All posts tagged diet

Calorie Rich, Nutrient Poor: The Paradox of the Standard American Diet

A study published this month in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (JACN) supplies data to support what has long been suspected: that our Standard American Diet, also known as SAD, makes us fat and paradoxically leaves us nutrient deficient. Food Navigator USA provides a summary of the study findings here.

SAD really is, well, sad.

Recommendations for calorie intake in adults are 1800-2200 calories per day for women and 2200-3000 calories per day for men. Given that more that 67% of adults are overweight or obese in the United States currently, consuming enough calories clearly isn’t the problem; the problem is selecting which calories to consume.

Highly processed, convenience foods are a major culprit. However, the fact that poor quality food exists isn’t news and, therefore, isn’t what we should be most worried about. The problem we need to focus on is how difficult is it for many Americans to tell the difference between highly processed junk and quality health food. If we could all tell the difference, given the opportunity, I know we would make better choices.

That’s where the debates currently defining the Food Movement come into play. Whether it’s GMO labeling, “natural” claims or how we describe cane sugar, these issues can all be grouped under the theme of transparency. Without transparency we lack information, and without information we cannot educate. Ultimately, it is a lack of education and knowledge that, for many, perpetuates poor food choices.

I don’t believe the answer is to get rid of packaged, convenience foods. My stance is quite the opposite, actually. Convenience foods play a critical role in my own modern, multitasking, mom-of-two-kids life. However, I believe they should play a supporting role and choosing them shouldn’t require the intel that being an insider in the food industry and having a doctorate supply.

Whatever your stance may be on the details of any specific Food Movement issue, it’s hard to disagree that transparency is good for all. Because with transparency comes information and it is information that fuels better choices for ourselves and our families.

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Image by Tony Alter

Breaking the SAD Cycle: Mark Bittman’s VB6 (Vegan Before 6:00) Diet Plan

I’m a Bittman fan all the way, but I admit my first reaction to the concept of this book was skepticism.  In my experience working with patients, some of the worst nutrition decisions tend to be made at dinner (after 6pm).  Could being vegan until 6pm and then opening the flood gates to whatever you want to eat really be a good approach?  However, with more thought I became curious (plus I heard there were recipes in the book and Mark Bittman always has great recipes) so I bought a copy.

My curiosity grew as soon as I began reading.  It’s ironic to me that the foreword to this book was written by Dean Ornish, MD.  After all, Dr. Ornish is the doctor whose philosophy when I began reading his literature in the mid-90s was that drastic diet and lifestyle change were the best (and really only) approach to successful outcomes in the long run.  Little changes didn’t provide results quickly enough to maintain a patient’s motivation.  This logic stuck with me through my med school days as I worked with patients and saw firsthand what worked and what didn’t.  Ultimately, I netted out that people are individuals and for some small changes are all that’s possible, for others, jumping in with both feet does the trick.  It seems Dr. Ornish has come back to center as well as he states,

If you eat vegan before dinner and indulge yourself afterward, you’re likely to notice great improvements in your health and wellbeing without feeling deprived.  As you start to feel better and notice how much healthier you are, you’re likely to find yourself in a virtuous cycle in which you may want to do even more.

This book is really a description of Bittman’s personal journey to find the bridge between health and his love of eating.  It’s just the right balance of science, personal testimony and practical DIY tips.  As a doctor whose primary tool is food, I appreciate the time Bittman takes in this book to walk the reader through how we (collectively as a society) have gotten to this place of high-calorie, processed food that is largely absent of nutrition.  Bittman’s description of the Standard American Diet (which he dubs “SAD” through most of the book),

…food that either contains no nutritious value whatsoever—like soda—or foods that are loaded with chemicals and so highly processed that even though they might contain some nutritional value, they bear little resemblance to their origins.

He provides the reader with a 28-day plan to get started and (thankfully for those of us who have all but given up hope of ever having time to cook on a regular basis) he provides a list of “wildcards” (page 120), super quick vegan meals that can either be quickly thrown together at home or found on the go in a restaurant or even in a pinch at a friend’s wedding reception.

To be a healthy vegan, a diverse mix of whole nuts, seeds, grains, vegetables and fruits is essential.  Eating in this way quickly breaks down the confines of the Standard American Diet and provides a crash course in nutrition 101 as a result.  If you’re looking for a way to engage with the power of food as medicine but are not sure you’re ready to swear off your go-to comfort foods, this book is an approachable guide told through a voice that’s done it and is living the benefits eating vegan before 6:00 can provide.

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Image by MarkBittman.com