Tuesday, May 24, 2016

10 Reasons Not to Eat Fast Food

If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to lose weight, a good way to start is by cutting back on fast food. Those burgers and pizzas may be quick, convenient and cheap, but they’re also loaded with things that can defeat your diet plans. Check out these reasons to make 2014 the year you decrease your consumption of fast food!


We all need some fat in our diets, but most of us are taking in way too much. According to the Institute of Medicine, we should be getting 20% to 35% of our daily calorie intake from fats. If you’re following a 1,200-calorie meal plan, this would mean you can have 27 to 47 grams of fat per day. If you’re eating most of your meals at fast food joints, this won’t be easy to stick to.

If you start the day with a Deluxe Breakfast Biscuit from McDonald’s, you’ll be consuming 1,320 calories and 63 grams of fat, which means you’ve already blown through an entire day’s worth of calories and fat. Let’s say you have lunch at Burger King and order a Double Whopper with Cheese plus a large Chocolate Shake. The burger has 990 calories and 64 grams of fat, while the shake adds 950 calories and 25 grams of fat. For dinner, how about a Pepperoni Personal Pan Pizza from Pizza Hut? That will pile on another 640 calories and 29 grams of fat from just a little 6” pizza. Your daily calorie total would be 3,900, more than three times the 1,200 you’re trying to stick to, plus 181 grams of fat.

Sure, fast food restaurants do offer less fatty choices, but the items mentioned are pretty average fare for most of them. If you eat at least one meal each day in a fast food place, is it any wonder that you’re not losing any weight?

Saturated fat

As if plain old fat isn’t bad enough, fast food fare tends to be high in artery-clogging saturated fat. For example, the Baconator from Wendy’s stacks two beef patties, two slices of cheese and a pile of bacon into a sandwich that has 830 calories and 51 grams of fat. Besides giving you about 78% of your daily allotment of fat, you also get 112% of your RDA of saturated fat. That means this one burger has more than an entire day’s recommended dose of saturated fat. Add French fries and a shake for a heart attack on a plate.


Cholesterol is a steroid lipid, or fat, found only in animal food products. Excessive consumption of high cholesterol foods can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke, so a daily intake of less than 300 mg is recommended. Among the food items highest in cholesterol are egg yolks, butter and cheese, all of which can be found in abundance in your average fast food breakfast sandwich. A ham, egg and cheese biscuit can deliver 246 mg of cholesterol, or 82% of your daily limit. An egg and sausage biscuit tops that number with 261 mg or 87% of your daily value. If you need to watch your cholesterol, stay away from those fast food breakfast sandwiches.


Most of us should be ingesting 1,500 mg to 2,300 mg of sodium per day, but we’re actually getting more like 3,400 mg, which can be deadly for people suffering from high blood pressure, kidney disease or diabetes. Many fast food items are loaded with salt, probably because we’ve been conditioned to think that salty foods taste better.

One of the saltiest fast food entrees is the Chicken Po’ Boy from Popeye’s which has 635 calories and a whopping 2,120 mg of sodium—an entire day’s allotment. Even worse is the Chipotle Carnitas Burrito with 1,185 calories and 2,650 mg of sodium or the Hardee’s 2/3 Pound Monster Thickburger with 1,300 calories and 2,860 mg of sodium. If you’re watching your sodium intake, be careful what you order.


We’ve already seen that fast food sandwiches and entrees are loaded with fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, but they’re also high in calories. As if just having one item isn’t enough to wreck your diet for the day, fast food menus are full of sneaky little “calorie bombs” that can add hundreds of cals to your daily total.

If you’re eating at Dunkin’ Donuts, you could have a zero-calorie diet soda—or pile on an extra 730 calories by adding the frozen mocha coffee Coolatta with cream. Double the caloric total of your meal at Nathan’s by ordering the super size French fries for an extra 1,188 calories. Add a sack of White Castle Onion Chips to your order for an additional 980 calories. See how quickly they pile up?

