Food Plan FAQ
On page 122 of the Member’s Guide we write:
“Often” foods are the lowest in fat and sugar, and are relatively low in calories. They are also the most nutrient dense. “Occasional” foods are those foods that should be enjoyed every now and then as they do offer nutrition, but at a higher caloric price tag. “Seldom” foods should be enjoyed rarely as they are high-calorie foods with little nutritional value.
I consider “Often” to mean every day to every other day, “Occasionally” to mean every few days to once a week, and “Seldom” to mean every few weeks to every few months. It depends somewhat on the food itself. For example, fried chicken is a lot more of an issue than a tablespoon of butter is. For my husband and I, fried chicken is truly a food we enjoy only once or twice a year. However, dark chocolate is something I can enjoy more often since the quantity is limited to only a piece or two. Be honest and truly discretionary with this exercise. We all know in our heart of hearts which foods we need to avoid most of the time and which ones we need to choose most often.
We don't have a free foods list anymore, but there are definitely things like mustard, ketchup, and other low-calorie condiments that do not really need to be counted as they are not a threat to maintaining one's calorie range for the day. Also, many behavioral therapists do not agree with the "free food" idea as it can lead to people consuming more calories than they think they are. For example, a hearty vegetable broth-based soup was considered "Free" in the past, but Progresso vegetable soups have somewhere around 70 calories per serving. If someone considers this "Free" and thus has 2-3 servings in a sitting, that's 140-210 calories! They add up fast and are definitely not "free".
A general rule of thumb is that if something has under 25 calories and is consumed in 1 portion (not three, which would be 75 calories) it's not really worthy worrying about. But again, this requires critical thinking and discretion of the individual. A teaspoon of mustard isn't worth thinking twice about - but the vegetable soup, for example, is another issue.
Reading labels is a fundamental skill in FP4H and we want people to use that tool to help provide them with the information they need to make healthy choices. If it's only 15 calories for a stick of gum - big deal. If it's something more calorie-dense and something they would be tempted to eat several servings of, that should not be ignored.
I noticed on the MyPlate.org website, it includes “discretionary calories”. What are they and does the Live It plan have them, too?
You only need a certain number of cups, ounces and teaspoons of foods and oils to obtain adequate nutrition (vitamins, minerals and carbohydrate, protein and fat). The calories provided from these foods are the “essentials”, if you will. These are the minimum calories required to meet your nutrient needs. Then you have some “extra” calories that are important for providing you with enough energy. Think of it like a calorie budget – most of the budget is dedicated to essentials and the rest is for extras. These extras are things like higher-fat choices from the food groups and occasional treats.
Instead of giving a discretionary calorie amount for each calorie range, we decided to add those calories in and distribute them for you across the food groups. For example, instead of recommending someone on a 1500-1600 calorie diet consume 1.5 cups of fruit and 5 ounces of grains, we increased these amounts to 1.5-2 cups and 5-6 ounces, respectively. We did this to encourage balance and made the assumption that people will make choices from each group that span from the lowest-fat, lowest-calorie items to the higher-fat, higher-calorie items.
We did not include cups, ounces, and teaspoons for the recipes because we want members to think critically for themselves and assess what foods amount to. This tends to be easy for separate foods like grilled chicken, rice, green beans, etc. For combination foods, just like the exchanges, you usually always have to make an educated guess. Now, for a peach cobbler, for example, one thing you could do is take the ingredients and divide them by the number of servings the recipe provides. That would give you the number of cups of peaches per serving, number of ounces of pastry, etc. Other ingredients like sugar, butter and spices don’t fall into food groups – they are extras. As we explain on page 122 of the Member’s Guide, we made the assumption when calculating calorie ranges and servings from each group, that you will sometimes choose foods higher in fat and sugar. Those “extra” calories are built in, but with the assumption that you are truly only consuming these foods (like desserts and treats) occasionally or even seldom.
For the cobber, I would definitely count the peaces towards your fruit. Depending on the crust – you could count it as bread. For example, if it’s a low-fat biscuit mix used in the recipe, look on the box to see how much counts as 1 ounce. Also, 28 grams equals 1 solid ounce – that may help if they list things in grams and not ounces.
