Food Journal

I don't suggest that people count calories or even track with great accuracy the macronutrients they eat.  I believe if you just focus on avoiding the macronutrients that can be a problem for most of us (carbs) and eating good quality, real foods, then the rest will take care of itself.  That has worked pretty well for me in the last several years.  I don't count calories, at all.  I just watch what I eat in terms of avoiding carbohydrates and focusing on real food.

Even with that, when I was learning to eat better three years ago, and when I've talked with others about how they eat and can improve, I see that tracking what you eat with a food journal can be very helpful.  That snapshot of where you are at a point in time can give insight as to how you are doing, allows you to focus on the right balance of food, and can help you learn if changes are needed.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what I typically eat today and compare it to how I used to eat years ago.  In other words, my "before" and "after" snapshots, using food journals.

I didn't actually capture a food journal for before, but it is pretty easy to think about a typical, representative day, and recreate a food journal that's probably pretty accurate.  While I knew this exercise would be pretty educational to demonstrate the use of a food journal for the purpose of this blog post, I was quite surprised by the insight it gave to me about how and why this diet works.

BEFORE

Here is my diary from a typical day of food a few years ago was when I was trying (not always successfully) to follow the "conventional wisdom" guidelines for diet.  

During my typical day years ago I estimate I would consume a total of about 2,900 calories, 43% from carbs, 44% from fat, and 13% from protein.  The protein intake would have been around 96 grams.

I was also consuming roughly the recommended, or slightly higher, calorie intake for someone my size and activity level.  I was consuming around 2,900 calories per day with the recommendation being around 2,700 - 2,900 calories per day.  I also remember that I often felt hungry and that I had to eat something every few hours or suffer shakes, headaches, etc, despite my eating on the high side of the recommended range of calories.

The protein intake was probably right where it should have been based on my current understanding, while the carbohydrate intake is much higher and fat lower than what I understand today to be the best approach for me.  The carb intake is on the low end of the conventional recommendation (about 43% versus the recommended 45-65%) and fat intake is above the conventional recommendation (about 44% versus the recommended 20-35%.)

AFTER

My diary from a typical day of food today is a bit different, to say the least.

During my typical day today I estimate I consume a total of 2,200 calories with a minimum recommendation for someone my size and activity level being around 2,600.  Keep in mind that I do not feel like I'm starving and am almost never hungry despite the lower calorie intake, and can go for hours, or even a day, without feeling like I need to eat or risk having the shakes or headaches.

My protein consumption works out to be exactly the same at 96 grams!  (This was not a setup, it actually came out exactly the same.)  If you ever hear of this being a "high protein" diet or the dangers of a "high protein" diet, realize that this is not, and that is not what I recommend.

I now consume around 76% of my calories from fat (well above "conventional wisdom" of course) and my carbohydrate intake is around 7% (well below "conventional wisdom".)

WHAT I'VE LEARNED

This was a very interesting exercise for me and I've learned the following from it:

  • I ate more calories before, and too many for my size and activity level, so I was having issues controlling my weight.
  • I ate a little less fat in terms of total grams before as I do now (141 grams vs. 187 grams) but not nearly as much difference as I would have thought.
  • I ate many more calories before, and most of the additional calories came from carbohydrate.
  • I ate more calories before, BECAUSE I was eating more carbohydrates and had poor control of glucose/insulin swings and the resulting hunger.  This also lead to most of the other health issues I was having.
  • I may be eating too few calories today, so it might not hurt to consciously increase consumption a bit, but I'll look to add a little more healthy fat instead of carbohydrate.  I'm pretty convinced that these added calories won't lead to increased weight but probably increased energy.  When I had done this previously while I was adapting to this way of eating, I observed that when I increased consumption of fat, my weight decreased even faster.
  • Although not obvious from the food diaries, I eat much better quality food, and much less processed food today.

I don't believe that anyone should constantly calculate these detailed numbers about their food, or constantly count calories, fat, carbs, or anything else.  But occasionally tracking exactly what we're eating can lead to discovery and ensure that we're on the right track.

