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Life Support: Food court press

Plan to escape the mall without dietary damage

Wednesday, December 05, 2001

By Sally Squires

With the holiday shopping season upon us, hectic schedules, erratic meals and stress can make it hard to resist the many temptations of the food court.

Anita Dufalla, Post-Gazette

If you're trying to maintain your weight this holiday season instead of adding the usual six unwanted pounds, eat-and-run tactics at the mall could sabotage your efforts. Some food court "snacks" pack enough calories for all three daily meals -- and as much fat as a 12-ounce sirloin steak.

"People think that they will just have a bite that will tide them over until dinner," says Jayne Hurley, senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Washington-based consumer group that regularly evaluates fast-food establishments and restaurants. "What they don't realize is that this is dinner."

Of course, with a little planning, it's possible to have your Mrs. Fields cookies and eat them, too -- without being betrayed by your scale. There are also ample opportunities to squeeze in extra exercise while you shop.

Suit up. Choose shoes made for hoofing it up and down escalators and stairs. Ten minutes of stair-climbing -- OK, it probably won't happen in one fell swoop, but those minutes add up -- burn 79 calories for someone who weighs 125 pounds, according to the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas. The more you weigh, the more you'll burn.

Think satellite parking. Don't waste time fighting over the closest spaces. Pick a faraway spot and applaud yourself for walking the distance. During the holidays, George Blackburn, associate professor of surgery and nutrition at Harvard Medical School, adds 1,000 steps a day (counted on his pedometer) to his usual 10,000 to help compensate for caloric drift upward.

Speed-walking through the mall -- at the pace you'd use to race to a store just before it closes -- can burn as many as 2.4 calories per hour per pound of body weight. That works out to 360 calories an hour for someone who weighs 150 pounds. (If you're just moseying along, figure on half the calories or less.)

Choose wisely at the food court. Just because you're tired and famished, don't fall for the easy fix. Scan the territory and go for the veggies, the more the better. Salads, soups and stir-fried foods are generally wise options. "Just stay away from the deep-fried foods, like orange chicken or crispy beef," Hurley says. A CSPI survey of Chinese food found that an order of crispy beef with steamed rice had more calories than four Quarter Pounders. Better choices: Any entree that isn't fried, plus steamed rice. "If you do that, you can keep to about 400 calories," Hurley says.

Go off the beaten track at fast-food chains. A double burger with cheese, fries and a shake can total nearly 2,000 calories, with almost 100 grams of fat. But a McDonald's salad shaker packs less than 400, even including the richest salad dressing. Another good McDonald's choice: the new Fruit 'n Yogurt Parfait, with 280 calories and four grams of fat -- only two of them saturated -- plus 25 percent of the day's calcium and 40 percent of the daily recommended vitamin C. The granola topping adds another 100 calories but also provides extra fiber, iron and protein. If you still crave that burger fix, order a small, single patty with small fries, and choose juice or low-fat milk in place of the shake. You'll save about 1,500 calories and about 75 grams of fat.

Keep a wary eye on portions. They're not just big, they're humongous. One slice of Sbarro's sausage and pepper stuffed pizza contains 961 calories and 47 grams of fat, including 19 grams of saturated fat. Sbarro's baked ziti will set you back 928 calories, including 42 grams of fat (although only two are saturated) and its meat lasagna carries 824 calories including 41 grams of fat, 22 of them saturated. If you can't resist these dishes, share them with at least one person, possibly two.

Don't assume because it's liquid and caffeinated that it's low in calories. Case in point: Starbucks white mocha cappuccino with whole milk and whipped cream. A grande contains 370 calories, including 21 grams of fat.

Here are other foods to avoid -- and what you can have in their stead -- to keep off those unwanted holiday pounds:

Avoid: Coffee drinks with whole milk or cream or whipped cream.

Choose instead: Grande cappuccino with skim milk (110 calories, 0 grams of fat) or a grande Frappuccino (270 calories, 3.5 grams of fat).

Avoid: Sbarro's pizza and lasagna (800 to 900 calories, up to 47 grams of fat, up to 19 grams of saturated fat).

Choose instead: Sbarro's chicken parmigiana (384 calories, 21 grams of fat, five grams saturated fat).

Avoid: Cinnabon (730 calories, 24 grams of fat).

Choose instead: Minibon (300 calories, 11 grams of fat) or Cinnabon Stix (346 calories per five-stick serving, 11 grams of fat).

Avoid: Mrs. Fields "regular" cookies -- for example, one white chunk macadamia (310 calories, 17 grams of fat, nine grams of saturated fat).

Choose instead: Mrs. Fields Nibbler cookies (a two-cookie serving runs about 110 calories, with five grams or less of fat, three grams or less saturated fat).

Avoid: Butter-topped soft pretzels (which can have 510 calories).

Choose instead: Plain pretzels (300 to 350 calories).

Sally Squires writes for The Washington Post.

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