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Adjusted Values for Macronutrients, Electrolytes, and Water
By Gary F. Zeolla
The USDA RDAs are the United States Department of Agriculture’s Recommended Dietary Allowances for macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and water. These levels are designed to account for at least 97% of the US population. And for the vitamins and minerals, I generally agree with the recommendations. Some people do not and recommend getting far more than the RDAs, but that can only be done by taking supplements. I discuss why I think such is not wise in my two-part article Folly of Mega-Dose Supplements.
But on the macronutrients of fat, carbohydrates (carbs), protein, and related nutrients, along with electrolytes and water, I have found some of the USDA’s recommended amounts to not work very well for me, and I think there is evidence that the values for those items are misguided. In this two-part article I will relate my personal experiences and this scientific evidence. But first, the background to this article.
I have evaluated my diet using the DietPower software program on several occasions since 2003 and regularly now since June of 2014. My evaluations are listed at My Diet Evaluations. In these evaluations, I mention that DietPower has its own PDAs (Personal Daily Allowances). These are based on the RDAs, but are specific to my gender and age (male, 53), as are the RDAs. But I mention in those evaluations that I “adjusted” some of the values to ones that I think are better for me, and I have been consistently hitting these adjusted values. Below are DietPower’s default values for the items I adjusted, followed by my adjusted values.
Note that DietPower’s recommended caloric levels change over time, as the program automatically adjusts a person’s budgeted calories based on their bodyweight changes over time as compared to their caloric intake. It also adds in calories burned in exercise and a person’s bodyweight goals. For me, the latter is basically maintenance. These changing caloric levels change the exact grams of recommended fat, carbs, protein, and related nutrients, but the percentages remain the same. The numbers below are from January 31, 2015, when I weighed 121.6 pounds with my goal of 122.0 pounds on February 22 (which is when I plan starting to cut weight for a powerlifting contest a week later).
DietPower’s default values are as follows:
Calories – 2203 (current budget + 30 day exercise average)
Macronutrient – Grams – % of Calories:
Fat – 61.2 g – 25%
Carb – 330.5 g – 60%
Protein – 82.6 g – 15%
Type of Fat – Grams – % of Total Fat – % of Calories:
Saturated Fat – 24.5 g – 40% – 10%
Polyunsaturated Fat – 18.4 g – 30% – 7.5%
Monounsaturated Fat – 18.4 g – 30% – 7.5%
Trans Fat – 0 g – 0%
Sugar – Grams – % of Total Carbs – % of Calories:
Sugars – 66.1 g – 20% – 12%
Nutrient – Amount:
Cholesterol – 300 mg
Sodium – 1,300 mg
Potassium – 4,700 mg
Dietary Fiber – 30 g
Water – 125 fluid ounces
My adjusted values are:
Macronutrient – Grams – % of Calories:
Fat – 78.1 g – 32% (desired range: 30-35%)
Carb – 238.1 g – 43% (desired range: 40-45%)
Protein – 137.0 g – 25%
Type of Fat – Grams – % of Total Fat – % of Calories
Saturated Fat – 19.4 g – 25% – 8%
Polyunsaturated Fat – 19.4 g – 25% – 8%
Monounsaturated Fat – 39.2 g – 50% – 16%
Trans Fat – 0 g – 0% (not changed)
Sugar – Grams – % of Total Carbs – % of Calories:
Sugars – 71.9 g – 30% – 13%
Nutrient – Amount:
Cholesterol – 600 mg
Sodium – 2,300 mg
Potassium – 4,700 mg (not changed)
Dietary Fiber – 40 g
Water – 86 fluid ounces
DietPower recommends a low fat, high carb, moderate protein diet. That follows common recommendations from US governmental and many other authorities. But I have never been a fan of such a diet. The reasons are simple: I feel hungry shortly after eating when consuming so little fat; I do not feel good when consuming so many carbs, and my powerlifting training does not go well when consuming that amount of protein. Thus going back to at least college, I have found a moderate fat, moderate carb, high protein diet works best for me. I will go through each macronutrient in detail.
But before beginning this discussion, the following information should be noted:
There are two main types of cholesterol [found in the blood]:
•Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol can build up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow.
•High-density lipoprotein (HDL): HDL, or “good,” cholesterol picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver (WebMD: Trans fat is double trouble for your heart health).
Blood triglycerides also need to be considered:
Triglycerides provide unique information as a marker associated with the risk for heart disease and stroke (American Heart Association: Triglycerides: Frequently Asked Questions).