Artificial ingredients

A Wendy’s Frosty may look like a simple mix of milk and ice cream, but a look at the ingredients reveals an unappetizing list of GMO corn syrup, thickening agents, artificial flavors and worst of all, a laxative chemical used in electronic cigarette fillers called propylene glycol. McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets have a similarly sinister list of ingredients that includes sodium phosphate, autolyzed yeast extract and dimethylpolysiloxane—a chemical used in silicone breast implants. While these chemicals may have passed muster with the FDA, do you really want them in the food you—or your kids—eat?


Order a soda, latte or ice tea with your fast food meal and you may be adding hundreds of mg of caffeine to your daily intake. A 16 oz. serving of McDonald’s coffee contains 100 mg of caffeine, while the same amount of Starbucks Pike Place brewed coffee packs 330 mg.  


Cutting the amount of carbohydrates you ingest can help you lose weight and lower your chances of developing diabetes. Unfortunately, carbs are everywhere, in sweets, starchy vegetables and grains. The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults get 45 to 65 percent of their daily calorie intake from carbs, so don’t try to cut them out completely. However, fast food tends to be full of simple carbs like those in burger buns, biscuits and donuts. Try to get your daily dose of carbs from healthier sources, like rice, fruits and veggies.


Think fat is gross? Grease is worse, and can block your arteries, making it more likely you’ll suffer a heart attack. Americans consume an average of 85 pounds of fat and grease each year, and fast food is a major source. If the bag you pick up at the takeout window already has grease on the bottom, maybe you shouldn’t be eating what’s inside.


Young girls are reaching puberty earlier than ever these days, and one reason is exposure to hormones in our food. There are six hormones that can accelerate puberty allowed in our food by the FDA, including sex hormones estradiol, estriol, testosterone and progesterone. Another culprit is estrogen, which can contribute to obesity in children. One way to cut your children’s exposure to these hormones is to eat less red meat, and lowering your intake of fast food will help.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying fast food occasionally, but with so many healthier (and more delicious) alternatives to try, this is a great time to kick the fast food habit!

How to Choose a Medicare Plan Without Driving Yourself Crazy

I love Medicare,  I really do, but I spent the three months before I became eligible driving myself absolutely nuts trying to choose a plan. Here in a nutshell is what I learned.

Medicare is confusing because there are so many plans and so many choices to make, but the time when you have to choose is getting close. This year’s Medicare Open Enrollment period runs from October 15 through December 7, so millions of seniors will be taking a hard look at their plans and choosing to either stick with their current insurers or make a switch. If you’re less than satisfied with your current plan or just turning 65 and getting ready to pick an insurer for the first time, here are a few things to consider before making a final decision on your coverage for 2015.

Medigap or Medicare Advantage?

Original Medicare insurance consists of Part A covering hospitalization, Part B providing coverage for preventative care like doctor visits and Part D, which covers prescription drugs. All of these cover only a portion of your medical expenses, so most seniors choose to make up the gap in coverage with a supplemental plan.

Medicare Advantage plans are less expensive than Medigap plans and many include extra benefits like vision, dental and gym membership. The cost for this type of plan is often covered by the standard monthly premium for Medicare, currently $104.90, a figure that is expected to hold through 2015. The upside of choosing a Medicare Advantage Plan is that you will pay less than if you choose a Medigap policy and you will be able to do all your dealing with just one company. The down side is that you must stay within your plan’s network of doctors and hospitals in order to have your costs covered. Be sure to check your co-pays and out-of-pocket costs with these policies to avoid nasty surprises later on.

Medigap plans supplement your original Medicare and charge an extra monthly fee in addition to the standard premium. These plans are sorted into categories from A to N with prices going up in relation to the coverage offered. For the maximum protection against paying large out-of-pocket costs as well as the flexibility to make your own decisions about doctors, your best choice is probably original Medicare plus a Medigap plan.

Questions to ask

The first thing you need to know about choosing a plan is that there is no perfect one-size-fits-all policy that suits everyone. You have to take into consideration where you live, how much you can afford to spend and other factors before settling on a plan. Here are a few questions to ask when weighing your options.

