label in depth because, sometimes, that's the only way to tell what you're really eating. Denis Faye wrote a great piece way back in issue #101, "Judging a Book by Its Cover: Learning to Read Food Labels" (refer to the Related Articles section below), explaining this process in detail. He dissects a label from top to bottom, something you should eventually do with each of the staple foods you buy.

When in a rush, however, you can still benefit greatly from a cursory glance at a label. I can't tell you how many times I've decided to "just make sure" an item was as healthy as it appeared, only to find out it had an appalling amount of something I had no interest in eating. Here is my quickie checklist. These five steps will barely take enough time to slow the movement of the product from the shelf to your cart and will more than make up for it by extending your life on the back end.

  1. Trans and saturated fats. In the U.S., all packaged foods come with a nutrition facts label. The first place my eyes go is to the fat content. I draw my personal line in the sand at trans fat. We don't need it, and there is always another food option without it. Trans fat is man-made fat that comes from dubious preparation processes. If an item has any, it goes back on the shelf. Next, I look at saturated fat. We don't need much of it, and if we eat meat or dairy products, then we have probably met our requirements without it needing to be in our other foods. Next to the number of grams, you'll see the percentage of your daily requirement that the food contains, eliminating the need for math. If that number is high, be wary. Of course, you must evaluate what you're buying. Olive oil, for example, is a fat, so it's going to have a high number. However, you don't use much. Potato chips, on the other hand, would have a lower number, but you might eat the entire bag, so you should consider that. But that's obvious stuff, right?

  2. SugarSugar. The grams of sugar are listed right below "carbohydrates," near the top of the label. Get instantly suspicious if this number is high. Sports foods are supposed to have sugar because you want to quickly replace blood glycogen lost during exercise. All other foods don't need it. If you're buying a dessert item, you'll expect a high ratio of sugar, but for anything else, you're probably getting a cheap product that's poorly produced. Remember that many "low-fat" foods have a lot of sugar—it's not technically fat. It just makes you fat.

  3. Sodium. Prepared foods are usually laden with sodium, and you'll find the amount in plain sight high on the label. Oftentimes, you can find an "organic, nonfat, low-carb," purely healthy sounding food item that has over 1,000 milligrams of sodium, which is around half of your "recommended daily allowance" (RDA). What you're generally looking for from these three "s" ingredients (saturated fat, sugar, and sodium) is a low number, and it only takes a few seconds to figure it out.

  4. Fat, protein, and carbs ratio. Here's your first math test, but it's a simple one. When choosing a food, you probably already know a few things about it. If it's butter, you'll expect all fat; candy will be high in sugar; and things that sit on a shelf may have a lot of sodium. For meals, however, you'll want to take a quick notation of the amount of fat, protein, and carbs. If you're on a strict diet, this ratio is very important, but if you're not, you just want some balance. A nice round number is 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat. You can then assume that your prepared "meals" would be better if they reflect a similar balance. Proteins and carbs have 4 calories per gram, and fats have 9. So you want the number of fat grams to be less than the other two. A quick method is to use a 1:2:3 ratio, with fat being 1, protein 2, and carbs 3. Let's visualize for a sec.

    Frozen Low-Fat Chicken BurritoPick up a pack of frozen low-fat chicken burritos, flip it over, and eye the nutrition facts:

    • Total Fat: 2 g
      • Saturated Fat: 0.5 g
      • Trans Fat: 0 g
    • Sodium: 500 mg
    • Total Carbohydrates: 20 g
      • Sugars: (Look under "Carbohydrates" and see nothing. This means there is no sugar.)
    • Protein: 12 g