Lastly, remember that things like peach cobbler – for the most part – are foods you will not eat on a daily basis. So just jot it down, note the calories to ensure that you’ve got enough to spare that day, and move on. Enjoy it! You know it’s a quality choice because it’s one of our recipes and you can manage the quantity by how many servings you have.
We have not given you the cups, ounces and tsps for the recipes because we want you to learn how to do it yourself. Using the information for each group in the member’s guide (what counts as a cup, what counts as an ounce, etc.), visual cues (the size of the palm of your hand is ~3oz. meat), and reading labels and ingredients lists. If we gave you all of that information then we’d be cheating you out of learning how to do it when you’re at a restaurant or perhaps a friend’s house for dinner. When you have a recipe, you do the exact same thing you’d do with exchanges – take each main ingredient and divide by the number of servings it provides. For example, 12 ounces of chicken used in a recipe that serves 6 would yield ~2 oz. per serving, and 3 cups of cooked noodles would yield a ½-cup serving.
I understand the plan use to use the Exchange system for counting calories. Did I read it now uses the Food Guide Pyramid for the diet plan?? How does this work?
We did rewrite our materials last year and many of the changes were concentrated in the food plan. The new food plan is much easier, intuitive and definitely more appropriate of life-long use. Instead of counting everything meticulously and being diagnosed with analysis-paralysis (which was the case with many over the years), we wanted to free our members up and empower them to think critically for themselves and learn how to eat quality foods in appropriate quantities most of the time. That’s really the key to a healthy eating plan – moderation, variety, personalization, and balance.
The new plan still provides recommended amounts you should eat from each food group, but they are now quantified in cups, ounces and teaspoons (instead of exchanges). The plan is also not based on a diabetic eating plan, but one suitable for the general population. Thus, foods are no longer categorized by their carbohydrate content, but rather the nutrients they provide. Also, we provide tips on how to visually estimate portion sizes and encourage people to make educated guesses when they must – no analysis-paralysis anymore! Quality, quantity and frequency are the key words. Also, we believe that all foods can fit in a healthy eating plan. Everything from whole grains to a slice of cake can have a place in a healthy diet, but not all foods should have a prominent place. We teach these principles in the new food plan.
We have new DVDs to explain how to approach each section of the grocery store, examples of 600-calorie menus, an overview of the food plan and the top 10 nutrition behaviors we want people to focus on adopting before they focus on every calorie they eat, and how to really make a food journal (or what we now call the Live It Tracker) work for them and help them stay on track to meeting their goals.
The foundations of the First Place program will always remain the same; that true health comes when we are living in balance as best we can – mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. The food plan is just one exciting aspect of the new program. There are many other improvements including the emotional section of the plan including more instruction on how to investigate your relationship and history with food, the fitness section including new tips for any fitness level, and fresh new Bible studies with new content.
Our program is most certainly suitable for most anyone with proper tailoring if needed. Someone living with diabetes can still follow our recommendations, but choose, for example, less starchy vegetables and more green ones to reduce the carbohydrate intake from that group. Same with the meat & beans group – more animal protein low in carbohydrate may be required as opposed to lost of beans, lentils, and other starchy vegetables that are high in protein. Our recommendations are very similar to the ADA’s exchange plan, with the exception that starchy vegetables are considered “breads” in that program, and in ours they are vegetables. Simply, in our plan foods are not grouped based on their carbohydrate content, but rather on the nutrients they provide.
Carbohydrate counting has become one of the easiest ways for people living with diabetes to eat a variety of foods yet still maintain control over how many grams of carbohydrate they take in daily. Should you have a diabetic in your class, they need to be proactive in counting carbs and reducing their intake of starchy vegetables and refined carbohydrates. We talk a lot about quality and quantity throughout our materials. Quality carbohydrates (such as whole grains, fresh fruit, and an assortment of vegetables) are completely appropriate for someone living with diabetes. When they begin choosing less quality choices and in higher quantities, that is when the problem begins.
They need to consult their doctor, of course, but if they monitor their intake of carbohydrate (which they can easily jot down on their Live It Tracker) it shouldn’t be a problem to follow a slightly modified version of our plan. We encourage eating quality foods in appropriate quantities most of the time. The “appropriate quantity” part is where people living with diabetes would need to go an extra step and monitor their carbohydrate intake more closely that others without diabetes.
