The keto food pyramid (Getty Images)

Boundless energy. A more "toned" feeling. Decreased inflammation. When Patricia Zhou (then dancing with the Staatsballett Berlin in Germany) heard a friend rave about the ketogenic diet's supposed effects over two years ago, she knew she had to give it a try. Zhou, who's now with L.A. Dance Project, stuck with the ultra-restrictive diet longer than most, but has since returned to eating normally. Why? And what can you learn from her experiences? DS spoke with Zhou and two nutritionists to find out.

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Nutrition
Cheddar (Stockphoto)

Whether shredded, melted or sliced, cheese can transform an ordinary meal into a culinary delight. Unfortunately, it often gets a bad rep—since that fantastic taste comes with a lot of calories, fat and sodium. But while filling your daily diet with nachos, macaroni and cheese, and pizza isn't the best way to get through long hours in the studio, that doesn't mean you should rule out cheese altogether. Here's what you need to know about this delicious dairy staple.

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Health & Body
Peanut Butter (Thinkstock)

A few years ago, making a PB&J sandwich was simple. You'd go to the store for nut butter and find three choices: Jif, Skippy or Peter Pan peanut butter—all of which are delicious, but each of which has health drawbacks like added sugars and hydrogenated fats. These days, though, there are as many types of nut butters as there are flavors of jam, and each one claims to be healthier than the next. With so many different options, how do you know which to choose? DS decided to investigate.

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Health & Body

Orthorexia can make you question every bite you take.

At 13 years old, Mackenzie* was like lots of other dancers her age. Having trained in jazz, tap and ballet since age 3, she’d begun using her hard-earned technique to dazzle the judges at competitions. Yet despite all the trophies, Mackenzie had a tough time enjoying her success. She couldn’t help but compare her body to her petite best friend, and she feared she might be “too curvy” to achieve her dreams of professional dancing.

Mackenzie began to fixate on healthy eating, doing tons of research on which foods were low-cal, low-fat and nutrient-rich. She obsessively kept a food journal to monitor her eating habits. But her mission to “purify” her diet didn’t stop there: Mackenzie started buying only organic groceries and ate nothing but salad with balsamic vinegar at restaurants. She was always trying the newest cleanse fad, and chugging water often took the place of eating meals.

“At first, my fixation led to a very slim, toned physique, and I had more confidence in the audition room,” Mackenzie says. But it was getting harder to ignore the dizzy spells she got when she stood up and how starved she felt most of the time.

Mackenzie’s breaking point came at age 16, when she worked on a project that required daily 10-hour rehearsals for several weeks. “My weight dropped until I couldn’t fit into any of my costumes, even with belts and safety pins,” she says. “During a few concerts, I grew nauseous and couldn’t muster up any energy to perform. After shows, I sometimes felt so starved that I’d end up binging.”

It was then that Mackenzie realized she had an eating disorder and needed to seek treatment. Through her own research and meetings with dietitians and therapists, she eventually determined that she had orthorexia, an extreme obsession with healthy eating.

Since orthorexia is a relatively new diagnosis in the world of disordered eating, some people aren’t sure what sets it apart from anorexia, or how it differs from simply being health-conscious. Here’s what you need to know.

 

People with orthorexia tend to develop rigid rules about what elements can and cannot be present in their food.

A Losing Proposition

What is orthorexia, anyway? “People with orthorexia can become obsessive about eating the ‘right’ foods and trying to be perfect about what they eat,” says Emily Harrison, a former Atlanta Ballet dancer and registered dietitian at the Centre for Dance Nutrition. The prefix ortho- means “straight,” which is why orthorexia is the chosen term for rigid eating.

Travis Stewart, a St. Louis, MO-based licensed professional counselor, says the difference between orthorexia and anorexia has to do with your motivation for making food-related decisions. “Someone with anorexia may avoid pizza because of the calorie content, while someone with orthorexia may avoid it because the dough isn’t made of whole grains,” he says.

Harrison says the two biggest signs of orthorexia are when a dancer restricts her food so much that she doesn’t get enough fuel or nutrients, and when someone closes herself off socially and stops going out to eat because she’s unsure about the menu.

You may be thinking: Aren’t dancers supposed to be nutrition-savvy? Ask any dance teacher and the answer would be a resounding “yes.” The problem begins when the effects of your food choices become decidedly un-healthy. “There is nothing wrong with wanting to be in shape or healthy, but orthorexia starts when behavior becomes unusually rigid and restrictive,” says Judy Scheel, who runs the Cedar Associates mental health clinic in New York. Mackenzie reached that point when she began spending more time making food plans and jotting down calories and ingredients than actually eating.

Stewart says that many orthorexics experience a snowball effect, making progressively stricter rules until they eventually eat almost nothing. “For instance, someone might start by only shopping at Whole Foods, but then they begin questioning, ‘How do I know this is really organic? How do I know it’s the best?’ When you become orthorexic as opposed to just a health food nut, you become irrational,” he says, remembering one client who ate mostly celery since it was one of the few foods that she considered “safe.”

The Danger for Dancers

©iStock

The risks of orthorexia are especially high for dancers. Fatigue, achy bones and muscles, lack of stamina, dizziness, fainting and a higher risk of injuries like stress fractures are just a few of many common side effects. Long-term issues can include osteoporosis, lowered metabolism, decreased muscle mass and, ironically, higher body fat percentage—all of which can drastically affect performance. “It almost becomes a sabotage of what was intended in the first place,” Scheel says. “The disorder is a detriment for dancers, who are so dependent on their bodies for stamina.”

Moving Toward Recovery

If you suspect you might have orthorexia, it’s important that you reach out for help. The first step is talking to someone you trust, whether that’s a parent, teacher or counselor. That person can then help you determine what the right course of action might be. For Mackenzie, getting help meant working with a counselor and spending six weeks in a residential treatment facility. Today, at age 19, she’s in recovery and getting better every day. “I have far less fear in social settings,” she says. “I’m finding the freedom to choose foods that I enjoy.”

RED FLAGS

Here are the two main signs that you, or someone you care about, may be orthorexic:

➺    Your eating habits are so restrictive that they regularly prevent

you from getting the fuel and nutrients your body needs to function properly.

➺    You are so concerned about what you’re eating that it keeps you from being able to eat in social situations.

For More Information

The Centre for Dance Nutrition

dancernutrition.com

National Eating Disorders Association

nationaleatingdisorders.org

*name has been changed

Health & Body

Photo by istock

As a dancer, you know that eating right gives you the energy you need to get from morning classes to the evening’s final curtain call. You’re pretty sure that your go-to snack of vitamin-enriched water and a protein bar has the nutrition your body requires. But did you know this snack is actually full of sugar and empty calories, which provide little nutritional value? Even worse, eating too many foods fortified with extra vitamins and minerals can lead to health problems, including muscle aches, constipation and bloating—the last things you want when you have to put on a leotard and tights!