Do you want to keep your current doctor or treatment center? If you don’t have a primary physician and have no major medical issues, you may be happy with a Medicare Advantage Plan that offers a range of doctors in your area. However, if you already have serious conditions that require the care of specialists and treatment centers, you should make sure that they are covered by the policy you choose.

Do you want to use the closest hospital and its network of doctors? If so, you’ll need to check which medical facilities are part of the network included in your plan. If you travel frequently, make sure that your policy will cover you wherever you may go.

How to shop

You should be getting a big book called “Medicare and You” in the mail, or you can view the 2015 edition at www.medicare.gov. This site allows you to compare the rates, coverage and other details on all of the plans available in your area at the Plan Finder. If a plan sounds promising, click on the link that takes you to the site of the insurance provider, because this is where you’ll find the important information on doctors, hospitals, co-pays and other details. You can also see what rating the plans have received from those who have used them. You’ll probably be alarmed to discover that some plans sound promising on the surface but have no doctors in your neighborhood or require you to use a hospital on the other side of town.

Doing your research can allow you to winnow the available plans down to a select few. When you have chosen several that sound suitable, call the numbers listed in the Medicare manual or on the web site and ask to talk to a representative. Since these people really want to sell you a policy, they’ll be happy to send an agent to your home and explain what their plans can do for you. In order to get the best policy and avoid wasting time, make a list of your top concerns and tell the agent so he or she can choose which of their policies will serve you best.

Don’t panic!

Yes, the varied assortment of Medicare plans can be overwhelming, but with a little work, you can cut through the confusion and zero in on what will work for you. For a start, read “Medicare and You” very carefully and mark the pages that pertain to the issues most important to your situation. This will give you a basis for the list of questions you present to the insurance agents. For more information, order the book “Medicare for Dummies” from Amazon. By the time you wade through all 384 pages, you’ll know just about everything there is to know about Medicare!

Sources: www.medicare.gov, 1-800-MEDICARE

Be well!

The Ugly Truth About Soft Drinks

Summertime is perfect for relaxing in the shade with a cold drink, but some of the most popular soft drinks aren’t so great for your health. This wouldn’t be so bad if sugary soft drinks were consumed as an occasional treat, but many of us are totally hooked on them!

According to a report by the National Soft Drink Association, we guzzle down an average of more than 600 12 oz. drinks per year, more than any other country. This is bad for a lot of reasons, especially considering how many sodas are consumed by children.

To make matters worse, many convenience stores sell soft drinks in ridiculously large sizes. The 7-Eleven chain’s Big Gulp is 32 oz., and if that’s not enough to quench your thirst, the Super Big Gulp is 44 oz! No wonder it’s so easy to consume those 600 drinks per year.

A few years ago, I had a nasty soda habit—two 2-liter bottles of Diet Coke per day. Finally, I got tired of having to tote all those heavy bottles home from the store and kicked the habit. Now I don’t crave soda at all, but that’s not true for many Americans.

Besides the fact that our soda habit is responsible in part for the obesity epidemic in this country, the consumption of soft drinks is also linked to diabetes, tooth decay, osteoporosis and heart disease. The main culprits found in soft drinks are sugar, caffeine and sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup.

While no soft drinks are exactly good for you, some of them are even less healthy than others. Here are some of the worst choices from the soda aisle.

Caffeine Crazy

When Jolt Cola was introduced years ago, the advertising said something like “all the sugar, twice the caffeine.” That’s still true, plus this one comes in a 23.5-oz. can, and each of those ounces packs twice the caffeine of Coke Classic. Inside that big can is 280 mg of caffeine and 94 g of sugar, some of it in the form of high fructose corn syrup.

The worst of a bad lot when it comes to caffeine content is Hype Energy Drink. A 16-oz. can contains a whopping 160 mg of caffeine, plus 8.4 g of sugar per ounce—all of it derived from high fructose corn syrup. Drink a couple of these and you won’t sleep for a week.

