Meal Comparison, Part 2: Lunch

This week I continue my series comparing meals from the Standard American Diet to grain-free alternatives.

Today will compare a healthy USDA-approved lunch, consisting of the following:

A sandwich made with:

2 slices whole wheat bread (enriched & fortified)

2 leaves of lettuce

2 slices turkey

2 slices ham

2 tablespoons honey-mustard dressing

1 8-ounce container of yogurt with fruit

1 medium apple

Sandwich

The grain-free meal will contain:

8 ounces salmon

1 ounce of walnuts

A salad made with:

2 cups mixed greens (spinach, romaine, lettuce, etc)

1 carrot

½ onion

Salad

Both meals total less than 650 calories and take less than 15 minutes to prepare.

Here is a macronutrient breakdown of the two meals, including a comparison of the fatty acid quality (omegas) of each.

. Total Carbs Fiber Net Carbs Protein Sat Fat Mono Fat Omega 3 Omega 6
Standard Lunch 111 8 103 23 1.8 2.2 225 2250
Grain-Free Lunch 36 12 25 50 5 9 8700 11300

The sandwich and fruit results in over 100 grams of sugar released into the bloodstream! Carbs are not inherently bad, but if this pattern is repeated regularly, for 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, diabetes and cardiovascular disease can result.

Even though “whole grains” are known for their fiber content, we see that a meal based around vegetables will provide far more fiber content. Fiber mitigates blood sugar spikes and maintains healthy gut function.

The most apparent difference is in the protein content. The sandwich and yogurt provides just over 20 grams of protein while the salmon salad weighs in at an impressive 50 grams. Imagine the benefits to cognitive functioning, physical performance, and body composition one could reap with such an adequate supply of amino acids!

Finally, we see that the omega 3-to-omega 6 ratio is about 1-to-10, risking an inflammatory state within the body. However, the salmon salad provides a much more balanced 1-to-1.3 O3-to-O6 ratio. A ratio in the range of 1-to-2 to 1-to-4 can help prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer, and certain neurological disorders.

Next is the vitamin comparison of the two meals:

. Vit A Vit C Vit D Vit E Vit K Vit B6 Vit B12 Folate
Standard Lunch 130 15 0 2 6 0.4 1.2 43
Grain-Free Lunch 34410 135 0.2 2.6 940 30 7.2 400

There’s really no need to examine any particular column. The numbers show that vegetables and healthy protein provide far more essential vitamins than refined grains, processed dairy, and “low-fat” deli meat.

Last is the mineral content of each meal:

. Calcium Iron Magnesium Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium
Standard Lunch 400 2.8 85 975 1500 3 0.1 0.7 48
Grain-Free Lunch 300 7.5 235 2825 700 3.8 1.5 2.6 108

Since the Standard Lunch includes yogurt, it will provide more calcium…but also a more acidic environment which may leech calcium from the bones.

The salmon salad still wins in every other category but we still see that grains are a decent source of minerals. As I mentioned last time however, a small serving of nuts will provide certain nutrients that aren’t found as abundantly in vegetables.

In conclusion, this side-by-side comparison of a “well-rounded, heart-healthy American lunch” and a salmon salad showcases the benefit of opting for more vegetables and healthy proteins.

Save the bread for the birds and start eating what nature provides!

Heart Rate Training

On aerobic equipment, heart rate charts, or in fitness magazines, you may see what is labelled as “The Fat Burning Zone”. This is an area around 60% to 70% of your max heart rate that, when maintained during aerobic activity, is supposed to be more beneficial for burning body fat and improving heart health.

We now know that this heart rate range, common for many during steady state cardio, will produce the least amount of reduction in body fat, and the most loss of lean muscle mass, than almost any other activity. In addition, the formula for estimating max heart rate, referred to as the Karvonen formula, acquired by subtracting the individuals age from the number 220, is extremely inaccurate.
A more accurate formula for predicting max heart rate, based on studies in the last few years, would be 211 minus 64% of age. But, even this formula will not account for specific differences between individuals.

Once you have your predicted max heart rate, work at 40-60% of your max if you are warming up, cooling down, recovering on rest days, or attempting to improve your body’s ability to burn fat.
If you want to compete in aerobic events, spend most of your cardio workouts around 70-80%. Keep in mind, this won’t be the most efficient at improving heart and lung health, or burning fat while maintaining lean muscle mass, but it will prepare you for events you plan to compete in.

Finally, if you want to get the best benefit from your time exercising, start doing those high-intensity intervals I mentioned a few posts ago. Warm up for a few minutes and then alternate 30 seconds of intense work, heart rate around 80-95% of your max (based on fitness level), with 30 seconds of easy rest. Alternate these intervals until you feel you could only compete 1 or 2 more, but would rather not, and then cool down.

The interval training should take around 10-20 minutes and will improve your heart and lung health to a greater extent than 2 hours of steady state cardio.

