Nutrition Tips

Tips to Keep Your Leftovers from Spoiling

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Managing lots of leftovers can be a struggle. Trying to finish everything before it goes bad can sometimes seem like a gustatory juggling act that inevitably falls back down to earth when that succulent steak you grilled to perfection over the weekend transforms into a slimy smelly piece of meat a few days later. And when holiday season rolls around with its mounds and mounds of delicious home-cooked food piled on the table, keeping on top of leftovers before they become compost material can get annoying and frustrating. Following a few simple food safety rules can make your extra food last longer and keep your grocery bill down.

I style myself as a bit of a food safety expert since I work from home and normally make up a batch of protein on the weekend — slow cooker pork, roast chicken — and then keep it to mix into meals for the rest of the week along with some carbs — wild rice, sweet potatoes — and a few sides of veggies like steamed broccoli and chopped greens. But what’s essential to keeping on top of all of this food is, one, make sure you are eating it consistently, and then knowing how to store it, and when it’s time to throw it into the compost bin or trash.

Why Does Food Go Bad?

When food spoils, it’s usually because bacteria — like Staphylococcus, Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter — starts feasting on it after it cools down to temperatures that can support bug life. If the food is not sealed and put away in either in the fridge or freezer, the bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels or create toxins that can cause illness when ingested.

Exposure to oxygen — which helps microorganisms grow, encourages enzymes in the food to react faster, and make fats, or lipids, in the food smell and taste funny, like oil going rancid — is another factor effecting food’s longevity. Water and light are also culprits in spoiling food — water by giving microorganisms like mold and bacteria the moisture they need to rapidly colonize the food, and light by degrading the structure of the food by breaking down nutrients and pigments.

Controlling temperature is the final key to keeping your foods from spoiling as a cold enough environment will stop or slow the growth of bacteria — food should be kept out of the so-called “Danger Zone” of 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F, which is the range bacteria thrive in. Never leave food out for more than two hours during most of the year as the temperature will quickly adjust to whatever it feels like in the room — cut that back to one hour in the summer when temps can get above 90 degrees F.

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What Can I Do to Keep Food From Spoiling so Quickly?

If you can control these three factors — air, water, light, and temperature — you will be able to maximize your leftovers life, saving you money and time spent cooking new dishes to replace your rotten and smelly food. Food waste in the U.S. is a huge problem, with the Environmental Protection Agency estimating that we threw away over 38 million tons of food in 2014, with only five percent going to a composting program. Food spoilage takes up 21 percent of municipal solid waste and about one third of that is fruit and veggies, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

First off, to protect the food — and your family — invest in some good quality re-sealable containers like the Glasslock products, which latch tight, are easy to reopen, have glass bottoms that won’t hold odors or stains, and is safe for the oven, freezer, or microwave. Beachbody’s Portion-Control Containers are another way to store your food while keeping tabs on your food portions. These high quality plastic containers are BPA and DEHP-free, dishwasher and microwave safe. Another tip is to write on the lid of the container with a dry erase marker to record the date and time you put the food into the fridge or freezer.

Next, make sure your refrigerator and freezer are operating at the right temperature — the fridge should be at or below 40 degrees F and 0 degrees F for the freezer. Buy a special thermometer designed for either appliance, put it inside and check frequently so you know for sure that your food is well out of the danger zone. And remember that just because your food is in a properly cold fridge, it won’t keep it from eventually spoiling, that’s the job of the freezer. Don’t pack your fridge tight — food needs the cold air to circulate around it to keep it cool — and make sure you clean it out regularly to prevent old, rotten food from spreading bacteria.

What is the Shelf Life of Foods?

When safely put away in the freezer or fridge at the right temps, foods will last longer, but there are varying ranges of time that affect every food’s ability to last. Here’s a handy chart pulled from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that can help give you a general idea of how long common foods will last.

What are Some Holiday Leftover Strategies?

The holidays can offer extra challenges for the frugal leftover lover as the sheer amount of food you bring home (or cook at your house) can overwhelm even the most dedicated fridge denizen. Here are some quick tips to keep you safe and satiated this holiday season.

