What's Your Nutrition IQ?

Getting the facts about food can help you lose weight.

The more you know about nutrition, the more you can eat! So trust me when I tell you: Nutrition knowledge is power.

To help you test your nutrition know-how, I devised this true/false quiz. So sit back, relax, and give it a shot: It's fun, and you may learn a thing or two along the way.

True. To burn a pound of fat and not water or muscle weight (we need to preserve every ounce of muscle!), you must create a deficit of 3,500 calories. You can do this by reducing the number of calories you eat, burning more calories through physical activity, or both. Studies show that the most effective strategy is combining diet and exercise to create a 500-calorie daily deficit. That adds up to 3,500 calories -- and a 1-pound loss -- per week. Faster weight loss is usually ineffective over the long run, as pounds lost quickly often get a round-trip ticket back. Slow and steady wins this race.

False. Carbohydrate and protein each weigh in at 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9 calories per gram, and alcohol has 7 calories per gram. Ounce for ounce, foods that contain mostly fat are more than twice as calorie-dense as carbs or protein. For good health, you need to consume all the major nutrients: carbs, fat, and protein. Each has essential functions. Carbs and protein should account for about two-thirds of your daily intake; the remaining third should come from fats.

Carbohydrates are not as evil as some would have you believe. In fact, carbs are your body's preferred form of fuel. They should be the mainstay of your eating plan, accounting for up to half of your calories. Choose "smart" carbs such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and peas. Simple refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, soda, and sugars, are the carbs that should be restricted.

True. Extra dietary fat is easily stored as body fat. Excess proteins and carbs require more work to be converted for storage. Only 3% of the calories from fat are used up in the process of storage, while 23% of the calories in carbs and protein are used in this process. And people tend to overeat fat because high-fat foods tend to pack lots of calories into a relatively small package (such as cookies).

But it's important to remember that an eating plan that stays within your calorie needs -- regardless of the combination of fats, carbs, and protein -- will not result in weight gain. The most important factor is to balance calories consumed with calories burned, so that you burn fat instead of storing it.

False. Empty-calorie foods are those that offer little nutritional value, but lots of calories. Most empty-calorie foods have few vitamins, minerals, or fiber, but are high in calories, fat, and/or sugar. To avoid them, check the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels and choose foods that offer at least 20% of the recommended Daily Value of a few vitamins and minerals (except sodium -- we all get plenty of that mineral).

False. Whether you lose or gain weight comes down to this formula: Calories in - Calories Out = Weight Loss (or Gain). "Calories in" come from the food and beverages you consume. "Calories out" include those burned by physical activity; those your body burns even when at rest, by functions such as breathing; and the "thermic activity" of food (the number of calories it takes to digest and absorb food).

Many experts recommend consuming all your calories before 8 p.m. because most of us are sedentary after that hour and less likely to burn extra calories. And it is a good habit to eat most of your meals during the more active phases of the day. But the bottom line is that it's the total number of calories you consume -- regardless of the time of day -- that determines whether you gain or lose weight.

True. According to government definitions, "lean" refers to cuts of meat (including poultry and game) with less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 3.5-ounce cooked serving. The only exception is for ground beef labeled as 80%-95% lean. Ground beef that is 95% lean has 5% fat by weight -- which is equivalent to 6.4 grams of total fat per serving, and still qualifies as lean. But ground beef that contains more than 5% fat by weight is too high in fat to be considered lean.

Naturally lean cuts of meat include:

  • Skinless chicken breast
  • Eye of round
  • Top round
  • Mock tender steak (often sold as a roast)
  • Pork tenderloin
  • Top sirloin
  • 95% lean ground beef
  • Flank steak
  • Bottom round steak
  • Pork loin
  • Sirloin tip
  • Beef tenderloin

Keep a list of these low-fat cuts and use them as your preferred types of meats when cooking or dining out. Your eating plan can include lean meats regularly, but should include higher-fat meats only on occasion.

False. It's essential that you weigh in once a week, whether you're trying to lose or maintain your weight, for a number of reasons. You can't accurately judge your weight by how your clothes fit. Checking in weekly, at the same time of day and in the same clothes, gives you a more realistic comparison from week to week. And a weekly weigh-in can be extremely motivating when you keep seeing the needle go down!

I recommend weighing in on Monday mornings, after you empty your bladder, in your night clothes. That way, if you find yourself up a few pounds, you'll know you need to pump it up a notch during the coming week.

On the other hand, those scale-obsessed folks who check their weight several times a day need to stop driving themselves crazy. Weight normally fluctuates a bit, because of things like how well-hydrated you are, or where you are in your monthly cycle.

False. I really wish this one was true. Even though water is good for you and you need about eight glasses per day for proper hydration, it does not speed up weight loss. Water and fluids satisfy thirst, but aren't likely to quell real hunger pangs for more than a few minutes.

It is a good idea to drink a glass of water before eating to make sure you're not mistaking thirst for hunger. Starting or finishing a meal with a large glass of water can also help you recognize fullness more quickly, and reduce the temptation to reach for second helpings. And some research shows that foods high in fluids, such as soup, can also help dieters eat less.

So while water is no magic bullet, by all means, keep on drinking water, enjoy a bowl of hearty soup, and do your best to let water work to help you lose weight.

True. It sounds like a trick question, but it's correct. Much like an inch is a measurement of length, a calorie is a measurement of heat energy. A calorie is technically a "kilocalorie" and is defined as "the amount of heat need to raise the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 degree centigrade."

The calories in the food you eat reflect the amount of energy food supplies to fuel your physical and bodily activities. Every muscle you move, every heartbeat, every growing nail requires energy, and all this energy comes from the calories in food and beverages. Food and calories are the gas in the tank that makes the body engine go.

False. Skipping breakfast usually leads to intense hunger, which in turn leads to overeating. Studies have shown that most overweight people skip the morning meal to save calories, but ultimately end up eating more than people who regularly break the fast.

A breakfast that contains protein and fiber should last you until lunch. Try a bowl of oatmeal with skim milk, and fresh fruit, or an egg and whole-grain toast. If you don't like to eat first thing in the morning, wait a while, then enjoy a yogurt or something small. Breakfast can be anything you like; it does not have to be traditional morning foods.

Get into the habit of starting your day with a nutritious meal. It will help get you going in the morning and will give you the energy you need to perform on the job, in the classroom, or at the gym.