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My MyPlate Experiment, Day Three: Struggling With Restaurants And "Empty Calories"

Posted: 02/07/2013 8:29 am

I tried incorporating two new normal-life things into my MyPlate Experiment on Wednesday: restaurants and cooking for a group. They each presented minor challenges, but not as many as I might have suspected.

I grabbed a takeout lunch from Wichcraft, a sandwich shop across the street from the HuffPost offices, that has the advantage, for my purposes, of posting calorie counts for all its menu items. (That allowed me to enter the serving sizes I suspected on the USDA's SuperTracker app and have some gauge of how accurate my guess had been.) Cobbling together a meal that checked a sufficient number of Dietary Guideline boxes was relatively straightforward, though resisting the amazing cookie sandwiches at the checkout counter was less so.

And cooking for my roommates went even better. They both enjoyed the uncharacteristically spartan meal I prepared them, and appreciated enough to offer to wash up afterwards.

Yet I also wanted to add a dash of festivity to the dinner, and I didn't think the nutmeg I whimsically grated into the (saltless, butterless) mashed sweet potatoes counted. Alcohol was more or less verboten, so I thought a fruit-based dessert would do the trick. I remembered a relatively healthy recipe for roast bananas that would let me fulfill my Fruits requirement for the day. My roommate offered to make homemade whipped cream, which I figured would finish off my Dairy requirement for the day as well.

Dessert was divine -- the best food I've eaten all week. But when I added it to my SuperTracker, I discovered, to my dismay, that the USDA does not count whipped cream as a dairy. Plus, the saturated fat in it, combined with the sprinkle of brown sugar I put on the bananas, put me over my daily limit in the mysterious category known as "empty calories."

The USDA defines this as calories from solid fat, added sugar and alcohol, but many different foods seem to contain some modicum of empty calories. My morning toast, for example, packs in 25. And I only get a measly 362 a day! For that reason, even though I had a relatively healthy Wednesday, and ate less than my daily limit of calories, I went over in that category. It seems a little stringent... does the USDA really think I would have been better off eating a bowl of plain pasta -- and thereby met my "Grains" requirement -- than a (less caloric) dollop of whipped cream? Maybe, but I'm not convinced I agree. It seems to me that it's important to meet your daily nutritional requirements without eating too much food -- but that as long as you do that, how you allocate your "excess" calories should be up to you.

Click through below to find out how the MyPlate Experiment has been going so far:

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  • Monday Breakfast

    <strong>What I Ate: </strong>1 cup Greek yogurt, 1 cup blueberries, 1 cup milk, 2 slides whole wheat toast <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 2 oz. Grains, 1 cup Fruits, 2 cups Dairy <strong>What I Thought:</strong> A little large & heavy on the dairy, but yummy overall.

  • Monday Noontime Snack

    <strong>What I Ate: </strong> 2 medium chopped raw carrots <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1 cup Vegetables <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Raw carrots are weirdly hard to chew if you don't dip them in hummus or ranch dressing first.

  • Monday Lunch

    <strong>What I Ate: </strong> 1 1/2 cups brown rice, 1 cup sauteed kale, 1 sliced chicken sausage <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 3 oz. Grains, 1 cup Vegetables, 2 oz. Protein Foods, 1 tsp. Oils <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Delicious! One advantage of eating leftovers from dinner the night before.

  • Monday Late Afternoon Snack

    <strong>What I Ate: </strong> 1 Fuji apple <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1 1/4 cup Fruits <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Not the best apple I've ever had -- the SweeTango took that cake long ago -- but a nice crisp afternoon snack.

  • Monday Dinner

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> 2 cups quinoa, 1 cup roast tofu, 1/2 cup caramelized onions, 1 1/2 cups steamed broccoli, ginger-soy-lime-garlic dressing, 1 cup milk <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 4 oz. Grains, 2 cups Vegetables, ¼ cup Fruits, 1 cup Dairy, 4 oz. Protein Foods, 9 tsp Oils <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Could have used more salt, but the dressing and caramelized onions made it sing. Plus the milk actually counteracted the Thai birds eye chili in the sauce really nicely.

  • Monday's Food Group Tally

    I was a little over on fruits & veggies, but a little under on protein... the opposite of a normal day for me and most American.

  • Monday's Nutrients

    Under on calories, over on oils & way way over on sodium.

  • Tuesday Breakfast

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> 2 eggs scrambled with a bit of milk, 1 cup mushrooms & 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese, 2 slices whole wheat toast <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 2 oz. Grains, 1 cup Vegetables, ¾ cup Dairy, 2 oz. Protein Foods <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Much heavier than my normal weekday breakfasts.

  • Tuesday Noontime Snack

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> 1 Cara Cara orange <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1 cup Fruit <strong>What I Thought:</strong> A little messy for the office.

  • Tuesday Lunch

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> Leftover quinoa, broccoli, tofu & caramelized onions from dinner last night <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 3 oz. Grains, 2¼ cups Vegetables, 3 oz. Protein Foods, 3 tsp Oils <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Not as good as it was last night, but a tasty, filling lunch nonetheless.