• Try to eat up most of leftover food in your fridge the week before the big day so you have extra room to pack in all of those delicious dishes you couldn’t quite devour.

• If going to someone else’s house for your meal, bring along a cooler with cold packs so your food will survive the trip home without warming up enough to make it into the danger zone.

• Take out any stuffing from your turkey once the meal is finished. Refrigerate both the turkey meat and the stuffing separately, and make sure to put all food leftover in the fridge within 2 hours.

• Again, a good general rule is to keep food in the fridge for only 3 to 4 days, or put the bulk of it in the freezer so you can thaw it out and enjoy it later. Investing in a vacuum sealer can help dramatically extend the life of your holiday delicacies.

Cooking for One? Try These 7 Money and Time-Saving Tips

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Let’s be frank: Cooking for one can be challenging.

And it’s not just single folks who face this issue. If you’re trying to eat healthy and the family wants to stick with their old standbys, you’ve probably tried to figure out how to eat healthy, feed your family, and stay on budget.

Here are some tips and tricks that will make going it alone on your healthy journey a bit easier.

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7 Tips for Grocery Shopping When Cooking for One

Hit the store twice a week
Kudos to you for doing Sunday meal prep. But if your life is such that once the week gets started, plans change, things come up after work, and most of those meals go to waste, considering going to the grocery twice or three times a week instead of doing one big trip.

By hitting up the market more often, you can more readily consider what you have left on hand that still needs to be used like that leftover takeout chicken and the asparagus that you bought on the last trip.

Save on salads
Instead of buying greens and salad toppings individually, it is often cheaper to purchase small portions of pre-made salads at the salad bar, points out Lisa Lee Freeman, savings expert for the coupon app Flipp. Be smart about it though: Since you pay by the pound at the salad bar, skip heavy-but-cheap toppings, like cucumbers. Buy those separately and add when you prep.

Buy dry goods in bulk
“The secret to shopping smart is know how long things last, and figuring out what you can and cannot buy in bulk,” says Freeman. You can freeze extra portions of chicken or turkey and store nonperishable food—like dry beans or grain—in your pantry.

Opt frozen over fresh…
Good news: Frozen fruits and vegetables are close to just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, according to a study in American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. They’re a great choice if you’re cooking for one since they don’t spoil as quickly as fresh produce and who doesn’t love frozen berries in their smoothie?

 And freeze everything
Use your freezer for everything that may spoil, from bread and meat to leftovers. Doing so will make sure you always make sure to have a few single-serve frozen meals on hand for when you need a meal in a pinch. Chilis and soups are some meals that freeze well, but so are healthy chicken enchiladas and egg cups!

Reach for canned fish
While canned fruits and veggies aren’t as nutritious (put down that can of peaches in syrup), canned fish is OK. “Buying fresh fish is always ideal, but canned light tuna and canned wild salmon are great options when buying fresh isn’t possible,” says Chelsea Fuchs, New York-based R.D. Canned tuna and salmon are great sandwich and salad toppings. “Look for light canned tuna packed in water… and when it comes to salmon, look for the wild variety because it is a terrific source of omega-3 fats and vitamin D.”

Look at your bigger picture shopping list
“Most foods go on sale in cycles of about three to four months, as well as during seasonal changes and holidays,” says Freeman. “Instead of buying the same stuff on your shopping list week after week, figure out what you can buy every few months and store. Then go for it when it’s on sale.”

Nutritional Benefits of Pineapple

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Is there any fruit that’s more “summer” than than pineapple? Ok, ok, strawberries do give them pretty good competition. But, no matter what your favorite summer fruit is, it’s hard to to deny that whether you’re eating pineapples straight, grilling them up, or throwing them into a salad (or a smoothie!), the golden, tropical fruits scream summer. They’re good for you, too. Raw pineapple chunks provide manganese, vitamin C, fiber, magnesium, and copper.

Pineapples are delicious, sweet, pinecone-shaped plants grown most often in tropical countries like Thailand, Brazil, the Philippines, and Mexico. In the U.S., they only grown in one state: Hawaii. And, despite their name, pineapples are not related to apples at all. They actually look more like agave or yucca.

