Monthly Archives: January 2016

Should You Cut Nightshade Veggies From Your Diet?

As a sports nutritionist who works with pro athletes, I fully expected to be bombarded with questions after Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen’s personal chef told all about the power couple’s strict diet. But instead, most of my clients had just one question: “Why don’t they eat nightshades?”

Even if you’re not familiar with the term “nightshades,” you’re probably very familiar the produce that falls into this category. Think tomatoes, peppers, eggplant—foods most of us would consider super healthy. So why are they a dietary no-no for Brady and Bündchen? Here’s the lowdown on the controversial veggies, and why you probably don’t need to nix them.

RELATED: 21 Worthless Foods a Nutritionist Will Immediately Cut From Your Diet

What are nightshades?

Nightshades include a diverse group of plants (more than 2,000 species!) that belong to a specific botanical family called Solanaceae. They include potatoes, artichokes, okra, cayenne, and paprika.

Why do they get a bad rap?

The plants have been a subject of debate among nutritionists for years because they contain chemical compounds called alkaloids that are thought to cause inflammation in the body. As a result, some practitioners believe eating the plants could potentially lead to joint pain, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, premature aging, and chronic diseases.

Nightshades continue to be controversial because there’s a lack of solid research about the true impact of alkaloid substances on joints and the nervous and immune systems. Plus, the amount of alkaloids in most nightshades is pretty small. And if you steam, boil, or bake them, the alkaloid content drops by about 40 to 50%. It’s also worth noting that veggies in this family are hardly unhealthy. Nightshades are loaded with important nutrients and antioxidants.

RELATED: 20 Healthy Foods That Can Make You Feel Gross

Could they be problematic for athletes?

Some people believe nightshades affect enzymes related to nervous system and muscle function, which may interfere with muscle recovery. But many athletes I’ve worked with who took a break from nightshades didn’t experience any difference in performance, muscle recovery, or pain levels.

Is it worth trying a nightshade-free diet?

As with any major diet decision, the answer really depends on your body. If you have a chronic inflammatory condition (like rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis), an autoimmune illness (such as lupus, celiac, MS, or psoriasis), or your body is just sensitive to nightshades, eliminating them may be right for you, but try it systematically. Without making any other changes to your diet, cut out nightshades for two to three weeks, and monitor how you feel. If you notice changes in your body (like reduced bloating, fatigue, brain fog, aches, or pains) which return after you reintroduce nightshades to your diet, you may have a sensitivity. In that case, consider partnering with a nutritionist. She or he can help you avoid problem foods without being overly restrictive or compromising your nutrient intake.

RELATED: Eating Healthy and Still Not Losing Weight? This Might Be Why

However, if you regularly eat nightshades and feel great, there’s really no reason to ditch these nutritious foods. I’m no stranger to food sensitivities, but I personally feel fantastic after eating meals that include raw or cooked tomatoes, oven-roasted eggplant, and cayenne. However, I don’t eat them every single day or in huge quantities. Maintaining a healthy, balanced, and varied diet is key.

In short: Rather than mimicking Tom and Gisele, tune into your own body. It will rarely steer you wrong.

What’s your take on this topic? Chat with us on Twitter by mentioning @goodhealth and @CynthiaSass.

Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously consulted for three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Sass is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her brand new book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.


Best Superfoods for Weight Loss

Superfoods build bones, prevent chronic diseases, improve your eyesight, and even keep your mind sharp. But did you know new evidence suggests these foods can also help you get—and stay—slim?


Why Eating at Restaurants Is Making You Fat

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 20, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Calorie-counters beware: A new study reports that more than nine in 10 U.S. restaurants are serving meals that exceed the recommended calorie limit for a single meal.

And that’s just the entree. Drinks, appetizers, and desserts weren’t included.

“We feel the results are extremely important because there is a general perception out there that fast food is the problem,” said study author Susan Roberts.

“What this study shows is that all restaurants are terrible when it comes to providing excessive portions that overfeed people. It’s not just fast food but virtually all of them,” said Roberts. She is director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.

What’s more, Roberts said, the awareness plate is literally stacked against the consumer. “Even if you have a Ph.D. in nutrition, as I do, it’s almost impossible to make an accurate guess of what is on your plate because there are so many hidden calories.”

The study was based on an analysis of 364 American, Chinese, Greek, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Thai, and Vietnamese meals offered at restaurants in Boston, San Francisco, and Little Rock, Ark., between 2011 and 2014.