With all the “healthy” fare out there, it can be difficult to make informed choices about the food you eat. Here are some common foods and drinks that promise nutrition, but may not deliver in all of the ways you’d expect. We’ve also included alternatives that offer similar benefits without the hidden drawbacks.

Juice Drinks

Why you think they’re healthy: According to nutrition recommendations, you need four to five servings of fruit per day, so you figure drinking fruit juice must be a great way to meet your daily requirement.

But really: Most fruit juices contain hardly any fruit. “That word ‘drink’ is the qualifier,” says Peggy Swistak, a consulting nutritionist at Pacific Northwest Ballet. “If the label says ‘juice drink,’ it usually means that only 10 percent of the drink is juice—the rest is mostly sugar and water.”

Instead: Look for labels that say “100-percent juice,” not “juice drink,” “juice beverage,” or “juice cocktail.” Or just eat the actual fruit: You’ll get more fiber, feel more full and consume fewer calories. (A glass of orange juice is about 110 calories, but a medium orange is only about 60 calories.)

Fat-Free Dairy Products

Why you think they’re healthy: Calcium is important for keeping your bones healthy, and if it’s low-fat, that’s a bonus.

But really: If you reach for fat-free milk to get your calcium fix, you’re probably not reaping the benefits you expect. Your body needs vitamin D to process calcium, and vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. So make sure you have a little fat in your diet.

Instead: Choose low-fat yogurt and low-fat cheeses like mozzarella and provolone. Jan Hangen, a registered dietitian in the sports-medicine department at Children’s Hospital in Boston and a nutrition consultant at Boston Ballet, recommends drinking one-percent milk. “You get very few extra calories, but you get vitamin D and longer-lasting energy because the fat delays calorie absorption,” she says.

Vitamin-Enriched Water

Why you think it’s healthy: Hydration is critical for regulating body temperature, lubricating joints and preventing cramps. If you have to hydrate all day long, why not choose water enriched with vitamins in order to reap the most benefits?

But really: One 20-ounce bottle can have as many as 150 calories. “I had one student who drank six VitaminWaters a day, but she was also trying to watch her weight,” says Swistak. “She was taking in 800 calories just from water!”

Instead: Calorie-free versions of these drinks are on store shelves, but plain water is still your best bet. Drinking too many fortified beverages can put you at risk for vitamin imbalances. According to Hangen, the risk is especially high if you also eat a lot of other fortified foods, such as cereal and protein bars. If you just love the taste, limit yourself to one bottle a day.

Frozen Dinners

Why you think they’re healthy: A frozen meal is a quick way to get in a balanced dinner on a busy day.

But really: “Those meals are notorious for not having enough veggies,” says Swistak. Many frozen meals also contain high amounts of sodium, which can lead to blood pressure problems when you’re older. Even worse, frozen dinners tend to be high in fat for the small amount of food you get, while simultaneously not having enough calories for a full meal. Banquet’s Chicken Pot Pie, for instance, has 21 grams of fat and only 300 calories.

Instead: When shopping for your dinner, look for entrees with at least 500 calories. According to Swistak, dancers should aim to get 20- to 25-percent of their total daily calories from fat, so a 500-calorie meal should have about 13 grams of fat. There are numerous frozen dinners on the market, so be sure to read labels carefully. Lean Cuisine and Amy’s Kitchen have several options that meet Swistak’s requirement. Whatever you choose, spruce it up with a piece of fruit and a salad.

Nutrient Powders

Why you think they’re healthy: Sometimes you don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, so a nutrient powder dissolved in your water can supplement your diet.

But really: You could be damaging your body. “Fat-soluble vitamins, like A, D, E and K, are absorbed by and stored in your fat,” says Swistak. “If you keep taking all these supplements that have megadoses of vitamins, they end up stored in the fatty parts of your body, which can lead to muscle aches. Too much calcium and vitamin D can cause kidney stones and too much vitamin A can cause liver damage.” The nutrients you eat must be in balance with each other. For example, your zinc intake needs to be in ratio with the copper you ingest or you could develop heart problems. Eating a lot of fortified foods can skew these ratios.

Instead: Eat real food and take a once-a-day multivitamin like Centrum (check with your doctor first), which is formulated to have the correct ratios. “People can get it in their minds that if they eat fortified foods they’ll be healthier, and they do so instead of eating natural food,” says Swistak.

The foods above are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hidden diet pitfalls, so remember to scan ingredient labels. Look for food that is, as Hangen says, “close to the tree and ground”—meaning there aren’t a lot of added chemicals. No matter which foods you love, be sure to choose fare that’s high in fiber and low in sugar. Above all, get your calories from the most nutritious sources, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins like fish and chicken.

Go to dancespirit.com/ to learn about three more foods that aren’t as healthy as they seem.

Health & Body

In our December 2010 issue, DS points out how certain foods and drinks that are billed as “healthy,” don’t actually provide as much nutrition as you might expect. Here are three more foods that are similarly misleading.

Energy Bars

Why you think they’re healthy: Energy bars like PowerBars and Balance Bars are marketed as meal replacements packed with muscle-building protein.

But really: Most energy bars are glorified candy bars, loaded with sugar, calories and protein you don’t need. According to Jan Hangen, a registered dietitian in the sports-medicine department at the Children’s Hospital in Boston and a nutrition consultant at Boston Ballet, excess protein is stored as fat. You need .8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight (1 kg = 2.2 lbs). So if you weigh 125 pounds (56.8 kg), you should eat about 45.5 grams of protein each day. Some energy bars contain up to 30 grams of protein—the equivalent of one chicken breast.

Instead: Try Lärabars, which contain only fruit and nuts, rather than excess protein and chemical additives found in energy bars.

Multigrain Crackers

Why you think they’re healthy: You’ve heard that grains are a heart-healthy energy source.

But really: There are two types of grains: refined grain and whole grain. Refined grains have been milled to lose the outer bran layer of the kernel. Whole grains contain the entire kernel, making them higher in fiber and other important nutrients. The multigrain designation usually means that in a single serving, you’re eating mostly refined grains, with a very small (even negligible) amount of whole grains. Whole grains fight disease and take longer to digest, so your appetite will be curbed and you’ll have calories to burn (translation: energy).

Instead: Skip foods labeled “multigrain” in favor of those with a “whole grain” label. Munch on Triscuits or toss a bag of dry whole-grain cereal in your dance bag. Kashi cereals or regular Cheerios are good options. You can also try oatmeal, brown rice and whole-wheat bread. Just make sure the words “whole grain” appear first or second on the ingredient list, and that there are fewer than 4 to 5 grams of sugar per serving. (See the “What Are Whole Grains?” sidebar below.)