Instructions for determining a health calorie range for yourself are found in the Member’s Guide on pages 118-120.
Is the program suitable for compulsive overeaters? Do you eliminate certain “trigger” foods from the plan?
Our program is a very safe and general approach to healthy and balanced eating. We do not follow hard and fast rules about cutting out specific foods altogether, but we do encourage people to make those decisions for themselves if they feel that a particular food is triggering them to overeat. You would be provided direction on how to better ready for your environment (pantry, fridge, etc.) for the goals you want to accomplish, but as far as making those kinds of rules for everyone – we do not. Our long-term goal is for people to live without fear of food and see food as neither good or bad, but just food. Moderation is our big theme – that all foods can have a place in a healthy diet, but not all foods should have a prominent place.
If you prefer to keep track of your calories on your Live It Tracker, this is perfectly fine. We’ve found that keeping a running total of one’s calories for the day can be very helpful for certain personalities. We offer quite a few methods of quantifying your choices – cups/ounces/teaspoons, calories, visual cues, etc. Use what works for you best, but definitely keep in mind the goal to eat a variety of foods each day and balance them among the food groups and oils.
I want to understand better how to spread my calories throughout the day. How do I go about doing this?
When it comes to spreading your calories throughout the day, flexibility is a good thing to keep in mind. If you plan on having three meals and two snacks don’t think that you have to equally divide your calories into 5 segments. Meals should be a bit more than snacks, usually, but there will definitely be days when certain meals are larger than others. Dividing your calories among your day’s meals and snacks is simply giving you a ballpark estimate so you are aware of what is appropriate for you each time you sit down to eat. For example, someone on a 1500-1600 calorie range would likely figure ~150 kcal for snacks and ~400-450 kcal for meals. Then, when they eat out and look at the nutrition facts for an item on the menu, they can automatically know if the item is too high, too low, or just right.
Live It Tracker Questions
Mixed dishes, like lasagna, have always required some educated estimation, especially if you are eating away from home and do not have access to the recipe. There are a few ways of doing this. If you do have access to the recipe, you could always divide each of the main ingredients by the number of servings provided to figure out how much of each is provided. For example, in a lasagna recipe you could divide the ounces of pasta, ounces of meat, cups of vegetables, teaspoons of oil, and ounce-equivalents of cheese, cups of tomato sauce, and divide by the number of servings. This would give you a pretty accurate estimate of how many cups, ounces and teaspoons you’re getting for each group.
Alternately, if you go to dinner at a friend’s house who you know used quality ingredients (like part-skim mozzarella, low-sugar-added tomato sauce, lean meat or better yet – grilled vegetables) you’re halfway there! The question of whether your friend’s lasagna is quality is answered (yes). The last part requires you to think critically about quantity and make an educated guess as to what size a square of lasagna is appropriate for you? I would estimate that with quality ingredients, a 3x3 – 4x4 inch square would be an appropriate portion for most people. We are also encouraging you in the Nutrition Top 10 to listen to your hunger cues and really be mindful of your choices and of every bite. When we eat mindfully, we stay aware of whether we’re truly hungry, or just desiring to eat. It’s definitely a journey to discover this, but it’s also a big piece of the puzzle for finally gaining control over your eating habits.
For something like a granola bar or other prepackaged products, I am really encouraging you to ask yourself two simple questions, make a decision based on the answers, and then move on with your life. The first question you need to answer is whether or not the product is a quality one. Some granola bars contain soy protein which is a very lean, cholesterol-free, quality source of protein. Some include nuts which would provide healthy oils, and some include granola and oatmeal which provides servings of whole grain. Read the label. If sugar is one of the first two or three ingredients listed, I would find another one lower in sugar. Secondly, ask yourself whether or not the total calories are appropriate for you given your calorie range for the day. If the item, say a microwave entree, is intended to be a meal and is only 150 calories – that’s not enough. However, 800 calories would be too much for most people. When you spread your calories around for the day, you have a pretty good idea as to how many calories are appropriate for meals and snacks.