  • Tuesday Afternoon Snack

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> 1 cup blueberries <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1 cup Fruits <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Perfect afternoon pick-me-up

  • Tuesday Appetizer

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> 2 Finn Crisps <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1½ ounce(s) Grains <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Like raw carrots, better with hummus.

  • Tuesday Dinner

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> Grilled chicken quesadilla made with whole wheat tortillas & 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, cooked in 1 tablespoon canola oil, plus 2 cups steamed green beans. <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 2½ oz. Grains, 2 cups Vegetables, 1¼ cups Dairy, 3 oz Protein Foods, 3 tsp. Oils <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Though the beans would have been way better with salt & butter, the quesadilla tasted downright decadent.

  • Tuesday Post-Dinner Drink

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> 1 pint of 'Gansett <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> (no food groups) <strong>What I Thought:</strong> My first drink of the experiment. Yum!

  • Tuesday Dessert

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> 1 cup Greek yogurt with 1 tablespoon maple syrup <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1 cup Dairy <strong>What I Thought:</strong> A little sad for a dessert, despite the syrup.

  • Tuesday's Food Group Tally

    I went way over on the veggies... but should I really be penalized for that?

  • Tuesday's Nutrients

    I actually came <em>super</em> close on calories & saturated fat... couldn't they have made it yellow, at least, instead of red? Even sodium was a major improvement from Monday.

  • Wednesday Breakfast

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> 1 cup Greek yogurt with a chopped-up pear, 2 slices whole wheat toast <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 2 oz. Grains, 1 cup Fruits, 1 cup Dairy <strong>What I Thought:</strong> A solid breakfast, though I'm getting a little tired of all this toast.

  • Wednesday Lunch

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> A goat cheese-avocado sandwich & a side of kale with anchovy vinaigrette from Wichcraft <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 2 oz. Grains, 1 cup Vegetables, 1 3/4 cups Dairy, 1 oz. Protein Foods, 3 tsp. Oils <strong>What I Thought:</strong> I think I could get a more delicious meal for 800 calories

  • Wednesday Snack

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> 2 sushi rolls: one hamachi, one tuna <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 2 oz. Grains, 2 oz. Protein Foods <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Nothing wrong here, though it was a strange thing to eat at 6 pm. (And a necessity for my grain and protein requirements.)

  • Wednesday Appetizer

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> 3/4 cup quinoa with balsamic vinaigrette <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1 1/2 oz. Grains, 2 tsp. Oils <strong>What I Thought:</strong> This was actually totally gross, so I only ate maybe half of what you see in this photo, forcing me to fall short of my grain requirement for the day.

  • Wednesday Dinner

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> Grilled boneless skinless chicken breast, sauteed spinach with ginger, sauteed mushrooms with garlic, mashed sweet potatoes with nutmeg <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1 3/4 cups Vegetables, 3 oz. Protein Foods <strong>What I Thought:</strong> A very tasty meal, but frankly, everything would have been better with salt and butter.

  • Wednesday Dessert

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> 1 banana roasted with butter and brown sugar, 3 tablespoons homemade whipped cream <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 3/4 cup Fruits <strong>What I Thought:</strong> This was heaven!

  • Wednesday's Food Group Tally

    I guess this was my worst day so far, when it comes to the food groups. I fell short in everything -- probably because this was the first day I didn't plan rigorously in advance.

  • Wednesday's Nutrients

    I'm pretty sure it's impossible to eat just 2300 milligrams of sodium in a day. I'm really, really going to try tomorrow, but it seems absurd.

  • Thursday Breakfast

    <strong>What I Ate: </strong> 1 grapefruit, 1 3/4 cup quick-cooking oatmeal, 2 slices whole wheat toast <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 5½ oz. Grains, 3/4 cup Fruits <strong>What I Thought:</strong> A little heavy on the starch, but this is a delicious way to cut grapefruit.

  • Thursday Noontime Snack

    <strong>What I Ate: </strong> 2 cut up bell peppers, 4 tablespoons hummus <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1½ cups Vegetables, 1½ ounces Protein Foods, 1 teaspoon Oils <strong>What I Thought:</strong> I forgot how great this combo could be.

  • Thursday Taste Test

    <strong>What I Ate: </strong>A smattering of crackers, cookies and cereals for a HuffPost Taste story -- essentially a couple morsels from each of these bowls. <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1 ounce Grains <strong>What I Thought:</strong> I wasn't sure how to classify this, so I just pretended it was 6 Ritz crackers when I put it in the system.

  • Thursday Lunch

    <strong>What I Ate: </strong>1 baked potato, plain <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1 cup Vegetables <strong>What I Thought:</strong> This was super pathetic. I love potatoes, but when baked, they need a little something -- sour cream, hot sauce, salt, butter, cheese, bacon, all of the above -- to make them sing.

