Alton Brown’s Diet: Is it Useful – is it Nutritious

alton brown dietYou may have heard of Alton Brown, one of the hosts of Food Network’s Iron Chef, for 13 seasons he had a show called “Good Eats,” and now “Cutthroat Kitchen.”

If you have followed him, you may have noticed he has lost a lot of weight. In 2009 Brown noticed he was heavier, so he stepped on the scale, and after seeing the number, he decided that he would have to change the way he lived.  He spent time researching what we know about healthy foods, unhealthy foods and made up lists of foods into groups he would eat daily, foods he would eat three times a week, those foods he would only eat once a week, and those foods he would avoid altogether.



List 1: Foods to Eat Daily

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Nuts
  • Carrots
  • Green tea
  • Whole grains
  • Fruits

List 2: Foods to Eat At Least Three Times a Week

  • Yogurt
  • Broccoli
  • Sweet potato
  • Avocado
  • Oily fish

List 3: Foods to Eat Once a Week

  • Red meat
  • White starch (pasta)
  • Desserts
  • Alcohol

List 4: Foods to Never Eat / Foods to Avoid at All Times

  • Soda (club soda is the exception)
  • Processed meals – tv dinners and the like
  • Canned soups
  • “Diet” anything

You have to like the the idea of identifying food to only eat once a week.  This means you are not depriving yourself instead you are saying: ” I am going to have them one time a week only” – like once a week dessert, or once a week pasta, or once a week red meat. When you make a lifestyle change you have to say “no” to some foods, but some foods you have to say “wait.” Remember, these are Alton Brown’s choices- we will see below if they are nutritionally sound.

Then  there is the “no” list – and if there is one list I recommend all adopt it is that list – avoid junk food, avoid soda (club soda is an exception) and if something says diet – then avoid it. Canned soups and TV dinners – yes, get rid of all of those.

Now the Nutritional Data – is it as good as advertised?
Alton Brown clearly did a lot of work in devising these lists. He did research into food that were generally considered healthy – the question is did he go in depth into the micronutrients and macronutrients of the food? Well, don’t worry because we have:

For breakfast Brown makes a  smoothie, when he travels he brings a blender with  him to make his smoothies on the road. One of his favorite smoothies is called the “Buff Smoothie.”  The recipe for his smoothie it can be found by clicking hereBut Brown’s smoothie is not that great for total nutrition: when it comes to vitamins it the “Buff” smoothie looks like this:

VitaminIn the drinkRDA% of RDAGrade
B1 Thiamin0.17 mg1.2 mg14%F
B2 Riboflavin0.39 mg1.3 mg30%F
B3 Niacin3.1 mg16 mg20%F
B6 pyridoxine0.85 mg1.7 mg50%F
B9 folate55 mcg400 mcg14%F
B12 cobalamin02.4 mcg0%F
C- Ascorbic acid167 mg90 mg186%A
E tocopherol3.7 mg15 mg25%F


The grade, it should be pointed out- is if this was all you had for the day. But what many might think is a healthy smoothie filled with vitamins is a smoothie that will meet your vitamin C level, but is deficient in others.

What about minerals? After all, they are plants and plants have a lot of minerals so let us see how they do with the trace minerals:


MineralAmt in drinkRDA% of RDAGrade
Selenium5.4 mcg55 mcg10F
Phosphorus160 mg700 mg23F
Zinc2 mg11 mg11F
Copper0.37 mg0.9 mg41F
Magnesium78 mg420 mg18F

So the smoothie, in spite of it being called “Buff” is anything but buff when it comes to trace minerals.

What about heart healthy – it is clearly something that should be good for the heart- let us look at the common data for that:


Heart HealthIn smoothieRange or RDAIn or outGrade
Cholesterol0.23 mg0-150 mgIn rangeA
Saturated Fat1.2 mg0-12 mgIn rangeA
Fiber11 g30 grams35% of RDAF
Omega-30.241.3-2.5Out of rangeF
Omega-60.7711-21Out of rangeF

It is low in cholesterol, sodium, and saturated fat — which means it isn’t bad for your heart. But what this drink is missing is fiber, and the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (both essential meaning if you don’t get them from your diet you don’t get them).