Pita Chips

Why you think they’re healthy: Pita bread is a good for you, so baked pita chips must be good too.

But really: “They sound wonderful, but they are really high in fat,” says Peggy Swistak, a consulting nutritionist at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle. “Three or four pita chips with bean dip is a healthy snack, but who only eats three or four?” If you aren’t careful, you could eat a whole bag, and that would count as your fat allotment for the whole day.

Instead: Munch on rice cakes or plain air-popped popcorn. One rice cake is only 45 calories and contains less than a gram of fat. One cup of plain popcorn is about 30 calories and less than half a gram of fat.

What Are Whole Grains?

  • barley
  • brown rice
  • buckwheat
  • bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • millet
  • oatmeal
  • popcorn
  • whole-wheat bread, pasta or crackers
Health & Body

It can be tough to eat right on a dancer’s schedule, so “it’s important to eat foods that will give you the most nutrients back,” says registered dietician Marie Scioscia, who works with dancers at The Ailey School.

You probably already try to make good cuisine choices, but you might be missing out on some great foods simply because you’ve never heard of them. These “superfoods” aren’t as common as your favorite healthy fare, but they can easily complement things you’ve already got on your plate. Check your local health food and grocery stores to find these unsung diet heros. 

Goji Berries

One ounce of goji berries will give you about 180 percent of your recommended daily value (RDV) of vitamin A, 30 percent of your RDV of vitamin C and 15 percent of your RDV of iron. The tart berries also contain betaine, a natural chemical compound that helps calm nerves, enhances memory and promotes muscle growth—perfect for young dancers.

How to eat them:

•    You can eat goji berries raw by the handful or stir them into your morning cereal.

•    Drop a few berries into your tea while it steeps for an added burst of flavor.

Greek Yogurt

Greek yogurt has a rich, creamy texture and tastes tangier than regular yogurt. It has about twice as much protein per serving as regular yogurt, which will help keep your bones and muscles strong. Plus, its concentrated levels of vitamins B6 and B12 and magnesium promote intestinal and vaginal health and help cure bacterial infections.

How to eat it:

•Stir a handful of whole-grain cereal into six ounces of yogurt for a snack that will keep you feeling fuller longer.

•Mix Greek yogurt with fat-free sour cream, milk, dried oregano leaves and garlic to make a low-sodium salad dressing.

Almond Butter

Almond butter is high in protein, and it has minerals and monounsaturated fat, which lower blood pressure. The sweet and smooth spread tastes similar to peanut butter, but it has twice as much iron, more than double the amount of vitamin E and eight times as much calcium.

How to eat it:

•    Spread two tablespoons on whole-wheat bread for a sandwich that will last all day in your dance bag.

•    Almond butter tastes delicious with apple slices or celery.

Turkey Pepperoni

This lunchtime alternative has a whopping 70 percent less fat and 50 percent less saturated fat than regular pepperoni. One serving (17 pieces!) contains only 70 calories but has a substantial 5 grams of protein, which will keep your energy up through long rehearsal days. Turkey pepperoni tastes like ordinary pepperoni, and it’s a great substitute for higher-fat foods like sausage, hamburger and most lunch meats.

How to eat it:

•    Build a filling sandwich by placing a few pieces of turkey pepperoni on wheat bread and adding lettuce, tomato and sprouts.

•    Create a healthy pizza by toasting a whole-wheat English muffin topped with a dollop of tomato sauce, low-fat cheese and turkey pepperoni.

Quinoa

Technically a seed, quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has a slightly nutty taste. It’s a whole grain that’s rich in iron, which helps prevent anemia—a chronic disorder that can cause serious fatigue. Quinoa also contains more protein than rice or wheat, making it a great option for vegan or vegetarian dancers.

How to eat it:

•    Cook quinoa like rice and add it to a cold salad.

•    Try a quinoa-rich breakfast cereal like Orgran Multigrain O’s with Quinoa.

Turmeric is a super spice!

According to the American Cancer Society, it has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Sprinkle the peppery, gingery spice on eggs or veggies for a warm, earthy flavor.

Health & Body

With the new year rapidly approaching and a flurry of holiday gatherings competing for a spot on your social calendar, it’s just the right time to think about how to keep your waist in line and your energy levels soaring. When heavy party foods start to weigh you down, a trip to the produce section at your favorite grocery store may be just what your body needs to feel light and keep you full of holiday cheer.

Health officials recommend that an American consuming a 2,000 calorie diet gobble up two cups of fruits and two and a half cups of veggies a day. Unfortunately, The Produce for Better Health Foundation says fewer than 1 in 10 Americans report eating the recommended amount. Worried about not meeting this lofty goal? A well-balanced salad may be the perfect solution. For instance, a salad that includes one cup of dark green lettuce, half a cup of chopped peppers, half a cup of broccoli, five cherry tomatoes (considered half a cup) and one medium carrot will provide your recommended daily dose of veggies and fruits in one bowl. (Check out www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid for more great ways to boost your daily fruit and veggie intake.)

What’s All the Hype?

Developing a taste for salads can be a great tool for busy dancers looking for a quick way to take in a lot of key nutrients at once. Fruits and vegetables pack a serious nutritional punch, and salads filled with them are high in disease-fighting vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, beta carotene, folate and potassium. Fruits and vegetables are also drenched with phytochemicals (phyto = plant), which help fight colds and relieve sore muscles (they also give produce its color, taste and aroma). Healthy salads are high in fiber, a filling nutrient that will help keep hunger at bay and your digestive tract on track. Some great benefits during this season of indulgence, don’t you think?

The Anatomy of the Perfect Salad

There are so many fruits and vegetables available, the possible salad combinations are endless. But beware, not all salads are healthy. For example, if your salad bowl is filled with colorless iceberg lettuce, a few carrot slivers, croutons and a heaping ladle-full of creamy dressing, or your idea of a healthy salad involves the names “Caesar” or “taco,” you may need to make over your salad to ensure you’re getting the most nutritional bang for your buck–without the muck! Here are some simple tips to help get your salad in shape.

The Perfect Bowl

Start with a huge bowl. Yes, this is one of the few areas where we won’t automatically recommend the smallest serving size! In fact, imagine your bowl has a device on the side to measure the nutritional value of your salad: Add healthy ingredients and the points on your meter will increase, but add less favorable elements to your salad, like bacon or creamy dressings, and the points will plummet.

Taste the Rainbow

Color is key. Be sure to add at least one dark green, deep orange, blazing red and bright yellow veggie to your bowl. To satisfy your sweet tooth, toss some chopped fresh fruit into the mix, as well. Grapes, apples and strawberries are especially nutritious and delicious.