Egg Casserole

At a recent morning presentation on the Primal Blueprint, where I decided to bring some primal-acceptable foods for a snack, I decided to whip up a breakfast casserole with what I had on hand.

I did some online searching and found some basic recipes so I had a target for time, temperature, etc.  I also had this list of ingredients available to work with;

  • 1-1/2 dozen eggs
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Swiss cheese
  • Baked ham (~1 pound)
  • Fresh broccoli
  • Chopped bacon
  • Chopped onion
  • Grass fed butter

I don't actually remember the time and temperature but it took quite a bit longer than I thought but turned out quite good, and it's a good, balance dish from a nutrition standpoint.

A good balance of fat, protein, and some carbohydrate.

Quality, as usual, is a little more difficult to estimate since the sources aren't always known.  I did know I had good quality eggs from pastured chickens at a local farm.  The broccoli was organic so the quality there is good.  The ham, cheese and bacon are just what I could pick up at the store so I suspect the quality there is not quite as good.

Finally, the micro-nutrition in this dish is probably pretty good as well.  With eggs from pastured chickens and the organic broccoli, there are some good micronutrients.  I think a dish with more vegetables might be a bit better from a micronutrient standpoint but I think this dish isn't bad.

Processed Food Jumping on the Bandwagon?

It's very difficult to know what the right things are to eat.  It's not any easier when all around us are advertisements, slogans, and claims on and about packaged foods.  Everywhere you look these days among packaged food -- particularly high-carbohydrate packaged food such as cereal, snack bars and the like -- you see protein being advertised as the next great food benefit.  What's with this new trend?  Is this an earnest effort by these food companies to improve our nutrition?

I don't want to claim that these companies are out to harm us, they're not, but their objectives are exactly what they are required to do to benefit their shareholders.  They're out to sell more product.  This is not necessarily the same as your objective to eat healthier food.

I think these big food companies are seeing a trend toward paleo, primal, low carb diets and they want to jump on the bandwagon.  But they've got a problem.  If they were really to embrace this approach, they would develop food that was low in carbohydrate and not lower in fat, but not necessarily higher in protein.  If they did that, they'd do two things which aren't in line with their objective to sell more product.

For one, they would scare a large part of their customer base away.  That base is made up of average Americans who are convinced, from years of the low fat mantra, that fat is to be avoided at all cost.  They avoid any mention about reduced carbohydrates, whether or not their new products have reduced carbohydrates or not.  If they mentioned reduced carbohydrate, they fear they would sound like they were suggesting "healthy whole grains" should be avoided.  The only safe thing they can say is that they have more protein.

Another likely reason is fear of stirring the wrath of experts in conventional nutrition who would disparage food that is higher in fat or lower in healthy whole grains.

To those who are trying to understand what to eat and what's good for them, particularly those who are trying to follow a low carbohydrate approach, be cautious about buying into the message from these processed food manufacturers.  High protein is not necessarily the way to go.  You probably are getting enough protein and having more is not going to help you reach your goals.

The list of new Protein-enhanced processed foods I found on a walk through the grocery store;

  • Special K Protein Cinnamon Brown Sugar Crunch Cereal
  • Special K Protein Chocolatey Peanut Butter Granola Snack Bar
  • Special K Dark Chocolate Granola Snack Bar
  • Quaker Select Starts Protein Cranberry Almond Instant Oatmeal
  • Quaker Select Starts Banana Nut Instant Oatmeal
  • Fairlife reduced fat ultra-filtered milk.  (The issues with this product go far beyond the focus on 50% more protein.  The shear idea that milk itself needs to improved is hard to believe.  See this blog post for more at PrimalPastures.com)
  • Rockin' Refuel protein fortified, low fat milk
  • Weightwatchers Frosted Shredded Wheat with Protein
  • Fiber One Coconut Almond Chewy Bars with Protein
  • Nature Valley Mixed Berry Protein Greek Yogurt  Chewy Bar with Naturally Flavored Greek Yogurt Coating
  • Nature Valley Strawberry Greek Yogurt Protein Chewy Bar with Naturally Flavored Greek Yogurt Coating
  • Fiber One Cranberry Almond Protein Cereal
  • Fiber One Maple Brown Sugar Protein Cereal
  • Special K Protein Cereal  (One listing 10g of protein the other with 14g including milk.  Other than that I see no difference -- could this be an experiment on their part?)
  • Cheerios Cinnamon Almond Protein Cereal
  • Cheerios Oats and Honey Protein Cereal