Simply, it’s a two-step process of assessing the quality and quantity of the food. You can always jot the calories down on your tracker to help you stay on track with where you are for the day, and guesstimate how many ounces of grain you think you obtained from the granola bar, per say, and the same goes for how many teaspoons of nuts you think were included. Analysis paralysis is not what we’re after. Choose quality foods in appropriate quantities most of the time and you’ll be fine.
With any food, these are the questions you need to ask yourself.
- What categorie(s) does it fall under?
Determine this by using common sense and the ingredients list.
- Is it a quality food?
If no, this should be an “occasional” or “seldom” food.
- Is it in an appropriate quantity for me?
If no, it should be eaten in a smaller portion.
- For a granola bar, they are usually made of grain, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, etc. However, the number of raisins, for example, is likely not enough to worry about as it takes a ¼ cup to count as a ½ cup of fruit. If you think there ARE a ¼ cup of raisins, then count that. If just a few, don’t worry about it. 1 ounce of a dense granola-like cereal is usually just a ¼ cup (i.e. grapenuts). Again, using visual cues just assess as best you can how much grain is in the bar.
- This is a much easier question to answer. If it’s made with more whole grains than sugar, more nuts and seeds than saturated fat, you’re doing good. A Kashi bar is a great choice, but a Quaker Oats bar is not as good. As long as you’re making the best quality choices most of the time, you’re on the right track.
- You have a caloric budget each day and how you spend your calories is up to you. If the granola bar is only 150 calories, I think its very safe to say that it’s within a good range for you as a snack. A protein bar, however, usually contains 50% or more of the total protein you need in a day, which is too high. Thus, on something like that I’d advise you cut it in half. There are 7 grams of protein in 1 ounce of meat. Yes, you get protein from other sources in a granola/meal-replacement bar, but for the most part it is coming from the soy protein or whey protein they make the bar with. Check the label and see if you’re going over your ounce-equivalents for meat with the bar. If so, cut in half or find a replacement.
Bottom line, with mixed dishes like these you could spend (read: waste) a lot of time worrying about how to count it perfectly. But if it’s a quality food and you’re eating it in the appropriate quantity, why bother stressing? The most important part is done already. Just make educated guesses when you must and work to eat a variety each day – that’s the goal, not nit-picky perfection!
What we provide you with in the Member’s Guide are the tools to learn which foods fall into which categories so you can then take that knowledge and apply it to mixed dishes, restaurant food, etc. as best possible. Casseroles are likely going to fall into multiple categories based on their multiple ingredients. Take the ingredients list from the recipe and the amount used, divide them by the number of servings the recipe provides. That will give you the amount of chicken, cheese, veggies, etc. in 1 serving of that dish. Just focus on the major ingredients – not spices and herbs. If a recipe calls for 10 ounces of chicken and it feeds 5, you can assume each serving will get around 2 ounces of chicken.
With frozen meals, you’ll have to make educated guesses and leave it at that. First focus on what we talk about throughout the plan – quality and quantity. Is the quality of the meal high? To determine this read the label, the ingredients list and just use common sense. And then, is it in an appropriate quantity for your daily calorie needs? To determine this read the label and note the calories. If you have 1500 calories for a day (think of them as a budget), what would be appropriate to “spend” on lunch? I would say about 350-500 would be fine. If you plan on having two snacks throughout the day, that number might need to be adjusted a bit depending on the snacks, but just be flexible. Perfection is not the goal, moderation is.
With things like pizzas and microwave meals, you just have to make a good educated guess based on what you know. This is not the exchange plan – exact determinations of how many grams of this and that go into which category is not what we’re after. We want people to first and foremost choose QUALITY foods in APPROPRIATE quantities most of the time.
If this person is have 1 slice of pizza at 250 calories per slice, my first question is do they think this is appropriate for their “caloric budget” for the day. Also, is this all they are having or are they combining it with a salad? Having two slices?
From the VISUAL of the slice of pizza, I would ask them to glean these things:
- How many ounces of bread do they think are in a slice? Likely 2-3 ounces, but I can’t see it so I’m not sure.
- How many cups of tomato sauce? Probably a few tablespoons – not hardly worth worrying about
- How much cheese? 1/3 cup shredded cheese is 1 cup milk. Would they say there is more or less than that per slice?