It’s Not Easy Being Creamy

If creamy is your thing, watch out for most potato salads and cole slaw, but feel free to mix up your own using low-fat mayonnaise or plain yogurt. Yes, mayonnaise can be particularly damaging to the healthy value of a salad, so it would be wise to limit your intake of similar salads, such as egg salad, tuna salad and chicken salad.

Pump Up the Protein

Top your salad with lean proteins to keep you satisfied longer and provide the building blocks for strong muscles. Meats such as turkey, grilled chicken breast, canned albacore tuna packed in water, freshly cooked salmon and swordfish, or hard- boiled eggs can do the trick. Those looking for non-animal-based protein sources should consider adding moderate amounts of tofu, nuts, beans, other legumes or avocado to the mix. Cheese lovers might opt for a dollop of low-fat cottage cheese, or a sprinkle of parmesan, asiago, feta or part-skim mozzarella, each of which will give your greens a serious protein and calcium lift.

Dressing Up

Dressings can make or break a salad. Go for the ones that contain healthy, plant-based oils, such as olive, canola, peanut and flaxseed oil. Keep in mind, even though salad dressings containing these oils are heart healthy, they still check in at 9 to 12 grams of fat for two tablespoons. Consider giving nonfat or low-fat dressings a try, but beware that many of these can have high sugar content. Dressings with no more than three grams of fat and 200 milligrams of sodium per two tablespoon serving are ideal. Yogurt-based dressings are another nutrient-packed option. At restaurants, ask for your salad dressing on the side, so you can monitor the amount you take in. No matter which dressing you choose, it’s essential to use it sparingly!

A Little Extra

Finally, to give your salad a crunchy kick, sprinkle a little low-fat granola, wheat germ, ground flaxseed or crumbled pita chips on top. You canalso consider other unique additions, like nuts, seeds, celery salt, fresh ground pepper and even a splash of lemon juice to put a new twist on your favorite fruit and veggie combo.

You now have all the tools to build a healthy and colorful salad–but don’t stop there! The beauty of these guidelines is that they’re flexible enough to leave you with room to experiment with new combinations all the time. Keep switching the mix to keep your tastebuds tantalized and your cravings on course, and we bet you’ll never think of salads as boring again!

Karlyn Grimes, a registered dietitian, holds a dual master's degree in nutrition and exercise phsiology from Boston University and is a faculty member in the Nutrition and Biology departments at Simmons College in Boston.

Health & Body

Wake up at 6 a.m. Get ready for school. Leave by 7. Start school at 8. Done by 3. Run home, change for dance class, get to studio by 4. Dance until 8 pm. Home by 8:30. Homework until 11. Sleep at midnight. Wake up the next day—and do it all over again.

Food? What food? It’s hard for most people to fit in a decent meal these days, and busy dancers are no different. Amanda Coronia, a junior at Boca Raton High School and dancer at Carol Colbert School of Dance in Boca Raton, FL, says she tries her best to avoid the drive-thru. “But when there is a lack of time going from a school function to a dance rehearsal or event to event, it’s necessary,” she says. Sometimes the best you can do is choose the healthiest option at a not-so-healthy place. And that’s not so bad. Better to eat fast food than to not eat anything at all, right?

Though drive-thru fare won’t compare to a home-cooked meal, there are options at every eatery that aren’t quite as belly expanding, artery clogging and sodium overdosing as others. That is, they have better combinations of calories, saturated fat and sodium than other foods on the menu. So when you’re in a pinch, select foods that at least include fresh fruit or vegetables, or check out these select sample meals.

McDonald’s

Don’t listen to friends who say, “Didn’t you hear how fattening the salad dressings are? I heard they’re worse than eating a Big Mac!” Dressings are often full of healthy fats that your body needs to function. Big Macs, with 540 calories, 10 g of saturated fat and 1040 g of sodium, are not.

• Premium Southwest Salad with Newman’s Own Creamy Southwest Dressing and Small Fries (470 calories, 4.5 g saturated fat, 650 mg sodium)

• Grilled Honey Mustard or Chipotle BBQ Snack Wrap with Snack Size Fruit and Walnut Salad (470 calories, 5 g saturated fat, 860–890 mg sodium)

Taco Bell

Though Taco Bell has fairly small portions, beware of the extremely high sodium content in almost everything on the menu. One meal can contribute up to half of your recommended daily intake. Try asking for cheese-less options, or replace the sauces with salsa, which often includes fresh tomatoes and vegetables.

• Two Fresco Crunchy Tacos with Pintos ’n Cheese Side and Salsa Side (475 calories, 5.5 g saturated fat, 1,370 mg sodium)

• Fresco Grilled Steak Soft Taco with Mexican Rice Side and Guacamole Side (340 calories, 2.5 g saturated fat, 1,190 mg sodium)

Dunkin Donuts

Dunkin Donuts recently added breads with whole grains (look for “multigrain” options) to its menu. Do your best to stay away from those delicious baked goods, though: Even the “DDSmart” options have 10 times the amount of sugar you should be having in one meal. Also pass on “reduced fat” options, which replace healthy fats with loads of unhealthy chemicals. And if you’re craving a latte, sweeten it yourself so you can control how much sugar is added.

• Multigrain Bagel with Regular Cream Cheese and Small Coffee (555 calories, 10 g saturated fat, 855 mg sodium)

• Egg White Veggie Flatbread Sandwich with Iced Tea (295 calories, 4 g saturated fat, 680 mg sodium)

Subway

Subway’s well-known spokesman, Jared, has convinced us all that Subway is not really fast food—that it’s healthy, fresh and lean. It’s a definite plus when not everything is deep-fried or covered in sauces, but take a closer look at the items you order. Many Subway sandwiches are much larger than a one-person portion and can be high in fat and sodium. If you need that foot-long, forgo the chips and soda. Or if you don’t want the bread, get your favorite toppings on a salad!

• 6"Veggie Delite with Baked Lays (360 calories, .5 g saturated fat, 700 mg sodium)

• Turkey Breast Mini Sub with Fire-Roasted Tomato Orzo Soup (320 calories, 1 g saturated fat, 1,020 mg sodium)

Chick-fil-A

Chicken might be better than beef, but the white meat can still be unhealthy. Avoid fried chicken and heavy toppings. And those waffle fries? They’ll add 420 calories (almost the amount of a full meal) and 5 grams of saturated fat to whatever else you order.

• Southwest Chargrilled Salad and Fruit Cup (340 calories, 4 g saturated fat, 750 mg sodium)

• Chicken Salad Sandwich with Carrot and Raisin Salad (760 calories, 5 g saturated fat, 1380 mg sodium)

Dairy Queen

Dairy Queen—the place we can’t avoid for a cold treat. The most fattening drink on Dairy Queen’s menu (a Large Turtle Pecan Cluster Blizzard) will serve up 1,530 calories, 23 grams of saturated fat and 182 grams of carbohydrates. That’s basically your daily limit of everything, in one dessert! So, at the very least, aim for smaller sizes, or try fruit or nut toppings.