When are pineapples in season?

You’ll find pineapples year-round in most grocery stores, but their peak season runs from late spring to early fall. Unless you live in Hawaii or one of the countries mentioned above, it’s unlikely that you’ll find any at your local farmers market.

How do I choose a good pineapple?

A pineapple’s crown — the green leaves — should be bright green in color and the pineapple should be heavy for its size. A fully ripened pineapple offers a sweet fragrance and will be fairly firm to the touch. Avoid pineapples with bruises, soft spots, and dry leaves.

How do I store pineapples?

Pineapples can be kept at room temperature for up to five days, but they should be kept out of direct sunlight and away from heat. Store cut pineapple in a tightly-covered container in the refrigerator, and it should stay fresh for about a week.

How do you cut a pineapple?

You could buy pre-cut pineapple in cans or fresh at the store, but cutting your own pineapple isn’t hard. In fact, we bet you could do have the whole pineapple prepped in less than 2 minutes.

Getting past the spiky exterior is the first step, and that can be tricky. First, chop off the crown and the base of the pineapple. Then, go around the edges and slice off the exterior. Cut the pineapple into quarters and then slice down the middle of each quartered section to remove the core. From there, slice the pineapple lengthwise and then turn and slice into chunks. If you’re doing the 21 Day Fix or any other program that uses the Portion Control Containers, pineapple can be found on purple Potion Fix Container list.

 

What are some healthy pineapple recipes?

While Pineapple is a seriously sweet snack that’s easy to enjoy on its own, you can also add it to a homemade salsa for a sweeter flavor, or use it as a topping for fish, poultry, or lean cuts of beef. Here are some recipes to try:

  • Healthy Sweet and Sour Pork
  • Pineapple Shakeology
  • Crunchy Spicy Shredded Pork Tacos with Pineapple Salsa
  • Vanilla Shakeology Macadamia Nut Pineapple Balls

Pineapple Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 1 cup, chunks or 1 purple Portion Control Container

Calories: 83
Total Fat: 0 g
Saturated Fat: 0 g
Monounsaturated Fat: 0 g
Polyunsaturated Fat: 0 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 2 mg
Total Carbohydrates: 22 g
Dietary Fiber: 2 g
Sugars: 16 g
Protein: 1 g
Vitamin C: 131% DV
Manganese: 76% DV
Folate: 7% DV
Magnesium: 5% DV
Copper: 9% DV

What Food Experts Order When They Eat Out

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If you think love is a battlefield, try finding something healthy and delicious on a restaurant menu. Most menus are full of caloric land mines determined to whet your appetite and derail your diet. The struggle is real, but it’s not impossible.

That’s why we called on top nutrition experts to recommend the healthiest options they’d eat themselves at some of the nation’s most popular restaurants. These healthy eating experts also share practical tips for choosing better-for-you and clean-eating dishes at any restaurant.

What to Order at Restaurants — and What to Watch Out For

To start, Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and author of The Food Is My Friend Diet, reminds dieting diners to look on the bright side: “All foods can fit, meaning that it’s more about balance, variety, and moderation,” she says.

If you want to know the calories and macronutrients in your food, Frechman suggests sticking with names you know. Chain restaurants are required by law to provide calorie counts and other nutritional information, so you can make informed decisions about what to order.

No matter where you go, you’ll want to know which menu items to avoid — and which are code for healthier fare. Fried foods, creamy sauces, and liquid calories (sorry, alcohol calories count) are always going to be heavier, while healthier items will be those labeled “steamed,” “grilled,” or “roasted.”

Armed with this info, you’re ready for your next dinner date. Here, the experts share their top choices at your favorite chain restaurants. (*nutritional information is provided when available.)

[For reference, the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day and less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fat.]

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What to Order at Panera

Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., recommends the Greek Salad (400 calories, 36 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 13 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 1,010 mg sodium) with added chicken for a punch of protein.

“They made the switch to antibiotic-free chicken back in 2004, and — seriously — I can’t think of another restaurant that has a better chicken breast on their menu,” says Shaw, who blogs at Shaw’s Simple Swaps. “By adding this to your salad, you will feel more satiated than just having the salad solo.”

