Monthly Archives: May 2013

Time For IceCream in Your Diet!

Eating ice cream — or its close cousins gelato, frozen yogurt, sorbet or soft serve — is a seasonal treat (like buying the first bunch of daffodils or tulips), and as such should not be denied just because one is on a diet. And unless the dieter is following a program that forbids eating any sweet, creamy food that is cold on the tongue, it should be possible to fold the calories from one of these frozen delights into the day's calorie count without inhibiting weight loss. The key seems to be sticking to a half-cup serving size and avoiding the tempting but truly fattening sundaes and added high-fat ingredients.

Should you choose gelato over ice cream? Frozen yogurt, be it Greek or not, over ice cream? Perhaps soft serve versus hard ice cream? It turns out that the calorie count for all of these products hovers around 200 for a half-cup. Unless you are eating a fat-free, sugar-free item that is mostly air and filler, the difference is really in taste and texture.

Gelato is the Italian version of ice cream. It is sweet and creamy, and if you find a gelato store, you will be dazzled by the array of colors and flavors. Gelato has somewhat fewer calories than ice cream; an average half-cup serving has 150 calories versus 200 from regular ice cream because it contains less butterfat. However, it actually tastes creamier. The reason is that much less air is beaten into the mixture, giving it a denser mouth feel. In fact, it is so dense, it is impossible to eat quickly, thus extending the enjoyable experience of eating it.

What about frozen yogurt instead of ice cream? Or Greek frozen yogurt? Although it seems reasonable to assume that the frozen yogurts are less caloric, the caloric difference between them and ice cream may be unimportant. Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia Ice Cream (half-cup) is 240 calories, while the company's Raspberry Fudge Chunk Greek Frozen Yogurt (half-cup) is also 200 calories and its Fudge Brownie Frozen (non-Greek) Yogurt (half-cup) is 180 calories. If your frozen Greek yogurt scoop drips while you are eating it, the calories may end up the same.

Sorbet has fewer calories, around 150 per cup, and most flavors are fat-free. However, chocolate and coconut sorbet do contain some fat and are higher in calories. The calorie contents of soft-serve ice cream that comes out of a nozzle and can be whirled into a tower with a little comma on the top may vary much more. For example, soft-serve JP Licks has 150 calories for a half-cup, while Tasti D-Lite is considerably less, mainly because it contains very little fat but lots of gum and other thickening agents. But, if you add hot fudge topping and whipped cream to even light soft-serve ice cream, the calories bounce up to well over 300 a half-cup serving.

The problem with all these calculations is the serving size. The calorie counts depend on the size of the scoop, and also on whether a cone or cup is dipped in a fudge coating and/or cookies, nuts and candy are added into the mixture.

It is hard to imagine how the six-inch-high ice cream lapped up by the man in the suit could fit into a half-cup serving. A half a cup is not a very large measure. Indeed, even so-called kiddie cones seem to come in larger sizes than a half-cup. A few years ago, Good Housekeeping surveyed serving sizes of ice cream around New York City and found no consistency in the amount scooped. Maybe it depends on how tired the wrist of the server is so that by the end of the day, less is put into the cone or cup than when the server comes to work.

Perhaps the most strategic approach to indulging in ice cream or other frozen delights while dieting, is to be cautious in what you choose. Kiddie-size cones or cups will approximate the half-cup serving size, and if you choose low-fat ice cream or frozen yogurt, you should be eating no more than 200 calories, more or less. Avoid waffle cones; they have 120 calories compared to 17 in a regular cone and 20 in a sugar cone. As yummy and tempting as they are, don't pick ice cream stuffed with chocolate, caramel, nuts, cookie dough and peanut butter — and no hot fudge sauce.

The pleasure of an ice cream in the summer should come from the combination of warm sun on your skin and cold ice cream on your tongue. And that should be enough.


Could Having a Valet Be Bad for Your Heart?

The answer was an overwhelming, “No!”

I thought of this while scanning a summary of a major study looking at the impact of running and walking on various measures of health such as blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease. The study, recently released online in the journal of Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, reported the same health benefits for walkers and runners if they expended the same amount of energy while exercising. [1] This study, which lasted six years, enrolled 33,060 runners and 15,045 walkers who were dedicated to exercising. Records were kept of the amount of metabolic energy (“MET”) expended by the volunteers when they were running or briskly walking, and then comparatively analyzed.

The results of the study are good and bad news for those of us who wonder what type of exercise is best for our health. Runners and walkers whose exercise used up the same METs had the low risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular problems. That is the good news. But the sort of bad news is that runners expended more energy per unit mile they ran than walkers covering the same distance, and this translated into better health outcomes.

The reason for this discrepancy is that running is a less efficient way of moving, and so mile for mile, the runner burns up more energy than the walker. (Unless the walker is dragging a Great Dane or stubborn dachshund on a leash.) According to one of the authors, Paul Williams, a walker would have to cover 4.3 miles at a brisk pace to use the same amount of METs as a person running three miles.

What this study seems to say is that if your exercise of choice is walking, it has to be more than a stroll around the block if substantial health benefits are to be achieved. Indeed, the walk ought to be fast and long for the exercise to produce, over time, a substantial decrease in the risk of cardiovascular problems or diabetes.

But who is going to spend two or three hours a day walking? Obviously even the dedicated walkers in the study did not spend the extra time walking necessary to use up as much energy as the runners did in a shorter amount of time.

And what about those who would not even consider walking more than a block or two to their destination? Those, who like many residents of Los Angeles, for example, insist on having a valet drive their cars to the parking garage so they don't have to walk. Or people all over the country that pull up to the door of the restaurant, or the mall to avoid more steps than necessary? I see this even with well-meaning friends who always offer me a ride home after a lecture or meeting and are surprised when I refuse, saying that it is only a 10 or 15 minute walk.

The results of this major study are compelling as predictors of health risk. Yet how can they be translated into behavioral change? There has to be a cultural shift away from instant convenience, e.g., the valet, or saving a few minutes of time (the ride rather than the walk) or comfort. Rather than being annoyed at having to walk a few blocks because you couldn't park your car next to the door of the restaurant, be pleased at yet another opportunity to rack up a higher MET and consequently burn a few calories.

Moreover, if we are going to suggest dedicated walking as the exercise of choice for health benefits, then it has to have some pleasurable aspects to it. Otherwise it will be abandoned as a passing fancy. Here are some ways of making walking tolerable, and perhaps even enjoyable:

1. Map out your route using Google map or other GPS supported directions. Know how far you are going and when it is time to go further, use your GPS or map to plan another longer route. You are not a goldfish restricted to moving around in the equivalent of a glass bowl.

2. Consider buying walking sticks. They should come with rubber bottoms so they hit the pavement softly and give you support. The length has to be adjustable and the hand holds comfortable. Walking sticks, aka hiking poles, make your arms move as well as your legs, are useful for going up and down hills (this is why hikers use them), and for older walkers help with balance. Also, they make you look athletic.

3. Triumph over walking boredom by walking with a friend, chatting on the phone with people whom you otherwise do not have time to call during the work day, or listening to lectures or books on your iPod. (I listened to an excellent lecture course on the history of the Civil War while dragging the aforementioned dachshund on his daily rounds.)

4. Activate a pedometer on your phone, iPod or wrist device so you really know how many miles you have covered.

5. Remind yourself to keep up the pace… for a healthy heart you must walk briskly.

6. Take water and dress appropriately. A small knapsack is useful for holding layers that you take off as you get warm or put on if the weather should suddenly change.

Or simply enjoy. Turn off your phone and enjoy the fresh air.


[1] … 8.abstract