This week I’ve been trying to eat according to the DASH guidelines for lowering blood pressure. It actually hasn’t been too difficult — partly because I’m not following their strictest guidelines, which call for just 1,300 milligrams of sodium and 16 grams of saturated fat a day. I’ve been shooting for 2,300 milligrams of sodium and 22 grams of saturated fat.
In 2003, I tried a somewhat different “diet,” which in some ways was more difficult to follow, even though it only lasted one day. My son Jim (then age 11) and I ate every meal at McDonald’s for an entire day (yes, this was before Super Size Me). We recorded the experience on the Web. I thought it would be interesting to compare my day at McDonald’s to a typical day on DASH.
This table compares my intake on March 1, 2003, and April 19, 2010, my first official day of DASH:
It might surprise you to learn that my caloric intake was roughly equal on both days — 2,130 at McDonald’s versus 2,329 on DASH. But surely the DASH day was more nutritious, right? This graph gives some more details:
As you can see, the McDonald’s day is not much different in fat content, but has much less protein and more carbs than the DASH diet. Personally I find high-carb meals much less satisfying than high-protein meals, so I suspect that someone consuming about the same amount of calories on the McDonald’s diet would be a lot hungrier than someone on the DASH diet. In the end, a person may decide to super-size things, and that can lead to problems.
I used the McDonald’s web page to create a super-sized version of my day, then calculated the nutrition facts.
Instead of the diet drinks and regular coffee I usually consume, I substituted large Cokes and a large caramel cappuccino. Instead of a Big Mac, I got a Double Quarter-Pounder with Cheese, and instead of a McChicken, I got the Angus Bacon and Cheese burger. And of course I super-sized my fries and ordered an extra hash browns with breakfast. The calorie content for day: 4,070, which would put most people not named Michael Phelps on a direct course toward rotundity.
Let’s take a look at what super-sizing does to our nutrition graph:
Fat and carbs are through the roof, while a super-sized day still doesn’t have as much protein as I consumed on my DASH day. Saturated fat, at 56 grams, is nearly three times what’s recommended for most people.
Even the basic McDonald’s day doesn’t take snacks into account — I find that I’m usually hungry a couple hours after eating a fast-food meal, so I think most people would have a very hard time living on regular-sized McDonald’s meals all the time. If you’ve seen Super Size Me, you know what happened to Morgan Spurlock after eating at McDonald’s for a month: Elevated blood pressure and other vital signs indicating a serious health risk.
What about other nutrients? This table compares the three days on the other nutrients shown on the McDonald’s Web site:
McDonald’s meals offer plenty of iron and a reasonable amount of calcium (mostly from cheese), but not much Vitamin A or C. You might be able make up for that by ordering an orange juice with breakfast, but if you succumb to the temptation to super-size, you’re still going to be consuming way too many calories, and you’ll likely gain a lot of weight.
*This blog post was originally published at The Daily Monthly*