I’ve been a long-time fan of Alton Brown’s Good Eats show on Food Network. He’s kitschy for some (Brown notes that Good Eats “was inspired by the idea of combining Julia Child, Mr. Wizard, and Monty Python”), but I have always appreciated the science in each episode.
[Note: if you haven't seen the show, by all means check out the early years on YouTube!]
Now into season 13, it’s clear that Alton Brown, like many of us, had been putting on some pounds over the years. But also like many of us, this kind of slow weight creep really can turn into a hefty number of pounds. For Brown, it was some Good Eats footage that convinced had him he had to do something about the sizable spare tire he was sporting. This led him to change his diet with a resulting weight loss of 50 lbs over 9 months.
So naturally, I was eager to hear how he’d done it. He explains the details on a recent episode of Good Eats: Live and Let Diet.
First off, I think the description for the episode is misleading:
AB explains how eating from 4 basic food groups helped him lose 50 lbs without going on a diet.
Actually, Brown makes a distinction between energy-dense and nutrient-dense foods. His plan involves increasing his nutrient to energy ratio via four lists, which is very different from what most people consider as “basic food groups.”
The Plan of Four Lists
First, here are Brown’s lists.
The columns are pretty self-explanatory. Brown eats those foods in the daily column each day. Foods in the 3x/week column are eaten at least three times per week. Foods in the 1x/week column are those he allows himself once each week, and foods in the last column he no longer eats.
The rest of the episode features recipes for some of the foods he includes regularly in his diet. I thought the sardine toast and almonds were fine (though primal folks would probably forgo the toast). I had a few issues with the smoothie though.
Brown’s Buff Smoothie
Aside from the four lists, Brown has one additional rule: eat breakfast every day. His breakfast of choice is a “buff smoothie” featuring fruits for their antioxidants.
Now I’m a big fan of berries for their nutritional punch. But I’d have to quibble with Brown on his smoothie, especially if it’s the only thing he has for breakfast.
First quibble is the soy milk. While folks I respect like Dr. Weil think soy is fine, I do find what Weil calls “internet paranoia” to be of some cause for concern. The Weston Price folks summarize these soy issues here.
BTW, the question of dairy is a completely different matter. As a newbie primal fan, I’ve not yet made my mind up whether to go dairy-free as Cordain suggests, or go with the PaNu approach and keep it. For now, I’m going with a quality over quantity approach. Better to have no dairy than industrial dairy IMO. But for me for now, cheese and butter from pastured cows is a good thing!
That’s an aside. Brown’s reason for going with the soy milk is that cow’s milk is a gateway drug for him:
When I was really looking at the whole issue of diet and the philosophy of diet, I made this list of all the kind of bad things that I used to eat and there was always a companion food. And a companion food, nine times out of ten, was milk. It was, you know, cookies and milk, ice cream, milk, cake, milk, you know.
And so I thought, jeepers, it’s milk’s fault. Milk’s the evil friend telling me it’s okay to do whatever, you know, blah, blah, blah was. So, I noticed that I found that, you know, when you get rid of the milk you don’t want the whole tube of Girl Scout cookies anymore. So, that made it a whole lot easier to do what needed to be done.
Hmm. Well, I guess everyone has their triggers!
My second quibble with the smoothie is the balance of macro-nutrients. I plugged the ingredients into NutritionData.com’s recipe tool and got the following:
- calories: 353
- protein: 5g
- carbs: 87g, 13g fiber, 48g sugar (22g of fructose)
- fat: 2g
Yowza, that’s a lot of sugar first thing in the AM! I’m not a VLC purist (yet), as I’ve found that going with low-to-moderate carb has been working great for me.
But whether or not 90g of carbs for breakfast is an issue, the lack of protein and fat surely is. Again, it wasn’t clear from the show whether this is all Brown eats for breakfast, but the whole idea of a smoothie as an easy breakfast implies it. Of course, it’d be easy enough to tweak the recipe to reduce the carbs and add protein and fat depending on what you include in your diet.
As far as the foods in Brown’s four lists, I have to say I agree with most of them, except for limiting red meat. I am finding the arguments about saturated fat not being the villain compelling. So, as with dairy, I’ve been following the quality over quantity concept: if all you can get is industrial beef, then I’d keep it to a minimum. But if you can get grass-fed beef or similar, I think that’s worth including in your diet more frequently.
Of course, if you are hard-core paleo or a very-low-carb fan, other items on his lists wouldn’t be on yours, but overall, his four lists are a pretty good approach to a real food diet.
Update, 3/2: Here's Consumer Report's recent take on soy.
Update, 10/21: Good news, this episode is now available on YouTube in two parts below.