Mind your portions this winter

Farm Forum

“Did you know your breed has a tendency to become overweight?” I asked our dachshunds. If they had replied verbally, I might have fainted.

Instead, they looked at me with pleading eyes, and then they turned their attention to the plates I was carrying. Their sharp noses could detect the traces of food on the plates. I leaned down and patted them on the heads and they flipped on their backs in submission. They looked like furry beetles bobbing their feet.

“They’re a little chubby but not as chubby as they used to be,” my son noted as he approached their area. “See, they have waists,” he added.

“I think Chester and Jake could stand to lose a pound each,” my oldest daughter said after studying their physiques. “Louie is fine, though.”

Our attention to the weight of our three dogs has nothing to do with them becoming canine supermodels or fitting into their fuzzy winter sweaters. Just like humans, overweight and obese dogs have a greater risk of developing chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Our wiener dogs, with their long bodies and short legs, also have a greater risk of spine and joint issues. Overweight humans also may develop joint issues.

Unfortunately, our dogs tend to gain weight when the arctic winter weather arrives and they refuse to go outside for longer than a couple of minutes. For a while in early winter, Jake couldn’t make it up the shallow step into the hallway. He bumped his belly on the step, so he would wait until someone lifted him. We put less food in his bowl, he slimmed down and he now leaps over the step.

I was fairly focused on weight management after attending a two-day diabetes prevention program. If only weight loss in humans was as straightforward as putting less food in our dogs’ bowls. We as humans are surrounded by temptations or “cues” to eat.

In our class, we learned about prediabetes, which is a condition of elevated blood sugar that can progress to diabetes unless steps are taken. An estimated one in three adults (79 million Americans) has prediabetes.

Left untreated, prediabetes can advance to type 2 diabetes within five years. Diabetes can have far-reaching effects, including damage to the kidneys, eyes, heart, brain and other organs.

According to a well-designed study, prediabetics who lost 7 percent of their body weight during the course of a year cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. For example, a 7 percent weight loss equates to a 200-pound person losing 14 pounds.

In the prediabetes study, the recommended weight loss was done in a healthful manner, with portion control and reduction of calorie-dense fats in the diet. The participants in the study were to get 150 minutes of brisk physical activity per week. For example, taking a 30-minute brisk walk five days a week met the physical activity goal.

We all need to keep portion control and physical activity as priorities, even when the thermometer drops. During the winter, we tend to “hibernate” in colder areas of the country. We might feel like eating more (to stay warm) and gain weight as a result.

A food scale and measuring cups may be needed to get a handle on portion sizes if you are trying to lose weight. After a while, you can learn to eyeball your portions based on common objects. A teaspoon of butter is about the same size as the tip of your thumb (to the first joint). One cup of pasta is about the size of a tennis ball. Three ounces of meat is about the same size as a deck of cards.

As I thought about our dogs and their weight, I decided on a portion management plan for them. We have a food scale, so we will weigh their dog food into “portions” in small plastic bags instead of eyeballing the food in their bowls. Just like us, our dogs can have a carrot slice as a low-calorie treat, too.

Learn more about nutrition and fitness at the Nourishing Boomers and Beyond website (http://www.ndsu.edu/boomers). See the links to reputable information, recipes and a free monthly e-newsletter. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes) for more information about diabetes and prediabetes.

Here’s a delicious, warming soup recipe courtesy of Penn State Extension. It’s full of filling, colorful vegetables, which you can vary depending on your preferences or what you have on hand.

Vegetable Soup

1 tsp. oil (canola, sunflower, olive, etc.)

1/2 c. chopped onion

1 clove garlic, chopped

4 c. chicken broth (reduced sodium)

2 (16-ounce) cans diced tomatoes (reduced sodium or no salt added)

1/3 c. pasta (small shells or elbows)

1/2 c. parsley (or about 2 Tbsp. dried parsley)

2 c. chopped broccoli

2 c. sliced carrots

2 c. sliced celery

Salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Note: You may substitute frozen vegetables, such as California blend vegetables, for the fresh vegetables.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is soft, about two minutes. Add the chicken broth, tomatoes and parsley to the saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil, add remaining ingredients and cook for about 10 minutes, until the pasta and vegetables are tender.

Makes eight servings, about 1 1/4 cups per serving. Each serving has 100 calories, 2 grams (g) of fat, 18 g of carbohydrate, 6 g of protein, 4 g of fiber and 340 milligrams of sodium.