North Dakota State University -- NDSU Agriculture Communication
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo ND, 58105-5655, Tel: 701-231-7881, Fax: 701-231-7044

Prairie Fare: Tis the Season for Diets

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist
NDSU Extension Service

I went shopping at a local mall the other day, elbow-to-elbow with all the other last-minute shoppers. As I scrambled from store to store to finish buying gifts for my family, I noticed something interesting. There appeared to be more people carrying snacks than sacks full of merchandise. Food courts have become the mall destination of choice for many.

Tempting as it is, "mall food" can add lots of calories to your diet, and maybe some extra permanent insulation to your frame. Of course that can be hidden, at least during the winter season, under the bulky sweater Aunt Jane gave you last year.

Letís take a fictional trip through the mall and have a few snacks on the way. Letís start the trip at 1 p.m. After buying Cousin Bill a tie, you stop for a single scoop premium ice cream cone (195 calories) because you skipped lunch. Then you browse the toy store for a bit and smell the hotdog stand, so you have a hotdog with mustard, relish and onions (265 calories) and a regular soft drink (150 calories). The large soft pretzels look pretty good, so you order one of those, too, with cheese (275 calories). After picking up some perfume for Grandma and a box of chocolates for Grandpa, you spy the bakery and decide itís time for a mid-afternoon break with a large Danish (335 calories) and a can of regular soda pop (150 calories).

While no food is inherently "bad", these food choices were fairly high in calories and/or fat and totaled about 1370 calories. In theory, an extra 3500 calories without counter-balancing physical activity could result in an extra pound of body fat. But what about all that walking during shopping? Thirty minutes of moderate physical activity burns about 150 calories for a 150-pound person. So, unless youíre running laps around the mall, strolling through the mall wonít make up for major snack attacks.

There are healthier and equally tasty mall treats available that will fill you up, too. Letís take a second shopping trip where you enjoy a small bag of oil-popped popcorn (110 calories for two cups), a small glass of orange juice (85 calories for six ounces), a medium soft pretzel with pizza sauce (75 calories), a diet soft drink (no calories), an unfrosted brownie (225 calories) and a cup of skim milk (90 calories). The new total is 585 calories or less than half of the original.

To save temptation, calories and money, try having a nutritious snack before you go shopping. Snacks can fill nutrition gaps when chosen wisely. Aim for high-fiber foods like a bran muffin or nutrient dense foods like skim milk or 100 percent fruit juice. And remember itís your total diet that counts, not one eating spree at the mall.

Hereís a tasty mall-like treat you can make at home. If you received a blender from your mother-in-law, hereís your first chance to use it.

Fruit Smoothie

1 large banana, peeled
1 cup crushed pineapple in juice, chilled
1 cup orange juice, chilled
1/2 cup ice
1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
sugar to taste (if desired)
4 fresh strawberries

Slice banana and place in blender with pineapple, orange juice and ice. Blend until smooth. Add blueberries and sugar (if desired); blend again. Pour into four glasses and garnish each glass with one strawberry.

"A serving of Fruit Smoothie (one-fourth of the recipe) contains about 110 calories (without added sugar), less than 1 gram fat, 27 grams of carbohydrates to provide energy and about 70 percent of the daily vitamin C recommendation."

Seasonal indulgences often lead to New Yearís weight-loss resolutions that become difficult to keep. But what if Aunt Phyllisí friendís sisterís mother lost 30 pounds on a high-protein diet?

There are several popular high-protein diets, all with a slightly different twist, but they all recommend cutting carbohydrates from the diet. Cutting calories, regardless of whether they come from carbohydrate, protein, fat or alcohol, can lead to weight loss. While the claims and success stories entice many to try the current stream of diets, the truth is fad diets have a 95 percent failure rate.

Dr. Atkinsí New Diet Revolution, resurrected from the 1970s, is less than 10 percent carbohydrate, the bodyís main fuel source. Cutting out carbohydrate-containing foods also leaves out needed nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, thiamin, vitamin D and vitamin E. Most nutrition experts warn that long-term use of the diet may increase your risk for heart disease (the leading cause of death in the U.S.), liver and kidney damage, some types of cancer and osteoporosis (a thinning of the bones).

Another popular diet, Protein Power, is 30 to 50 percent fat, 30 to 45 percent protein and 15 to 35 percent carbohydrate. This diet also is deficient in several vitamins and minerals and could put you at increased risk for heart disease, high blood cholesterol levels and liver and kidney problems. There are no scientifically validated studies that show the diet works long-term.

Whatís a person with a weight loss resolution to do? Aim for a varied diet based on the Food Guide Pyramid with plenty of whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables, and cooked beans. Add lean meats and low-fat dairy products to get the protein, vitamins and minerals your body needs. Have an occasional sweet treat, but balance your energy intake with physical activity.

Talk to a registered dietitian for help getting on the right track toward healthful eating, and talk to your healthcare provider before beginning a strenuous exercise program. For information about healthful eating, visit the American Dietetics Association Web site:


Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor: Tom Jirik, (701) 231-9629,