Your health is about what you eat MOST days! Part 2

It isn’t about ONE food or even one DAY’s food. It’s about what we eat MOST days.

So you have choices to make, choices about the degree to which on most days your diet is adequate in protein, adequate in essential nutrients, and avoids too many calories (energy).

The newspaper article and post that kicked off this series is entitled “What Matters Most to Your Health? The central issue was this: a diet deficient in the essential nutrients including vitamins and minerals is guaranteed to make you sick and probably fat.

Part 1 established the basics; clarifying the roles of protein, vitamins, and minerals; the levels of deficiency in the American population; and why those deficiencies emight be important  All that was a lead up to this:

How to look at “what you eat most days” from whether it is adequate in protein, adequate in essential nutrients, and avoids too many calories (energy.) 

You have choices!

Animal products – protein, nutrients, calories

This is meat, fish and eggs. And the very-most-protein possible in food will be from animal products. I’m not advocating against or for a vegetarian diet; I’m just telling it like it is. Animal protein does have calories generally determined by the amount of fat inherently built in. However, for most of us, the biggest issue for calories in meat is preparation.

So if you flour batter the meat and fry it, or you put that hamburger on a bun, you have added empty calories. (See below for more clarity.) It’s not the meat; it’s the stuff you added to it.

Highest nutrients in meat

According to my research in the SelfNutritionData database, pork has the highest essential nutrient content followed by beef and seafood. The lowest essential nutrient content is generally chicken. Isn’t that a disappointment!

So why is chicken so popular? The popularity seems to be price and because it is low fat. That means many of us abandoned the most nutritional value in the interest of cheap and less fat, not necessarily the best choice.

Salmon and other cold water fish’ claim to fame is the amount of Omega 3 fatty acid (which is also an essential nutrient.) Omega 3 fatty acids are particularly important for the brain. You don’t really need a lot of this which is why the “recommendation” is to eat some once or twice a week.

In all kinds of meat the organs are EXTREMELY high in essential nutrients and lowest in calories. Don’t gag; I’m just telling it like it is. I personally like chicken liver but what you do with this information is up to you.

Nutrient serving sizes

For our frame of reference, consider a serving of meat this way. What fits into the palm of your hand is about 3-4 ounces and contains about 30 grams of protein. If you happen to be a big guy with a big hand, then that might be 7 ounces 60 grams of protein. Consider a slice of bacon or an egg as 6 grams of protein.

So for a small handed person to get the minimum amount of protein from meat without too many calories in a day you might eat a couple of pork chops, or a bunch of eggs, fish, a 6-8 ounce steak or hamburgers. You can see there are a lot of alternative depending on what you have on hand. Pretty simple!

Starches – protein, nutrition, calories

Simple sugar (glucose) is what you find in garden vegetables and fruit. On the other hand starch is long and complex chains of simple glucose units strung together. In other words, starches have lots of sugar.

Starches are generally root vegetables (like potatoes), legumes (as in beans), and some grains (think corn, oats and quinoa). And the good news is they are excellent sources of protein — burdened by lots of calories in sugar. In their whole form they consistently have excellent micro-nutrient content.

However, when thinking grains, do NOT think rice or wheat. While they contain good micro-nutrient content (at least before they are processed which is rarely), they contain minimal protein with the same calorie burden.

One little drawback to starches is that they are pretty bland and need help to be palatable. Or are you one of those people who happily eat a bowl of oats or a potato without even a drop of butter? There is a reason why people love French fries, super nutritious potato drowning in fat. A baked potato topped with butter, sour cream, cheese is a calorie bomb as a heavy combination of starch and fat. So too are Au-gratin potatoes.

It is entirely possible to accomplish starch palatability with a variety of seasonings and just a touch of fat. Possible but sometimes rare.  It is also possible to get the taste wonder of a loaded baked potato with garden vegetables. See below.

Garden vegetables and fruit – protein, nutrition, calories

Garden vegetables have a lot of things going for them but protein isn’t one of them. They are very low calorie because there isn’t much sugar and little fat. Their micro-nutrient configuration is also excellent and they, in net combination through the day, make a significant contrition nutritionally. But you will be hard-put to meet all of your protein, calorie, and nutritional needs with just garden vegetables and fruit.

That means it is important for a vegetarian and vegan diet to include good starches for protein and calories. Vegans will have to supplement with at least vitamin B12 because it is only available in meat.

The cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli vegetable group called cruciferous tend to be heavy with lots of texture. This makes them good marriage candidates with butter and cheese. I have personally made cauliflower mash and Au-gratin cauliflower or Brussels sprouts. Give it some thought.    

Whole fruit is good nutritionally but brings more sugar. Lots of conversation these days about fiber, a portion of carbohydrate sugar that is not digestible. Plants we eat that should have fiber (vegetation) but don’t (see ”Everything Else”) creates digestion and nutrient absorption issues. Juices, whether fruit or vegetable, are simply calories without the other benefits of the plant.      

Everything else

Everything else is the stuff in the grocery store or your pantry made from flour (starch) and sugar. That is everything bread, crackers, cakes, cookies, pies, etc. etc. And you will also find it in bottled stuff like dressings. Wander on down to your closest convenience store and read the label on Little Debbie iced honey-buns – 490 calories. Chocolate glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts – 250 to 300 calories. Empty calories

Gravy, fat and starch, is nothing but empty calories, The bread enclosing your sandwich or toast sopping up butter and jelly with your breakfast is empty calories. Those biscuits you lovingly prepare in your kitchen, however good they taste, are empty calories.

What does hunger have to do with this?

Your body is really smart. It knows when you need protein and when you need nutrients. The more you are deficient in either, the hungrier you will be. Therefore, if you meet both requirements over time you are less likely to be hungry. They call this “satiety,” which simply means satisfaction. The more empty calories you shove in your mouth, however good they taste, the more you will hunger for the nutrition you are missing. 

So what do you eat most days?

First of all, on most days you need to make sure you get enough protein.

And if you choose to get some portion of that protein from starch, excellent from a nutritional perspective, remember that you have effectively doubled or tripled your calories attached to that protein. That means there is less room for more calories in the rest of the meal. 

The good news about the vegetable calories is that they are nutrient rich and calorie poor. For this reason I have not even mentioned serving sizes because they don’t really matter from a calorie perspective.

Think about the best southern comfort food.  Batter fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits with butter (and maybe honey). Chicken has the least nutritional value of the meats; potatoes are a starch, good nutrition but calorie intensive. The batter on the chicken and flour/fat in the gravy are calorie intensive with no nutritional value. Same with the biscuit, the butter, and the honey. In other words, in total that meal is going to taste great but be nutritionally deficient and calorie intensive.

On most days the “southern comfort” meal is probably not on the menu.  Nor are deserts, doughnuts,  or snacks in a sack. I didn’t say never, I said “most days.” On some days you splurge on something useless because you just love the way it tastes. Then back to most days.