What does Panera’s nutritionist eat at Panera? Katie Bengston, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., is Panera’s Nutrition Manager says her go-to breakfast is the fiber-packed Steel Cut Oatmeal with Strawberries and Pecans (340 calories, 14 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 51 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 160 mg sodium).

Pro tip: Bengston shares how to hack the Panera menu to suit your dietary preferences: “If you want to modify an order or create something not on the menu, just ask, or customize using our in-store kiosks, app, or when ordering online.” The online Eat Well, Your Way menus show which items are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-conscious, sodium-conscious, and protein rich.

What to Order at Chipotle

Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., R.D., has a go-to meal every time she travels: It’s a salad from Chipotle — hold the dressing — made with romaine, fajita veggies, black beans, mild salsa, and guacamole (415 calories, 23.5 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 38 g carbohydrates, 12 g protein, 1,285 mg sodium).

Sass likes that it’s “loaded with veggies, provides a healthy balance of carbs, protein, and fat, and is fiber-packed.” Sass, the author of Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches With Pulses — The New Superfood, loves that it also provides a serving of pulses, which have been shown to boost fullness and delay the return of hunger, she says.

Pro tip: Check out Chipotle’s nutrition calculator, which allows you to see how slight changes to your order can affect your meal. For example, ditching the dressing on a salad can save you 270 calories.

What to Order at Starbucks

Once a coffee-centric spot, Starbucks is now solidly in the food game. Since there’s one on almost every block, it’s a convenient place to grab a bite.

Jenna Braddock, R.D., of Make Healthy Easy, reaches for either the Protein Bistro Box: a hard-boiled egg, apple slices, grapes, white cheddar cheese, and multigrain bread with peanut butter (460 calories, 24 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 40 g carbohydrates, 23 g protein, 530 mg sodium). Or the BBQ Chicken Bistro Box, which comes with a Power Slaw, made with broccoli, kohlrabi, carrots, beets, brussels sprouts, kale, and radicchio in a yogurt-lime dressing, plus apple slices and carrots. (420 calories, 16 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 49 g carbohydrates, 22 g protein, 930 mg sodium).

Braddock, a sports nutritionist, likes how these options offer a balanced meal, anchored in lean protein with a side of fruit and vegetables. However, “while there is no problem with having a delicious pastry and large mocha every once in a while, I would not qualify this as the best breakfast option to power you through your day,” she adds.

What to Order at The Cheesecake Factory

“Oh, Cheesecake Factory,” sighs Abby Langer, R.D., owner of Abby Langer Nutrition in Toronto, Canada. “It’s notorious for having extremely caloric offerings.” Fortunately, she’s found a few options on the chain’s lower-calorie “SkinnyLicious” menu that features dishes with 590 calories or less (unfortunately, they don’t share info about macros).

From this menu, Langer recommends the Shrimp Summer Rolls — but get them without the vermicelli inside — plus a grilled artichoke. She also recommends the Beets with Goat Cheese (easy on the cheese) with added chicken or the Chicken Lettuce Wrap Tacos. But she warns against the salads from the regular menu. Most of the meal-size salads are “chock-full of calories.” The Seared Tuna Tataki Salad is probably your best bet, but get the dressing on the side.

Pro tip: Her final note of wisdom? “Stay away from the cheesecake unless you split it with four people.”

What to Order at McDonald’s

If you can resist the fries, there are some healthy options at McDonald’s. Vandana Sheth, R.D.N., C.D.E., owner of VandanaSheth.com, opts for the Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad (350 calories, 12 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 27 g carbohydrates, 37 g protein, 1,070 mg sodium) with a medium McCafé Latte made with nonfat milk (120 calories, 0 g fat, 18 g carbohydrates, 12 g protein, 135 mg sodium).

Sheth likes this meal because it’s colorful, flavorful, and satisfying. “It would help me meet my target of enjoying a lot of veggies, while still meeting my carb and protein needs,” she says. “I would not use all the dressing provided with the salad and could therefore cut back on the overall calorie and fat,” Sheth adds.