• Small Banana Split Blizzard (440 calories, 9 g saturated fat, 190 mg sodium)

• Medium Pineapple Sundae (340 calories, 6 g saturated fat, 140 mg sodium)

Average Recommended Daily Values (for an active, young adult female)

According to mypyramid.gov, you should consume:

• about 2,000 calories

• about 20 g saturated fat

• about 2,400 mg sodium

• about 300 g carbohydrates

What to Buy at the Vending Machine

When you’re stuck at the studio all day and forgot to pack a banana, grab one of these options instead.

• Snyder’s Mini Pretzels (160 calories, 0 g saturated fat, 350 mg sodium)

• 1.5 oz Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips (210 calories, 1 g saturated fat, 240 mg sodium)

• Mr. Nature Unsalted Trail Mix (120 calories, 1 g saturated fat, 10 mg sodium)

Adina Grigore is a dancer, health counselor and personal trainer living in NYC.

Health & Body

When it comes to eating at college, there are plenty of ways to fill your plate—some healthy and some not so healthy. “Fried food and sweets are offered in my dining hall all the time,” says Caitlyn Hydeck, a 22-year-old dance major at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. “Plus I discovered takeout, which requires no work, just a phone call!” With all this newfound freedom, Hydeck realized she could eat any time of day, even late at night. “I was living on my own and felt that I could eat what I wanted as long as I got everything done in my busy schedule,” she says. “As the year progressed, I saw that I was gaining unhealthy weight [16 pounds total], and I didn’t seem to be in the same shape I was before. I was also tired all the time.”

College is the first time that many students, like Hydeck, are responsible for their own diets, and the lack of parental supervision can be overwhelming. “The array of options in the dining hall can lead to choosing high-sugar, high-fat and high-calorie foods more often than at home,” says Alice Bender, nutrition educator at the University of Georgia. “Adjusting to college life can be a challenge since you’re learning to manage classes, studies, student activities and social life in a new way. Healthy eating may not be a student’s first priority.” Here’s how you can create, and keep, a nourishing and beneficial diet without missing barbeques in the quad.

Choosing The Right Foods

Here are some guidelines for loading up your tray in the lunch line. Picture your plate as a pie graph. One-third to one-half should be vegetables, about one-fourth to one-third grains or starch (brown rice, pasta, potato, whole grain bread or cereal) and one-fourth protein (lean red meat, chicken, turkey, egg or beans). Add a nonfat or low-fat dairy serving and some fruit for a well-balanced meal.

Even for students who are health conscious, getting the appropriate amount of nutrients can be difficult for reasons like a lack of variety offered for vegetarians and vegans. Julie Opiel, a 19-year-old dance major at Webster University, was a vegetarian going into freshman year. At home, she ate a variety of protein substitutes for meat, like falafel, beans, tofu and lentils with rice. However, maintaining that lifestyle was difficult at college.

“There’s a vegetarian section of our dining hall, but it’s small,” she says. “It lacks variety at times, so I found myself eating large amounts of pasta, which was too filling before dance class.” Salads did not provide all the nutrients she needed either. She was definitely lacking protein in her diet.

“Being surrounded by pizza never helps a hungry dancer who’s searching for a balance of nutrients in her diet and feeling terrified of the daunting freshmen 15!” Opiel says. She ended up feeling stressed and stuck. “I knew I needed certain foods in my diet, but I also had a meal plan with the dining hall and didn’t want to waste money.” In the end, Opiel decided that she needed to add protein to her diet to be healthy, even if it meant eating the meat that was available in the cafeteria. “I still try to eat vegetarian as much as I can, but now I eat chicken and fish, like tuna.”

Remember, it’s OK to splurge sometimes. If you enjoy fried food, allow yourself to eat it, but no more than twice a week and in moderation. The same goes for dessert. While chocolate chip cookies may be your favorite, “try an oatmeal-raisin one instead, which is somewhat healthier,” says registered dietician Marie Scioscia. “Or share with a friend; you’ll find a few bites will satisfy you. Try to keep it to 200 calories (or one regular-sized cookie) per serving.”

Scheduling Meals

Learning when to eat is just as important as what to eat. During her sophomore year, Hydeck reconstructed her diet to cater to her health needs. “I began eating five to six smaller meals with a main source of protein throughout the day,” she says. “This kept my blood sugar at an even level, and I stayed energized throughout the day. I also lost the extra, unhealthy weight I had gained my freshman year.”

Hydeck had the right idea. “There should be no more than four or five hours between meals,” Scioscia says. “If there is more than that, the body starts to crave sugar.” Also, the more you eat during the active part of your day, the faster you will burn those calories, so eat breakfast as early as possible, she says. “When 8 p.m. comes, that’s when the overeating begins if you haven’t eaten enough during the day.”

Dancers usually tend to think of calories as the enemy, but it’s extremely important for active students to get enough of them. Otherwise your metabolism can slow down, and calories and fat aren’t burned as quickly, Bender says. She suggests having three modest, balanced meals and two to three snacks of fruit, yogurt, nuts or whole grain crackers with cheese.

Making it Work

Here are few pointers to help you make the most of your meals:

  • Build Routines Habits take about three weeks to create. “Rather than overwhelming yourself, start by learning how to get a good breakfast in, and lock that in for a few weeks,” Scioscia says. “Once you’ve got that down, concentrate on a healthy lunch, and so on.”

  • Be Prepared “Take a look at the menu one day ahead of time,” Scioscia says. “Sometimes dining halls do a special soup, salad or side, and those are mostly healthy selections.” If you know ahead of time that you will want to choose something higher in fat for one meal (say at a party or celebration), you can balance that in the next meal. “It’s all about planning,” she says. “That takes the stress out of it.”

  • Add Flavor Jessica York, a 20-year-old dance major at Shenandoah University, made the most of the food that was offered at her school. “Oftentimes, the healthy option is the bland option,” she says. “To make things more flavorful without all the added fat, I would bring my own seasonings or dressings with me to the cafeteria. I had to carry a bigger purse to make it work, but it was worth it!”

  • Avoid Drinking Alcohol While there are plenty of reasons not to drink alcohol, the fact that it’s all fattening calories without any nutritional value is a major reason for dancers to steer clear. Alcohol can have an impact on your diet in other ways, too. “While drinking, people often don’t make the kinds of food choices they should make,” Bender says. “And for a day or two after drinking several alcoholic beverages, you can have the ‘munchies,’ which may lead to eating more than you need.”

