Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The end of the beginning: Week four nutrient analysis

Week four down, and the end of the $3 diet! It’s a bittersweet end. I have thoroughly enjoyed “coaching” Mark towards healthier eating on his limited budget, and can only wish him continued success in meeting his healthy lifestyle goals post-$3 diet. I’ve mentioned before that it takes about six months to permanently change behavior. Mark has five months to prove this theory correct, and based on his hard work and dedication thus far, I have no doubt that he’ll succeed!

I have completed Mark’s final nutrient analysis for the $3 diet, and here are the results. Similar to the past three weeks, Mark has met and exceeded his macronutrient needs. In other words, he wasn’t starving on his budget limitations. His protein intake averaged 17% of his meal composition, while carbohydrates comprised approximately 54%, and fat 30%, all well within his recommended ranges. Calcium and vitamin D intake remained on the lower ends, not quite meeting his needs, but this has been the case with the $3 diet. Calcium intake fell right around 89% of Mark’s needs, while vitamin D intake for week four was one of the lowest of the four weeks at 20%. Mark did start taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement which was an added expense, but one that was definitely needed since his intake of foods rich in calcium and vitamin D on the $3 did not adequately meet his needs.

Rounding out the other vitamins and mineral intake during week four, those that were on the lower ends were vitamin A (79% of needs), vitamin C (56% of needs), and vitamin E (26% of needs) and magnesium. Based on this nutrient analysis, I think it’s safe to conclude that while it is possible to eat healthy foods on a budget limited to only $3 a day, if followed long term, there are risks of developing micronutrient deficiencies. It would take extremely careful planning to ensure that all micronutrient needs were met on a daily basis if affordability was a concern. Here’s a list of food sources of each of the micronutrients in which Mark fell short meeting his estimated needs, courtesy of the USDA’s nutrition.gov website.

Here’s the specific link to vitamin and mineral information: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-VitaminsMinerals/

Vitamin A: In the typical American diet, the best sources are dairy products, liver, fish, fortified cereals, carrots, broccoli, cantaloupe, squash, milk, egg, and spinach.

Vitamin C: Fresh produce is the best source, with citrus fruits being one of the highest sources of vitamin C in fresh fruit, tomatoes, tomato juice, potatoes (raw), kiwi, red or green peppers, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, and fortified cereals. Keep in mind that both prolonged storage and cooking decrease vitamin C content in foods.

Vitamin D: The flesh of fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, is one of the best sources, followed by cod liver oil (as a supplement). Smaller amounts of vitamin D are found in liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Also, fortified foods such as milk and other dairy products (cheese, cream) can serve as sources of vitamin D.

Vitamin E: Best sources are nuts, seeds, vegetables oils, green leafy vegetables, and fortified cereals.

Calcium: Good sources of calcium are milk, yogurt, cheese, and some non-dairy foods such as Chinese cabbage, kale, and broccoli. Several foods are fortified with calcium as well, such as fruit juices, drinks, tofu, and cereals. Some other grains are fortified, but the content is generally low.

Magnesium: Good sources include green leafy vegetables, legumes (beans), nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Also, it’s good to remember that foods high in dietary fiber generally contain magnesium. NOTE: Mark’s fiber intake for week four was about 55% of his estimated needs, maybe a reason why we see low magnesium content in his analysis.

Now that the budget limitations have been lifted, it shouldn’t be a problem for Mark to meet his micronutrient needs. Macronutrients were never a concern. We found out during week one that Mark could get adequate nourishment while eating on just $3 a day. While he was still hungry after some meals, he wasn’t starving. The question was always whether or not he could still afford some of the luxury foods (dairy, fresh produce, nuts, etc.) that tend to be higher in micronutrient content. While challenging, we found that he could incorporate these items with careful planning.

These four weeks opened my eyes to possibilities, and concluding that anything can happen with persistence and dedication. Mark exhibited both of these characteristics during his experiment. Even when his days became hectic and caused him to be a bit disheveled in his meal planning, he still met his budget constraints each day and didn’t succumb to his previous vices (diet coke, snack cakes, etc.), which would have been easy to do. Instead, he internalized his goals and worked towards meeting them on a daily basis. Somehow, this diet worked for him and created in him a desire for change. I don’t think I’ll ever run into the Mark I met in December, eating a snack cake in the food court at work, again. In conversations we’ve had, I’ve determined he’s revolutionized! Congratulations Mark and thanks for the opportunity to serve as your "nutrition coach". So long $3 diet! Now, on to the next adventure!

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