What to Order at P.F. Chang’s

Ginger Hultin, M.S., R.D.N., says there are lots of good options at P.F. Chang’s. While portions are large, Hultin gets around that by taking home leftovers for another day or ordering off the kids menu.

“I’ll stop by P.F. Chang’s if I’m out running errands or at a mall because it does have healthy dishes — if you know what to order,” she says. Hultin, a vegetarian, likes to start with the edamame with kosher salt (400 calories, 17 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 25 g carbohydrates, 37 g protein, 1,960 mg sodium). “This is a perfect appetizer to share with friends,” says the Seattle-based dietitian who blogs at ChampagneNutrition.com. Note: It’s high in sodium, so ask for the salt on the side.

If you want to move to soup next, be careful, says Hultin. “The difference in calories between a cup and a bowl is huge — four to seven times more calories depending on the soup. Always choose the cup.” A cup of the egg drop soup has 40 calories, 1.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 6 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 450 mg sodium.

Hultin’s go-to main dish is the steamed Buddha’s Feast (250 calories, 4 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 32 g carbohydrates, 26 g protein, 300 mg sodium) with a side of brown rice (190 calories: 0 g fat, 40 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 0 mg sodium).

Pro tip: When it comes to dessert, she recommends skipping it altogether here, as desserts range as high as 1,500 calories (practically a whole day’s worth of calories) and 36 grams of saturated fat (180 percent of the daily value).

What to Order at Applebee’s

Sharon Palmer, R.D.N., who blogs at SharonPalmer.com, says Applebee’s is a welcome sight on the road when most of what’s around are “greasy diners and fast-food drive-thrus, with few vegetables on the menu.”

Palmer recommends ordering from the Lighter Fare menu:

  • Thai Shrimp Salad without shrimp: Edamame, almonds, and a flavorful sauce. Even with shrimp, it is listed at 370 calories, 18 g fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 31 g carbohydrates, 23 g protein, and 1,670 mg sodium.
  • Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad: Corn, black beans, and greens (though she orders sans chicken, the lunch portion is 530 calories, 33 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 33 g carbohydrates, 27 g protein, 1,810 mg sodium with chicken).
  • Fire-Grilled Veggies side dish (160 calories, 13 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 11 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 570 mg sodium) if you want an extra serving of vegetables. “The thing I like best about these options is that you can get some fresh greens and crisp vegetables into your meal,” she says.

What to Order at IHOP

At IHOP, LeeAnn Weintraub, M.P.H., R.D., steers clear of the signature pancake dishes. Instead, the Los Angeles-based dietitian recommends opting for the Egg White Vegetable Omelette with fruit. “You can even add avocado to this meal and keep it under 500 calories,” she says. Plus, with 30 grams of protein, 30 grams of carbs, and 11 grams of fiber (plus 460 calories, 27 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, and 795 mg sodium), it’s a balanced meal.

If you’re not in the mood for breakfast, Weintraub says to avoid the high-calorie salads — with dressing, they all have over 1,000 calories. Instead, try these options:

  • Grilled chicken sandwich (690 calories, 37 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 43 g carbohydrates, 46 g protein, 1,900 mg sodium)
  • Minestrone soup (150 calories, 2.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 27 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 1,130 mg sodium), and house salad with reduced-fat Italian dressing (40 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 6 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 125 mg sodium).

Pro tip: Check out the 55+ menu, which offers smaller portion sizes at lower prices for senior citizens.

What to Order at Olive Garden

Olive Garden is famous for their endless breadsticks and salad, but it may be wise to opt for just their never-ending salads (dressing on the side).

“At Olive Garden, I recommend the pasta primavera in marinara sauce, as there’s typically a lot of veggies,” says Vicki Shanta Retelny, R.D.N., who blogs at SimpleCravingsRealFood.com. Try it with a half-order of grilled fish or chicken breast for a boost of lean protein. Grilled chicken with pasta has 630 calories, 16.5 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 74 g carbohydrates, 47 g protein, 960 mg sodium.

