As a registered dietitian, I am fortunate to interact with many people trying to improve their health and fitness by improving their eating habits. I’m passionate about food and nutrition and love helping people develop new, healthier eating habits. It is so gratifying when someone is able to meet their nutritional goals! Weight loss is probably the number one reason that patients seek my help. If I had a nickel for every time someone is baffled as to why the scale isn’t budging but think their diet is top notch, I could buy myself a beach house in the Hamptons. Point is, I find people often confuse “healthy” with “low calorie.” This can be a major sabotager to peeps trying to drop some lbs!
I found this photo of a quinoa, apple and feta salad on the internet. By the way, this looks really yummy but not only that, it looks to be loaded with protein, vitamins/minerals and fiber. Perfect for someone watching their calories, right? Hmmm, I would say “yes” but not without some thought. Anyway, I’d like to dissect it and estimate it’s caloric content. I’ll base this on a 1 cup serving which, to be honest, is truly not that much. If you put this salad in a 1 cup measuring cup, most people would be surprised at the amount. Truth be told, a 1/2 cup to 1 cup tops, would be a reasonable serving size.
Walnuts – 1/4 cup, 131 calories (health benefits: high in vitamin E, folate, omega-3 fats, and antioxidants.)
Quinoa – 1/2 cup, 111 calories (health benefits: very high in protein, twice as much fiber as other grains, great source of iron and magnesium.)
Feta Cheese – 1 oz, 75 calories (protein source but high in sodium)
Garbanzo Beans (commonly known as Chick Peas) – 1/4 cup, 50 calories (health benefits: great source of fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium.
Raisins – 1 tbsp, 35 calories (potassium, iron, fiber)
Total calories – 402. Is that a lot? Let’s say your caloric needs are estimated to be 1600 calories a day (assuming you are trying to lose one pound a week). The above salad is meeting 1/4 of your needs for that day. That may or may not be ok but it is very important to be cognizant of portion sizes. One cup does not look like that much. If too much is eaten too quickly, it doesn’t feel like that much. If you are not measuring, it would be very easy to overeat this salad.
For those of you who may be counting Weight Watchers points, this takes a huge chunk out of your daily points. I had a recent patient whose point allowance was 30 total for the day. This salad packs a whopping 16 points – over half of your daily energy (calorie) needs!
FYI, this isn’t taking into account as to whether or not there is some type of oil-based dressing on it. I can’t tell from the picture. A simple balsamic vinaigrette can supply around 70 calories per tablespoon.
Grains like quinoa, farro, brown rice, barley are great additions to incorporate into your diet. Don’t get me wrong. Eat them because they are delicious and an excellent source of several nutrients and high in fiber. Use caution, though, and when possible, measure portions until you are able to eyeball amounts without overeating.
Nuts, seeds, and legumes are also nutritional powerhouses but can pack on the pounds when eaten in excess. While cooking, be very careful using oil. Olive oil is another “healthy” food but remember 1 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tbsp of butter both provide around 100 calories! So, yes, olive oil contains heart healthy fat but same number of calories.
So often a patient comes in disappointed that they are unable to lose weight. “I eat so healthy” they say. After they journal their food, we find that they are eating good-for-you foods, but just too much of them. Healthy doesn’t equal low calorie!
In wrapping things up, if you hear that something is a “superfood” (not that I think there is such a thing) or a food gets a lot of attention as being very “healthy,” always check the calorie and fat content! Hopefully, for those of you trying to drop a pound or two, this information will be helpful and lead you closer to your nutrition goals.
And always remember to keep in mind that…..