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!

Vitamin Recommendations

Growing up, I took a Centrum multi-vitamin every day. If I was coming down with a cold, I would take supplemental vitamin C. When I first got serious about my health, switching to a vegetarian diet for a couple years, I would take Animal Pak, which had 11 pills per serving.

Currently, the only supplement I take and recommend to everyone is vitamin D.

What changed?

First, I learned that vitamin supplementation doesn’t prevent the “free radical damage” we once thought. It’s actually the phytochemicals, in fruits in vegetables, joined with vitamins that protect against DNA damage.

Second, the free radical damage that these supplemental vitamins do effectively prevent is produced by exercise. But, it turns out that our body needs free radical signaling post workout to improve. By mega-dosing with vitamins post workout, we are blunting our bodies’ ability to adapt to exercise.

Finally, studies show that high supplementation of vitamins B, C, E, and A (beta-carotene) increase mortality, sometimes by as much as 22%.

So why do I recommend vitamin D?

Vitamin D affects almost every function of the human body. Deficiencies can contribute to literally dozens of different diseases and conditions.

What about doctors or studies suggesting that vitamin D doesn’t affect health?

In all studies, subjects were given 400 – 800 IUs of vitamin D a day. A mere 30 minutes of sunlight provides 20,000 IUs. Therefore, it’s no surprise that a 25th of a natural dose wasn’t able to increase blood levels or affect health changes.

Trace amounts of Vitamin D can be found in certain foods. One egg yolk will contain about 20 IUs while 4 ounces of salmon may have up to 400 IUs.

If you want to be certain whether you need to supplement with vitamin D, get a vitamin D blood test, known as a 25 hydroxy.

Make sure your doctors tell you the actual numbers though! Most doctors won’t show any concern if your levels are between 20 and 55 ng/ml. This is usually enough to prevent rickets or bone softening, but optimal blood levels are in the 50 to 80 ng/ml range.

Depending how low your levels are, you may need to supplement with 5,000 to 20,000 IUs of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) a day.

Keep in mind that vitamin D is fat soluble and converted by cholesterol so it needs to be taken with a fatty meal that contains a healthy amount of dietary cholesterol.

In the summer, I take 2,000 to 5,000 IUs a day. In the winter, I take 5,000 to 10,000 IUs a day. I take it with breakfast, usually consisting of 4 to 6 whole eggs.

These specific recommendations assume that you are already eating a healthy diet (full of local and naturally raised meats, vegetables, and fruits) and avoid, or at least limit, grains and processed foods.

The digestion of carbohydrates, particularly grains, uses a massive amount of B vitamins, found most abundantly in meat. If you diet is too high in the former and too low in the latter, you may need a moderate dose of vitamin B supplements. I still would recommend against mega-dosing though.

There are certain other situations that may require additional supplementation but I’ll discuss those in a different post.

As you can tell, our understanding of supplements has changed greatly over the last decade. It used to seem so simple to merely pop a pill and have 100% of your vitamins and minerals for the day…but we now know that there is no substitute for a natural and varied diet.

Hope all this helps – both in terms of health and saving a few dollars on vitamins!

Enjoy Your Exercise!

In previous posts, I’ve talked about the importance of picking exercise that is enjoyable and not boring.

A new study showed that individuals ended up feeling unhappy and over consuming calories after activity that was defined as “exercise”. Study participants that were told they were walking for “pleasure” ended up feeling more positive about their time spent active, and made healthier nutritional choices for the remainder of the day.

For the complete article that discusses this study, please visit this link to The New York Times.

One interesting aspect that the study did not discuss was the role of cortisol, or stress levels, in the body. Sure, telling someone to “go out and exercise” may make their experience less enjoyable than telling them to “listen to music, stroll around, and sight-see”, but ultimately, we need to examine the mechanisms behind the difference.

As one of the last paragraphs of the article states:

“Just how, physiologically, our feelings about physical activity influence our food intake is not yet known, she said, and likely to be bogglingly complex, involving hormones, genetics, and the neurological circuitry of appetite and reward processing. But in the simplest terms, Dr. Werle said, this new data shows that most of us require recompense of some kind for working out. That reward can take the form of subjective enjoyment. If exercise is fun, no additional gratification is needed. If not, there’s chocolate pudding.”

I don’t know if it’s necessarily a compensation that’s required, but rather, more about finding the activity that is right for you.

I have clients that perform bodyweight exercises for 15 minutes a day in their office. I have clients that walk leisurely outdoors then perform a few movements with elastic bands. I have clients that prefer loading up a barbell and pushing their strength limits. I have clients that go through a one-hour session, spending the first 3rd on an aerobic machine, the second 3rd on exercises to improve strength and balance, and the last 3rd on flexibility and recovery work.

All these people experience incremental progress on a daily basis, and major improvements month-to-month. But, more importantly, they leave each session feeling like they accomplished something important that day, and not that they were simply “forced to exercise”.