  • Thursday Happy Hour

    <strong>What I Ate: </strong>1 cup hard apple cider <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1/2 cup Fruits <strong>What I Thought:</strong> The USDA apparently hasn't heard of hard cider, so I put this in the system as 12 oz. of beer plus 1/2 apple cider.

  • Thursday Appetizer

    <strong>What I Ate: </strong>2 of these Serbian flatbreads with Serbian cheese from Kafana in the East Village <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 3 ounces Grains, ½ cup Dairy <strong>What I Thought:</strong> This was the best thing I ate all week... like the quintessence of a bagel with cream cheese. If you find yourself on Avenue C in Manhattan, pop in for this!

  • Thursday Dinner

    <strong>What I Ate: </strong>Half this mixed grilled pork plate and grilled squash & onions at Kafana in the East Village <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 6 ounces Protein Foods, 1 cup vegetables <strong>What I Thought:</strong> I normally love pork, but honestly, after a few days of eating semi-lite, this was an intense thing to eat.

  • Thursday Dessert

    <strong>What I Ate: </strong>Frozen yogurt with blackberries <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1¼ cups Dairy, 1/2 cup Fruits <strong>What I Thought:</strong> It was refreshing AND it counted toward my onerous dairy requirement. Perfect!

  • Thursday Bedtime Drink

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> A tall glass of organic 1% fat milk <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1 ¼ cup Dairy <strong>What I Thought:</strong> OK, I'm officially sick of dairy. I'm crying uncle.

  • Thursday's Food Group Tally

    Considering that I ate out for dinner at a serious restaurant, not bad.

  • Thursday's Nutrients

    Dinner & frozen yogurt drove me way over on my "empty calories" category, but the rest was just fine.

  • Friday Breakfast

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> Quick-cooking oatmeal with a glass of milk <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 2 oz. Grains, 1¼ cup Dairy <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Not so bad

  • Friday Lunch Appetizer #1

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> Steamed bun with smoked duck at Momofuku Ssam Bar <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 2 ounces Grains, 1 ounce Protein Foods <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Awesome, obviously

  • Friday Lunch Appetizer #2

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> 2 fried duck wontons at Momofuku Ssam Bar <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 2 ounces Grains, 1 ounce Protein FOods <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Delicious

  • Friday Lunch Appetizer #3

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> Mixed pickles at Momofuku Ssam Bar <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1 cup Vegetables <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Awesome and nutritious!

  • Friday Lunch

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> Rice with roast duck, chive pancake, lettuce and (unpictured) a side of pickles <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 3 ounces Grains, 4½ ounces Protein Foods, ½ cup Vegetables <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Amazing, obviously

  • Friday Snack

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> 2 cups raw pineapple <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 2 cups Fruits <strong>What I Thought:</strong> A very easy, delicious way to knock out my fruit portion in one sitting.

  • Friday Appetizer

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> Roast beets with lentils and goat cheese at The Good Fork <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1½ cups Vegetables, ½ cup Dairy <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Yummy, and not bad in terms of health <em>Note: Photo on its way!</em>

  • Friday Dinner

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> Leftover broccoli from Momofuku Ssam <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1½ cups Vegetables <strong>What I Thought:</strong> If you're going to eat broccoli, you may as well do it in style.

  • Friday's Food Group Tally

    This was the one day where I really fell short a food group. Of course it was dairy.

  • Friday's Nutrients

    It's possible (if not likely) this underestimated my actual intake, considering I ate out so much.

  • Saturday Brunch

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> Crazy homemade breakfast burrito with whole wheat tortilla, melted cheddar cheese, scrambled eggs with chicken sausage, black beans, avocado, sriracha and Greek yogurt <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 1½ oz Grains, 1½ cups Vegetables, 1 ¾ cups Dairy, 4 oz. Protein Foods, 3 tsp. Oils <strong>What I Thought:</strong> I was curious to see how many food groups I could cram into one tortilla, and this was the answer. It tasted TERRIFIC -- albeit, at over 1000 calories, very caloric.

  • Saturday Hors D'Oeuvres #1

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> Some crackers <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> ½ ounce Grains <strong>What I Thought:</strong> I mean, you've had crackers before.

  • Saturday Hors D'Oeuvres #2

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> A few chunks of cheese <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> ½ cup Dairy <strong>What I Thought:</strong> You've had cheese before, too.

  • Saturday Cocktail

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> Tequila with grapefruit juice <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> ¾ cup Fruits <strong>What I Thought:</strong> Does the tequila cancel out the servings of fruit in the juice? Unclear.

  • Saturday Dinner

    <strong>What I Ate:</strong> 2 cups white rice, 1 1/2 cups zucchini, corn & tomato salad, a few pieces chicken with mole poblano plus, unpictured, some tortilla and black beans <strong>What That Counts As:</strong> 5 ½ ounces Grains, 2 ½ cups Vegetables, 3 ounces Protein Foods, 1 tsp. Oils <strong>What I Thought:</strong> I felt extremely spartan taking so little meat when eating over at a friend's house.

 

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