Finding Help

For more personalized information, talk to a nutritionist or counselor at your school’s health center. Or you can check out mypyramid.gov, where you can get an analysis of your diet, plan a daily menu and find an extensive amount of nutrition information.

Health & Body

A number of teens are making a statement with what they’re eating—or not eating. They’re going vegan, which means giving up foods that come from animals—that includes all meat, fish, cheese, eggs, milk and butter. Teen dancers who think it’s the right choice should know it’s not necessarily the safest for every body. DS investigates.

Is It Healthy For Dancers?

Isabella Mariani, 15, who takes dance classes at The Chapin School and performed with the National Dance Institute, now follows a vegan diet. Isabella says she feels “healthier, a lot cleaner and more pure. I have more energy, too.” But there are certain factors to consider when going vegan: “Many vegetarians and vegans are missing the veggie part,” says dietician Suzanne Farrell, MS, RD, and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. In other words, fries might be free of animal products but contain zero nutrients.

Donald Hensrud, MD, nutrition specialist and chair of the Division of Preventive, Occupational, and Aerospace Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, points out that you’ll need to stick to whole foods (hint: They don’t come in boxes or wrappers). “A lot of packaged foods—like white bread—are processed and have nutrients removed,” he explains.

If you do eat processed foods, you’ll have to read the labels because they often contain hidden ingredients that come from animals. “Forms of dairy, such as whey, casein or lard, pop up in packaged foods like canned refried beans,” warns dietician Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Health Risks

Between 13 and 19, you grow like crazy, so getting the proper nutrition is crucial. And what you eat today doesn’t just influence your body right now; it sets you up for the future. Here are five vegan pitfalls you’ll want to watch out for—and ways to sail past them.

Lack of Calcium: “Bone-building calcium is especially important for dancers, who may be more prone to bone and stress fractures,” says Blatner. You’d have to eat more than seven cups of raw broccoli to get as much calcium as there is in only one cup of milk!

Solution: Girls ages 9 to 18 should shoot for 1,300 mg of calcium a day—find it in broccoli, kale, tofu made with calcium and calcium-fortified soy foods, juices and cereals. Ask your doctor about taking a calcium supplement with magnesium.

Low Calorie Count: As a vegan dancer, “you need to eat more volume in order to get the same amount of calories,” Dr. Hensrud says. You would have to eat 35 cups of green beans to get the same number of calories in a pound of hamburger meat. “Because you’re expending a lot of calories in the dance studio, you need more calories than the average teen, not less.”

Solution: Eat calorie-dense foods, like avocados and dried fruit. Also, eat something starchy at every meal, like whole-wheat varieties of cereal, pasta, bread, rice or potatoes. And don’t forget your nuts and seeds.

Diminished Muscle Tone: “Protein is essential for building and repairing muscles and body tissues,” says Blatner. But vegans don’t eat meat or dairy, which are huge sources of protein.

Solution: Eat nuts, seeds, soy, whole grains, lentils, avocados, olives, peas and kidney, pinto and black beans.

Limited Variety: Every day you need protein from several different foods. “Each source of protein carries its own unique blend of amino acids,” says Farrell. So you can’t replace the protein in all meat with just nuts.

Solution: Mix it up and keep it interesting! Make sure the food on your plate isn’t all one color, and beware of buying one or two items in bulk.

Too Little Fat: Not having enough fat in your diet leads to low body fat, which can influence your hormones and  menstrual cycle. Vegans have to get the fat elsewhere—vegan dancers need to compensate even more.

Solution: Eat avocados and nuts; cook with oils.

Health & Body

Get this: Each American consumes 31 teaspoons of sugar a day—that adds up to over 100 pounds of sugar a year! Our excessive sugar intake has been linked to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, unruly behavior and cavities. In an attempt to trim down sugar intake, Americans have turned to sugar alternatives like artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. The increased presence of these sugar substitutes in our food supply has spurred concerns about their safety and nutritional value. Can sugar substitutes allow us to have our cake and eat it, too, or are they just another marketing gimmick created to lighten our wallets at the expense of our health?

Sugar in Disguise

Artificial sweeteners provide sweetness with limited-to-no calories, and dentists love them because they don’t contribute to tooth decay. The American Heart Association encourages people with diabetes to eat artificial sweeteners, and the American Diabetes Association considers sugar substitutes “free foods” since they have very few, if any, calories and keep blood-sugar levels from rising. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of five artificial sweeteners—sucralose, acesulfame K, neotame, aspartame and saccharin—but approval doesn’t always translate to a clean bill of health. Here we’ll discuss the five sweeteners in order of safety—number one having the best track record and number five being the most questionable.

#1 Sucralose

What Is It? Sucralose, better known by its trade name Splenda, is the only artificial sweetener made from real sugar. It tastes sweet and moves through the digestive tract without being changed or absorbed.

How Sweet Is It? 600 times sweeter than sugar

Claim to Fame: Sucralose has a good shelf life and doesn’t degrade when exposed to heat. Additionally, numerous studies have shown that sucralose does not affect blood-glucose levels, making it a good option for diabetics.

Potential Problems: To date, no adverse side effects have been linked to sucralose.

Where It’s Found: Sucralose has been approved as a general-purpose sweetener for all foods and beverages. It’s marketed as a tabletop sweetener and for use in numerous products such as Diet Rite, Diet V8 Splash, Propel Water, Swiss Miss No Sugar Added.

Maximum Daily Intake: Six milligrams or four cans of diet soda for a 120 lb person.

#2 Acesulfame K (Potassium)

What Is It? Acesulfame K, better known as Sunett, is a highly stable, crystalline sweetener with a chemical structure similar to saccharin.

How Sweet Is It? 200 times sweeter than sugar

Claim to Fame: Acesulfame K has an excellent shelf life and does not break down when cooked or baked. Most importantly for diabetics, acesulfame K does not raise blood-sugar levels.

Potential Problems: It has a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Where It’s Found: Diet Pepsi Max, Coca-Cola Zero, Fresca, Diet Coke with Splenda, Trident gum, Wrigley’s Spearmint gum, some SoBe products and sugarfree Jell-O. In carbonated drinks it’s almost always used in conjunction with aspartame or sucralose.

Maximum Daily Intake: 25 milligrams or 20 cans of soda for a 120 lb person

#3 Neotame

What Is It? Neotame is made by the makers of aspartame, but is much sweeter and more stable.

How Sweet Is It? 8,000 times sweeter than sugar

Claim to Fame: No adverse effects have been reported when individuals ingest neotame at the levels commonly found in foods. Since only a tiny bit of neotame is required to achieve maximal sweetness, it’s economical for manufacturers. It’s extremely stable, allowing for a long shelf life.

Potential Problems: It’s too early to tell since the use of neotame is not as widespread as other artificial sweeteners.

