Don't Count CALORIES, MAKE Your Calories count...part ii

margie sanchez, science contributor

So what do you really know about that Egg McMuffin you just ate for breakfast? It definitely provides calories for energy, but does it provide nutrients? You’re definitely getting protein and carbohydrates. And most assuredly you are getting plenty of fat. (Yes, fat is a very important part of our daily diet.)  Does it really matter what kind of calories you consume as long as the food you consume provides energy? Oh, it matters. And it matters a lot!! What if you consumed a bowl of whole grain oatmeal with low-fat milk, honey, and a sprinkle of fresh organic blueberries instead of that Egg McMuffin? Let’s do a comparison:

The Egg McMuffin provides:

·      290 calories

·      11.52  grams of fat

·      847 milligrams of sodium

·      17.64 grams of protein

·      2.79 grams of sugar

·      28.58 grams of carbohydrates

Based on a 2000 calorie (or 2 kcal) diet, one Egg McMuffin provides 104 calories of fat or 18% of the recommended daily value of total fats. BUT 4.21 grams of those11.52 grams of fat are saturated fat. Those 4.21 grams of saturated fat is already 21% of the recommended daily value of saturated fat. And cholesterol is included in that saturated fat. In fact, one Egg McMuffin contains 232 milligrams of cholesterol or 77% of the recommended daily intake of cholesterol. There are 3.297 grams of monounsaturated fats and 0.937 grams of polyunsaturated fats. The 847 milligrams of sodium is 35% of the recommended daily value of sodium. One Egg McMuffin provides Vitamins A and C, 28% of the recommended daily allowance of calcium, and 17% of the recommended daily allowance of iron. The carb content includes 1.5 grams of dietary fiber which is 6% of the recommended daily intake. The 290 calories is 18% of the recommended daily intake. One Egg McMuffin is 39% carbohydrates, 36% fat, and 25% protein by weight and composition.

One bowl of oatmeal, prepared as ½ cup of oats to one cup of water to make 1 ½ cups of oatmeal provides:

·      150 calories

·      2.5 grams of fat

·      27 grams of carbohydrates (includes 4 grams dietary fiber)

·      5 grams of protein

·      Less than 1 gram of sugar

Let’s add ½ cup of fresh organic blueberries, ¼ cup of 2% milk, and a few teaspoons of honey or maple syrup to the prepared oatmeal. (Like me, some of you will probably add a little more milk than ¼ cup.)  The blueberries and milk add 87.5 more calories. So now your bowl of oatmeal has a total of 237.5 calories, minus the maple syrup or honey. But the milk added calcium, potassium, phosphorus, Vitamins A, D and B12, Riboflavin, and a little more protein. What about the ½ cup of blueberries? These powerful little berries added:

·      1.8 grams of dietary fiber

·      12% RDA of  Vitamin C

·      7 grams sugars

·      18% RDA of Vitamin K

·      Vitamin B6, iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, sodium, magnesium, zinc, copper, folate, and beta carotene

Blueberries also contain anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid, which provide blueberries’ beautiful color. Flavonoids are a powerful nutrient in the large family of antioxidants. In addition to anthocyanins, blueberries have a range of phenolic compounds like quercetin, kaempferol, myrecetin, and chlorogenic acid- all of which contribute to blueberries’ impressive antioxidant capacity.

      Don't forget about the honey or maple syrup. Both have pretty low glycemic indexes, which means you’re not going to crash and burn like after a sudden but fleeting sugar rush. And you only added a few teaspoons, but that small amount contributes to the nutrition in your bowl of oatmeal. These two natural sugar substitutes are nutritional powerhouses. (I’ll discuss the merits of natural sugars in another article.)

     Obviously, the calorie difference between an Egg McMuffin and a bowl of oatmeal with 1/4 cup of 2% milk and ½ cup of blueberries isn’t huge- 290 calories versus about 250 calories. It’s the nutritional difference that’s significant. It’s the nutritional difference that makes the oatmeal with blueberries the better choice.