Fat, Monounsaturated Fat, and Trans Fat
Dietary fat increases testosterone levels. I present the evidence for this in my God-given Foods Eating Plan book, so I will not repeat it here, except for the following quote which summarizes the situation rather well:
The results from several investigations strongly suggest that dietary fat has a significant impact on T [testosterone] concentrations; however, the influence of different types of lipids on T is not as clear. In the present investigation, dietary fat, SFA [saturated fatty acids], and MUFA [monounsaturated fatty acids] were the best predictors of resting T concentrations (Volek, et.al).
30–35% of calories from fat seem to be the optimal level for me. Less than 30% and I feel like my testosterone levels suffer, but more than 35% does not provide further benefit. In addition, fat provides satiety. If my overall diet or any given meal has less than 30% fat, I feel hungry much of the time or shortly after eating; but again, more than 35% does not provide further benefit. Moreover, I feel “weighed-down” or bloated if I consume more fat than that. So I adjusted the percentage from 25% to 32% of calories to be in the middle of the range of 30-35%. That gives me about 2/3s of a gram of fat per pound of bodyweight.
I put an emphasis on monounsaturated fats in my diet, and thus adjusted them from 30% to 45% of total fat (7.5% to 14% of calories), as I believe they are the healthiest type of fat. They increase both HDL and testosterone levels and lower LDL levels. But I adjusted polyunsaturated fats from 30% to 25% of total fat as they do not elevate testosterone or HDL. But that keeps them at about the same percentage of calories, which is good as they lower LDL levels. In regards to testosterone, the above quote mentions monounsaturated fats but not polyunsaturated fats as elevating testosterone levels, and I provide additional evidence for such in my book. Differing effects of types of different fats on HDL and LDL levels will be discussed shortly. But first, I have verified the benefits of monounsaturated fats on myself via blood tests.
When first I increased the monounsaturated fat content of my diet, I tripled my testosterone levels, going from a clinically low 200 to 600, the middle of the normal range of 270-1,070 (Healthline: Testosterone Levels by Age). Meanwhile, in my most recent blood test, my HDL was 69, which puts me in the “best” category for heart disease prevention (Mayo Clinic: Cholesterol levels: What numbers should you aim for?). That the same type of fat increases both HDL and testosterone makes sense given that, “several studies have reported that levels of HDL cholesterol are positively associated with endogenous levels of testosterone in men” (Freedman, et.al).
My intake of trans fat is always zero, as I never consume foods with hydrogenated oils. In fact, back in college where I majored in Nutrition Science (Penn State; ‘83), I can remember a professor expressing doubts about the then common recommendation to consume margarine rather than butter. She predicted that someday the artificial trans fat in margarine would prove to be unhealthier than the saturated fat in butter. Because of her comments, I never consumed margarine or other foods with hydrogenated oils, and she has been proven to be correct in her prediction.
Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes (American Heart Association: Trans Fats).
Trans fat is considered by many doctors to be the worst type of fat you can eat. Unlike other dietary fats, trans fat — also called trans-fatty acids — both raises your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lowers your HDL (“good”) cholesterol (WebMD: Trans fat is double trouble for your heart health).
Cholesterol and LDL
My recent blood test showed my LDL was 112. The lab’s range for LDL was <100, but Mayo Clinic says, “Most people should aim for an LDL level below 130 mg/dL,” so my LDL is just fine. Moreover, even with eating more whole eggs, my LDL only went up 2 points since my previous blood test. This makes sense as some recent studies show that eating up to three eggs (about 600 mg of cholesterol) a day does not significantly increase cholesterol levels (Eggs and Cholesterol - How Many Eggs Can You Safely Eat?).
Furthermore, “The recommended daily allowance [of 300 mg] has sometimes come into question. The reason for this is because dietary cholesterol is only responsible for about 15 percent of total blood cholesterol. The rest is manufactured by the body. Other factors that contribute to blood cholesterol levels include smoking, obesity, physical activity and the consumption of saturated fat” (How Many Milligrams of Cholesterol Should I Have a Day?). Similarly, “Cholesterol levels in the human body tend to be affected less by cholesterol in our diets than they are by the saturated fats and trans fats we eat, according to Tara Linitz, a registered dietitian at Massachusetts General Hospital who also has a master’s degree in exercise science” (Six myths about nutrition and health).
Just recently, “The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) has already garnered headlines because its members are advocating revisions to a decades-old warning about cholesterol consumption. An overview of the committee’s Dec. 15, 2014 meeting says, 'Cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.’” This is because, “As for cholesterol, the changes being considered there are backed by many studies that have questioned the relationship between dietary cholesterol and heart disease. Experts now believe that saturated fats in foods like red meat and cheese have a bigger impact on blood cholesterol levels that the cholesterol in foods like eggs” (Why the Government’s New Dietary Guidelines Could Set Off a Food Fight).