Also, there is the factor of “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption”, or EPOC. For a couple hours following intense exercise, the body’s oxygen intake is increased, aiding in improved hormone function, nutrient partitioning, and cell repair. During this time, the body will access its own body fat stores to release free fatty acids into the bloodstream to be used as fuel.

The numerous benefits of EPOC are significantly lowered with less intense, continuous exercise (such as steady state cardio), or if there are major insulin spikes during the first 2 hours of recovery (so keep carbs to a minimum following high-intensity intervals).

As my experience as a trainer grows, I tend to rely less and less upon a single number such as heart rate, calories, and even bodyweight. There are just too many factors to justify basing a fitness or nutrition program upon numbers predetermined by distant agencies or studies that are reversed every few years.

Plus, I have seen too many people start off with simple calorie counting or bodyweight tracking, and end up becoming obsessed, basing their whole existence upon a single number.

There are endless examples and specific situations I could reference but, simply put, no two people’s bodies are the same and therefore, bodies will behave differently in regard to calories, bodyweight, macronutrients, heart rate, etc.

My favorite method of determining intensity is rating of perceived exertion. I’ll use a scale of 1 to 10, or 1 to 5, or simply say “would you classify this as easy, medium, or hard?”

If a person already has a heart rate monitor on, or has very specific endurance goals, I love having one more number to track. I also like to measure how much time a client’s heart rate takes to return to resting levels, as a way of determining their hearts performance.

However, at the end of the day, it’s just one tool in what is an almost limitless toolbox to track intensity level and progress.

So, if you’re used to tracking heart rate, and know what your optimal ranges are to achieve your goals, stick with it! Conversely, if you are considering spending a hundred dollars and hours of your time on a heart rate monitor and watch, it may not be necessary.

But, as always, determine what will work best for you! And if you need any motivation or professional guidance along the way, feel free to contact me!

Reducing Cardiovascular Disease Risk

As a logical follow-up to last week’s post, let’s look at what we can do to reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease.

So far, we learned that eating cholesterol does not increase the risk of cardiovascular events. In fact, 75% of people that suffer a heart attack have normal or low cholesterol levels in the body. Furthermore, taking cholesterol-lowering medications (such as statins) does not reduce the risk of heart attacks in 98% of the population.

So, if cholesterol consumption is irrelevant, what is causing our nations deterioration in cardiovascular health?

One word – inflammation!

It is the process of inflammation that damages the arteries, signaling the body to send cholesterol to protect the area. And it is, once again, inflammation that damages the cholesterol in the blood, causing it to harden, leading to plaque formation and clogged arteries.

There are a few things that cause inflammation. The first is consumption of unstable, easily-oxidized fats . The worst is man-made trans-fats. These are found in most butter replacements and aerosol cooking oils. Another problematic fat would be omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. The biggest offenders here are corn oil, soy oil, and other modern vegetable oils.

Many natural foods, such as nuts and avocados, are quite high in O-6’s but, as long as they are consumed fresh and in moderation, without extremely volatile processing methods, they should not be problematic.

The second biggest cause of inflammation is excess sugar in the blood. If an individual consumes more carbohydrates than their muscles can store, the excess sugar will wreak havoc in the body until insulin forces it into fat storage. Sugar is toxic in very high amounts so it is no surprise that too much, idling in the blood, causes inflammation and damages the arteries.

The third biggest cause of inflammation is eating foods that are detrimental to the gut. Eventually I will have an entire post on gut health but, to put it simply, if you eat enough foods that have the potential to damage the gut lining, the offensive compounds will pass through the gut (a condition referred to as “gut permeability”) and cause inflammation elsewhere in the body. Grains and legumes contain many of these compounds…predominantly lectins. Lectin content can be diminished through extensive soaking, sprouting, and cooking but it’s still not wise to base a diet around such a problematic food.

So, man-made vegetable oils, excessive carbohydrate consumption, and grains cause inflammation…what does that leave?

Instead of using vegetable oils, try cooking at high-temperatures with coconut oil or grass-fed butter. Save your olive oil, avocados, and nuts for raw consumption.

No need to count every gram of carbohydrates; rather, focus on more nutritional sources such as vegetables and fruits (which will also have far less calories and sugar per serving than grains or legumes).

Finally, avoid grains when you can. I personally replaced them altogether with vegetables and locally, humanely-raised meat, but I know the idea of eliminating a food group we have grown up with can be daunting. So, maybe try only eating grains when you go out to your favorite pizza joint or restaurant.

Also, don’t forget to eat your healthy fats! Monounsaturated fats and even saturated fats will be far less inflammatory than grains and legumes. Since you’ll be limiting your intake of problematic carbs, that are high in calories and low in nutrition, a few extra calories from good fats will help keep you feeling satisfied and well-fueled.

As a personal trainer, I always have to mention to stay active as well! The more relaxing walks you can take the better. Throw in a couple weight-training workouts a week and an occasional high-intensity-interval-training session (sprints, rowing, etc) and you’ll be on the path to having a perfectly conditioned heart.

Best of luck!