Over the last several years, I’ve managed to lose and keep off nearly 60-pounds, primarily by reducing my calorie consumption and increasing my fiber intake. More recently, I’ve been examining my daily calorie distribution, and started to wonder if I can further improve my health through the better application of diet and nutrition. I don’t believe further weight loss is the way to go, but the question I have is one of body composition and diet. To that end, I’ve assembled the following diet comparison. This is a look at some of the most popular lifestyle eating habits.
Comparing Eating Habits
All foods can ultimately be broadly classified as either carbohydrates (carbs), protein, or fat. Many of the eating lifestyles focus heavily on one of those groups as being ultimately unhealthy and responsible for unintended weight gain and/or obesity. In order to successfully lose weight with any of these eating lifestyle plans, new adopters must reduce their calorie consumption. Beyond that fact, I’m interested in how these eating plans may impact health. In this diet comparison, we’ll take a look at how the current U.S. government recommendations stack up against suggestions from the American Heart Association, The Zone Diet, Body For Life, The Primal Blueprint, and The Low Carb Diet. It’s worth stating that all of these lifestyle eating plans have strong adherents, and people have found success in weight loss with all of these plans. My question revolves around the idea of whether or not one provides improvements in body composition, while holding caloric intake and activity levels constant.
For the purposes of this comparison, diets will be standardized at 2000-calories per day. I’ll use my personal stats for the purposes of the comparison. All of the diets are compared for people who are in trying to maintain their recommended weight, and graphs are shown at the midpoints of consumption. My stats are:
% Body Fat=16%
Lean Body Mass=155 pounds
Body Fat=29 pounds
The caloric breakdown recommended by the U.S. government and the American Heart Association are shown in the following graph. You’ll note that they are very similar, with the AHA suggesting a slightly higher consumption of carb content. The AHA diet robs equally from the protein and fat groups to accomplish this goal.
Stepping slightly away from traditional recommendations, The Zone and Body For Life suggest higher protein content, coming primarily at the expense of carbs. It should be noted that the developers of the Body for Life program is really geared toward high intensity exercise.
Comparing the Primal Blueprint and the Low Carb diet to the other eating lifestyles requires a little work. According to this post on how to succeed with the primal blueprint, Mark Sisson details the basics of the Primal Blueprint. Using the carbohydrate curve, we can see that 125-grams/day of carbs is the suggested midpoint to maintain body composition. Mark also suggests 0.7-1.0-grams of protein (per pound of lean body mass) per day. Using this information and a 2000 calorie per day diet, we can calculate the necessary consumption of fat. By comparison, the low carb diet suggests as little as 30-grams of carbs per day, and 72-grams of protein for a person of my size. Using this information, we can generate the same pie graph.
My suspicion is that these two eating plans would lean toward consuming less than 2000-calories per day. Since the carb and protein portions are fixed, then the remaining calorie content must be made up in the form of fat. In the case of the low carb diet, that would require consuming over 175-grams of fat per day. My personal experience says that consuming more than 35% of my calories from fat (in my case, mainly almonds and walnuts) makes me feel a bit nauseous.
So there you have it. This is what the calorie breakdown would look like when you compare some of the most popular eating lifestyles today. Now the question in my mind is how one of these would impact my overall health if I changed my daily calorie distribution to match one of them.