Sampled establishments were both local and from large chains. But that made little difference. In fact, non-chain meals were found to be just as heavy on the belly as chain restaurant offerings. Which is to say, they averaged in the neighborhood of 1,200 calories a meal. That’s more than double the 570 calories experts recommend that the average adult woman consume at lunch or dinner, the researchers said.

“I feel like women get a particularly bad deal with these excessive portions,” Roberts said, given that their caloric needs are, on average, substantially less than a man’s.

Fans of American, Chinese, and Italian fare may be particularly dismayed by the study findings. These foods topped the list with an average 1,495 calories per meal. The researchers noted that the average woman in the United States needs about 2,000 calories a day, and the average U.S. man, about 2,500 calories.

Roberts said the situation requires a radical restaurant rethink.

“What I think would work to help people eat less, and would be wildly popular with consumers, would be laws—passed at the federal or state or local level—that would give customers the right to buy proportional portions for a proportional price,” she said. “So, let’s say that I, as a small woman, want to buy one-third of an entree plate. I could do that and pay one-third of the price. Oh my God, I would love that.

“The restaurants wouldn’t love it, of course,” Roberts acknowledged. “But all restaurants would be in the same boat [and] it would take away the incentive they have today to overfeed people.”

Lona Sandon is a registered dietitian and assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. She reviewed the study’s findings and reacted with little surprise.

“Consumer demand must change for restaurants to make changes in what they are serving,” she said. But barring that, she offered a few pointers for coping with the current eating-out environment.

“Eat out less often or never,” she said. “Try cooking at home. Or order the kids meal instead,” which she noted is easy to do in a drive-through setting.

More tips from Sandon: Share a meal among three people. Or order a soup and side salad, or something from the side menu. “I do this all the time. I love a baked potato with a side of broccoli and a little cheese, or a bowl of beans and rice with a side of fried plantains. I rarely order an entree,” she said.

Smaller and non-chain restaurants may be more willing to customize menu items for you, Sandon said. Still, she added: “Speak up and ask for what you want rather than just taking what is on the menu. Take charge of your health.”

The study findings appear in the Jan. 20 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

More information

There’s more on healthy eating and food portions at the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.


New Reality Show Is 'Most Extreme Weight Loss Experiment Ever' — And That's Bad

A&E’s new reality show Fit to Fat to Fit takes the idea of yo-yo dieting to a whole new level. In what the network is calling “the most extreme weight loss experiment ever,” fitness trainers agree to pack on pounds so they can slim down alongside their overweight clients.

The series, which premiered last night, is hosted by Drew Manning, the personal trainer who famously gained and then lost 75 pounds on purpose. (In the fall of 2014 he dramatically revealed his back-to-ripped body on Good Morning America to promote his book about the experience.) “Getting fit again was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it made me a better man,” he says in the opening credits of Fit to Fat to Fit.

Inspired by Manning’s journey (or gimmick, depending on how you look at it), the show follows 10 trainers as they abandon their rigorous diets and exercise routines to intentionally gain as much weight as possible, under medical supervision, for four months. Then they work with their clients to get in shape together.

When we heard about the show our first thought was, How can this possibly be safe? After all, we’ve read time and again that both extreme weight gain and crash diets pose serious risks.

It turns out we weren’t the only ones to have that reaction. On Twitter, many people expressed concern that Fit to Fat to Fit was portraying something troubling at best and straight-up dangerous at worst.

RELATED: How Crash Diets Harm Your Health and Heart

After watching the premiere, it’s hard not to be moved by the enormous personal sacrifice that the trainers make to better understand the challenges their clients face. And it’s interesting to watch their perspectives evolve. JJ Peterson, for example, starts out completely unsympathetic: “Who on earth wouldn’t want to be thinner, to be healthier, to have more energy?” he says. “Being healthy is a choice. If you’re not healthy, change.”

Meanwhile his client, Ray Stewart, articulates why changing is far easier said than done. “Oh, ‘Eat less and work out,”’ he says, mimicking the standard advice. “Wow, why didn’t I think about that? It is a little insulting. I doubt a trainer would really understand that emotional pull that food has.”

But after JJ doubles his caloric intake and puts on 61 pounds (prepare to feel a little sick as he stuffs himself with burgers, pizzas, and milkshakes) his outlook changes: “The more time passes in this experiment, the more empathy I’m gaining,” he says.

RELATED: 10 Exercise Cheats That Blow Your Calorie Burn

But is this too extreme?

While it’s heartwarming to witness the success of JJ and Ray (spoiler alert: they both lose a ton of weight), Fit to Fat to Fit is still an incredibly irresponsible “experiment.”

