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The Real Mayo Clinic Diet

The Martha Stewart Show, January 2010

Search "Mayo Clinic diet" on the Internet and you'll find countless nutrition plans -- emphasizing eggs, grapefruit, even cabbage soup -- that claim to originate from the venerable medical institution.

The truth is, Mayo Clinic has never endorsed a single diet plan until recently, with its aptly named book: "The Mayo Clinic Diet" (Good Books, 2010).

The book is more of a lifestyle change program than a flash-in-the-pan diet, says Dr. Donald Hensrud (pictured), chair of preventive medicine at Mayo Clinic and editor of the book. The plan consists of two phases: 1) "Lose It!" -- in which you make sudden changes in behavior and habits to lose weight quickly, and 2) "Live It!" -- in which you transition those habits into a permanent lifestyle change.

Portions vs. Serving Sizes
The Mayo Clinic Diet centers on a Healthy Weight Pyramid, which shows how many servings of each food group you should consume. Dr. Hensrud says that people are often confused about the difference between servings and portions. To clear things up, here are some handy ways to determine serving sizes for common foods:

  • 1 cup broccoli (75 calories) = 1 baseball
  • 1 small apple (60 calories) = 1 tennis ball
  • 1/2 baked potato (70 calories) = 1 hockey puck
  • 3 ounces raw salmon (110 calories) = 1 deck of cards
  • 1 teaspoon butter (45 calories) = 1 die

Energy Density vs. Nutrient Density
In terms of weight, it doesn't matter where your calories come from -- a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. But in terms of your health, it makes a big difference whether the foods you eat are rich in nutrients.

Energy-dense foods are high in calories but low in bulk. Nutrient-dense foods usually offer lots of vitamins, minerals, and other good nutrients. For example, a candy bar contains the same amount of calories as 10 cups of raw vegetables! Ideally, you want the majority of your foods to rank low in energy density but high in nutrient density.

Some foods are both energy and nutrient dense. One ounce of almonds has about 160 calories, but also provides healthy amounts of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Eat reasonable portions and you'll gain the nutritional benefits, not the pounds.

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