Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bad girl at Weight Watchers

I lost, didn't gain. Unfortunately, I didn't keep my mouth shut.

Weight Watchers gives out nutritional advice. Usually the organization gives great advice. My problem is their total endorsement of the new federal guidelines for eating, the new food pyramid. I can't fault the organization, you should be able to trust the USDA.

The new calcium requirements list 1,000 mgs* a day. Weight Watchers stresses that you should have 24oz of milk or approximately 1/8th of what you eat or drink. That's a lot of one thing to have to drink/eat every single day.

Every meeting for the last couple of months, the leader has delved into this. At first I thought they were trying to get us hooked on their $9 a box smoothie mix that you make with milk. This last week, I realized it was more.

The meeting's leader was going thru the 9 guidelines to healthy eating and doing so by writing on the board a sample day's menu. After writing on the board a couple of fruit names and a couple of vegetable names, she announced the 'milk' category, not dairy not calcium but the 'milk' category. She proceeded to list skim milk, yogurt and pudding made with milk. Ounce per ounce, drinking more milk than you would eat fruit or equal amounts milk and vegetables?

It sounded not like a sales pitch for expensive smoothies but a regurgitation of the new food pyramid. I voiced my opinion that you can and should get calcium plus a heck of a lot of other nutrients from fruits and vegetables like broccoli, kale, spinach.

There was no discussion, the WW leader went on to tell us that you can't just eat one container of yogurt and think it's one portion because the container is only 6 oz.

Another gal chimed in saying she was also having trouble with the new food pyramid. For a class assignment, she had to fill-out the Mypyramid menu planner with a low calorie day's worth of meals. She had trouble pulling together a menu that met all the requirements and still be under 2,000 calories a day. Her best efforts usually netted 2400 calories. At size 16, I could maintain 2400 calories a day. Size 16 is not where any woman wants to be. I don't plan on returning there either.

The WW leader was nonplussed, she went on to describe how she prefers vanilla pudding over chocolate. I seriously doubt any person in the room was going to try the pudding in any flavor.

It's not that I don't like milk. It's okay. But I prefer getting my nutrients as much as possible from fruits and vegetables. Calcium's important to me so I take a 600 mg supplement with vitamin D every day. Every day I eat oatmeal (100 mg of calcium), at least two portions of dark green vegetables (70 mg of calcium), and with the other fruits and vegetables I eat there's easily another 70 mg. I felt pretty good about my calcium intake.

But am I wrong? I went home that night and did some research.

The new food pyramid

At first sight, the pyramid doesn't tell you anything except some cartoon character is running up the side of your food. Unlike the old food pyramid which showed a large base of whole grains (eat generously), then a layer split in two showing fruits and vegetables (eat liberally), then a layer split in two that showed dairy products and meats (eat moderately), then at the top sugary sweets and oils (eat sparingly), the new food pyramid has flipped the 'milk' category with the 'fruits' category.**

The guidelines for the 'milk' category are a head scratcher. 3 cups a day, regardless of age (unless you're a children then it's 2 cups). 3 cups will give you the required 1,000+* mg of calcium a day.

Calcium, important
You need calcium for strong bones. Before 30, calcium builds bones. After 30, you need calcium so your body doesn't take the calcium it needs from your bones leaving you with brittle bones that easily break. According to a recent article by the Harvard School of Public Health, osteoporosis or the weakening of bones can be avoided by:

  • Getting regular exercise

  • Getting adequate vitamin D, (through food, exposure to sunshine, or supplements)

  • Consuming enough calcium

  • Consuming adequate vitamin K, found in green, leafy vegetables.

  • Not getting too much preformed vitamin A.

So feed your body calcium with foods containing the mineral and/or take a supplement (with a vitamin D kicker). And yes, dairy products have the highest concentration per serving of highly absorbable calcium. Not too far behind are dark leafy greens and dried beans.

But how much calcium?

However, the healthiest or safest amount of dietary calcium hasn't yet been established. Different scientific approaches have yielded different estimates, so it's important to consider all the evidence. Article by the Harvard School of Public Health

My first thought was to find a way to take 1300 mg of calcium a day, just to be safe. Wrong, do it and you may be contributing to problems such as heart disease or cancer (ovarian or prostate). Some scientists don't even think calcium helps prevents breaks or fractures. Take time to read the above article.

Three groups of people have low rates of bone loss: the Japanese, the Indians (Asian), and Peruvians. On average they eat 300 mg. of calcium a day. What they do, on the whole, that we Americans don't do, on the whole, is exercise and apparently get more sunshine.

I exercise, I limit my caffeine intake, my diet is well balanced. From a calcium requirements perspective, I'm more Japanese than American. I'm going to stay the course I've already set for myself with calcium. If I stop exercising, or start drinking more Diet Coke (my only source of caffeine), I'll have to increase my calcium intake.

Further supporting my thoughts, the British committee that suggest dietary guidelines for the UK, looked at the same data and recommended just 700 mg of calcium for people over 19.

Makes you wonder the role of the American Dairy Association in putting together the US guidelines.

I'll leave you with this last quote from the Harvard School of Public Health article.

Currently, there's no good evidence that consuming more than one serving of milk per day in addition to a reasonable diet (which typically provides about 300 milligrams of calcium per day from nondairy sources) will reduce fracture risk. Because of unresolved concerns about the risk of ovarian and prostate cancer, it may be prudent to avoid higher intakes of dairy products.

*The website says 3 cups (1000 mg), dig deeper and it varies by gender and age. For example a woman over 50 needs 1300 mg according to this web site.

**How presents the 'meat' category, again 'meat' not 'protein', is also problematic but not covered here.

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