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Tips for maintaining your weight from UC nutritionist

If you want to maintain a healthy weight, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition advisor Susan Algert, Ph.D., R.D., has some sage tips: snack wisely, eat more fruits and vegetables, keep a food record and stay active.

Algert shared the latest dietary advice from the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services with UCOP employees at a Feb. 20 brown bag co-hosted by UC Health and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR).

“How many of you really watch your weight?” Algert asked the audience. “No matter how hard we try, it seems to creep up a little bit as we get older.”

Indeed, studies have shown that adults gain an average of around a pound a year. How that happens might surprise you, according to Algert, a nutrition advisor with UC Cooperative Extension of Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties.

Research from a large representative study of women in the U.S. shows that as little as an extra 13 calories per day – the equivalent of consuming one extra ounce of soda and walking one minute less – led to an average weight gain of 35 pounds in 28 years. Eating an extra chocolate chip cookie every day for life? Expect to gain 6 pounds.

“People always say, ‘I don’t know how I gained it.’ We don’t usually gain weight by eating fruits and vegetables. It’s all those goodies loaded with fat, sugar and salt that we snack on,” said Algert, who previously was a clinical research nutritionist with UC San Diego School of Medicine’s Warren Celiac Center.

Snacking is the worst culprit, Algert said. Instead of soda and chips, try fruits and vegetables, nonfat yogurt, or nuts, she said. If you drink sugar-free soda, limit yourself to one or two cans a day. Better yet, drink water flavored with cucumber or lemon.

People also need to be careful when eating out. She pointed to examples such as Cheesecake Factory’s Bistro Shrimp Pasta, which has more than 3,000 calories – one-and-a-half times the recommended daily caloric intake for an average adult – and Smoothie King’s 40-ounce Peanut Power Plus Grape smoothie, which contains about a cup of sugar and nearly 1,500 calories.

“If you eat out more than a couple of times a week, you’re in trouble, because you’re likely consuming more fat and calories than you realize,” Algert said. Other key factors that lead to weight gain are decreased physical activity, increased television viewing, increased alcohol intake and poor sleep.

So what should you do?

Algert said two reliable sources of nutrition information are the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate dietary guidelines and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan, which focuses on healthy fat, fruits, vegetables and reduced-fat dairy and limits sweets to no more than five servings a week. Also, UC offers a variety of nutrition education, including the CalFresh program, which reaches 140,000 Californians a year.

Algert encouraged people to buy fresh, local food. “Vote with your fork,” she said. “Don’t buy junk food. Support a healthy food environment by going to the community gardens and by going to the farmers markets.”

Another suggestion is to keep a food record – track what you eat, when you eat and what your mood is. (Do you eat ice cream when you are stressed?)

Most of all, keep trying. Even the experts wrestle with their weight.

“I am trying to increase my fruit and vegetable intake to the eight to ten [servings] per day recommended in the DASH diet. I have a bit of a sweet tooth. It is a challenge in today’s food environment!” Algert said.

For more, listen to an audio recording and see UC Health and ANR Communications Coordinator Alec Rosenberg for handouts from the event.

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