You 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
- Green tea
- Whole grains
List 2: Foods to Eat At Least Three Times a Week
- Sweet potato
- Oily fish
List 3: Foods to Eat Once a Week
- Red meat
- White starch (pasta)
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.
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 here. But Brown’s smoothie is not that great for total nutrition: when it comes to vitamins it the “Buff” smoothie looks like this:
|Vitamin||In the drink||RDA||% of RDA||Grade|
|B1 Thiamin||0.17 mg||1.2 mg||14%||F|
|B2 Riboflavin||0.39 mg||1.3 mg||30%||F|
|B3 Niacin||3.1 mg||16 mg||20%||F|
|B6 pyridoxine||0.85 mg||1.7 mg||50%||F|
|B9 folate||55 mcg||400 mcg||14%||F|
|B12 cobalamin||0||2.4 mcg||0%||F|
|C- Ascorbic acid||167 mg||90 mg||186%||A|
|E tocopherol||3.7 mg||15 mg||25%||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:
|Mineral||Amt in drink||RDA||% of RDA||Grade|
|Selenium||5.4 mcg||55 mcg||10||F|
|Phosphorus||160 mg||700 mg||23||F|
|Zinc||2 mg||11 mg||11||F|
|Copper||0.37 mg||0.9 mg||41||F|
|Magnesium||78 mg||420 mg||18||F|
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 Health||In smoothie||Range or RDA||In or out||Grade|
|Cholesterol||0.23 mg||0-150 mg||In range||A|
|Saturated Fat||1.2 mg||0-12 mg||In range||A|
|Fiber||11 g||30 grams||35% of RDA||F|
|Omega-3||0.24||1.3-2.5||Out of range||F|
|Omega-6||0.77||11-21||Out of range||F|
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.
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:
|Vitamin||Menu Plan||RDA||% of RDA||Grade|
|B1 Thiamin||1.3||1.2 mg||109%||A|
|B2 Riboflavin||1.8 mg||1.3 mg||141%||A|
|B3 Niacin||38 mg||16 mg||237%||D (too much)|
|B6 pyridoxine||3 mg||1.7 mg||179%||A|
|B9 folate||365 mcg||400 mcg||91%||B|
|B12 cobalamin||9.2 mcg||2.4 mcg||383%||A|
|C- Ascorbic acid||388 mg||90 mg||431%||A|
|E tocopherol||13 mg||15 mg||85%||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.
|Mineral||Menu Plan||RDA||% of RDA||Grade|
|Selenium||127 mcg||55 mcg||231||A|
|Phosphorus||1663 mg||700 mg||238||A|
|Zinc||9.3 mg||11 mg||85||C|
|Copper||2.1 mg||0.9 mg||234||A|
|Magnesium||482 mg||420 mg||115||A|
|Heart Health||In meal plan||Range or RDA||In or out||Grade|
|Cholesterol||282 mg||0-150 mg||Out of range||D|
|Saturated Fat||13 mg||0-12 mg||Out of range||B|
|Fiber||43 g||30 grams||143% of RDA||A|
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.
You can listen to my podcast on Alton’s food lists here:
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 received his MD. Dr. Simpson, a renowned weight loss surgeon, is a leading advocate of culinary medicine. 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 www.terrysimpson.com.