Monday, January 16, 2012

A Tale of Two Diets, Part 1: Breakfast

This week, I’m presenting a serialized version of a talk I’m giving this weekend, a talk that will compare two diets and their health-promoting and health-defeating properties. The talk will follow two men, Paul and Tom, throughout their day, cataloguing what they eat and how their days go. While I generally am not a big advocate of calorie counting, I’m going to do some basic number crunching this week in order to make a point; mainly, however, I’m going to focus on the nutritional content of the food each of these men is eating throughout the day.

I hope you enjoy this little creative endeavor.

7:00 am – Tom wakes up feeling groggy – to understand why he’s groggy, you’ll have to wait until later in the story. Fortunately, today, he didn’t hit the snooze alarm too many times. Tom has a fairly regular regimen, and he does the same thing more or less every day. He’s a pretty consistent guy and he isn’t a big fan of change. He wanders, bleary-eyed, to the shower and hopes the water will wake him up a bit.
Paul wakes up at around the same time feeling refreshed after 8 hours of sleep. He’s also got a pretty consistent routine, and while he doesn’t spring out of bed, he feels up to taking a 20-minute jog before breakfast.

8:00 am – Both men are showered and ready to eat.
Paul has a small bowl of yogurt (1/2 cup), almonds (1/2 cup) and berries (1/2 cup), and washes it down with a cup of green tea. In this meal, Paul is getting a whole host of health-supporting compounds, starting with probiotics.
-       Probiotics will help keep Paul’s digestive system working properly, helping him to digest and absorb his food all day, and helping him fight off anything that might have come in on his food.
-       The fiber in the nuts and berries will help keep Paul feeling full longer, so he’s less hungry throughout the day, and, in the long run, will help keep Paul’s cholesterol down.
-       Antioxidants, found in the berries and the green tea, will help Paul’s liver to breakdown toxins he might encounter in his environment, will help his immune system fight off viruses and bacteria, and will help keep his body in good cardiovascular health.
-       Finally, the substantial serving of protein he’s getting will help him maintain a steady blood sugar through the morning, so he’ll have enough energy to get through work without dozing off.

Tom, on the other hand, doesn’t have any food on hand to eat at home, so he’s going to have to make the first of several trips to McDonald’s that he’ll make today. Because he’s got a bit of extra time, he’s going for the hotcakes and sausage this morning, washing it down with a glass of orange juice and a medium nonfat latte.
-       Though they may taste good initially, the saturated fats in the hotcakes and sausage will predispose Tom to high cholesterol, obesity and high blood pressure in the long run.
-       The sugar in the hotcakes and especially the syrup make Tom more likely to develop diabetes later in life, and will cause Tom more immediate problems later on today.
-       The sodium in the meal, of course, contributes to Tom developing high blood pressure.
-       And finally, Tom’s gotten nearly no antioxidants! This is going to make it especially hard for Tom’s body to deal with the stresses he’s going to suffer as a result of this breakfast.
A plus for Tom’s meal is that he is getting a good amount of protein in his meal, but it’s outweighed by the massive amounts of fat, sugar and sodium.

The tally so far:
Paul – Calories: 410, Saturated fat: 5.8g, Sugar: 20g, Sodium: 174mg, Fiber: 7.2g, Protein: 26g
Tom – Calories: 1000, Saturated fat: 10g, Sugar: 60g, Sodium: 1160mg, Fiber: 3g, Protein: 27g

9:00am – Both men arrive at work. Paul is relaxed and motivated, having biked to work. Tom arrives feeling pretty amped up and ready to go, having finished his morning coffee.

11:30am – Tom is a little worse for wear. The pancakes and coffee that he had for breakfast caused his blood sugar to rise very rapidly, which made him feel great in the short run, but a few hours later, his blood sugar is plummeting. He’s starting to feel restless and is having difficultly paying attention to his work. He’s got a big report due this afternoon, and so when someone at the office says they’re going on a coffee run, he’s first in line with his order – another latte.
Paul is also starting to feel a bit peckish, but his blood sugar has remained relatively steady this morning, so he doesn’t need to eat quite as much, and happily eats a handful of almonds.

The continuing tally:
Paul – Calories: 575, Saturated fat: 6.9g, Sugar: 21.1g, Sodium: 174mg, Fiber: 10.7g, Protein: 33g
Tom – Calories: 1180, Saturated fat: 16g, Sugar: 73g, Sodium: 1290mg, Fiber: 3g, Protein: 37g

So that’s the morning! As you can see, Tom hit 1000 calories at breakfast alone. While most Americans eat more than 2000 calories in a day, 2000-2500 is a good benchmark to assess an average ‘healthy’ American diet. Additionally troubling is that, at 16g of saturated fat, Tom is already at 80% of the recommended daily intake. Though there is no defined daily intake of sugar itself, you can see here that Tom has consumed nearly four times as much sugar as Paul, and about a quarter as much fiber.