Her other picks are lighter pasta and seafood dishes in tomato-based sauces:

  • Chicken Piccata (350 calories, 21 g fat, 9 g saturated fat, 11 g carbohydrates, 33 g protein, 1,230 mg sodium)
  • Tilapia Piccata (420 calories, 22 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 11 g carbohydrates, 46 g protein, 1,210 mg sodium)
  • Linguine di Mare (570 calories, 16 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 64 g carbohydrates, 44 g protein, 1,450 mg sodium)

Garlic Mussels Marinara (510 calories, 25 g fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, 41 g carbohydrates, 30 g protein, 1,360 mg sodium), which are lighter pasta and seafood dishes in tomato-based sauces. Retelny’s off-menu tips: Order extra steamed veggies to add to your pasta or a side salad to get a healthy dose of veggies with your meal, and ask for cheese on the side so that you can sprinkle it on yourself.

Pro tip: Olive Garden offers a create-your-own pasta bowl, which means you can build a sensible dish with veggies, healthy seafood, and lighter tomato-based sauces.

What to Order at Outback Steakhouse

Outback Steakhouse offers an Under 600 Calorie menu, a Kids Live Well menu, and a nutrition calculator that you can peruse online before dining.

The signature Joey Sirloin Medallions and Joey Grilled Chicken “on the Barbie” can be paired with steamed broccoli for a healthy balanced meal with reasonable portions (sirloin and broccoli has 280 calories, 11.5 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 13 g carbohydrates, 36 g protein, 255 mg sodium; chicken and broccoli has 230 calories, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 13 g carbohydrates, 37 g protein, 245 mg sodium).

Off the Under 600 Calorie menu, one of the best bets will be the Grilled Salmon with Seasonal Mixed Vegetables (550 calories, 35 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 20 g carbohydrates, 43 g protein, 610 mg sodium).

What to Order at Cracker Barrel

While Cracker Barrel isn’t overflowing with healthy options, you can cobble together a reasonable meal between chicken and seafood for the protein plus vegetable sides.

The catfish runs 120 calories (5 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 17 g protein, 1 g carbohydrates, 300 mg sodium). A side of green beans will run 60 calories (2.5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 1 g protein, 7 g carbohydrates, 310 mg sodium), while turnip greens are 100 calories (3.5 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 6 g carbohydrates, 10 g protein, 370 mg sodium).

The chicken dishes tend to be higher in sodium, but the best of the bunch are:

Chicken Tenders (170 calories, 4.5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 27 g protein, 5 g carbohydrates, 640 mg sodium), with the Chicken n’ Dumplins Country Dinner Plate trailing behind because of its sodium levels (270 calories, 6 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 29 g carbohydrates, 27 g protein, 1,520 mg sodium).

It is possible to eat relatively healthy when you eat out, but there’s no substitution for cooking at home, where you control what ingredients (and how much) are going into your meals.

But with some common-sense strategies — choosing dishes with healthier preparations (grilled, steamed, baked), watching portion sizes, and ordering meals with sauces and dressings on the side (or without ) — you can still enjoy the occasional meal out without abandoning your healthy eating plan completely.

Is Excess Protein Making You Gain Weight?

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A new study says so. But, here’s why you shouldn’t base your diet on certain headlines.

It used to be that fat made you fat. Then the culprit was carbs. Now, a team of researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia suggests that obesity could be caused by protein — specifically, meat.

For the study, titled, “Meat consumption providing a surplus energy in modern diet contributes to obesity prevalence: an ecological analysis,” anthropologists compared rates of meat availability with rates of obesity among 170 countries to determine that meat intake is responsible for 13 percent of the development of obesity in the countries examined.

“Our findings are likely to be controversial because they suggest that meat contributes to obesity prevalence worldwide at the same extent as sugar,” Maciej Henneberg, Ph.D., head of the Biological Anthropology and Comparative Anatomy Research Unit at the University of Adelaide, said in a press release. (He did not respond to our request for an interview.)

The findings certainly are sparking, with others in the scientific community calling them everything from “ignorant” to “irresponsible.”
 