A runner-up for the title of worst soft drink is Rockstar Punched Guava, which packs 330 mg of caffeine and 102 g of sugar into a 22-oz. bottle. The “Guava” part may sound healthy, but this soda can give you nightmares, if you get to sleep at all.

Sugar Blues

Back in olden days, soft drinks like Coca Cola and Pepsi were sweetened with real sugar, which is probably why we remember them as tasting better when we were kids. Now, part or all of the sugar content in soft drinks is in the form of high fructose corn syrup, a cheaper alternative sweetener.

Sunkist Orange Soda sounds deceptively fruity and healthy, but in reality, a 20-oz bottle contains 41 mg of caffeine and 52 g of sugar, all of it from high fructose corn syrup. That’s 4.33 g of sugar per ounce—but no real orange juice. The “orange” in the title must refer to the color of this stuff, which comes from artificial colors yellow 6 and red 40. Both of these have been linked to behavioral problems in kids.

Another super-sugary drink is Bawls Geek Beer, which packs 100 mg of caffeine and 72 g of sugar into a 16-oz can. That’s 4.5 g of sugar per ounce.
As if the sodas from traditional soft drink companies aren’t bad enough, there’s a carbonated energy drink called Lucozade from the big pharma brand GlaxoSmithKline. A 13-oz bottle contains 46 mg of caffeine and 68 g of sugar from glucose syrup. That’s 5.26 g of sugar per ounce, one of the highest percentages of any drink. You have to congratulate GlaxoSmithKline for this brilliant idea—market a soft drink that’s almost guaranteed to give people diabetes, then sell them the drugs for that.

Mountain Dew is a clear soft drink that’s advertised as being “refreshing,” but there’s nothing fresh about the ingredients. A 12-oz can contains 54 g of caffeine and 47 g of sugar, all of it from corn syrup. While less toxic than the so-called “energy drinks,” these figures are still higher than those of Coke Classic.

Almost as bad is rival 7Up, with 150 calories and 38 g of sugar in a 12-oz bottle. On the bright side, 7Up has no caffeine.

Murky Waters

What could be healthier than something that calls itself “water?” Well, for starters, plain water, because some flavored waters rival soft drinks when it comes to sugar and caffeine. If plain bottled water is too boring for you, squeeze a little real fruit juice in there instead of buying something like Snapple Agave Melon Antioxidant Water. It sounds healthy, until you read the label and find out that a 20-oz bottle contains 150 calories and 33 g of sugar.

Ice Tea

Ice tea can be a natural, healthy drink—as long as you make it yourself from real tea bags. Sure, there’s some caffeine, but you can control the sugar content yourself, by not adding any. Just because a bottled drink calls itself “tea” doesn’t mean it’s pure.

A 20-oz bottle of SoBe Green Tea contains 240 calories and 61 g of sugar. I bet when Paula Deen makes sweet tea, it doesn’t have that much sugar. If you really crave tea in a bottle, a slightly better choice is Honest Tea Green Dragon Tea, with 60 calories and 16 g of sugar in a 16-oz bottle.

What about all those healthy-looking bottled teas by Snapple? Most flavored teas from Snapple contain about 31.5 mg of caffeine per 16-oz. bottle. Amounts of sugar vary according to flavor, with Snapple Peach Tea having 160 calories and 39 g of sugar per 16 oz. bottle. Snapple Fruit Punch packs 200 calories and 47 g of sugar. The healthiest of the bunch is probably Snapple Green Tea with 120 calories and just 30 g of sugar.

Bottled Coffee

If you want to start your day with something that has more sugar and fat than a doughnut, slug down all 13.7 oz. of Starbucks Vanilla Frappuccino. You’ll be getting 290 calories and 45 g of sugar, plus 4.5 g of fat, 2.5 g of it saturated. You also get 140 mg of caffeine, which is right up there with the amount in energy drinks.

Old Favorites

Do the traditional soft drinks we grew up with fare any better? Not really, since they’re also packed with sugar and caffeine. The diet versions of popular soft drinks have practically no calories but do contain artificial sweeteners.