Moreover, I remember back at Penn State a professor teaching that the body will decrease its production of cholesterol when dietary cholesterol is increased. At that time, the professor was not sure how much the body could down-regulate its production. But “Your liver can produce about 1,000 mg of cholesterol a day. A little more is added by the small intestines” (HowStuffWorks). So there is a limit to how much the body can reduce its production, but it is far more than the generally recommended 300 mg.
Another point to note is, “cholesterol is the building block of testosterone” (Testosterone Week: A Short Primer on How T Is Made).
There are two possible pathways to testosterone production:
Cholesterol » pregnenolone » progesterone » androstenedione » T
Cholesterol » pregnenolone » DHEA » androstenediol » T
(Bodybuilding.com - All About Testosterone).
This fact is probably one reason I developed the aforementioned clinically low testosterone levels while following a vegan diet. The body can produce only a limited amount of cholesterol, so dietary cholesterol is needed for optimal testosterone production, but a vegan diet provides zero cholesterol. In my book I cite studies that show this was not just me; vegetarians in general tend to have lower testosterone levels than omnivores (see also Volek, et.al). However, I could find no evidence that a high cholesterol intake correlates with high testosterone levels. This makes sense since the body will simply decrease its production of cholesterol.
Given all of this, I adjusted the PDA for cholesterol from 300 mg to 600 mg. That gives me more than adequate cholesterol for testosterone production, but should not be high enough to elevate LDL levels. I've been consuming two eggs and thus 500-600 mg of cholesterol a day for some time now, and that seems to be working well for testosterone levels. I tried eating four eggs and thus over 900 mg of cholesterol, but that provided no further benefit, so I will stick with two eggs a day.
I have also been sleeping better. That makes sense given that a recent study found a correlation between sound sleep and protein, choline, and vitamin D intake. Eggs are a good source of all of these nutrients. And interestingly, the study found, "Daytime sleepiness was associated with special diets, high calorie diets, and diets high or low in fat/cholesterol" (Don't Snooze on Nutrition: See How Foods Affect Sleep). Thus too much or too little cholesterol can be a problem, hence my two eggs a day but not more approach makes sense. But I will see what happens the next time I get a blood test done. In the meantime, here is a very good article overviewing this controversy: Eggs: Health Benefits & Nutrition Facts.
On October 2, 2015 I had my annual physical exam, including getting basic blood work done. My blood lipids were:
Cholesterol: 210 (<200)
HDL: 69 (>39)
LDL: 132 (<100; Mayo Clinic: <130)*
TC/ HDL Ratio: 3.04 (<5.0)
Triglycerides: 61 (>150)
Thus after almost a year of eating two eggs/ day, my LDL cholesterol went up 20 points as compared to when I was averaging one egg/ day. This puts me just above May Clinics recommend <130 mg/dL. But my still very high HDL levels keeps this from being a problem, and my doctor was not concerned about it. But it is still something to consider, so I will decrease my egg intake to in-between my previous level of one egg per day and my current level of two eggs per day to ten eggs per week or about 1.5 per day. Hopefully, that will not make a difference in my testosterone levels but will bring my LDL levels to at below 130 and thus below at least the Mayo Clinic recommendation. And this shows that the above is wrong--increased cholesterol intake does in fact increase blood cholesterol, at least for me. For further details, see Annual Physical Exam - 2015.
Saturated Fat and LDL
Saturated fat also increases testosterone levels, but I am leery about increasing my intake of saturated fats given comments like the above that it raises blood cholesterol levels, especially since that was my experience. With my current diet, my saturated fat intake is below the recommended top level of 10% of total calories (CDC: Saturated Fat). However, when I tried following a low carb diet, my saturated fat intake was well above that. I had a blood test a few months into that low carb diet and my LDL levels had skyrocketed to 160. That meant my LDL was borderline high and thus I had an elevated risk for heart disease (Cholesterol levels: What numbers should you aim for?).
In part because of that blood test, I stopped the low carb diet and began the diet I am now following, and my LDL came down to its current levels. The other reason I stopped the low carb diet is I found it intolerably restrictive. There are just too many good tasting, healthy high carb foods that cannot be consumed on such a diet, such as fruit and whole grains.
Some will dispute the idea that saturated fat raises LDL levels and thus heart disease risk. This doubt is based on a well-publicized meta-analysis from 2010 that concluded, “There is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD [coronary heart disease] or CVD [cardiovascular disease]” (Siri-Tarino, et. al.; Meta-analysis). “More recently, Chowdhury and colleagues published a separate meta-analysis in the Annals of Internal Medicine, and reached similar conclusions to that of Siri-Tarino and colleagues regarding the association between saturated fat and coronary heart disease” (Clearing Up The Confusion Surrounding Saturated Fat). But as a video on the American Heart Association’s Web site points out, those meta-analyses were of observational (epidemiological) studies, not clinical trials. The latter are more reliable and have consistently showed saturated fat increases LDL levels and heart disease risk (Saturated Fats).