The smoothie isn’t the only part of his “lifestyle” there are other things that he eats, and we can only go from the ingredients that he tells us on his website.  The point of the above being that a smoothie isn’t all that packed with “goodness” as it claims. In terms of macronutrients his smoothie looks like this:
Total Calories: 389  Carb=87g  Protein=5.5g  Fat=5.5g


One of his staples is sardines- that you can open and eat from the can. Brown does this with chopsticks – forcing him to eat slowly as he enjoys them. But  he has developed a  recipe that involves some avocado with the sardines on toast. For that recipe see here. Sardines are nutritious, packaged in small containers, and readily available, as are the nuts, in any grocery store.

When we add sardines to our meal plan – that is to the morning smoothie we do improve some measures.  For example we increase iron and copper, so we go from a grade of F to a D.  We add phosphorus so we go from an F to a C, and selenium so we go from an F to a B. We do get some omega-3 fatty acids with a can of sardines, bringing the total up to 0.7 g, still below the target giving us a C for our daily meal- up from an F.  We also increase, slightly the omega-6 fatty acids going to a D. In terms of vitamins, we only add Coalamin (B12) and we get to an A for that.

Traveling, loving food, and planning for success

Brown doesn’t live in New York City or in Los Angeles, he lives in a suburb of Atlanta.  The network films in either New York City or Los Angeles, although some of the series, like Next Iron Chef can be filmed anywhere. To stick to his lifestyle might be difficult, consider Brown is around some of the world’s greatest chefs. But he hasn’t faltered – in spite of Bobby Flay telling him that he has lost too much weight and should “eat a steak.”

Alton Brown refuses to be “a victim of travel.”  So he has identified foods that he can buy at any grocery store,  or items he can make ahead of time and have with him.  For example, nuts – an item on his first list.  Nuts can be easily over-consumed, and are high in calories and fat. Since Mayo Clinic listed almonds as a “superfood” Brown chose them. To avoid eating too many Brown portions them into one ounce containers allowing himself two servings a day.  Plain almonds are good, but Brown used his culinary skills to develop a ginger glazed almond. That recipe can be found here.

The Nutrition:
So, the science of these things is always what is curious. The real issue though, is what about the micronutrients in the foods – are there enough to sustain you?

Alton Brown Menu Plan:

Breakfast — the Buff smoothie

Lunch: Sardines, avocado, toast – from the above recipe

Dinner: Chicken breast (medium) Kale, Broccoli, and 2 small carrots

Snacks: One apple, one serving of hummus, 1 oz of almonds, and several mugs of green tea.

The macronutrients look like this: 1661 calories, Carbohydrates 164 g, Protein 108 g, Fat 73 g.

In terms of the micronutrients listed above here is that breakdown starting with the vitamins:

VitaminMenu PlanRDA% of RDAGrade
B1 Thiamin1.31.2 mg109%A
B2 Riboflavin1.8 mg1.3 mg141%A
B3 Niacin38 mg16 mg237%D (too much)
B6 pyridoxine3 mg1.7 mg179%A
B9 folate365 mcg400 mcg91%B
B12 cobalamin9.2 mcg2.4 mcg383%A
C- Ascorbic acid388 mg90 mg431%A
E tocopherol13 mg15 mg85%C

There is a lot of good things with the vitamin content of what this menu plan provides.

When we look at the rest of the meal plan there are also some good grades to be had.  I am not worried about the extra cholesterol that it shows, since there is no issue with excess dietary cholesterol.

MineralMenu PlanRDA% of RDAGrade
Selenium127  mcg55 mcg231A
Phosphorus1663 mg700 mg238A
Zinc9.3 mg11 mg85C
Copper2.1 mg0.9 mg234A
Magnesium482 mg420 mg115A


Heart HealthIn meal planRange or RDAIn or outGrade
Cholesterol282 mg0-150 mgOut of rangeD
Saturated Fat13  mg0-12 mgOut of rangeB
Fiber43 g30 grams143% of RDAA
Omega-31.61.3-2.5In rangeA
Omega-61411-21In rangeA

So- what do you think? Adopt the list? Make a menu plan? Change it for your needs? I wonder how a bit more red wine and lean beef would work?

So make up your own list and see how they stack up with nutrition.

You never want to trade malnutrition for excess weight – it doesn’t work that well.

Listen to the Alton Brown Food List podcast

Dr. Terry Simpson Podcast


Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit

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Latest Comments

  1. Rogue Cheddar says:

    It is good to point out that the low grades are applicable if that is all one consumed in a day. However, his plan is everything mentioned in totality where you’d find yourself eating small amounts often throughout the day. If all ingredients are fresh and natural, there’s really no downside to the lifestyle.

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