    Now let's analyze. Since we're shopping for a meal that's low in fat, it's probably because we know that we get enough fat somewhere else in the day. Most of us have no problem getting fat in our diets, so this would be normal. A quick glance at the fat and sugar contents leads to a big thumbs up. Notice that I've skipped looking at calories. That's because it's calories per serving. We may not know what a serving is, and remember, we want to do as little math as possible. We can just assume we'll eat in servings, so that's what we're analyzing. You will want to check what a serving is later, but for now, we're trying to buy healthy foods and not determine how much of them to eat. Next is sodium, which we expect to be a bit high because it's a prepackaged food. As one of five meals in a day, 500 milligrams is 20 percent of the RDA (they do the math for you), which is fine. Finally, the burrito doesn't follow the 1:2:3 scale, but we were already expecting this to be off because it's "low fat." The protein-to-carbs ratio of 12 to 20 seems pretty close to 2 to 3, so check it off. How close is "close"? There is no rule, but if the numbers were, say, 10 and 60, we might look for something else, unless this was to be served with a pure protein dish. Total time investment, so far: about 10 seconds.

  5. Nutrition Facts LabelLength of ingredients list. Now just take a quick glance at where it says Ingredients. If it's under about 10 items, I won't even look at it. If it's so long that I don't want to spend the time reading it, I put the item back because I know this will mean a long list of things I can't pronounce, and I don't want to eat things I can't say. If it's somewhere in the middle, I may take a closer look and exceed my 15 seconds, but, in general, I keep this act simple. There are a few "evil offender" ingredients that people tend to look for, but we've covered them. By checking off the trans fat, sugar, and sodium listed above, we're assured there won't be any MSG, high fructose corn syrup, or hydrogenated oils in this section.

By adding a mere 15 seconds per item, you may not have the perfect diet, but you can certainly make sure it's not terrible. This is not an exact science, but your diet doesn't have to be either. Eat better and get more exercise. Beyond this, we're nitpicking. Sure, we're talking CliffsNotes fitness only. Unfortunately, that's often all we have time for. Fortunately, it's more than half the battle.

And speaking of time, that's it for today. Next time, we'll talk about your sweet tooth and how to deal with it, and take a look at how artificial sweeteners affect your diet.

Related Articles
"Judging a Book by Its Cover: Learning to Read Food Labels"
"Nutrition 911, Part III: Deciphering Marketing Jargon"
"Nutrition 911, Part II: What to Eat"
"Nutrition 911"

Got something to say? Chat with the writers and other readers this coming Monday, March 16th, at 7:00 PM ET, 4:00 PM PT, in the Beachbody Chatroom!

Steve EdwardsIf you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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Test Your Baseball Foods IQ!

By Daniel V. Donatelli

Spring training for baseball season has arrived! Pitchers and catchers are reporting for duty, a senate subcommittee is attempting to indict a box of steroids, and hot dog vendors are re-shouldering those metal cages of delicious wonder, dusting off and reheating the hot dogs from last October, and getting ready to help us all celebrate America's national pastime of eating copiously while watching other people work. How much do you know about these favorite ballpark staples?

True or False?

  1. Hot DogsFalse: Babe Ruth hated hot dogs. Of course it's false! In fact, it's been rumored that Babe Ruth once consumed 12 hot dogs and 8 bottles of soda between games in a doubleheader . . . and was rushed to the hospital afterward with a Hall-of-Fame case of indigestion.

  2. False: Introduced in 1918, the sailor and dog on the Cracker Jack box are named "Jack Dardanelles" and "War Bond," respectively. Those names are just silly. The handsome lad's name is Sailor Jack, and his best friend's name is Bingo. Now buy me some!

  3. True: The peanut plant originated in South America. South America is the original home of many of North Americans' favorite vices: peanuts, chocolate, chocolate-covered peanuts, and stunningly beautiful, exotic women.

  4. True: Beer companies spend close to $1 billion per year on advertising in the U.S. They spend a billion dollars per year advertising something that makes everything more interesting, makes ugly people appear attractive, and anesthetizes us against the blunt horrors of our lives . . . sounds like a waste of money to me! Stuff sells itself!

  5. NachosFalse: Nachos were invented by baseball legend Roberto Clemente. Nachos were invented by snacking legend Ignacio "Nacho" Anaya—a man celebrated by cardiologists around the world for helping pay down their student loan debts.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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