Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Tale of Two Diets, Part 4: The Conclusions


You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t know that McDonald’s and other fast food is bad for you, but we rarely recognize the scope of the problem. In writing this piece, I tried to imagine reasonable portion sizes – if you look back, Tom doesn’t do anything outlandish like eat a second Big Mac, or a whole large pizza, and yet he clocks in at over 4000 calories for the day. If anything, this should tell us how unhealthy the food at fast food chains is.

As I pointed out, the nutritional content of the food is heavily weighted to saturated fat, sugar, sodium and excessive protein. And yet, despite the profusion of these types of nutrients, Tom’s diet is almost totally bereft of fiber, not to mention most vitamins and minerals.

I’ve also tried to show that a diet like this presents health problems in both the short term and the long term. The long term effects of diet, like diabetes, hypertension, heart attack, cancers, etc, sometimes seem distant and unreal, and so it’s not always on the forefront of our minds when we make meal choices. The short term effects, however, are also present – we just don’t always link the causes with their effects. (I once had a patient who had digestive complaints and insomnia, but couldn’t seem to figure it out – when we asked about his diet, he said he ate consumed mainly Hot Pockets and Mountain Dew.) As you can see in this story, Tom’s high intake of refined sugar and caffeine causes his energy to spike and plummet throughout the day, ultimately leaving him exhausted but unable to sleep.  I hope this has helped to bring home the problems with a poor diet.


So let’s talk about Paul’s diet. Paul is eating a very well balanced diet – it’s low in saturated fat, low in sugar, high in fiber, high in protein, and it favors health-promoting unsaturated fats. He clocks in at just under 2000 calories for the day, and as estimating his caloric intake was a little more challenging than Tom’s, I think he’s pretty much right on the money with the amount of food he’s eating throughout the day, and the balance he’s chosen.

His intake of micronutrients is excellent, and Paul’s getting a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. I didn’t focus heavily on these throughout the discussion, but Paul’s plant-based diet puts him in very good standing to meet his daily needs. Additionally, his consumption of non-nutrient health promoting compounds is high – things like probiotics, plant-based antioxidants, sulfurophane, etc. While these are not technically nutrients, they have excellent health-promoting actions. In all, Paul is eating a well-rounded diet that is helping him to live a happy life in the present and is also working to prevent future disease. Paul should be very pleased with himself.