Where It’s Found: Neotame can be found in baked goods, soft drinks, gum, frosting, frozen desserts, jams, jellies, gelatins, puddings, processed fruit and fruit juices, beverages, toppings and syrups.

#4 Aspartame

What Is It? Aspartame is composed of two amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. When combined, they have a pleasant, sweet taste.

How Sweet Is It? 200 times sweeter than sugar

Claim to Fame: Aspartame is the most widely used and studied food additive. It’s best known as the main ingredient in Equal and NutraSweet. Unlike many other artificial sweeteners, aspartame does not have a bitter aftertaste.

Potential Problems: Methanol and formaldehyde—which have poisonous properties—are generated during the breakdown of aspartame, but more than 100 toxicology and clinical studies have confirmed aspartame’s safety. Still, along with saccharin, aspartame remains a very controversial artificial sweetener.

Where It’s Found: NutraSweet, Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, Carefree Sugarless Chewing Gum, Dreyer’s (Edy’s) No Sugar Added Light Ice Cream

Maximum Daily Intake: 18 milligrams or 12 cans of diet soda for a 120 lb person

#5 Saccharin

What Is It? Saccharin is the granddaddy of all sugar substitutes. It was accidentally discovered in the late 19th century by two scientists who didn’t wash their hands for lunch while working with coal tar. This led them to notice a sweet taste on their hands. Later this substance became known as saccharin.

How Sweet Is It? 450 times sweeter than sugar

Claim to Fame: Saccharin is most well-known for its presence in Sweet ’N Low. Due to its long shelf life, saccharin is often used in diet fountain sodas, and its stability at high temperatures makes it an option for sweetening baked goods. Saccharin can also be made cheaply, making it economical for manufacturers.

Potential Problems: In 1977, the FDA proposed a ban on saccharin due to concerns about rats that developed bladder cancer after receiving high doses of saccharin (in amounts comparable to 800 diet sodas a day). In 2000, after studies revealed no negative effects of saccharin use in humans, saccharin was removed from the National Toxicology Program’s blacklist of suspected cancer-causing substances. Currently, moderate saccharin use is considered acceptable.

Where It’s Found: Saccharin is the primary ingredient in Sweet’N Low. It can be found in diet soft drinks like Tab and some sugar free gums like Trident.

Maximum Daily Intake: 12 milligrams or nine packets of artificial sugar sweetener for a 120 lb person

Sugar Smarts

Any substance can lead to health problems if consumed in large quantities. Furthermore, foods high in real sugar or sugar substitutes tend to contribute little or nothing when it comes to vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients. Sugar substitutes also take the place of more nutritious foods, so they should be consumed in moderation. One or two foods containing artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols daily should be fine, but you should choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.

Karlyn Grimes holds a dual master’s degree in nutrition and exercise physiology from Boston University, and is a faculty member in the nutrition and biology departments at Simmons College. Her nutrition and exercise book series for children is being published this spring. Visit scootercook.com.

Health & Body

Whether it’s snowing in your neck of the woods or your winter conditions are a little milder, this is the time of year when foods high in fat are especially appealing and seem to lurk around every corner (hot chocolate with whipped cream, anyone?). The shorter days, cooler temps and more indoor time may be to blame for our enhanced desire for comfort foods and TV-watching, but don’t despair! There are plenty of healthy foods that will give you a warm fuzzy feeling, even when Jack Frost is lurking outside your window. Here are eight tips for taking a bite out of winter weight gain:

1. Break the Fast

Breakfast is the meal of champions. It keeps your cravings for foods high in fat, sugar and calories under wraps. When the sun is on the rise, choose foods high in fiber and protein—low-fat yogurt topped with low-fat granola, a hearty bowl of oatmeal matched with a tall glass of milk, or a whole-grain bagel with a shmear of peanut butter.

2. Graze Like You Mean It

Don’t be fooled: Skipping meals will not save you calories. The longer you go on empty, the more apt you are to choose foods bursting with fat and sugar in quantities meant for Paul Bunyan. Instead, eat 200-400 calories every three to four hours to keep one step ahead of your cravings. For longer satisfaction, think whole-grain breads, vegetables, lean protein (turkey, chicken, hummus, beans), and a sprinkle of healthy, unsaturated fats like nuts, seeds and avocados.

3. Pump Up the Protein

Cravings for comfort foods can be caused by an uneven distribution of protein throughout the day. Adding a little to each mini-meal or snack—low-fat cheese sticks, yogurt, almonds, hummus and whole-grain crackers—will send your sweet tooth into hibernation and encourage long-term hunger suppression.

4. Sweet by Nature

What could be sweeter than a succulent pink grapefruit, a bright red apple or a pear that’s soft to the touch? A piece of fruit can pacify your sweet tooth while boosting your fiber, phytochemical and antioxidant intake.

5. Listen Up!

Have you ever spent hours preparing a delicious meal, and then eaten it so fast (or so mindlessly) that you suddenly looked down at your empty plate thinking, “Where did my food go?” Eating in front of the television, computer or while reading can spell disaster. Eat your meals and snacks free from distractions so you can fully enjoy your food—and recognize when you’re full.

6. Drink Up!

A good old glass of water may be just what your body is craving when your energy levels tumble. Next time you feel a craving coming on, down a big glass of water and see if your cravings retreat.

7. Keep Moving

We all know that dancing works miracles, but did you know that exercise also calms cold weather appetites? It slows down the centers in the brain that control appetite and pumps out happy hormones called endorphins. Thirty to 60 minutes of moderate exercise three to five times a week can take a bite out of your cravings—so keep on dancing!

8. Brush Up!

As the day winds down, cravings can pick up speed (hence the midnight snack!). This is a great time to grab your toothbrush and send your hankering for a Hostess Ho Ho down the drain.

Health & Body

(via lemonandlyme.com)

Oh, chocolate, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways. Chocolate helps us quell our PMS-induced cravings and nurse our wounds after heart-wrenching breakups—not to mention that it just tastes so good. To our delight, recent studies have the media singing the praises of this decadent dessert that’s previously had a bad rap, health-wise. We know you’ve seen those news flashes on the internet proclaiming, “Chocolate is good for you!” But to score chocolate’s true health benefits, you have to know which kinds to choose.

Chocolate 101

Chocolate is made from cocoa, also known as cacao, grown on trees in the tropical forests of South America in the form of a bean. Cocoa contains high levels of flavonoids, which are “the natural chemical substances in chocolate that have favorable health properties,” says Jackie Keller, an L.A.-based health and nutrition expert.