Putting on a few pounds isn’t necessarily harmful if you’re eating healthy fats, lean proteins, plenty of fruits and veggies, and staying physically active. But trouble starts when you pack on weight from a high-calorie diet that also includes a lot of saturated fat, as JJ appears to do on the show.

“Weight gain like this can increase your risk of diabetes, hypertension, and mortality in general,” says Bartolome Burguera, MD, PhD, an endocrinologist at the Cleveland Clinic and Director of Obesity Programs.

When you eat large amounts of fatty foods, deposits of fat get stored in your muscles and organs, especially your liver, explains Eneida O. Roldan, MD, an associate professor of pathology at Florida International University. “And a diet that’s heavy in saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol levels, causing plaque to build up in your arteries,” she says.

Then there’s JJ’s lack of physical activity while he’s trying to gain weight. The sedentary habits he adopts would make the damage he’s doing with his diet even worse. “What many people don’t realize is that a sedentary lifestyle in and of itself can cause cardiovascular problems, even if you’re thin,” Dr. Roldan says. “So eating a high-calorie diet and not exercising? That’s like a double-whammy for your health.”

RELATED: The Same 10 Weight Loss Mistakes All Women Make

After yo-yo dieting, can your health fully bounce back?

Fortunately for the trainers on the show, the answer is yes. “Acute, short-term physical changes are usually reversible,” says Dr. Roldan. “In this case, with someone who was previously physically fit and had healthy habits, it will be very quickly reversible.”

Dr. Burguera agrees: “Recent literature does not suggest that weight ‘cycling’ like this necessarily increases morbidity or mortality.”

But another big question remains: Does this whole experiment even make sense? Can two people really share the same weight loss journey?

Not exactly, as you might have guessed. A trainer who is most likely a thinner, healthier person would have a distinct advantage, says Dr. Burguera. “If a lean person gains weight, it will be relatively easy for them to lose it again, because their brain will be programmed to crave fewer calories,” he explains.

“In order to really understand what it ‘feels’ like to be an overweight person struggling to lose weight, a 160-pound person would have to actually lose 20 pounds for example.” Only then would they experience the intense hunger usually felt by an overweight person (whose brain is programmed to want more calories) on a diet.

RELATED: 13 Comfort Foods That Burn Fat

The bottom line?

The real problem with weight loss reality shows like this one, says Dr. Roldan, is that they don’t always address the long-term behavioral changes that are necessary to establish healthy habits. Weight loss can take years of effort, she points out. “As a doctor, I disagree with what they’re doing. Any change of structure takes a lifetime to establish. And it’s important to consult with a physician who understands weight loss and has seasoned skills in how to treat these conditions.”

People forget that obesity is a chronic disease, adds Dr. Burguera. “It’s not always as easy as simply eating less and exercising more,” he says. “The key to maintaining weight loss over a long period of time is making small changes you can stick to. Specifically, improving your diet, getting involved in an exercise program, getting enough quality sleep, and managing stress.”


4 Annoying Comments to Expect When You're Losing Weight

Losing weight is challenging enough without other people adding their two cents. But the reality is, you’re likely to catch flak from at least one friend or family member who doesn’t understand (or can’t accept) your new choices. The trick to dealing with those Negative Nancies? Ignore them, says Marisa Moore, RDN, a nutritionist in Atlanta, “because it’s not about what other people think about you.” It’s about putting your own health first. Here are four annoying comments you might hear on your way to a healthier lifestyle—and a bulletproof response for each one.

“Ugh, you used to be so fun.”

Last week you were indulging in mozzarella sticks and boneless wings; now you’re rocking an “I love kale” shirt and holding a mason jar salad. It’s possible your pals are a little confused by the sudden change. Don’t let their discomfort derail you, says Moore. Remind yourself why you decided to lose weight in the first place, and stay focused on your long-term goal.  Megan Roosevelt, RD, the founder of, recommends this simple but powerful reply: “I’m sorry you feel that way, but I’m happy with how I feel.”

RELATED: 11 People Who Could Wreck Your Diet

“Isn’t eating that _______ counterproductive?”

You just torched 1,000 calories at the gym, you haven’t had a burrito in forever, and there’s a Chipotle around the corner. Time for a well-earned treat! The last thing you need right now is a passive aggressive remark about how you’re ruining all your hard work. But try not to take it personally. Maybe your new lifestyle is tapping into your friend’s insecurity about her own weight or diet. Or perhaps she is genuinely trying to help you make a healthier choice. After all, is a burrito that’s busting out of its tortilla the best way to nourish your body post-workout? Technically no, but that’s for you to decide. So don’t sweat it (you’ve already done plenty of that!) and borrow Moore’s reply: “It’s perfectly fine for me to eat this as long as I balance everything else I eat today.”