One such clinical trial showed, “an important mechanism by which reductions in dietary saturated fatty acids decrease LDL-cholesterol in humans is through an increase in LDL-receptor number” (Mustad, e.t al.). So the exact mechanism by which saturated fats increase LDL is known.
Saturated Fats, Processed Carbs, and Heart Disease
For those who are still skeptical about saturated fat increasing heart disease risk, consider the following:
Cutting back on saturated fat will likely have no benefit, however, if people replace saturated fat with refined carbohydrates—white bread, white rice, mashed potatoes, sugary drinks, and the like. Eating refined carbs in place of saturated fat does lower “bad” LDL cholesterol—but it also lowers the “good” HDL cholesterol and increases triglycerides. The net effect is as bad for the heart as eating too much saturated fat—and perhaps even worse for people who have insulin resistance because they are overweight or inactive (Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good).
Substituting polyunsaturated fat for saturated fat reduces LDL cholesterol and the total cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein cholesterol ratio. However, replacement of saturated fat by carbohydrates, particularly refined carbohydrates and added sugars, increases levels of triglyceride and small LDL particles and reduces high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, effects that are of particular concern in the context of the increased prevalence of obesity and insulin resistance (Siri-Tarino, et. al. Saturated fatty acids).
There is evidence suggesting that the substitution of MUFA [monounsaturated fatty acids] instead of carbohydrate for SFA [saturated fatty acids] calories may favorably affect CVD [cardio-vascular disease] risk…. Compared with SFA, MUFAs lower total and LDL cholesterol levels, and relative to carbohydrate, they increase HDL cholesterol levels and decrease plasma triglyceride levels (Kris-Etherton).
It’s true that researchers found little differences in heart disease rates when comparing those who ate the most vs. the least saturated fat. But the results are not so clear cut. The study did not look at what else people were eating. So if eating less saturated fat means eating more refined starch and sugar, then no wonder there’s little or no improvements. However, if saturated fat is replaced with polyunsaturated fat or monounsaturated fat in the form of olive oil, nuts and other plant oils, there’s a lot of evidence that heart disease risk will be reduced (5 Shades of Grey in Nutrition).
The best way to prevent heart disease may be to eat more whole, unprocessed foods. So eat fish, beans, fruits, vegetables, brown rice, nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and olive oils, and even some animal products like yogurt and high-quality meat and cheese (Is Butter Back? The Truth About Saturated Fats).
What probably happened in the two meta-analyses is they were comparing high saturated fat diets with high processed carb diets; thus there was no difference. This is likely as the standard American diet is high in processed carbs, and more so for people who follow low fat diets by consuming processed low-fat foods, which generally replace fat with sugar and other processed carbs (which is why I’ve always considered such foods silly). But if you compare a high saturated fat diet with a diet high in unsaturated fats and unprocessed carbs using foods like the ones mentioned in the last quote, then the latter diet will have a lower heart disease risk. And those types of foods constitute the bulk of my eating plan.
Note also that the same researchers who conducted the 2010 meta-analysis (Siri-Tarino, et, al.) later that same year found this beneficial effect of replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats. As such, it is disingenuous to cite their research to support a high saturated fat diet. In fact, in that later study, they write about their former analysis, “the lack of association between saturated fat and risk of CHD [coronary heart disease] observed in epidemiologic studies can be interpreted as the lack of benefit of substitution of carbohydrates for saturated fat” (Siri-Tarino, et. al. Saturated fatty acids). Moreover, a more recent evaluation of the same studies included in both meta-analyses found, “The findings reviewed here support the hypothesis that saturated fat increases the risk of coronary heart disease mortality” (Clearing Up The Confusion Surrounding Saturated Fat). So there is disagreement on how those studied should be interpreted.
All of this is to explain why I adjusted the percentage of saturated fats from total fats from 40% to 25%. Since I increased the percentage of total fat from calories, I had to decrease the percentage of saturated fats from total fat to keep the percentage of saturated fats from total calories to less than 10% and keep my LDL and thus heart disease risk is low.
Adjusted Values for Macronutrients, Electrolytes, and Water - Part Two
Adjusted Values for Macronutrients, Electrolytes, and Water - Part One. Copyright © 2015 by Gary F. Zeolla.
The above article was first published in the free
FitTips for One and All newsletter.
It was posted on this site February 1, 2015 and last updated October 9, 2015.
The info about the DGAC was added February 19, 2015.
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