Visual cues are what will need to be employed to make an educated guess about this item. We’re not breaking down the label in grams anymore to determine this – that was the old plan. Bottom line: if the QUALITY is there and the QUANTITIY is appropriate, they are doing fine. If the quality is not so great, then just make this an “occasional” food and have it in a smaller quantity.
- What categorie(s) does it fall under?
How do I calculate recipes and dining out into the categories for the Live-It plan? Where can we get a better idea of how to calculate recipes and eating out?
You can either (1) look up the nutrition facts on the restaurant’s website, (2) ask for them at the restaurant, (3) use visual cues and estimate portions, or (4) take the recipe and divide each ingredient by the number servings to get the amount of each ingredient per serving. With the first two, you’d be provided the calories, grams of fat, cholesterol, sodium, etc and maybe even an ingredients list. From this information the two questions you need to answer are (1) is this a quality food? and (2) is it in an appropriate quantity for me? The ingredients, grams of fat, amount of sodium, sugar, etc. can help you determine whether the food is of high, moderate or low quality. This should dictate whether or not you order it or how often you eat it. For example, something like lasagna at a restaurant is usually a choice that you should consume seldom – chefs usually use full-fat beef, cheese, and lots of it. However, if you make it at home – you have the control and can use higher quality ingredients which will make it a healthier dish that you can enjoy more often. Secondly, the quantity is up for discussion. How many calories does the dish provide? We talk about in the Nutrition Top 10 that you need to spread your calories around. This means that you should take your daily calorie range and divide it over your meals and snacks. The meals and snacks don’t have to be equal, but usually for someone one a 1500-1600 calorie plan, they would want to balance it out like this, give or take:
- Breakfast: 300 kcal
- Snack: 200 kcal
- Lunch: 450 kcal
- Snack: 200 kcal
- Dinner: 450 kcal
When it comes to using visual cues, you’ll learn about this in more depth later on in the program, but you just need to start working on memorizing what actual servings and typical portions looks like. We give you examples for each food group throughout the Member’s Guide. Just start by measuring things out at first to see what, for example, 1 ounce of cereal looks like, or 1 ounce of meat, and go from there.
The point of the table on the Live It Tracker where you estimate your totals for each groups is to remind you to eat from all the groups and in a balanced way – not the majority from one group and hardly any from another. Don’t worry about making this an overly meticulous exercise. Analysis paralysis is not what we’re after. Just do the best you can with estimating when you must, and move on. Choose quality foods most of the time and eat them in appropriate quantities, which can be determined not just from the calorie label but how you feel as you get through a meal (hungry – satisfied – full – stuffed) how mindfully you eat (i.e. your level of awareness of what you’re eating, why you’re eating, how quickly you’re eating, etc.)
Lastly, if you have the recipe for an item, you can always determine how many ounces of this and cups of that are included per serving. Just worry about the major players – the ingredients that actually provide enough calories to worry about. Spices, herbs, a tablespoon of butter – those don’t really have an impact. For the lasagna, for example, I would just note how many ounces of pasta per serving, how many cups of sauce, how many ounces of meat and cheese. If there is a substantial amount of oil added, then sure – count that towards your healthy oils for the day, but if it’s just a tablespoon when browning the meat – don’t worry about it.
I hope that helps!
Why are we not asked to track our water consumption on the Live It Tracker? Aren’t we supposed to drink 8 glasses of water a day?
We made this change because we are not making that recommendation any longer. The old adage that you need 8 glasses of water is actually erroneous. You need so many ounces of FLUID a day, but your fluid needs can be met by many different sources including water AND milk, tea, coffee, and juicy foods like fruits and vegetables. The new philosophy is to “choose better beverages” as a whole – this is explained in the Nutrition Top 10. As long as you are not drinking calories, and drinking enough fluids overall – you are getting enough water. Sure, getting 4-6 glasses of water is still a great goal, but you shouldn’t think that you have to drink 8 IN ADDITION to your morning coffee, tea at lunch, cup of juice, etc. See Simple Ideas for Healthy Living page 151 for more details.
