Nutrition: Food games we play work against us

I can persuade myself that a particular food is good for me … no matter how much of it I eat.

nuts stock art.jpg
Just 4 measly tablespoons of nuts contains 170 calories. (Dreamstime/TNS)

I’m thinking about my mom, whose birthday is this week. She had a delightfully low-key sense of humor, especially about food.

One longstanding joke was in response to opened bags of food that she would “suddenly” discover when she was unpacking groceries.

“Would you look at this? That store sold me this package of cookies … and there are two missing!”

I learned to play along. “That’s terrible! I wouldn’t go back to that store if I were you!”


I tend to play the same games, too. I can convince myself there is less caloric damage from M&M’s if I sneak just a few at a time from the candy jar.

I can also persuade myself that a particular food is good for me … no matter how much of it I eat.

Nuts are a good example. I love nuts and preach their nutritional benefits to my clients. They are a good source of energy-sustaining protein. They contain heart healthful unsaturated fats. They are a convenient snack and can keep me from gnawing on my arm when a meal is delayed or never happens. They even provide necessary dietary fiber. Not bad at all.

If I’m not paying attention, however, I could easily nibble away a boatload of calories from this healthful food. That’s because nuts are rich in nutrients but also concentrated in calories. Just 4 measly tablespoons (1/4 cup ) of nuts contains 170 calories. That’s reasonable for a snack. But a whole cup — mindlessly ingested — is a whopping 680 calories; enough to qualify for a hefty meal.

So here’s the game I play with myself: I fill a quarter cup measure with my beloved nuts and stare at it awhile. This, I tell myself, is a serving … one serving. Enjoy! When that one serving disappears, that’s it. No more. Done.

I asked my older daughter if she plays any food games.

“I pour sparkling water into a wine glass,” she said. “It makes me feel festive without adding alcohol or calories. Or I’ll make a cup of tea and drink it from a pretty cup.” She says she’s noticed how these extra doses of healthful fluids has improved the moisture in her skin.

After a recent column on late night snacking, I got some ideas from readers. Jan J.’s suggestion was simple: “Sugar-free Jell-O.”


Joan M, who reads the column in the Quincy Herald-Whig (Illinois) says we are bombarded with gross amounts of food commercials when we watch TV at night. “So maybe the dieter could switch to a noncommercial station such as PBS or stream a movie,” she suggests. Or maybe an exercise video?

Now, if I can only think of a game to deal with these leftover jelly beans.

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian nutritionist affiliated with the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Email her at to ©2020 The Monterey County Herald. Visit The Monterey County Herald at . Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Related Topics: HEALTH
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