A 12-oz can of Coca-Cola has 140 calories, 30-35 mg of caffeine and 39 g of sugar. Diet Coke may have fewer calories, but it packs more caffeine, with 38-47 mg in a 12-oz can.

Arch-rival Pepsi has a similar 150 calories per 12-oz can with 32-39 mg of caffeine while Diet Pepsi has no calories but 27-37 mg of caffeine.

The bottom line is that no soda, energy drink, or flavored tea is really good for you, so they should be consumed sparingly.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Riot on the Sunset Strip – or Why I Moved to L.A.

When I was a teenager in my sleepy southern city, I yearned for signs that there was actually life out there and not just the drab existence I had. I stayed up late sitting in front of the TV watching “The Tonight Show” from New York with the sound turned low so my parents didn’t wake up. There I discovered a world of Broadway shows, designer dresses and fancy restaurants—pretty heady stuff for a kid whose social life consisted of being dragged to visit boring old relatives every weekend.

As fascinating at NYC was, it couldn’t hold a candle to L.A., especially the part of it called the Sunset Strip. When I was about ten, I loved a show called “77 Sunset Strip.” It was about three suave, handsome private detectives who had a chic modern office on Sunset Blvd., right next door to Dean Martin’s restaurant, Dino's. Every week, they roamed the most glamorous parts of the city, solving crimes with the help of a terminally cute parking lot attendant named Kookie.

Thus began my fascination with that rather short stretch of Los Angeles county known as the Sunset Strip, an obsession that just grew stronger in my teens as I watched TV shows like “Where the Action Is” and read teen magazines filled with photos of all the clubs, boutiques and other cool places located in the area. All the guys had long hair and cool clothes, unlike the crewcut jocks I went school with, and the girls wore miniskirts with go-go boots instead of Villager dresses and Weejuns. I knew then that I’d never fit in and had to get out.

So after years of plotting, I finally made my escape to the Sunset Strip. My first apartment was a one-room “bachelor” with a tiny fridge and hot plate catty-cornered from the infamous Hyatt House, aka the “Riot House,” home of rock star depravity. I paid an extra $5 a month for a unit on the back side of the building with a gorgeous view of the L.A. basin, spreading out like a million sparkling rhinestones on a blanket of black velvet. Looking out at the city spread out before me convinced me that this was where I was meant to be.

So now in what should be my golden years, I guess I should be sitting in a rocking chair in Alabama. Instead, I’m looking out my front window at the view of the Riot House, now called the Andaz. It’s still standing and so am I.

Republican Hair

When I was growing up in Alabama, all of our moms had the same hairdo: short-to-medium, slightly bouffant and heavily permed. As they got older, the dos got shorter, tighter and grayer. In the 60s, my friends and I thought those mom-dos were hopelessly square and rebelled by wearing our hair long and straight. In the 70s, the natural curlyheads started letting their locks go wild while some of us varied our long straight styles with Farrah-inspired side wings.

Now, decades have passed and most of my similarly-aged friends still sport trendy dos or just keep it simple and classic. I can’t help noticing that these chic-ly coiffed ladies all live in big cities like NYC, L.A. or Nashville and are still working, at least part-time. Whether married, divorced or single, all of them remain interesting and interested in new things.

A few months ago, I joined a FaceBook group for people who grew up in my hometown in Alabama, a place where most of them still reside. Looking at the photos of these women who are about my age was a bit of a jolt because so many of them wore that same stiff, fussy Pat Nixon plaster-of-Paris bouffant hairstyle our moms had 50 years ago. I call it Republican Hair.

The ladies who have settled into this not-so-stylish style tend to be grandmas who have spent their entire lives in their hometowns, married straight out of school, and yes, vote Republican. Even girls who were beauty queens in high school now wear this dated, horribly unflattering style. Is there something in the water down there that turns formerly intelligent, inquisitive, ambitious young girls into Southern-fried Stepford wives?

I’ve always suspected that there was something intrinsically different about those of us who got out of Dodge at our earliest opportunity and never looked back. Maybe it’s that we don’t look good with Republican hair.