“Aren’t you done losing weight yet?”

You’ve reached your target weight—but you’re still eating clean? And exercising? What gives?! This may be confusing to anyone who doesn’t understand that maintaining a healthy weight means permanent changes. “You’re going to make those healthy choices every day, not just when you’re dieting,” says Roosevelt. After all, you’re trying to be healthy for life, not just a few months. Whenever you face that judgy question, respond with “This is my new normal,” Moore suggests. That’s all you need to say.

RELATED: 57 Ways to Lose Weight Forever, According to Science

“I went on a health kick once.”

You’re gushing over your favorite spin instructor when your brother starts reminiscing about his brief stint as a gym rat—implying, of course, that your new lifestyle is just a passing phase. “That’s negativity you really don’t have to buy into,” says Moore, because his experience is not your experience. But take a second to consider his perspective. “I think initially people just want to connect with you and share something in common,” says Roosevelt. So rather than brushing off his comment, keep the conversation going—you might even inspire him to revisit his good ol’ healthy days.


The U.S. Food Guidelines Have Always Been Controversial


Today, the new 2015 Dietary Guidelines were released, recommending Americans eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and varied proteins. This year’s guidelines were the subject of much controversy, including arguments over whether issues like sustainability should be included in recommendations for how Americans eat. The new guidelines did not recommend limits on processed or red meat.

But quarreling isn’t unusual when it comes to American diet recommendations. The guidelines as we know them today—released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) every five years—started from a disagreement.

RELATED: The 50 (New) Healthiest Foods—With Recipes

In 1977, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, led by Senator George McGovern, recommended “Dietary Goals” for the American people: consume only as much energy as you expend, eat more naturally occurring sugars, consume more fruits and vegetables and go easy on eggs and butter. The Dietary Goals received backlash from both industry and the science community over whether they were supported by enough evidence.

From that backlash emerged a decision to have the USDA and HHS partner. They selected scientists from both departments and created what would become the 1980 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommended seven ways to have a good diet, including eating a variety of foods, avoiding too much fat and cholesterol and cutting down on sugar. But once again, the development approach and the guidelines themselves were criticized.

Ultimately, the HHS and USDA were directed to form an advisory committee that would make sure outside advice would be included in future guidelines. A Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee was formed and used for the first time in the creation of the 1985 guidelines. This time, the advice was better received.

RELATED: The War On Delicious

Even before diet guidelines were officially released in the way they are now, federal agencies have long recommended ways for Americans to be better eaters. As TIME reported in 1964, a federal Food and Nutrition Board recommended that an American man and woman cut 300 and 200 calories out of their daily diet, respectively. “The affluent life in the U.S. of the 1960s is also the sweet life, the fat life and the soft life—or so the top U.S. experts have decided,” TIME wrote, adding that “the difference is the caloric content of two average martinis.”

Through the years, diet recommendations in the U.S. have moved away from recommending specific nutrients and more toward food-based recommendations. Even the contentious guidelines released in 1977 marked a shift that focused more on avoiding foods linked to chronic disease. In recent years, there has been significant debate about whether cutting out fat should continue to be a focus (the 2010 guidelines recommend fat-free and low-fat dairy products), and whether cholesterol is still a nutrient of concern.

“Unfortunately, what has remained consistent over the years is that Americans have not followed Dietary Guidelines recommendations,” representatives from the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion at the USDA told TIME in statement. The agency says the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) was created to measure how closely Americans’ diets fall in line with the Dietary Guidelines, and Americans’ HEI score on a 100 point scale has been between 49 and 58 since the 1990s.

With emerging science—processed meat was recently declared carcinogenic—and bickering among industry and the science community, it’s not hard to see how eating healthy can be confusing.

The key recommendations in this year’s guidelines to eat more fruits and vegetables remains advice worth following. As for the rest? Do as Americans always have, and join in the quarreling.

This article originally appeared on


38 Popular Diets Ranked From Best to Worst

Happy New Year’s resolution time! Are you looking to change up the way you eat? Well, you’re not without choices, that’s for sure.

With so many diet plans out there, each promising their own version of better health, weight loss, or both, it’s difficult to know which ones will actually help you reach your 2016 goals. Luckily, just in time for your resolution, U.S. News & World Report released their annual “Best Diets” rankings today.

RELATED: 57 Ways to Lose Weight Forever, According to Science

And the best diet overall is… the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), for the sixth year in a row. The diet, which was originally developed to help people lower their blood pressure, focuses on a combination of low-fat, low-sodium, and plant-based meals. And U.S. News isn’t the only one backing DASH; The plan has years of scientific research on its side as well.