What the Study Actually Found

“This study never actually looked at meat consumption and, in that sense, even the title of the study is misleading,” explains D. Lee Hamilton, Ph.D., a health and exercise sciences expert at the University of Stirling in Scotland. “What the researchers assessed was the availability of meat in various countries and then they correlated this measure with the estimated rates of obesity in those countries. Not a single measure of consumption was made.

“However, they found a positive correlation suggesting that in countries where meat availability is high, so too is obesity. The assumption that if meat availability is high, then so too is consumption, is quite a big leap to make without actual assessments of meat intake,” says Hamilton.

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Meanwhile, it’s important to note that there is a big difference between correlation and causation. “Every country that becomes developed increases its rates of obesity as well as its rates of meat consumption. But that doesn’t mean that meat is the reason,” says Donald K. Layman, Ph.D., professor emeritus of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois, and one of the world’s foremost protein researchers.

The study’s assertion that a correlation between meat availability and obesity means that one causes the other is not that different than saying that greater access to schools or lower levels of unemployment are responsible for obesity. After all, those are both consequences of development, too.

“If you set the bar low enough in your statistics, you can see any correlation you want,” says Layman. “The study authors say that they controlled for other weight-related factors like caloric intake and physical activity, but you can’t factor out total calories from the equation and then say that calories from meat cause obesity.”

Why Protein May Be a Type of Food That Can Help You Lose Weight

So how do the study researchers explain their assertion that eating meat makes you fat?

“Whether we like it or not, fats and carbohydrates in modern diets are supplying enough energy to meet our daily needs,” Wenpeng You, a Ph.D. student and the study’s lead author, said in the university’s press release. “Because meat protein is digested later than fats and carbohydrates, this makes the energy we receive from protein a surplus, which is then converted and stored as fat in the human body.”

Riiiight. “This frankly is one of the most irresponsible pieces of nutrition advice I’ve ever read. It is an absolutely stupid and irresponsible statement,” Layman says. “If I had a freshman in a nutrition class who said that, I would fail them on the spot.”

While it’s true that protein is slow to digest, that’s a good thing; it helps stabilize blood sugar levels, reduce insulin spikes, aid in satiety, and encourage weight loss, not gain. It’s a type of food that can help you lose weight if eaten in the right portions.

A review of several studies published in the Journal of the American College of Nutritionrevealed that it may be beneficial to partially replace refined carbohydrate with protein sources that are low in saturated fat because there’s convincing evidence that high-protein meals lead to reduced consumption, and increase thermogenesis (process of burning calories to generate body heat) and satiety. The Beachbody Portion Fix Eating Plan is a higher-protein diet that includes lean animal protein, such as 93–95 percent lean ground beef or turkey, reduced-fat turkey bacon, and 2-percent cottage cheese, as well as plant-based sources of protein as part of a healthy diet — and particularly for those who want to lose weight.

“The notion that because protein takes time to be digested [and] is therefore more likely to be converted to fat is completely unfounded and indicates the author’s ignorance on protein metabolism,” Lee says. “If anything, protein in the diet is less likely to be converted to fat. It has a greater stimulatory effect on your metabolism than do carbohydrates, and it has to go through a more convoluted pathway to get converted to fat than do carbohydrates.”

That’s why, as Layman notes, meat consumption has been inversely related to obesity in the U.S. The consumption of red meat has been on the decline since the mid-’70s. What’s more, data from the Netherlands Cohort study, which assessed meat consumption in about 4,000 men and women over the course of 14 years, found that those who consumed the most beef had the lowest increases in age-related weight gain.

But… Excess Calories = Excess Weight

“Any time you over-consume calories relative to your need, you are going to gain weight,” Layman says. “Protein can be a part of that.”

Interestingly, though, protein may be a very small part of that weight or, rather, fat gain. “Overeating a diet high in protein is more likely to lead to gains in muscle mass as well as fat mass, while an equivalent diet low in protein leads to weight gain purely in the form of body fat,” Lee says.

Case in point: In a 2012 Pennington Biomedical Research Center study of people consuming high-calorie diets for eight weeks, those who got 25 percent of their calories from protein stored 45 percent of the excess calories as muscle, while those who got only 5 percent of their calories from protein stored 95 percent of the excess calories as fat.