To go back to my point about cortisol – if an activity is not enjoyable, it’s going to feel like a chore or a stressor. When our stress levels increase, our body does a few things.

First, it will hold onto body fat because the body wants to prepare itself for enduring “hard times” and sustaining life. Second, the body’s hunger-signaling will be altered to allow for additional calories to come in, to once again be stored as fat to ensure our survival through the stressful period.

Cortisol has many other functions but is better saved for a later post.

One last thing I can’t keep myself from drawing attention to, are the studies parameters for healthy and unhealthy food. They list a “chocolate bar and pudding” as unhealthy and a “cereal bar and applesauce” as healthy.

Certainly a cereal bar and applesauce can be healthier than a chocolate bar and pudding, but this is like saying that driving 75 MPH on a small side-road is safer than driving 100 MPH on the same road. Sure, one is marginally safer, but they both have very high likelihoods of a tragic outcome.

These are all refined, processed, and packaged foods that are not found in nature. Also, they are all sources of carbohydrates with next to no essential proteins or fats. All carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram and will turn to sugar in the blood. It doesn’t matter if we’re looking at applesauce or pudding…we’re still focusing on non-essential, man-made products.

If the two groups had truly healthy options, such as a large salad with salmon and avocado, topped with olive oil and red wine vinegar, it would be almost impossible for either group to overeat. The body needs proteins and fats, and while carbs are useful to boost athletic performance, they result in insulin spikes that interfere with leptin, causing abnormal hunger-signaling.

Ok, sorry, got a little side-tracked there!

The final takeaway from this post is: find an enjoyable and sustainable activity to improve your health!

Salmon on Asparagus

I received such positive responses from the steamed mussels’ recipe that I decided to post another recipe – this time for smoked salmon!

The best thing about salmon is that it has the highest Omega 3 content of almost any food in the world…however, make sure you buy wild-caught!

Food producers feed corn to farm-raised salmon, thus increasing the omega 6 content while decreasing omega 3 content. This is to say nothing of other negative outcomes from feeding a species a food they can’t properly digest.

I am aware that high-quality wild-caught salmon can be quite expensive, sometimes over $20/pound. For this reason, I would again urge everyone to check the pre-packaged, frozen seafood section. I know the store near me has frozen, wild- and sustainably-caught salmon for $5/pound…this is after a buy-one-get-one or half-price sale that seems to be permanent.

I like to cook my salmon on a bed of asparagus but honestly, the asparagus can end up being as expensive as the salmon so feel free to substitute another vegetable!

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Salmon in Parchment Paper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Cut two sheets of parchment paper about 1 foot by 1 foot

Fold both in half and cut the edges to form a half circle

After unfolding each, you should have 2 circles, equal in size

Line asparagus in middle of one sheet and place salmon on top

Add olive tapenade or coconut oil on salmon

Place the second circle over everything so the edges of parchment papers line up

Going around the outside of the circles, fold the edges over, sealing the sheets

Place on an oven tray and cook for 12 minutes

Remove from oven, cut open parchment, and allow to cool

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One important detail of this recipe is the use of parchment paper. This will protect the salmon from direct heat, resulting in a steaming affect, protecting the omega 3’s and other nutrients from oxidization.

Chopped olives or coconut goes well with this, but avocado or sweet potato would work too. Basically, you want to make sure you pair an energy source, a carb if you’re active or a fat if you’re sedentary, with this complete protein.

Like last time, I have to indulge my nerdy side and list the impressive nutritional profile of salmon:

Just 3 ounces contains the following:

22 grams of complete protein

2200mg Omega 3 and only 190mg Omega 6

40-60% daily needs of Selenium, Vitamin B12 & B6, and Niacin

20-25% of Riboflavin and Phosphorus

10-15% of Thiamin, Pantothenic Acid, Potassium, and Copper

It also contains trace amounts of activated Vitamin A (retinol), Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Sodium, Zinc, and Manganese.

While on the subject of salmon’s nutrient content, it is worth discussing the value of salmons’ high selenium content.

Our oceans have very high levels of mercury which could be quite dangerous, particularly for smaller people and pregnant women. Some sources even recommend limiting fish intake for this reason. While this may be a good idea for larger fish that don’t have as many minerals and nutrients, such as tuna, limiting consumption of salmon would be a terrible idea.

Chemically, selenium binds with mercury, thereby removing it from the body and eliminating any danger. The one downside of this process however, is that much of the selenium content of fish is not absorbed. For this reason, you may want to make sure you are getting enough selenium from other sources (just one or two Brazil nuts will give you all you need for the day).

And with that, you now have two amazingly beneficial, and hopefully tasty, recipes. Both should amount to about $5 per serving or less and provide a great deal of your nutrient needs for the day.  Also, considering both are seafood dishes, they would be perfect additions to a vegetarian diet.

Enjoy!