Wednesday, April 21, 2010


I recently bought a gadget for my iPod that shows the calories in meal servings of many restaurant chains. I checked the calorie content of things I used to eat when I lived on the mainland and was surprised to see how many calories they contained. Grilled salmon with garlic and herbs, that I occasionally ordered at Chili’s, has 370 calories (not including the rice and vegetables) but my favorite classic bacon burger has a staggering 1520 calories which is four times as many calories as the salmon. That doesn’t include the fries and sweetened ice tea I had with it.

Since moving to Kona, we have reorganized our meals to support our continued weight loss. I am eating 4 meals of 400 calories a day plus two 100 calorie snacks. Eating small meals helps keep my metabolism up and I am able to lose about 2 pounds a week eating 1800 calories if I get about 300 calories of exercise a day (I am a 52 year old 5’11" male). That one burger at Chili’s was almost as many calories as all four of my daily meals now. It is no wonder that I started gaining so much weight going to Chili’s three times a week.

Being on a calorie restricted diet isn’t new for us; we like most boomers in the US have been on weight loss diets many times before. Being older makes exercising more challenging and our bodies more sore, but changes in the food landscape have made being on simple calorie diet a major undertaking.

Weight loss groups claim that keeping track of food serving sizes is the answer to weight control. But restaurants and frozen meals have managed to pack huge numbers of calories in new compact sizes. Burgers of similar size can vary from 500 to 1500 calories. Hidden oils and sugars in vegetables, drinks, breads, and deserts have converted what use to be a moderate meal to a caloric gorging event without it being obvious. After eating a large and highly caloric Thanksgiving meal, I feel overly full as expected, but new compact sized high calorie burgers and entrees leave me feeling hungry and wanting more. Low-fiber, highly processed carbohydrates and sugars provide a quick blood sugar rush without the complementary feeling of being full.

I read about another calorie challenge in Time Magazine. Frozen foods were found to contain an average of 8% more calories than their package labels stated and restaurant items contained 18% more calories. The FDA allows calorie food labels to be off by up to 20%, which means my 1800 calorie meal weight loss plan could be off by up to 360 calories a day and result in me gaining over 30 pounds a year.

It’s not just calories; genetically engineered food products have created new issues. Until the 1970’s rapeseed oil was considered unfit for human consumption due to its high erucic acid content (40%). The oil was used for lamps and machine lubrication. In 1974 a hybrid version edible by humans was trademarked in Canada as Canola Oil (meaning Canada oil low acid). A newer version of Canola oil was created in 1998 that was more drought resistant and it along with several other versions, all called Canola oil, are being grown all over the world as a high producing oil seed and animal feed crop. While looking for ways to deal with my constant gout attacks (gout is caused by high concentrations of eruric acid in the body), I became aware of how pervasive this new oil has become in all food items over the past ten years. It is touted as a healthy oil due to it being low in saturated fat, high in monounsaturated fat and high in omega-3 fatty acid. Removing Canola oil from my diet along with meat from animals that are fed rapeseed feed has reduced my gout attacks, but it left me wondering about the effects from other hybrid and genetic engineered foods in my diet. The basic foods today have different nutritional and fat content then the meats, vegetables, and fruits we ate 20 years ago and they vary from farm to farm and region to region. Beef from grass fed cattle, for example, can have up to one third the fat content as beef from grain fed animals. The fat content of grass feed beef is lower per ounce than skinless chicken breast, it also has more vitamins and healthy fats. Using calorie counters for even the elemental food stuffs can be misleading with the changing fat and vitamin content of what was once considered generic food nutrition and caloric values.

We are certain we will find a sustainable and healthy weight loss diet here in Hawaii, but we realize the once simple act of cutting back on one’s daily calories is not as nearly as straight forward or easy as it would seem.


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Anonymous said...

Can you suggest any informational resources you've found useful in the battle against gout?

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