Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Tale of Two Diets, Part 2: Lunch

Welcome to part two of a weeklong series about two men and their radically divergent diets. If you missed last time, you can find it here.

1:00pm – Lunchtime rolls around and both men have an hour to eat.

Paul has brought his own lunch, and begins to tuck in. Today, he’s eating leftovers from last night – a bowl of curried lentils and rice. He’s also brought along an apple and a small salad of lettuce with olive oil and vinegar dressing, and is washing everything down with water he’s drinking from the metal canteen he keeps at his desk. Paul’s meal isn’t elaborate for sure, but it’s filling.
-       The curry dish and apple both supply fiber, which, as I mentioned before, will help keep Paul feeling full, and will slow the absorption of dietary sugars, thus keeping his blood sugar steady throughout the afternoon.
-       Additionally, the combination of lentils and rice in the curry dish provides a complete protein. Here’s what that means – protein is made up of 20 ‘essential’ amino acids, substances the body needs to function, but can’t make itself, and which can only come from the diet. The foods we eat vary in the amount of these amino acids they provide; most animal products contain all 20 essential amino acids, but many plants provide only a portion of these amino acids. The combination of beans or lentils and rice provides all 20 essential amino acids, making it a staple of any vegetarian diet.
-       Though the lettuce provides little nutritional value itself, the dressing – olive oil and vinegar – is important. Olive oil is an excellent source of unsaturated fat (specifically omega-9 fatty acids). Though there’s been an obsession with low-fat foods for some time, there’s now an increasing trend towards healthier fats, i.e. away from saturated fats towards unsaturated fats. These unsaturated fats have many health benefits, but are probably best known for helping to prevent heart disease.
-       Finally, let’s talk about the spices in Paul’s curry. You might not know it, but Paul’s curry is a veritable powerhouse of anti-inflammatory agents. First and foremost in that category is turmeric, which was long known just for lending the yellow color to curry, but has since been shown to be a strong inhibitor of the inflammation-causing COX-2 enzyme, and has been researched for just about everything from cancer to rheumatoid arthritis. Other curry spices include ginger, also a COX-2 inhibitor, and cinnamon, which has been shown to help the body maintain a steady blood sugar level. Many of the other spices promote healthy digestion, in addition to tasting good.
Additionally, because he’s brought his own lunch, Paul can eat more slowly, and has plenty of time to digest his meal before returning to work.

Tom, on the other hand, is going to his usual – McDonald’s. We’d all like Tom not to go to McDonald’s, but as I said yesterday, Tom likes his routine. The McDonald’s is busy during lunch hour, so Tom has to wait in line to get his order taken and has to wait again to get it filled. Between the walk and the wait, it’s 10:30 before Tom starts eating.
-       He was hungry before walking in, having let his blood sugar drop yet again, and between the wait and the pressure to get back to work in time, he’s pretty stressed out when he eats. As a result, Tom’s sympathetic nervous system is dominant at the moment. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is the division of our nervous system that puts us in a fight or flight mode – when it is dominant, it increases blood sugar, increases heart rate, and impairs digestion, all of which are necessary to, for example, run away from a bear or play a game of soccer. However, as I said, it impairs GI activity, making digestion and absorption of nutrients more difficult. The parasympathetic nervous system, the SNS’s counterpart, is best known for promoting a ‘rest and digest’ mode. If you’re wondering what a parasympathetic state looks like, imagine Paul right now.
-       Without going into great detail about Tom’s lunch, it’s essentially more of the same – more saturated fat, more sugar, and more sodium. For lunch, Tom’s having a Big Mac, medium fries, and medium Coke. He leaves still feeling a little hungry, and so he grabs a small bag of chips on the way back to the office, which he’ll eat over the course of the afternoon.

At lunchtime, the score is:
Paul – Calories: 1042, Saturated fat: 9.9g, Sugar: 42.1g, Sodium: 300mg, Fiber: 20.7, Protein: 40g
Tom – Calories: 2410, Saturated fat: 29.5g, Sugar: 122g, Sodium: 2610mg, Fiber: 12g, Protein: 68g

So we could almost stop now. Tom is already well above and beyond a recommended daily caloric intake and sodium intake, has hit a full 150% of the recommended saturated fat intake, and has consumed about three times as much sugar as Paul. Meanwhile, Paul has gotten antioxidants, probiotics, anti-inflammatory herbs, fiber and all sorts of other good things in his diet. I’m going to carry on and talk about the evening because Paul has a few more things to teach us as we head towards the end of the day, and we still have yet to explain why Tom woke so groggy this morning… Tune in next time!