Why should you care about flavonoids? They can improve blood vessel function, which keeps your blood pumping freely throughout your body, and they can also reduce blood clots—those nasty little things that can cause heart attacks and strokes later in life. Flavonoids also clean up free radicals, which are absolutely-no-good molecules that can cause cell damage, cancer and aging, says MariAnn Rhodes, MS, RD, LDN, a Chicago area–based nutritionist. That doesn’t mean that gorging yourself on chocolate will automatically erase your wrinkles when you’re older, but a flavonoid-rich diet is thought to lessen the signs of aging.

Choosing Chocolate

If all this chocolate-is-good-for-you news is making you want to rush to the nearest vending machine or bakery—STOP! Sadly, all chocolate is not created equal. “The addition of milk dilutes the concentration of cocoa solids and lessens flavonoids,” says Massachusetts-based nutritionist Laura Zohman. This means you’ll receive the most health benefits from a solid chocolate—not chocolate cake, pudding or cookies—that also has a high cocoa content. Here’s a breakdown of cocoa content for the three types of commercially-made chocolate out there:

  • White chocolate: contains no cocoa bean solids
  • Milk chocolate: contains 7 to 50 percent cocoa
  • Dark chocolate: contains 50 to 85 percent cocoa

Because these categories vary widely, Zohman recommends looking for a dark chocolate with 70 percent or greater cocoa content noted on the label. Brands to look for include Scharffen Berger, Dagoba, Santander, Godiva, Amadei, Endangered Species, NEWTREE Chocolates and Cacao Reserve by Hershey’s. This higher cocoa content means a lower sugar and fat content, which gives dark chocolate a stronger, more bitter taste in comparison to lighter milk chocolate. In addition, check the ingredients label when shopping for chocolate. “Choose…chocolates containing real cocoa butter, not hydrogenated oils and milk fats, which are unhealthy,” says Zohman. “Look for real vanilla and other natural ingredients, rather than artificial additives.”

Words of Wisdom

Unfortunately, “the more the better” rule of thumb doesn’t apply to dark chocolate. Sticking to a healthy serving size is essential, as even the darkest chocolate also contains sugar, saturated fat and about 150 calories per ounce (that’s usually one or two squares, depending on the bar). Nutritionists recommend dark chocolate as a smart substitute for other treats, like brownies or cookies, but you still need to maintain a balanced diet of fruits, veggies and whole grains—all of which offer their own doses of beneficial antioxidants and vitamins. “A one-ounce serving daily can be a delicious way to obtain the health benefits and a bite of pure enjoyment, too,” Keller explains.

Keep in mind that chocolate isn’t for everyone. “We are all biochemically different,” Zohman says, “and do not tolerate foods in the same way.” She explains that chocolate contains theobromine, a caffeine-like chemical which can cause headaches or insomnia for some people, while Rhodes adds that chocolate can also aggravate acid reflux for others. In these cases, it’s best to steer clear of chocolate altogether.

Health & Body

Do you think that bread, pretzels and yogurt fit nicely into a healthy diet? Think again. Although they’re low in fat, these foods possess questionable nutritional value. Some are processed and refined, while others lack water and volume—talk about setting yourself up for chronic hunger and energy lows! Here are eight foods that may be counteracting your efforts to become a lean, mean, dancing machine—and some healthful alternatives. (And turn to p. 60 for a list of 10 mighty foods to add to your diet!)

1. White Bread

  • The Dilemma: It’s doughy, low in fat and high in carbs. What more could you ask for? A lot! White bread has refined written all over it, which means that it will give you a quick energy high followed by a hankering for another carb-loading food. It’s also empty of beneficial proteins, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

  • The Solution: Choose 100-percent whole-grain bread, cereal and crackers, which will give you energy for hours on end!

2. Bagels

  • The Dilemma: They’re quick, easy and portable. But these days, bagels are the size of flotation devices, which means they pack in some serious calories, and their lack of fat and protein give these lifesavers minimal staying power. Can you say mid-morning slump?

  • The Solution: Choose half a whole-grain bagel (rich in protein and fiber), and top it with peanut butter, hummus or low-fat cottage cheese.

3. Cereal Bars

  • The Dilemma: Cereal bars are an easy grab-and-go item, but nutritionally, most cereal bars are duds. (Imagine a slice of white bread with a smear of sugar-laden jam minus the whole grains, milk and fresh fruit that come in a bowl of cereal.)

  • The Solution: Make your own trail mix with whole-grain cereal, nuts, seeds and dried fruit, and portion it into small sandwich bags for easy portability! This snack is high in protein and heart-healthy fats and fiber and tastes delicious.

4. Energy Bars

  • The Dilemma: They’re easy to carry in your dance bag and give you the boost you need before class, right? Unfortunately, most energy bars have a nutritional profile that matches that of the standard candy bar.

  • The Solution: Choose a bar that is sweetened with fruit juice, contains oats, nuts and dried fruit, is free of hydrogenated or palm kernel oils and is made of whole-grain carbs—and eat it with fruit, yogurt and water.

5. Pretzels

  • The Dilemma: Pretzels may be low in fat, but they are downright dry, and dry foods don’t satisfy your appetite.

  • The Solution: Choose foods with a high water content—fruits, veggies, yogurt and cooked grains (think oatmeal). Or, pair low-fat dry foods with wet foods to enhance meal satisfaction.

6. Low-Fat & Non-Fat Baked Goods

  • The Dilemma: Think you’re being good by choosing the low-fat version of your favorite cupcake? Not only are many low-fat baked goods dry, they’re also packed with sugar and have nearly as many calories as their full-fat versions.

  • The Solution: Eat the real thing! Savor the taste of a homemade chocolate chip cookie, but practice portion control and pair your treat with low-fat milk.

7. Yogurt

  • The Dilemma: Your favorite yogurt—meant to be a calcium- and protein-packed snack—may be totally sugar-laden. Many flavored yogurts contain up to 11 teaspoons of sugar in each eight-ounce serving—more than is found in a 12-ounce can of soda!

  • The Solution: Opt for plain yogurt topped with fresh fruit and low-fat granola.

8. Soup

  • The Dilemma: Chicken soup has been touted as a cure-all for the common cold, but when it comes from a can, it’s not as healthy as you think. Many canned soups contain 1,000 mg of sodium per cup—that’s almost half of the recommended daily value for sodium—and only a tablespoon or two of salt-laden veggies.

  • The Solution: Ask the cook of the house to save the carcass from the rotisserie chicken you chowed the other night to make your own broth, or use low-sodium broth to make your own soup and add tons of veggies. Or, choose brands like Healthy Choice and Campbell’s Healthy Request.

The Bottom Line

Seek out foods that are close to their original form—fruits, veggies, dairy products and whole grains. The longer the list of ingredients on a can of soup or box of crackers, the more processed the food is. If the ingredients sound like chemicals from second-period science, the food has been seriously tinkered with. The healthiest foods are those that are the least refined and have the shortest ingredients list. Happy eating!

Health & Body

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