It's interesting that these protein-enhanced packaged foods are almost all foods that are normally high in carbohydrate.  (Cereal, snack bars, etc.)  There's also no mention of them having lower carbohydrate since I suspect they don't.

 

 

 

Newk's Ultimate Salad

I usually don't end up getting as many vegetables as I would like, so at least once a week I will usually go get a big salad for lunch.  In this case I went to Newk's, a restaurant located a short walk from where I work.  The "Ultimate" salad is what I usually get, and it's a pretty healthy and appetizing choice.

Newk's ultimate salad is basically a chef's salad including leaf lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes as well as cheese, grilled chicken, ham, turkey, and bacon.  I get it without their honey mustard dressing and instead use the olive oil and vinegar they have available.  In this way I avoid the sugar and bad fats that are likely in the pre-made dressing and probably get something more healthy.  (I say probably because so many olive oils are cut with unhealthy oils it's hard to tell.  I figure I am more likely to get a healthier oil if it at least says olive oil, but no guarantees.)

The macro nutrient content in a salad like this is pretty good.  A good balance of fat and protein and low level of carbohydrates.  (Note that I eat this without the croutons.)  The only thing I would change is the grape tomatoes which have a higher sugar content than regular tomatoes but there's not that much to worry about.

The quality of this meal is a little more in doubt.  I have no idea the source of the meats or cheeses.  The saving grace on the meat in this meal is that most of the proteins are lean (chicken breast and turkey breast.)  The good nutrients in properly raised meat, or the bad nutrients in improperly raised meat, is stored primarily in the fat.  This means that when the quality of the source is questionable, a leaner cut is better.  Not much choice as far as the cheese, so you're stuck with the quality that you get.

On the micronutrient scale, I would rate this meal reasonably high.  With the raw vegetables and possibly the olive oil, (assuming it's reasonably high quality virgin olive oil) there are plenty of vitamins and minerals.  There could be a wider variety of vegetables to make it even better, but this isn't bad.

Overall a good lunch and a good part of a healthy, low carbohydrate diet.

Very short story on how I eat LCHF

I thought I would see how succinctly I could describe what this Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF) diet is, (at least the way I do it) to those who may be unfamiliar.  Here goes.

FoodonForks.jpg

I eat virtually no sugar.  (Including sodas, sugar in other drinks, deserts, etc.)

I eat virtually no grains.  (Including breads, pasta, cereal, rice, etc.)

I eat virtually no starchy vegetables. (Potatoes, etc)

I eat little or no sweet fruits. (Citrus, ripe bananas, apples, etc)

I eat a "normal" amount of protein, about 100 gms./day  (Beef, pork, chicken, fish)

I eat fat, about 70-80% of calories. (Mostly saturated and monounsaturated)

I eat eggs. (About 1-1/2 dozen a week.)

I eat full-fat dairy. (Butter, full-fat cream, hard cheeses)

I eat some nuts. (Mainly macadamia, but also some almonds, Brazil nuts, pistachios, cashews)

I eat some less-sweet fruits. (Blueberries, strawberries)

I eat very dark chocolate (usually greater than 85% cocoa)

I strive for quality food sources. (Dairy and beef from Grass fed cows, eggs and meat from pastured chickens)

I eat very little packaged or junk food, or food with labels containing more than 2 or 3 recognizable ingredients.

I never count calories.

I don't worry about getting it all perfect.

I welcome your feedback!