The magazine named their No. 1 after identifying 38 popular diet plans and having a panel of nationally recognized nutrition and health experts rate each diet in seven categories: how easy it is to follow, its ability to produce short-term and long-term weight loss, its nutritional completeness, its safety, and its potential for preventing and managing diabetes and heart disease.

Once each had expert rated the diets on a scale of 5 (highest) to 1 (lowest), the magazine used the scores to create a ranked list for “Best Overall,” as well as a more focused list for various categories, like the “Best Heart-Healthy Diets,” “Best Plant-Based Diets,” and “Easiest Diets to Follow.”

RELATED : How Healthy Is Your State? All 50, Ranked From First to Worst

Although the No. 1 spot wasn’t a surprise this year, it’s not because the magazine didn’t look at new plans. The rankings added three fresh options to the mix: The MIND diet, Whole30, and the Fertility Diet.

The MIND diet, which is said to help keep your brain young, combines the DASH and Mediterranean diets with an emphasis on research-backed “brain-foods.” Unsurprisingly, this combo of two successful diets performed very well in the U.S. News ranking, landing the No. 2 slot on the list of Best Diets Overall.

However the very popular Whole30 diet, which requires adherents to cut all processed foods, legumes, grains, dairy, alcohol, and added sugar for 30 days, came in 38th place, aka dead last, in the “overall” category, following suit with other trendy diets that have come before it (like the Dukan Diet). Whole30 came in at No. 37 (of 38) when ranked for helping with weight loss, diabetes, or heart disease, and landed the No. 17 spot on the magazine’s “Best Diets for Fast Weight Loss” list.

Meanwhile, The Fertility Diet, which claims certain diet changes can help you get pregnant faster, was named the best diet for diabetes, mainly due to its ban on trans fats. (How’s that for a surprise?)

RELATED: 16 Ways to Lose Weight Fast

“Our rankings put hard numbers on the belief that no one diet is ideal for everybody, but the best food plans overall are sustainable,” Angela Haupt, senior health editor at U.S. News, said in a press release. “Besides the rankings and data, each diet has a detailed profile that includes how it works, evidence that supports or refutes its claims and a nutritional snapshottools that, along with the advice of a physician or nutritionist, can help consumers invest in diets that suit their lifestyles and further their health and wellness goals.”

Before you jump on the latest diet bandwagon, check out the full list below, ranked from best to worst. Your waistline will thank you!

Best Diets Overall

1. DASH Diet
2. MIND Diet
2. TLC Diet (tie)
4. Weight Watchers
4. Mayo Clinic
4. Fertility
4. Mediterranean (tie)
8. Volumetrics (tie)
8. Flexitarian
10. Jenny Craig
11. Biggest Loser
11. Ornish (tie)
13. Vegetarian
13. Traditional Asian (tie)
15. Slim Fast
15. SparkPeople
15. Anti-Inflammatory (tie)
18. HMR
18. Flat Belly
18. Nutrisystem (tie)
21. Vegan
21. Engine 2
21. South Beach
21. Abs (tie)
25. Eco-Atkins
25. Zone
25. Glycemic-Index (tie)
28. Macrobiotic
28. Medifast (tie)
30. Supercharged Hormone
30. Acid Alkaline (tie)
32. Fast
32. Body Reset (tie)
34. Raw food
34. Atkins (tie)
36. Dukan
36. Paleo (tie)
38. Whole 30

Looking for a more targeted plan? Here are some highlights from U.S. News’ more specific lists:

For Weight Loss

1. Weight Watchers
2. Biggest Loser Diet
3. Biggest Loser Diet
3. Jenny Craig
3. Raw Food Diet (tie)

Easiest to Follow

1. Fertility Diet
2. MIND Diet
3. Weight Watchers

For Heart Health

1. Ornish Diet
2. TLC Diet
3. DASH Diet

Best Plant-Based Diets

1. Mediterranean Diet
2. Flexitarian Diet
3. Ornish Diet

For Fast Weight Loss

1. Biggest Loser Diet
1. HMR Program
3. Atkins
3. Weight Watchers (tie)

For Diabetes

1. Fertility Diet
2. Biggest Loser Diet
2. DASH Diet (tie)

For Healthy Eating

1. DASH Diet
2. TLC Diet
3. Mediterranean Diet
3. MIND Diet (tie)

Best Commercial Diets

1. Mayo Clinic Diet
1. Weight Watchers (tie)
3. Jenny Craig