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Calories: The Key to Weight Control

by Laurie Block, MS, RD, CDE

Getting enough iron
Most Americans who eat meat and poultry regularly are not at risk of iron deficiency. However, there are certain groups who have a higher risk, including women of childbearing age, pregnant women, toddlers, teenage girls, people with intestinal problems that lead to reduced absorption of nutrients, vegetarians, and athletes who do not consume enough iron-rich foods. People who need more iron — but not necessarily more calories — should make sure their diet is rich in low-fat cuts of meat and poultry, low-sugar fortified cereals, dried beans, dried fruit, and green, leafy vegetables. Vegetarians should be aware that the body will absorb more iron from plant sources of iron if the iron-containing food is eaten along with a food that is high in vitamin C.

Alcohol is not necessary for good health, although there is some evidence that moderate consumption has health benefits. For the most part, however, people consume alcohol for enjoyment. Alcohol provides 7 calories per gram, or about 100 calories per 5-ounce glass of wine or 1½-ounce serving of liquor. The calories from alcohol are often called “empty calories” because they provide little in the way of nutrients, but that doesn’t mean they can’t contribute to weight gain. Also, some alcoholic beverages, including beer and mixed drinks made with juices, syrups, or caloric soft drinks, contain carbohydrate and the calories provided by the carbohydrate.

Some ways to keep your calorie intake lower when drinking alcohol include drinking light beer instead of regular beer (a serving of beer is 12 ounces), having wine instead of sweet drinks made with caloric mixers, or using unsweetened mixers such as diet soft drinks instead of caloric ones. However, because drinking alcohol raises the risk of developing hypoglycemia, it is recommended that you eat something containing carbohydrate — such as pretzels, crackers, or fruit — when having a drink. Some people believe that having some protein or fat in the snack is helpful, too.

Many major health organizations, including the American Diabetes Association, recommend that for health reasons, women consume no more than one alcoholic beverage per day and men consume no more than two. When you consider the number of calories in a single drink as well as the number of calories in the accompanying food needed to prevent hypoglycemia, this recommendation makes good sense for weight control, too.

Burning calories
Taking in fewer calories is one factor in losing excess weight; burning more through physical activity is important, too. At a minimum, most adults should be physically active for at least 30 minutes most days of the week to improve their health and well-being. To prevent weight gain and maintain weight loss, however, 60–90 minutes of physical activity per day may be required. People who are not currently active or who get less than 30 minutes of activity per day should build up to 30 minutes gradually. The 30 minutes of activity need not be done all at once; being active for 10 or 15 minutes at a time is OK, too, and has the same benefits.

Both aerobic activities, such as brisk walking, and resistance exercises, such as lifting weights or doing calisthenics, have health benefits and burn calories. The column entitled “Burning Calories” shows how many minutes of various activities it takes to burn 150 calories. When you consider that you need to burn 3500 calories more than you consume to lose a pound, however, it becomes clear why increasing your activity level without decreasing your calorie consumption is unlikely to result in much weight loss. Nonetheless, physical activity has been found to play a meaningful role in weight maintenance, and it has numerous other positive effects, including increased insulin sensitivity (which usually translates to better blood glucose control) and often improved mood.

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Also in this article:
Burning Calories
How Many Calories Do You Need?
Choosing Leaner Proteins



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