There is a section in Simple Ideas for Healthy Living called “Choosing Better Beverages” (page 151). It explains that even caffeine-containing beverages count toward fluid needs for the day as the diuretic effect is actually quite negligible. All fluids count. Water is obviously one of the best choices as it's pure and calorie-free but outdated is the old adage that you must get 8-10 glasses of water IN ADDITION to other beverages and juice foods (which provides around 20% of your fluid needs).
Grain Group Questions
28 grams equals 1 solid ounce. Therefore, if the label has grams listed, just convert to ounces by dividing the number of grams on the label by 28.
The Grocery Store Tour DVD covers this information as well as the Grains section of your Member’s Guide. You can tell if something is made with whole grain by reading the ingredients list, noting whether or not the item has “100% whole” in the title, and checking for the Whole Grains Council’s stamp of approval. A picture of this stamp is in the Grains section of your Member’s Guide.
Milk Group Questions
Yes the ratio for cottage cheese to milk is 2:1 – that is because 2 cups of cottage cheese contains the same amount of calcium as 1 cup of milk. However, we are not suggesting that 2 cups for your typical portion! A common portion would be more like ½ cup cottage cheese – which would count as ¼ cup milk. And no, we don’t count calcium-rich foods as milk or meat, but only milk. You still get the protein, which contributes to your overall needs for the day, but foods are categorized by the predominant nutrients they offer now.
Technically 1½ cups of ice cream counts as 1 cup of milk. However, ice cream is more of an “extra” – like a candy bar or French fries. In other words, it’s a food that should be consumed seldom. It is made from milk, so it would naturally be considered a milk product, but this should not give us license to replace more “often” dairy foods like skim milk or part-skim cheese, with full-fat ice cream. I suggest that you simply write how much you have on your Tracker and note the calories. Let that information provide you with some insight as to how restrictive you should be for the rest of the day. For example, if I had ice cream at a birthday party during the afternoon, I would be sure to eat light and forego any other rich desserts at dinner.
Made from rice, rice milk is primarily grain-based. However, it has been fortified with calcium in most cases to be a substitute for cow’s milk. If you have someone in your class who is lactose intolerant, vegan or simply doesn’t drink milk, rice milk or soymilk can be substitutions. However, when I looked up a vanilla rice milk online, I found that 1 cup of it contained 130 calories – 40 more than skim milk. If there are “light” varieties I would suggest using those. If the person drinks milk, but would also like to use rice milk, it needs to count as a grain. As you can see here, the main ingredient is rice and water. The third ingredient on this particular brand is safflower oil. So, technically you could also count ½ tsp of oil here. 1 tsp = 5 grams of fat and since this label shows 2.5 grams of fat per serving, that would equal ½ tsp oil.
Meat & Bean Group Questions
Americans only need 15-20% of their total daily calories to come from protein. This is substantially less than what the typical American consumes. We obtain protein from a variety of sources other than animal protein (chicken, meat, fish). For example, you get 3 grams of protein for every serving of whole grain, 8 grams for every 8 ounce glass of milk, and various amounts from vegetarian sources of protein like beans, nuts, and legumes. Thus, our program is designed to provide you with protein from various sources – not just meat and beans. Although it may be less than what you’re used to consuming, our recommendations follow that of the USDA and they include ample amounts of protein.
Healthy Oils Questions
If I eat an 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, do I need to count it as 1 ounce-equivalent of meat and some teaspoons of healthy oil?
Yes, the healthy oils in any nut or nut butter contribute to your healthy oil needs for the day. Turn to page 148 in your Member’s Guide to see a list of foods rich in healthy oils such as margarine, avocado, and nuts. The foods listed there are the ones we want you to consume in moderation to obtain your suggested quota of healthy oils for the day. When you eat a variety of foods - including nuts, seeds, salad dressings, etc. – you’ll get what you need easily.
What about foods high in solid fat like ice cream, cheddar cheese, or a hamburger – do those foods count towards my healthy oils for the day?
Cheese is a great example. We want people to eat in moderation and put into the practice the “often, occasionally, seldom” principle. Thus, have full-fat cheese every now and then is not a crime. Also, the fat in full-fat cheese is saturated fat and does not fall into the “healthy oils” category. So, bottom line – if the full-fat cheese is a seldom food for you, that is perfectly appropriate. We’ve built some “extra” calories in to cover that.