     The Egg McMuffin has way too much cholesterol and other fat. Not that fats are completely bad. In fact, we need fats for proper health. For instance, we need cholesterol to make steroid hormones like testosterone and estrogen. But we sure don’t need the amount of fat contained in one Egg McMuffin, and not all at once.

     Oatmeal contains healthy fiber, soluble and insoluble, both of which are necessary for our bodies to function properly. For one thing, the fiber in oatmeal helps to lower cholesterol in our arteries. Remember, ½ cup of blueberries also contains significant dietary fiber. Fiber gives our bodies that full, satisfied feeling a lot longer than processed, refined products like the English muffin in the Egg McMuffin.

    The Egg McMuffin has more protein than the oatmeal. It also has a lot more sodium because of the Canadian bacon and American cheese (which isn’t real cheese). If you want protein, there are better, healthier ways to obtain protein for breakfast. Or how about getting some protein later by eating one or two hardboiled eggs for a mid-morning snack?

    The nutritional benefits of superfoods like blueberries obviate the wisdom of eating this little purplish blue powerhouse berry. If you don’t like blueberries, there are plenty of other nutritional choices like cranberries, raisins, dates, cherries, fresh bananas, peaches, apples, strawberries… And don’t forget the cinnamon. It’s a “powerhouse” spice.

      My favorite bowl of oatmeal includes dried cherries, chopped walnuts, fresh blueberries, cinnamon, maple syrup, and almond milk. The nuts add protein, flavor, and healthy fats. The almond milk adds Vitamin E among other nutrients. Almond and soy milk are good alternatives for people who are lactose intolerant. Both are nutritious and add even more nutrients. One bowl of oatmeal prepared my favorite way keeps me full and provides a steady flow of energy as I start my day. You can cook oatmeal in milk (soy or almond too) for additional flavor and nutrition. 

     The real trick to losing weight and keeping it off is to find foods that are nutritious, delicious, and as close to their natural form as possible. Do you like dips and spreads? Try making hummus or baba ganouj (an eggplant dip made with yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil). Substitute pita or whole grain crackers for chips. Or use cucumber spears, celery, carrots, or other raw vegetables for dippers. Use nutrient dense, creamy substitutes like mashed avocado or hummus for mayonnaise on sandwiches. Or just cut the mayonnaise down to a scant teaspoon. Mustard is a delicious, fat free alternative to mayonnaise. Make oven fries by tossing spears of potatoes (even sweet potatoes) with a little oil and your favorite spices, and then roast them in the oven until they’re crisp and brown.

      Do you like peanut butter? Try it on apple slices, bananas or celery stalks, not just peanut butter sandwiches. Organic, natural peanut butter is also a great substitute for butter on your morning toast. Make it whole grain toast and you’ll get some protein as well as whole grain nutrition. Almond and other nut butters are also great on your morning toast. Watch the amount you use. Nut butters can pack on fat calories if used too liberally.

      There are so many ways to incorporate good healthy eating habits. It’s all about finding nutritious foods you truly enjoy. Some people choose to become vegetarians. Some adopt a specific ethnic or regional cuisine style, like the Mediterranean diet which is based on healthy fruits and vegetables, yogurt, fresh meats and fish consumed sparingly, nutritious herbs like oregano, and a lot of garlic and olive oil. The goal is to eat healthy, fresh foods. Eliminate artificial colors, preservatives, and sweeteners whenever possible. Limit processed foods, refined flours and sugars. Consume organic fruits and vegetables, especially those in the “dirty dozen” list. Eat wild caught, sustainable fish. If you eat meat and drink milk, look for products from free range animals that haven’t been fed growth hormones, antibiotics, or GMOs.

     So… don’t focus on the calories in food. Focus on the wealth of nutrients you’re getting for the calories. Look to nutrient dense foods like avocados, nuts and seeds, whole grains, fresh organic fruits and vegetables, healthy fats like olive oil, lean animal protein, and low fat organic dairy products. Save the Egg McMuffin for the occasional breakfast quick fix. Or I can tell you about my version next time….