Still, over-consuming protein to begin with is probably harder than you might think — largely because protein is so slow to digest and satiating, Layman says.

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After all, while current guidelines recommend that people consume between 10 and 35 percent of their daily calories from protein, research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that most Americans get between 13 and 16 percent of their calories from protein. Plus, even the top five percent of people who eat the most protein barely approach the 35-percent mark.

Meanwhile, although other national recommendations advise people to consume between 0.8 grams per kilogram of body mass per day, Lee notes that recent research consistently shows that double that (and therefore eating much closer to that 35-percent protein total) results in healthier muscle mass and more favorable body composition changes. A 2015 Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism review similarly suggests that consuming around 25–35 grams of protein during each meal promotes muscle health and plays a role in maintaining lean body mass with increasing age. A single 3.5-ounce skinless chicken breast will get you there — and help you hit your weight-loss goals.

Chomp On This: 5 Reasons To Chew Your Food More

Chomp On This: 5 Reasons To Chew Your Food More

In a busy world where we tend to feel short on time, we’re always on the lookout for shortcuts. We aim for amped-up workouts and fast food — whether that means a drive-through or something quick-and-easy to prep at home. While being superefficient can reap big rewards in some areas of life, when it comes to rushed eating, the consequences may not be so great.

10 Reasons Why You Feel Like You’re Always Hungry

10 Reasons Why You Feel Like You’re Always Hungry

We’ve all had those days where we can’t stop raiding the fridge. Case in point: I just ate about an hour ago, but there’s a slice of leftover pizza calling my name. I know my body doesn’t need food right now — it’s not like I’m torching calories while I’m typing this — so why am I so hungry?

What to Order at Happy Hour​​ to Stick to Your Health Goals

What to Order at Happy Hour​​ to Stick to Your Health Goals

You know the drill: A friend invites you out for some after-work drinks at your local trendy gastropub and you happily oblige, hoping to erase memories of the hectic day you just had wringing out TPS report after TPS report at a blistering pace.

How to Choose a Healthier Beer

How to Choose a Healthier Beer

If you’ve started working out again, are already fit, or are trying to lose weight, then you’re probably aware that alcohol can really screw up your progress.

I learned the hard way when my years of loving hoppy, high-alcohol beers led to a stint where I brewed my own heavier beers which led to a few glorious years working at All About Beer magazine, which, shocker, led to me brewing up a big, fat belly.

Cooking for One? Try These 7 Money and Time-Saving Tips

Cooking for One? Try These 7 Money and Time-Saving Tips

Let’s be frank: Cooking for one can be challenging.

And it’s not just single folks who face this issue. If you’re trying to eat healthy and the family wants to stick with their old standbys, you’ve probably tried to figure out how to eat healthy, feed your family, and stay on budget.

Here are some tips and tricks that will make going it alone on your healthy journey a bit easier.

Do You Know Your Ramen From Your Udon?

Do You Know Your Ramen From Your Udon?

If you can’t tell ramen from udon, you’re in luck: I’ve done all the noodle sleuthing for you. I raided the ethnic food aisles of grocery stores on both coasts, taste-tested nearly 20 types of Asian noodles, dug deep into my own childhood memories, and talked to chefs who know what’s what. Here’s what you need to know about seven common Asian noodles.

How to Make Spiced Seeds

How to Make Spiced Seeds

Seeds are basically the forgotten-yet-super-awesome stepchildren of the food world. Not only are they filling, nutritional powerhouses packed with healthy fats, fiber, protein, minerals, and vitamins, but they’re also a great way for people with nut allergies to get all those benefits. And, most important of all, they taste amazing.

A Guide to Cooking Terms for the Domestically Challenged

A Guide to Cooking Terms for the Domestically Challenged

For those of us without a culinary degree, recipe instructions might as well be written in Dothraki — nothing brings your visions of meal-planning mastery screeching to a halt like trying to figure out what “chiffonade” means.

But even if you’re a kitchen rookie, there’s no reason to resign yourself to ordering calorie-laden takeout meals every night. With a little practice, you can become a capable cook.